Hot Lips in the Garden


When people hear “Hot Lips” they undoubtedly think about different things. If you are in my generation, you might think of Major Margaret J. “Hot Lips” Houlihan, the fictional nurse in the television show, MASH, which has been variously described as a black comedy, medical drama, and satire about the Korean War. Loretta Swift played “Hot Lips Houlihan” during the long-running television series.

Hot Lips Music Sheet

Jazz aficionados might think about a popular song, “Hot Lips” a Blues Foxtrot, written by Henry Busse, Henry Lange, and Lous Davis, and first published in 1922. Others more into current music and internet videos might think about the song “Hot Lips” by the Swedish group, Pacific! If you happen to be from Portland, Oregon, I understand that to you “Hot Lips” might even mean a family-run pizza business based on sustainability principles.

Many people likely would agree with the definitions for “Hot Lips” in the Urban Dictionary: “A complimentary term used to finalize emails or text messages to a loved one. A term used when calling upon a loved one or close friend. A term used when describing an attractive female friend to ones male friends.”

Indeed, I suspect that even Dr. Phil and Oprah Winfrey would recommend calling your spouse “Hot Lips” once and a while to playfully spice things up and maintain marital harmony. However, if you are a horticulturist or avid gardener, “Hot Lips” means one thing: Salvia microphylla !

Hot Lips Close Up2

To gardeners, “Hot Lips” is a relatively new variety of sage that was released by the Strybing Arboretum in 2002, which is now known as the San Francisco Botanical Garden at Strybing Arboretum. Although I’ve not seen a formal accounting, my understanding is that the flowers were discovered by the writer and garden designer, Richard Turner, of the Strybing Arboretum, when he noticed the flowers being kept by a friend’s housekeeper, Alta Gracia, in Mexico. The flowers were propagated and introduced by the Strybing Arboretum and you can usually locate at least one or two local nurseries on the Palouse that offer them for sale by mid-summer.

Hot Lips Flowers

Salvia is one of three genera of plants commonly called “sage” in the mint family, Lamiaceae. People in central Washington might refer to “sage” when they really mean sagebrush, but the genus for sagebrush, Artimesia, is unrelated. Many salvia or sage species have herbal and medicinal uses.

Hot Lips is aptly named. It’s difficult to find a more gaudy and audacious floral display than Hot Lips in full bloom. The crisp white and bright red bi-color contrast of the flower petals snap and pop like fireworks when in full display. You almost expect to see an American flag waving next to Hot Lips. To complete the patriotic picture, Hot Lips is nicely highlighted with a backdrop or companion of light to dark blue flowers. Hot Lips also looks nice as a patio specimen in a blue pot and it certainly works well in a bright cottage-style garden. Wherever you put it, expect it to draw attention.

Hot Lips 2

Hot Lips is generally considered a zone 7-11 perennial, so it is used as an annual on the Palouse. It grows about 2 - 2.5 feet tall and might spread about 2 -3 feet. It does well with full sun and low water, although I’ve often found that a patio specimen in a container with potting soil that dries out rapidly benefits from a little bit of afternoon shade in the intense heat of mid summer. The plant is deer resistant, but will be a butterfly magnet.

I wonder if deer don’t like Hot Lips because of the aromatic leaves. While the plant is aromatic, it is not necessarily pleasant. I find it a bit sharp and pungent, but there is little scent unless you are very close and actually rub the leaves.

White Red LipsRed Flowered Red Lips

Hot Lips has an interesting habit of changing flower color on the same plant under varying environmental conditions. In my experience, with less light and heat, some flowers will become almost completely white, while other flowers are almost entirely red. But don’t panic. With enough sun and warmth, the bi-color Hot Lips will return.

So next summer, try some Hot Lips in your garden and you won’t be disappointed!

R.D. Sayler

See more articles in the Garden Blog, Book Reviews, or Wildlife in the Arboretum.

Historic Ferry Hall Cupola Saved

Ferry Hall Cupola

At the end of July, I was treated to an inspiring sight while walking to my office on the Pullman campus of Washington State University. For the last 30 years, WSU’s historic Ferry Hall Cupola has had a rather quiet life as a small gazebo tucked under shade trees in front of Murrow Hall. However, the Library Road construction project, which connects Terrell Mall with an extensive pedestrian mall transecting the north and south side of campus, required that the Ferry Hall Cupola be moved.

Capital Planning and Development contacted the WSU Arboretum and Botanical Garden Advisory Committee in spring, 2008, to determine whether the structure could find a home in the WSU Alumni Arboretum adjacent to the Lewis Alumni Centre. Not surprisingly, the answer was a resounding, yes!

The WSU Alumni Arboretum is a relatively young arboretum site on campus and other than a winding path, a seating area, and young trees and garden plots, it lacks any significant architectural structure. However, because it is next to the Lewis Alumni Centre and close to the central part of campus, the two-acre arboretum site is an important green space on campus. Many campus visitors enjoy such scenic attractions for photo opportunities and it is common for the Alumni Centre to receive inquiries about whether weddings can be held on campus. The historic Ferry Hall Cupola offered a perfect solution for both needs.


On July 30, 2008, the Ferry Hall Cupola was moved from the Murrow Hall site to the WSU Alumni Arboretum. As the crane carefully lowered it onto a new foundation, it was apparent that the Cupola would have a dramatic visual impact on the arboretum.

The WSU Arboretum and Botanical Garden Advisory Committee will now work with students and faculty to undertake landscaping projects during the next several years to compliment the Ferry Hall Cupola and make it a distinctive scenic attraction on campus. And for the first time, the Lewis Alumni Centre may be able to accommodate some requests for weddings by allowing the Ferry Hall Cupola to be used for future outdoor wedding ceremonies and photos during spring, summer, and early fall. A policy for use of the Cupola is currently being drafted and it is likely that a reservation fee will be used to provide funds to help maintain the historic structure in the arboretum.

The Ferry Hall Cupola provides an interesting lesson and window into the early history and landscape of Washington State University. Ferry Hall was the first large building constructed at the then, State College of Washington, in 1892. Ferry Hall was a dormitory with men and women living on separate floors. In 1897, a kitchen fire quickly spread throughout the structure and destroyed it.

A new building with a Georgian facade and a distinctive bell tower was constructed two years later and given the same name, although it was sometimes called the “New” Ferry Hall. The New Ferry Hall was also a dormitory and was one of the major buildings on campus until the mid-1970’s when it was taken down to make room for new buildings. However, the bell tower was saved and became the Ferry Hall Cupola or Gazebo.

Ferry Hall was involved in what is known as the “Influenza Epidemic of 1918 at WSU” that tragically claimed the lives of 42 students. Nearly 700 WSU students developed influenza and the State Epidemiologist ordered a complete quarantine of the Washington State College. Students who became ill were kept in the campus hospital, but also the Gymnasium, Wilson Hall, Ferry Hall, and the Mechanical Arts Building.

According to historical information from the WSU archives collection, “Miss Agnes H. Craig, head of the College of Home Economics, along with the entire home economics faculty, aided by sixty-two women students, prepared special diets for the ill students. When the epidemic was at its worst, they prepared over 900 meals per day, and by the end of it all they had served over 17,000 meals.”

Some historical photos from the WSU Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections, as well as current photos of the Ferry Hall Cupola as it begins its new life in the WSU Alumni Arboretum are shown below. These photos also illustrate the dramatic transformation of the bare WSU campus that began with landscaping accompanying these “new” buildings in the late 1800s.

Ferry Hall 1893

[Photo from Washington State University Libraries, Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections: Ferry Hall in 1893 after construction. Note the complete lack of trees and shrubs on the campus landscape. Only a fire hydrant and electrical power lines are visible.]

Ferry Hall Cabbage Patch

[Photo from Washington State University Libraries, Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections: Ferry Hall on bare hilltop after construction. Men are tending a cabbage patch.]

Ferry Hall 1895

[Photo from Washington State University Libraries, Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections: Ferry Hall in 1895. Note the first small trees and shrubs.]

Ferry Hall Fire 1897

[Photo from Washington State University Libraries, Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections: Ferry Hall in 1897. A fire started in the kitchen and quickly consumed the entire structure.]

New Ferry Hall

[Photo from Washington State University Libraries, Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections: The “New” Ferry Hall in 1900. Note the bell tower on top of the building.]

Ferry Hall Cupola by Murrow Hall

[Photo: The Ferry Hall Cupola in its previous location on the lawn in front of Murrow Hall.]

Ferry Hall Cupola in Arboretum

[Photo: The Ferry Hall Cupola after being moved to its new location in the WSU Alumni Arboretum adjacent to the Lewis Alumni Centre.]

Cupola Foundation

[Photo: The Ferry Hall Cupola has been placed on a solid new foundation in the WSU Alumni Arboretum.]

Alumni Centre in Background

[Photo: The Ferry Hall Cupola is now just a short distance away from the Lewis Alumni Centre (in background).]

Lewis Alumni Centre

[Photo: The Ferry Hall Cupola and the surrounding WSU Alumni Arboretum will soon be used for special alumni events by the Lewis Alumni Centre.]

Cupola Door Frame

[Photo: The Ferry Hall Cupola is constructed of wood and will require ongoing maintenance for preservation.]

Ferry Hall Plaque2

[Photo: The historic bronze plaque that recognized some of the residents who first contributed to originally saving the Ferry Hall Cupola will be mounted for display at the new site in the WSU Alumni Arboretum.]

Ferry Hall Cupola

[Photo: The Ferry Hall Cupola will now be landscaped and will undoubtedly be used for summer weddings and other events in the WSU Alumni Arboretum adjacent to the Lewis Alumni Centre.]

Alumni Arboretum Plaque

[Photo: Bronze plaque on the pathway wall in the WSU Alumni Arboretum at the Lewis Alumni Centre.]

2008 Home Tomato Report: Better Luck Next Year!


Another beautiful spring and summer has passed on the Palouse and it is already time for the 2008 Home Tomato Report. The quest to grow abundant, flavorful, red tomatoes and harvest them before the first frost, must be one of the biggest challenges for the average gardener in temperate climates. This year, I reached a new milestone in my home vegetable garden. I grew some of the smallest tomatoes ever known to horticultural science. Unfortunately, I won’t be making the Guinness Book of World Records any time soon, because everyone else in Pullman and the surrounding area reports about the same success with their tomatoes in 2008 as me.

However, rather than blame myself, I’ve got the usual scape goat lined up - weather! This summer on the Palouse was unusually cool to even cold at times. And yes, it did snow heavily on June 10th this year. Who could blame tomato plants for just sitting around for months on end, wondering when the summer heat would finally arrive? The days of 90+ temperatures (but it’s a dry heat...) were relatively few and far between this summer.

It’s not that you can’t get good, flavorful tomatoes in your grocery store, or better yet, at your local farmer’s market. You certainly can. Indeed, my favorite store-bought tomato to combat winter scurvy is the Campari tomato. Slighty larger than a typical cherry tomato, these tomatoes are usually sold about 10-12 on a piece of vine. They are absolutely delicious on a salad or just eaten by themselves as a treat.

heirloom tomatoes

And you can also try samples of heirloom tomatoes, if you can get past the weird appearance of some of these old-fashioned varieties of tomatoes. The variations in flavors, textures, and uses of different tomatoes are enormous, and thanks to modern horticulture, we now have tomatoes in stores year around. But nothing can compare to the taste of a fresh, vine-ripened tomato right out of your own garden.

Next year, I’m going to go hi-tech in an all out effort to make sure I’ve got an abundance of vine-ripened tomatoes. I’m going to put plants in fairly early, cover the tomatoes with plastic hot houses, and then extend the growing season in the fall with a miniature greenhouse or plastic put over my raised bed gardens. Okay, we all know it still won’t work and I’ll be trying to get some tomatoes to ripen before the frost, but what the heck? Having an impossible quest for tomato perfection, or at least tomato abundance, gives me something to do and keeps me out of trouble.

So back to the official 2008 Home Tomato Report. Here it is: better luck next year!

The Secret to Long-Lasting Gerbera Daisies

Pink Gerbera Daisies

While reading Amy Stewart’s, Flower Confidential, I came across a tidbit of information about gerbera daisies that made me laugh. She revealed a secret about long-lasting cut gerbera daisies that I already knew about.

While covering the massive Dutch floral trade in her book, Amy describes the high-tech greenhouses and growing operations in the Netherlands, undoubtedly made famous for most people because of their association with and domination of the global tulip industry. However, gerbera daisies are a hot item in the global floral trade, ranking about fifth in cut flower use, for obvious reasons. According to Amy, Americans buy over 200 million gerbera stems a year.

A member of the Asteraceae, gerbera daisies have the prototypical daisy-shaped flower head, but modern cultivars come in a dazzling array of vivid, eye-popping colors, some of which exude an almost impossible neon brightness. While some may view the large daisy flower heads as almost too picture-perfect and excessively gaudy, nothing is quite as bright and cheerful as a gerbera daisy, whether in a mixed bouquet or as a single display specimen. Like Amy Stewart, it’s hard not to smile or feel momentary awe and admiration at the sight of a large gerbera daisy on display.

The gerbera is native to portions of South America, Asia, and South Africa, which is why it is sometimes called a Transvaal daisy. It was first described in the literature by the botanist, Robert Jameson, in the late 19th century. However, Gerbera jamesonii has been hybridized with other gerbera species to produce the essentially perfect, modern, long-lasting cut flower. Literally, hundreds of new varieties are tested in Dutch greenhouses each year to try and find new shape and color combinations that ship well and last a long time in the vase.

A Gerbera Daisy Secret

So what is the secret to long-lasting, cut gerbera daisies in your home? It’s really simple and the technique also works well with many other cut flowers displayed in a vase. My wife and I accidentally discovered this secret a few years ago and were amazed at how long the gerbera daisies lasted.

Gerbera Daisy in Vase

Here’s the secret: Place a single, long-stemmed gerbera daisy in a vase in which the water is no more than about three quarters to perhaps one inch deep. An ideal vase is one that is squat-shaped, so that the cut stem is inserted into a relatively large volume of shallow water. You must be careful of using a tiny vase with only a small reservoir of water at the bottom that may dry out and actually ruin your flower more quickly.

It turns out that cut gebera daisies can soak up water through their stems and essentially begin to weaken and decay if the water is too deep. By keeping only shallow water in the vase, this problem is reduced and the stem stays stronger much longer and continues to keep the flower robust.

Another simple little trick to extend the display life of a gerbera daisy is to watch for the cut end of the stem to discolor and look like it is getting soggy. Just snip off a little bit of the stem so that the remaining stem is strong and your gerbera daisy will continue to look fresh and amaze you for perhaps several weeks. Many other flowers also last longer when displayed as single stems or as a bouquet of the same species.

Just don’t put your flower vase near ripening fruits and vegetables on the kitchen counter. It’ll definitely shorten their vase life. But to find out why, for now anyway, I’ll send you to Amy Stewart’s book, Flower Confidential. If you read it, you’ll discover many other secrets to the vast global floral industry and you’ll understand why many of our local grocery stores do a disservice to the vase life of cut flowers by sticking them next to the fruit and vegetable section.

Summer Wildlife Visitors

Summer brings many interesting wildlife visitors to our gardens, but not all of them are always welcome, unless you’re a wildlife biologist, like me. Here’s two good reasons for not putting food for your dog or cat outside:

Young Skunk

[Photo: This young skunk was looking for food and fell down into a deep window well and was stranded for a day until the owner realized where the smell was originating! The young animal was captured in a live trap, covered with a towel to prevent spraying, and then safely released in an appropriate habitat.]

Young Raccoon

[Photo: This young raccoon on a patio doorstep also shows why you shouldn’t leave food for cats and dogs outside, particularly during mid summer when young animals are dispersing and trying to find food on their own.]

Cherry Thieves: Don't Just Blame the Robins


It’s that time in summer when people with fruit trees, particularly those with cherry trees, begin to think about protecting them from marauding birds. There is no doubt that American Robins, Cedar Waxwings, and other fruit-loving birds can sometimes get more than their fair share of cherries if the trees aren’t covered with bird netting. However, don’t be too quick to blame these beautiful cherry thieves alone. Others may be involved.

I recently came home to look out my kitchen window at the little cherry tree by our fence only to see a Black-billed Magpie grabbing one ripe cherry right after another. Magpies are omnivorous, meaning they eat a wide variety of animal and plant food, including insects, carrion, eggs and young of other nesting birds, but also to a much lesser extent, seeds, nuts, and fruits.

Magpie on Fence

Many people in Pullman don’t like magpies because of their loud calls, particularly early in the morning and especially in summer when the newly fledged young are following parents around and begging them loudly or food. However, except for when they wake me up, I find them quite interesting because of their social behavior and high intelligence.

Magpies are well known for stashing or hiding food so that they may recover it for later use when they are hungry, generally in a few days. So if you throw out some scraps of bread or other food to watch them feed in your yard, you may see some well-fed birds carry food off for a little ways and stuff it under grass or leaves.

But anyway, don’t always blame the robins or waxwings for your disappearing cherries. They certainly take their share. But in Pullman, there are plenty of crafty fruit thieves at work. However, bird netting is cheap, easy to drape over smaller trees, and is effective in preventing birds from getting all of your fruit.

Master Planning Begins

Pullman Master Plan

Following on the heels of the recent establishment of the WSU Arboretum and Botanical Gardens, an exciting master planning process is beginning in fall, 2008, which will engage the WSU community in a visioning process for the new arboretum. Through a competitive process, an outside design firm with experience in arboretum design and development will be selected and will begin work with faculty, students, and the public this fall and winter to help identify a collective and unique vision for the WSU Arboretum.

Master planning is critical to the success and mission of any arboretum because it allows the necessarily long-term process of arboretum development, that quite naturally takes decades, to be completed in a series of smaller, more manageable and integrated steps. Each step along the way builds new features and design elements that ultimately unite and contribute to the beauty of a fully mature arboretum.

Master planning is also important because the new WSU Arboretum and Botanical Gardens will begin its mission with empty pockets. A funding program for the WSU Arboretum has not been established and it will be important for donors and contributors who are committed to help establish the arboretum to be able to see the long-term vision for the facility. By having a conceptual master plan, future donors will be able to see the overall design of the future arboretum and have opportunities to contribute to specific projects, facilities, gardens, and other special features of the arboretum.

Arboretum Committee

[Photo: Members of the WSU Arboretum and Botanical Garden Advisory Committee, (L-R) Bobbie Ryder, Caroline Pearson-Mims, Chuck Cody, David McCarroll, Jay Baker, Kappy Brun (facing away), and Gene Patterson survey the future arboretum site and discuss the process of master planning.]

One of the features that will make the WSU Arboretum and Botanical Gardens truly unique and distinctive among existing arboreta and public gardens around the world is the inclusion of a wildlife center to highlight the important work of WSU faculty and students on threatened and endangered species and the conservation of biological diversity of the natural world. One of the unique features of the WSU Arboretum will be that it will have facilities and programs that display the science behind both plant and animal conservation.

Arboretum Site

[Photo: The site of the future WSU Arboretum and Botanical Gardens covers about 95 acres on the edge of the WSU campus and has a small, naturalized forest, pond, and stream (background) that serves as a wildlife sanctuary.]

We hope to have a final design and conceptual master plan for the arboretum completed by spring, 2009. You are welcome to contribute to this visioning process by attending one of the planning events that will be announced, or by simply submitting your thoughts and ideas to the arboretum implementation committee. With the help and dedication of many people, each working to take a small step along the way, we will be able to grow a beautiful arboretum and botanical gardens for future generations.

Click on the following link to see a larger image of the current 2008 Pullman Campus Master Plan Draft (1.4 mb) which shows the future arboretum site in green in the lower right hand part of the map.

Summer Snow

Just when you’re ready to put out your more tender garden plants for the summer, this happens! On June 10th, it was beginning to feel like summer was really here, when Pullman got dumped with a substantial snowfall. Maybe we should have consulted the Farmer’s Almanac for recommended planting dates after all. Here’s a photo of the campus at Washington State University.

Campus Snow

Golden and Diamond Grad Tour of Arboretum Site

WSU Alumni in Ensminger Pavilion

[Photo: Ralph Calvalieri, Assoc. Director and Dean, Agricultural Research Center, and Caroline Troy, Senior Director of Development, welcome the Golden and Diamond Grads to the reunion luncheon held in Ensminger Pavilion.]

Although the proposed WSU Arboretum and Botanical Gardens is not yet open for business and visitation by the public, we’ve already begun giving a few tours of the future arboretum site. WSU alumni attending the Golden and Diamond Grad Reunion at WSU (classes of 1948 and 1958) were given a presentation about the new arboretum by Rod Sayler, Assoc. Professor, Department of Natural Resource Sciences, during a luncheon at Ensminger Pavilion.

The WSU alumns also heard a talk about WSU’s famous bear research program by Lynne Nelson, Associate Professor of Cardiology in the Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences. Dr. Nelson is conducting studies of cardiac function in hibernating bears to better understand cardiac failure and function in non-hiberating species. The WSU Bear Center will be part of the proposed new Wildlife Center that is anticipated to be part of the new arboretum.

Professor Charles T Robbins

[Photo: WSU alumni were able to talk to Dr. Charles T. Robbins, Director of the WSU Bear Education, Research, and Conservation Center and ask questions about grizzly bear behavior and ecology.]

After the luncheon, the alumni were given a tour of new campus developments and stopped by the WSU Bear Education, Research, and Conservation Center, which is located adjacent to the new arboretum site. On the way to the Bear Center, the tour bus circled through campus to see the new expansion of Martin Stadium, biotechnology science buildings, student recreation center, and the new Palouse Ridge Golf Club. Many were amazed to see how much the campus has changed and grown.

Grizzly Bear in Pen

[Photo: WSU alumni were able to get close, but not too close, to observe grizzly bears after they returned from exercising and feeding in their large outdoor exercise compound on a grassy hillside.]

At the Bear Center, WSU alums were able to see part of the future arboretum landscape and spend a few minutes talking with Dr. Charles T. Robbins, Director of the Bear Center. And everyone was able to get up close and personal with a grizzly bear, at least with a chain link barrier! The Bear Center is one of the most popular visitor attractions at Washington State University.

Earth Day Celebration 2008

Truck Loaded with Trees

[Photo: Several hundred ponderosa pine trees were loaded into trucks, hauled to the naturalized forest in the WSU Arboretum, and planted by volunteers to help celebrate Earth Day 2008 at Washington State University.]

About 20 student and community volunteers met at the site of the future WSU Arboretum and Botanical Gardens on April 22, 2008, to help celebrate Earth Day at Washington State University by planting several hundred ponderosa pine trees in the arboretum forest. The trees were grown in containers at the nursery at the E.H. Steffen Center adjacent to the arboretum for several years and were in urgent need of planting.

Graduate Students

[Photo: Graduate students (L-R) Scott Leach, Erim Gomez, and Len Zeoli volunteered to help organize the Earth Day event and fueled up on a hearty breakfast of chocolate doughnuts before planting trees.]

The ponderosa pines were mixed into the existing naturalized forest on the west edge of the arboretum. This 70-year-old experimental forest began as a series of test tree and shrub growth plots by the USDA Plant Materials Center, but has become naturalized over the years. This naturalized forest has been proposed to become a wildlife sanctuary in the future arboretum and will contain natural trails, a bird observatory, and a pond. The forest will also become home to collections of native plants that are restored in habitats within the forest.

Volunteers Planting Trees

[Photo: Student and community volunteers helped plant several hundred trees in the Arboretum forest in celebration of Earth Day 2008 at Washington State University.]

We would like to thank all of the volunteers who came out and spent a few hours working in the arboretum. It was a beautiful day and the future forest in the arboretum will be all the more beautiful because of their work.

Campus Display Garden Matures

One of the landscaping and horticultural projects now underway on the Pullman campus is a new Display Garden under construction by students in the Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture. Arising from the cement foundation of two old greenhouses, the display garden is becoming a beautiful addition to campus green space adjacent to the Lighty Student Services and French Administration building.

If you haven’t walked by the display garden since spring, when students began major construction, you should compare what you see now with the early construction photos below. You’ll be quite surprised. The display garden now provides campus residents and visitors with a place to relax and enjoy the horticultural landscaping that will be developed over several years.

Phil Waite

[Photos: WSU faculty member, Phil Waite, Assoc. Professor, Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture, works with students in classes on the design and construction of the built environment. Students began major construction of the display garden in spring, 2008. The display garden is located next to the Lighty Student Services Building.]

Display Garden Construction

A Pearl of a Bush

Pearl Bush in Bloom

One of the many nice things about gardeners is that they typically don't mind sharing their gardening secrets and successes. They're all too happy to see someone else enjoy gardening as much as they do. In fact, if you like gardening, be sure to make friends with some of the experts in your area and you'll likely soon find yourself receiving free cuttings, bulbs, and divisions of this or that flower. Most gardeners, particularly those with collections of perennial flowers, are continually challenged to thin out their stock and make room for more flowers.

When fully developed, one of the practical objectives of the new WSU Arboretum and Botanical Gardens will be to test and display horticultural varieties of landscaping and ornamental plants that are well suited to the unique Palouse Prairie climate of eastern Washington, which has a climatic pendulum that swings back and forth between cold, wet winters, and hot, extremely dry summers.

Given that I've benefited from the advice of so many wonderful authors and books on gardening (and more than my fair share of trial and error!), I feel compelled to share some recommendations on trees, shrubs, and flowers that have worked well for me in our gardens. Shrubs are almost a necessary part of any garden landscaping scheme. They provide a visual foundation for the garden and carry it through seasons when you are waiting for flowers to take over the show.

I'm definitely not an expert on shrubs, but I've accidentally stumbled across one old-fashioned shrub that puts on a dependable and spectacular flower display every year. The Pearl bush (Exochorda racemosa) seems to be considered by many gardening experts as an old-fashioned classic, which kind of surprises me. Until my wife and I saw one getting ready to bloom and picked one up at a local nursery, I'd never heard of it before. But it's quickly become a spectacular spring center piece next to our patio.

Pearl Bush in Bloom

Unfortunately, I'll have to wait a few weeks to show you one of the most unique and beautiful features of this shrub, which you might guess from its name. Before blooming in spring, the branches are covered with rows of pure white flower buds that look just like pearls. These blossoms open into flowers that are bright white and reminiscent of large apple flower blossoms, but more translucent and delicate in appearance.

Pearl Bush Close Up

About the Pearl Bush

The Pearl bush is native to China, but well adapted to many garden situations here in eastern Washington. It reportedly grows 10-15 feet tall and wide, but my specimen is perhaps 4 1/2 feet tall and my wife tells me its about 6 years old. [Note: Some gardeners take detailed gardening notes every year, but I find it easier just to ask my wife.] Horticultural descriptions claim that Pearl bushes like well-drained acidic soil, but I've only got one of those two factors, very dry soil, and it's doing just fine. We definitely do not have acidic soils in our yard, but it doesn't seem to matter for this shrub.

We've got our Pearl bush planted up next to the house underneath our living room window, which is facing east to south east, so it gets early morning sun and then afternoon shade, which I find that many plants like in our hot summer climate. It's undoubtedly planted far too close to the house, being in the harsh dry zone next to the foundation, but it's beside our patio so it is easy to give it a bit of water once and a while during the heat of summer.

Pearl Bush with Bearded Iris

As you hopefully can see from the above photo, the pure white of a flowering Pearl bush makes a nice companion to many other flowers, such as the iris shown here blooming at the same time. However, I find that published horticultural descriptions are quite accurate about one aspect of this shrub - it sort of disappears after flowering.

By that I mean that after flowering, the bluish-green foliage blends into the background again and the shrub no longer stands out as a specimen. Overall, the shrub has an open, rambling, vaguely arching branching structure. Consequently, my specimen at least has an informal look about it. So don't expect it to stand out as a specimen shrub in the garden after flowering. It is better used as a magnificent seasonal display next to some other flowers that take over duties during the summer.

I probably shouldn't have shared this gardening secret or recommendation with you, because I'd actually like to pick up another Pearl bush and try it in a second location in our yard, maybe some place where it could grow substantially larger than the spot under our window, where it will soon need to be pruned. However, I've seldom seen Pearl bushes in local nurseries. In fact, I think its only been once or twice that I've noticed these shrubs in a nursery over the last 5-6 years.

So if you see one, better grab it quickly. And if its not in bloom when you buy it and you think it looks unremarkable, trust me and get it anyway. It'll be well worth finding a nice spot to put one in your flower garden. But if you think of it, please leave one in the nursery for me to buy. I definitely want another one.

R. Sayler

Horticultural Senility: Snowdrops and Dwarf Iris

Every year in early spring, after a long winter of daydreaming about gardening, I see the first flowers appear and then I swear to myself that come fall I will remember to plant more bulbs for next spring. But by fall, I seem to forget my resolution to plant hundreds, or better yet, thousands of snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) in our yard. So instead, I'm forced to walk around our neighborhood in spring feeling envious of those people with either better horticultural memories, or stronger determination for planting bulbs in fall.

One unknown homeowner a few blocks away even tolerated me kneeling down on the sidewalk in their front yard to snap the pictures of blooming snowdrops (above) and crocus now appearing in our spring photo gallery, "Spring Is Here". Of course, it doesn't help that the clay-based soil in my excavated urban lot is quite literally hard as concrete in early fall. But that's another story. Oh well, maybe this coming fall.....

Even without snowdrops, each spring, my wife and I are surprised by the first blossoms appearing in our garden. Inevitably, we sit at our breakfast table and look out the window onto the flower garden lining the wooden fence and notice a bright spot of color. And one of us says, "Oh look, a crocus!" But when we rush out the door and investigate, it's always a dwarf iris.

Dwarf Iris

Dwarf irises, along with snowdrops and early crocus, are among the very first flowers to bloom in the Moscow-Pullman area. The two species that people commonly see are Iris reticulata and Iris danfordiae. I've got both in my garden, but I don't know how they got there. Being a research scientist, I've got two theories.

One is that my advancing age is leading to horticultural senility. Here's my reasoning. It's my garden and no one one else other than my wife and I have planted flowers there, so perhaps I must be subject to horticultural senility. Unfortunately, my wife, who as an amateur botanist has an excellent memory for flowers and scientific names, also is no help because she doesn't remember how they got there either. So it seems likely that I planted them in some empty spot in the garden after buying a small pot of flowering dwarf iris in late winter at our local grocery store. By the next spring when they pop forth and flower in the garden, I've simply forgotten that I put them there.

Another likely explanation for isolated clumps of dwarf iris spreading into new spots in my garden is that I accidentally dig up some of the bulbs each summer as I try to find a spot to squeeze just one more summer flower into the garden. So some of the iris bulbs get put into small empty spots in the garden only to magically appear in new places next spring.

My other theory for not remembering where dwarf iris are in my garden is that there must be Iris elves that take great delight in planting iris in my garden and then watching my confusion in spring when blooms pop up unexpectedly here and there. How else could a single iris appear in this, that, or the other spot in the garden any other way? Of the two theories, I certainly prefer the latter explanation in preference to senility, but instead of setting up an experiment to test the two hypotheses, I'm simply going to enjoy the surprise of dwarf iris appearing in unexpected spots in my garden every spring. I hope you do too.

Now if only there were Snowdrop elves........

More on Dwarf Iris

Wild Iris reticulata were originally found in the Caucasus mountain region in and around Turkey. The Dutch have cultivated dwarf irises for centuries and there are now many shades of blues and purples in modern cultivars. If you have dwarf iris in your garden and see bright canary yellow blossoms with green spots on the petals (below), you probably also have Iris danfordiae, which often occur in fall bulb collections or pots of mixed dwarf iris sold in stores.

Dwarf iris should be treated much like tulips in the garden. After flowering, the grass-like leaves will shoot up to almost a foot in height and then eventually wither and turn brown later in spring and early summer. By then, cutting or removing the leaves does not harm the plant.

Iris danfordiae

Dwarf iris are readily forced for indoor blooming by planting bulbs in small pots with potting soil and then placing them in a cold frame or refrigerator for about 15 weeks. Keep the potting soil moist, but not drenched. After that, move them to a warm, sunny spot indoors for blooming. However, for greater longevity of indoor blooms, move them to indirect light and keep them on the cool side if possible. No hot, sunny window sills!

The planted bulbs do well in ordinary, well-drained garden soil in full sun, but you should avoid perpetually wet soil. The yellow blossoms of Iris danfordiae are more prone to being toppled by the wind or being downed by heavy rains than Iris reticulata, but even if more delicate, they are well worth adding to the spring garden.

A Dwarf Iris Secret

While I've had dwarf iris in my garden for years, I've only recently learned a little secret about them. I suppose I didn't know this tiny secret because until today, I hadn't yet taken a towel out into the garden and kneeled down on the moist soil to smell the absolutely delightful scent coming from these bright little flowers. Don't worry about your neighbor thinking that you've lost your mind when she peers over the fence and sees you kneeling face down in your garden. Dwarf iris have a wonderful scent - but only close up. Just tell her that you lost a contact lens in the garden and she probably won't think much about it - at least until she sees you do it again.

R. Sayler

Book Review: Flower Confidential

Gerbera Daisy3

Review of "Flower Confidential - The Good, the Bad, and the Beautiful"

For those of you who enjoy reading about gardening and horticulture, here is some advance notice about a future book review in our garden blog series. "Flower Confidential" by Amy Stewart, is a New York Times best seller and I thought that perhaps some of you might enjoy reading and discussing this book in future garden blog postings. However, before doing a more formal review in the future, let me begin with a warning and a thumbnail sketch of the book so that no one will be surprised if they purchase it.

First the warning: If you are a student in horticulture, or if you have daydreams about quitting your job and working in a greenhouse or nursery, think twice about reading this book. You'll either change your major, or your beautiful dreams about working in the floriculture industry may be dashed, at least until you read the “Afterward” by Amy. Another equally apt title for this book might well be, "Cut-Throat Horticulture".

Now let me give you a sketch of the book and some preliminary recommendations for those people who I believe will undoubtedly like it. The book begins with a trip to the San Francisco Flower Mart and a behind the scenes look at the commercial side of producing the beautiful bouquets of flowers that we all see when we visit our grocery stores or floral shops.

Those who have never read or heard anything about the massive, and global, cut-flower industry may be surprised by the lead-in economic facts and historical quotes about the horticulture industry. While I wasn't surprised to learn that the cut-flower industry is a 40 billion dollar a year business world-wide, it was intriguing to see quotes from harried horticulturists in Roman Egypt written on papyrus dated thousands of years ago. Meeting customer demands was challenging for the commercial producer even in ancient Egypt. In that sense, times haven't changed much.

Amy describes the history and current working conditions at regional flower growers, like the Sun Valley Group. The search for flower perfection and business survival in the flower industry leads to countries like Holland, Ecuador, Columbia and stories of roses dipped in vats of fungicides, low-paid workers, and child labor. We see, that like the pharaohs of Egypt, our own desire for the perfect gerbera daisy, the perfect lily, the perfect rose leads to flowers without scent, but increased vase life.

I'm not yet sure how Amy resolves the stark contrast between the overwhelming beauty of the vast flower beds in the highly mechanized greenhouses that produce modern cut flowers with the realization of their effects on fair labor, pollution, and sustainability in the modern world. But then, that's undoubtedly one of the perspectives gained by reading this book.

If you know anyone who is passionate about flowers and gardening, they will almost assuredly like this book. For those unfortunate few who don't fall into that category, I'm sure they'll continue to either ignore flowers or purchase them in their local grocery store and floral shop without thought about what it took to bring them to market. For me, I'd rather know, but I wonder how many other people will after they see this shocking, behind the scenes look at the commercial flower industry.

I do know that Flower Confidential will make me appreciate the temporary, seasonal beauty of the flowers in my own garden all the more. If you decide to read this book, let me know what you think. I'll report back here when finished and provide more detail and analysis of the commercial flower industry.

R. Sayler

Endangered Frogs at WSU

Leopard Frog

Northern Leopard Frogs (Rana pipiens)

Much like global climate change, the rapidly increasing number of endangered species in the world is an unfortunate consequence of burgeoning human populations and intensive modification or loss of critical habitats. Scientists are increasingly worried about declining amphibian populations, including those in Washington State.

The northern leopard frog is one such species and it has been declared state-endangered in Washington. Although the northern leopard frog has a large distributional range in North America, populations in the western United States have been declining or disappearing at a rapid rate.

The specific reasons for these declining populations are unknown and a number of interacting factors suggest that there could be more than one single cause. Climate change, increased UV radiation, pesticide contamination, wetland loss, introduced predators such as bullfrogs (Lithobates catesbianus; formerly Rana catesbeiana) or sport fish, and emerging diseases, such as chytrid fungus (see: chytridiomycosis fact sheet), are all among the potential contributors to amphibian declines in different regions.

In Washington, leopard frogs originally occurred in wetland systems along the Columbia River and its major tributaries (see: N. Leopard Frog Status Report). However, now they appear to be locally extinct everywhere in the state, except for populations in wetlands bordering Moses Lake in central Washington.

Several years ago, one of my graduate students, Scott Leach, began a project with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to try and determine what environmental factors in different wetlands around Moses Lake were associated with successful or unsuccessful leopard frog populations. We also began what we hoped would become a captive breeding program by raising about 30 leopard frog tadpoles.

Now another graduate student, Erim Gomez, will be working with me in the endangered species lab at WSU to try and breed the now-mature adults that are entering their second breeding season. Northern leopard frogs commonly don't breed their first year, but must grow and become large enough to build sufficient body resources to enable them to reproduce. Consequently, we're hoping that these captive-reared frogs are large enough this spring and that they will find the constructed ponds we make for them suitable for mating and laying egg masses.

Frogs in the Arboretum

What do frogs have to do with an arboretum? Plenty if its the WSU Arboretum and Botanical Gardens. One of our educational and research goals is to support a better understanding of the ecological and environmental factors that may help conserve all biological diversity - both plant and animal.

Constructed ponds and wetlands, ranging from simple patio ponds to naturalized or restored wetlands, are often one of the central features of gardens, yards, and botanical gardens around the world. The WSU Arboretum has a small constructed pond as well as a small stream and vernal (seasonal) ponds that support several amphibian species (frogs and salamanders).

Washington State University is credited with once being a historical location for northern leopard frogs, however, we suspect that this occurrence came about by laboratory or other specimens that were released into ponds on campus. Amphibian surveys completed about three years ago failed to locate any leopard frogs and the prevalence of large released goldfish and other fish in these campus wetlands makes it unlikely that any leopard frogs still exist there.

Consequently, the only leopard frogs in the area are likely those in the endangered species lab at WSU and we hope to be able to breed them in captivity so that egg masses and tadpoles can be reintroduced into suitable wetlands to study the reintroduction process, their population ecology, and help determine methods for conserving amphibians in Washington.

One of the ways that biologists survey amphibians is to listen for their mating calls in spring. If you would like to hear what a bullfrog sounds like when calling in spring, visit this site. By comparison, visit the following National Geographic site and click on the multimedia link to hear what a northern leopard frog sounds like.

Contact the Arboretum if you would like more information on amphibian conservation in the Arboretum and at Washington State University. But whatever you do, please don't release captive bullfrogs into local ponds. They can become a devastating predator on other amphibian species. And also, please don't release unwanted goldfish into ponds. Their populations increase rapidly and soon overwhelm the food resources in ponds or wetlands and greatly reduce the capacity of any wetland to support other aquatic life.

R. Sayler

Moose on the Loose!


Even though the land for the WSU Arboretum and Botanical Gardens was only established in January, 2008, the 95-acre landscape harbors enough habitat to host some surprising wildlife visitors. This winter, we were pleased to see a moose (Alces alces) spend a month or more in the area, sometimes wandering through the Experimental Forest and other tree plantings in the Arboretum.

The heavy snowfall this winter probably drove some moose down from nearby Moscow Mountain and out into what historically would have been Palouse Prairie grasslands around the farmland and city of Pullman, Washington. While our colleagues in the WSU Tukey Orchard are none too happy to see a moose browsing on their fruit trees, the tree plantings on the Arboretum site and the adjacent Steffen Center are able to withstand a little moose taste-testing without too much damage.

Either one very adventurous moose, or more likely, a number of different moose were seen around the Pullman area this winter. Once every few years, a moose decides to come down from Moscow Mountain and visit the Arboretum site. About six years ago, a cow and her calf spent part of the winter resting in tree-covered slopes in the Arboretum. Ever since then, we've wondered if the occasional young moose visiting in winter is one of her calves.

Moose Warning Sign
Warning: Now that spring has arrived, moose will head back into the woods around Moscow, Idaho. However, if you happen to see one of these large, magificant animals around Pullman or the Arboretum, please do not approach them. Moose can be aggressive and dangerous, especially if they feel threatened by your approach or if a cow has a calf to protect. So stay away, and please note, that the above, greatly enlarged photo of the moose on the edge of the Arboretum was taken with a 12X telephoto lens from the safety of a vehicle on a road.

Snipe Hunting in the Arboretum

Wilsons Snipe

The newly-established WSU Arboretum and Botanical Gardens recorded an unusual winter visitor in January, 2008. One cold winter morning, students and faculty were surprised to see a Wilson's Snipe (Gallinago delicata) probing for invertebrates in a small puddle on the snow-covered lawn of the E.H. Steffen Center, which borders the WSU Arboretum. A shorebird was the last thing people expected to see on a winter landscape completely buried under deep layers of snow.

However, a leaking water pipe formed a shallow wetland area on the lawn and created perfect conditions for a Wilson's Snipe, which probably found the pond by flying along the tiny creek that runs through the edge of the Arboretum. True to its nature, the snipe was almost impossible to see by people driving by, unless it happened to be standing next to the snow bank on the lawn.

The Wilson's Snipe of North America is closely related to the Common Snipe (Gallinago gallinago) of Iceland, northern Europe, and Russia, and until relatively recently it was considered to be a subspecies of the Common Snipe.

Snipe Hunting

"This well camouflaged bird is usually shy and conceals itself close to ground vegetation and flushes only when approached closely. They fly off in a series of aerial zig-zags to confuse predators. Snipe hunters, therefore, needed to be very skilled to hunt these birds and they came to be called snipers - a term later adopted by the military." (Quote about Common Snipe. Source: Wikipedia - Wilson's Snipe; Common Snipe).

Listen to a Winnowing Snipe

Unfortunately, most people probably have not spent enough time by marshes and wetlands in spring and heard the winnowing of male snipe during the breeding season. Instead of only calling to defend territories and attract mates, male snipe fly high in the air and then make a steep dive, which forces rushing air past the outer curved tail feathers, making a "winnowing" sound.

If you want to hear a vocal call, and then the sound of a male snipe winnowing, visit our friends at the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology (Wilson's Snipe) and click on the "Sound" or "Multimedia" link. This 21 second audio clip begins with the vocal call of a snipe and then half way through, you hear the sound of winnowing as a male snipe dives through the air.

Having heard winnowing snipe many times in my life, I think the sound in the clip is a little sharp and harsh compared to the actual sound you would hear in the field, probably because a sensitive parabolic microphone was used to capture the sound. But even if you hear this sound once on your computer, you'll probably be able to recognize the distinctive winnowing of snipe in the field. And, yes, snipe hunting is allowed in the WSU Arboretum - as long as it is with a camera or sound recorder!

Note: The Steffen Center is a 45-acre teaching and research laboratory for the Department of Natural Resource Sciences on the edge of the Pullman campus, and it also will be the working headquarters, field shop, greenhouse, and nursery for the adjacent WSU Arboretum during the early years of development.