Unusually Clever People

The garden of Linda Chalker-Scott

IMG_3549
I've long been a fan of Hort and Extension Professor Linda Chalker-Scott, whose jobs it is to teach horticulture to regular gardeners – a job she accomplishes by writing award-winning books and on her  Garden Professors blog, in addition to her usual duties. But my fandom reached new heights last week after seeing her gorgeous and totally lawnless garden in Seattle, and picking her brain over dinner at Seattle's best vegetarian restaurant.

Now about Linda's garden.  This is the front yard, y'all!  Notice how the fence (the handiwork of Linda's husband Jim, shown above) provides privacy from the street and even screens the cars in the driveway. Theirs is a strange lot with almost no back yard, so it would be a waste to devote the front to the usual lawn-and-nothing-but.

IMG_3552
Now for the plants.  The blooming groundcover is Blue Star Creeper, which grows to just 1" and is hardy to Zone 5 but (sadly for me) only evergreen in Zone 8 or warmer.  The other dominant plants here are a Weeping Larch shown above to the left of the Japanese maple, and in the foreground above, an Arctic Willow (Salix arctica), which is prostrate and surprisingly large.  It does drop its leaves but Linda says its form is so interesting, you want to see it without leaves sometimes.

IMG_3555

In this shot of the front of Linda's house, notice all the wood chips. They prove that she walks the talk of debunking the notion that wood chips shouldn't be used as mulch because they leach Nitrogen from the soil. She assures us that except for very shallow-rooted plants – annuals and some vegetables – they do no such thing.  What's more, for many of us (and for her) they're free.  Pile it on thick enough and voila – no weeds. 

IMG_3539

Finally, what the heck. Here's my photo of the inside of Cafe Flora, which is lovely and has enough plants inside to merit being shown on a garden blog.  We sat on the right, to be close to the fountain.

Posted by on August 2, 2011 at 4:00 am, in the category Unusually Clever People.
Comments are off for this post

8 Responses to “The garden of Linda Chalker-Scott”

  1. Layanee says:

    I like the fence. It looks as though the design allows a bit of air flow while screening the sitting area. What fun to meet ‘The Professor’ in person. I have long admired her books and writings.

  2. commonweeder says:

    What a treat. ‘The Professor’, her garden AND the Cafe Flora. I hope the myth of the dangers of woodchips is dying.

  3. Astra says:

    I think the question of wood chips/no wood chips depends on where you are and what you plant. Here in Colorado, local horticulturists recommend against wood mulch because the kind of xeric plants you plant here — dryland plants that thrive in soil with low organic matter, like penstemons — are not going to appreciate being smothered in a heavy mulch.

    I use pea gravel.

  4. naomi says:

    I agree with Astra. Here in New Orleans, I found out we shouldn’t use wood chips due to Formosan termites. (One drip of water an hour is enough for a nest off ground; a heap of wood chips is a feed pile.) Pine straw seems to limit their ability to colonize in it, and helps just a tiny bit with the alkalinity here.

  5. wendy says:

    As Naomi said, the termites tend to be the bigger culprit. Not the nitrogen.

  6. Laine says:

    I don’t think the concern about wood chips is that they leach nitrogen (that might be considered a good thing!) but that the microorganisms that decompose them use nitrogen in the soil so it is not available to the plants.

  7. Laine says:

    Here is the definitions of leach:
    Make (a soluble chemical or mineral) drain away from soil, ash, or similar material by the action of percolating liquid, esp. rainwater.

    Here is an example of leaching: some herbicides and pesticides are leached into the groundwater.

  8. Frank Hyman says:

    One consideration is that hort advice that works for one part of the country, may be exactly wrong for another part. Laine and Naomi and Astra’s points all bear that out. Here in the wet climate/clay soil southeast, I’ve seen mulches of fresh woodchips turn a hedge of healthy hollies yellow in a matter of months from tying up nitrogen in the soil (As Laine says, it’s not an issue of leaching N).

    I’ve worked with scientists: chemists, marine biologists and archeologists. What they all made a point of sharing was that even the best experiments leave big gaps in our knowledge base.

    As for the the practice of using wood chips to suppress most weeds, I can see that working in climates like the PNW (which is similar to the British Isles–that’s the only part of the country where most English gardening books can be used faithfully). The four times I’ve been in the PNW with other gardeners we marveled at the wimpiness of the local weeds. Here in the southeast, wood chips will work for suppressing whichever annual weed seeds were covered up and some of the perennial weeds. It also makes a good seed bed for the next generation of annual seeds that land on it and it doesn’t suppress perennial weeds like bermuda grass or japanese honeysuckle, no matter how thick you put it down.

    Bottom line is that wood chips are a cost-effective mulch material, but there is no silver bullet for weeds. And while the extension does have valuable information that I wish other garden “experts” would avail themselves of, it’s also true that the history of science shows a not infrequent dismantling of things scientists all once knew to be true. Viva la scientific method. :-)

    BTW, that is a nice looking garden.

  • Follow Garden Rant

    Follow Me on Pinterest RSS