Don't be fooled. Inside this thin coating of sweetness is a fiery core of total insanity.

Monday, October 13, 2014

"To Bed, To Bed," Says Sleepyhead!

On Saturday I attended a Northwest Perennial Alliance class on "Fall Renewal and Division," led by George Lasch, who manages the NPA border at the Bellevue Botanical Garden. Appropriately, the class took place at the BBG NPA border, which is the largest perennial border in the U.S. maintained by volunteers. We arrived at about 10 and the class lasted 2 hours, during which George demonstrated how to dig and divide a handful of perennials, and talked about the best time to cut back perennials and various grasses to put the garden to bed for the winter. The focus of the class wasn't specifically on putting the garden to bed, but there were many questions among the participants about those issues, and the class devolved somewhat into that territory.

If I had half a brain I would remember what he said, specifically, about when to cut back cool season vs. warm season grasses. But I do remember he said to never cut back evergreen grasses. And a quick search of the intarwebs shows that cool season grasses should normally be cut back in very early spring, and warm season grasses in fall or mid to late spring. I pretty much cut back all of mine in late winter here in the PNW, and that works for me. I trim the tips of evergreens like Carex and Nasella if they're looking ratty, and also comb them with my gloved hands to remove as many dead stalks as possible.

One of the many paths through the enormous NPA border at the BBG.

Although not close to fading, many of those grasses will be cut "to the ground!" very soon. At this time of year, George and his army of volunteers are in a race to get plants cut back before the Garden d'Lights crew invade to string lights for their holiday show. Working around the lights is difficult, so work that many gardeners normally wait till winter or early spring to do has to be done early here.

This Chrysanthemum was such a luscious orange! I wish I had taken note of the name.

Asarum surrounded by maidenhair fern

NPA Border Manager George Lasch points out a favorite flower, Amarcrinum -- a cross between Amaryllis belladonna and Crinum moorei.

George demonstrates how to divide a Hosta clump using two garden forks back to back. He made it look easy!

After the class ended, we were told we could dig starts of some of the perennials. I took the time to dig a small clump of an orange-flowered Epimedium, and then to take a few pictures.  This gorgeous Hydrangea grabbed my attention. Lately I seem to be highly enamored of these colors, and want to add more Hydrangeas with flowers that fade to these wonderful shades of mauve/plum/purple and dusky metallic blue. Fortunately I remembered to take a picture of the nametag. Looks like it's available at Digging Dog Nursery, by mail order.

Hydrangea macrophylla 'Enziandom'

George also will be leading Saturday work parties at the NPA border from 9 a.m. to noon on October 18, November 15, and December 20.

By the time we left, it was just starting to rain. I wish I could have stayed to take more photos of the border. The BBG is about a 45-minute drive from my house, and I always feel I should spend more time there during the growing season. It's a large garden and a great resource with well-labeled plants.

Ah well, there's always next year!

For previous posts about the Bellevue Botanical Garden, check here and here.


  1. That is a beautiful hydrangea and an orange epimedium sounds lovely.

  2. These cutting back rules are good guides but sometimes going by the recommended timing is not always feasible nor practical so its just done as when. If it worked for you before and no harm seemed to have been done then why not :)

  3. Your class sounds like a lot more fun than mine (work related!) I haven't been to the BBG for years and every time someone posts about it I promise to visit next year! Glad you enjoyed your time there!

  4. We just set grasses that bloom in the fall on fire in late winter. That's nature's way.

    The two spading forks division works for me. One of my forks is without a handle but it still does the job.

    1. Jean, I didn't mention it here, but George did say that when he worked in other parts of the country, he would set grass clumps on fire. That wouldn't work well here, because everything is so wet.

  5. Good class. If the dormant grasses look good all winter then I leave them until early spring or cut them when they look too ratty.

  6. you were told you could dig starts of some of the perennials! attempting to close jaw now...

  7. Sounds like a good class, and they let you dig! I haven't been back to the BBG since we were there for the Seattle Fling. It seems there is never enough time to do all the things I would like to do when visiting the area.

  8. When I first ventured into gardening - I foolishly cut back all my evergreen grasses to the ground in autumn, what a disaster. I promptly got rid of them all the following summer as they never did look good again. A lesson learned.
    I only recently added an orange epimedium to my garden, the fall colour of the leaves are beautiful and I just hope the flowers reach my expecations.
    Useful day out and it's good to see how the professionals do things. Personally, I've never been quite so successful at dividing with 2 forks, I always resort to a big slice through with a spade.
    Thanks for taking the time to share your day with us.

  9. Well, heck, I have to take issue with his "never" mantra. I've cut back my Mexican Feather grass in early spring and it looks much better for it. Ditto for some Carex and Liriope. Oh well. Sounds like a great class with an awesome group of gardeners. We still haven't had any rain down here. Have a great week.

  10. I need to pay attention to the classes available in my own vicinity - I'm clearly missing out. Thanks for the peek at BBG.

  11. I had been hearing about the Bellevue Border for years. When I finally had an opportunity to visit, it was partly closed for revisions and obviously not at its best. You have revived my interest.

  12. We always enjoy our trips to the BBG Border.

  13. You do the funnest things, Alison! Joy Creek Nursery has that hydrangea. So does Hydrangeas Plus. Check under the name 'Gentian Dome'. It's really a pretty one, but it would be deep pink here, with our alkaline soil.

    That orange mum looks very much like one I have: Dendranthema 'Rhumba'. It's just starting to bloom now. :-)


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