Friday, October 28, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Plant Life


There's gold in these paintings

Vashon botanical artist Jean Emmons was honored with a gold medal at the 2005 Royal Horticultural Society Exhibit in Birmingham, England, this past June. Emmons describes the big international show as "the Olympics of botanical art." In preparation, Emmons grew an assortment of Pacific Coast hybrid iris for four years, painting them as they came into bloom. Eight of her life-size paintings were exhibited along with the work of 80 other selected artists from around the globe. The British judges questioned the near-turquoise blue of our native 'Magic Sea' iris, wondering if perhaps Jean had exaggerated its unique coloration. An expert was called in from the BBC's "Gardeners' World" television show, who confirmed the iris' vivid blue as an accurate depiction of the real thing.

"It was the best morning of my life," says Emmons, who brought home not only the gold but a deal for the RHS Lindley Library to buy four of her paintings for its permanent collection.

A perennial dream come true

Isn't every garden fanatic's dream to own their own cool-plant nursery? Here's your chance. Carl and Kara Elliott, owners of the wholesale Northwest Perennials in Mount Vernon, are selling their business to return to college. "The goal of the nursery has been to stretch the boundaries of the variety of plants on the market every year," says Carl. "In our own little way, we've created a Northwest Perennials brand."

Carl, who dispenses advice as "The Plant Man" on KUOW radio's Weekday show Wednesday mornings, wants to get a degree in public garden management and park design. We just want someone to please keep on producing those cool carexes, hardy salvias and healthy heucheras we count on from Northwest Perennials. If you haven't seen them, check out

Beware of 'our Katrina'

So, will we need to wrap banana trees and dig dahlias this winter? Cliff Mass, University of Washington professor of atmospheric sciences, advises that this looks to be a neutral weather year, which means not El Niño or La Niña. "There's no reason to expect any major temperature or precipitation anomalies," says Mass. Lest you start feeling complacent, he adds, "Neutral years typically are the biggest for major storms, however, so we have to be ready for our version of Katrina." And what might that be? "Our Katrina is the Columbus Day storm (1962) or similar — equivalent to a category 3 hurricane. Snowfall is generally near normal (which lately is not much), but the biggest snowstorms have happened in neutral years."

Farewell, fickle flower people

Have you noticed the lack of crowds at nurseries and plant sales? Seems like there's been a distinct downturn, and attendance has been off at garden lectures and flower shows as well. What's going on? Nursery owners tell me that while spring sales were hurting, due to premature drought warnings followed, ironically, by something like a dozen rainy weekends, business picked up as the summer progressed. But is it really just the weather?

Carol Stocker, who writes about gardens for the Boston Globe, says, "It's down here, too. Everyone blamed the weather, because it really did rain every weekend through the crucial spring season. But my feeling is that the industry is off in general." Ann Raver, garden columnist for the New York Times, agrees. "I think the fickle masses are moving on. Hurray. That leaves the deep gardeners in peace."

You don't hear hurrahs from Duane Kelly, owner of the Northwest Flower & Garden Show, who has been researching the subject since learning that flower-show attendance was down by 8 to 12 percent, not just here in Seattle but in Philadelphia, Boston and even England. Kelly says the explosion of interest in gardening is declining as we baby boomers and our gardens age. He told me that downsizing my garden made me a perfect example of a "macro-demographic trend." Gardeners are simplifying. Kelly himself recently replaced a perennial bed with boxwoods and gravel. The good news is that Gen X and Y are into gardening, just not to the same extent as we've been. Our kids see gardens more as fun, social spaces, and seem to be avoiding our whole-hearted plant obsession. For now, anyway.

Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer and contributing editor for Horticulture magazine. Her e-mail address is

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company


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