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Originally published January 7, 2012 at 7:01 PM | Page modified January 8, 2012 at 8:47 AM

Plant Life

Here's to brighter, easier, more edible NW gardens

Plant Life columnist Valerie Easton says gardeners, whether because of frugality or environmental concerns, are making wiser choices about matching plants to growing conditions and space limitations.

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Valerie Easton writes in her blog about gardens and the people who make them. A columnist for The Seattle Times' Pacific Northwest Magazine for the last 14 years and author of four books on gardening, she lives on Whidbey Island where she loves to hike, read and garden.
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Trends to take root in 2012

I see a great many gardens every year and have the pleasure of talking with smart, savvy gardeners. This doesn't give me a crystal ball, but here are a few of their trend predictions that ring true:

• Gardeners, whether because of frugality or environmental concerns, are making wiser choices about matching plants to growing conditions and space limitations. This results in healthier plants that require less labor and fewer resources.

• Vivid, saturated colors are the new, new thing in plants, art, birdhouses, pots — a great way to warm up the garden on chilly days.

• We seem to be moving away from the rustic, handmade look and toward metal finishes for the garden. Copper, iron and galvanized steel are durable materials that add a modern edge, gloss and reflectivity to outdoor spaces.

• The buy-local movement has helped independent garden centers and smaller growers come on strong. In a world where information and plants proliferate beyond our ability to keep up, the value, selection and knowledge offered by local experts is ever more appreciated.

• Who wants to put flowers doused in chemicals and shipped halfway across the world on our dining-room tables? The idea of localism is extending to cut flowers. Gardeners are starting to see their entire property as a cutting garden, finding joy in crafting easy, fresh little bouquets from their own backyards. The new Seattle Wholesale Growers Market Cooperative in Georgetown was a big success in its first year.

• We're learning that food gardening is hard work and not always cost effective. As crops peak in our gardens they're plentiful at local farmers markets. But we won't stop growing our own food now that we've started. We'll just be smarter about it and plant what makes sense for our tastes, time and garden space. Edibles like strawberries, blueberries, herbs, lettuces, arugula and peapods are ornamental, delicious freshly picked, don't take up too much room and are easy to grow. I've heard a surprising number of gardeners say that with the spate of cold summers recently, they're leaving tomato growing to the experts. Might the competitive sport of tomato ripening be on the wane?

Nerd Night moves north

Only in a gardening community as fervent as ours would hearts leap in joy to learn that Seattle is finally going to have its own Plant Nerd Night. Portland gardeners have long celebrated spring with a lively gathering of plant fanatics who show and sell their most exciting plants. Many of us from Seattle drove three hours to be part of the frenzy. Portland's Plant Nerd Night is hard-core, with door prizes of soil and fertilizer, and rousing songs from the Chorus of the Goddess Flora.

The Northwest Horticultural Society will kick off our very own gathering 6 to 9 p.m. April 19 at the Mountaineers at Magnuson Park. Moderator Ciscoe Morris is sure to whip the crowd into a fever over covetable plants from the likes of Dan Hinkley and Far Reaches Farm. There'll be swag bags, wine, an auction and music, song and dance from the hilarious Chorus of the Goddess Flora. See www.northwesthort.org for details.

The fairest plants of them all

Speaking of plant celebration, 'Bountiful Blue' blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum) from Monrovia Growers was named "Best Edible" at the 2011 Farwest Show for the national plant industry in Portland. 'Bountiful Blue' distinguishes itself with blue-toned foliage, a compact habit and lots of big, sweet berries. Monrovia also took home "Best Shrub" honors for a dwarf, disease-resistant holly called 'Little Rascal' (Ilex x meservae 'Monnieves') with dark, glossy green foliage that colors up purple and burgundy as the weather cools.

"Best in Show" went to Flutterby Grande Peach Cobbler Nectar Bush. Doesn't it drive you crazy when such long names don't even tell you what the plant is? Turns out the grand champ is a buddleia, or butterfly bush, with flower cones that are more pink than peach. The foliage is silvery, it blooms all summer, and the honey-scented flowers attract butterflies and hummingbirds.

Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer and author of "The New Low-Maintenance Garden." Check out her blog at www.valeaston.com.

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