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Originally published Friday, February 28, 2014 at 11:03 AM

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Fresh ideas, new roses and lovely lettuces coming your way

Natural Gardener columnist Valerie Easton tells us what’s on the horizon as gardening season ramps up.

Special to The Seattle Times

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Learn to get small

As days lengthen, it’s not only plants that are stirring. Gardeners emerge from hibernation, their flora fever kicked into high gear by the Northwest Horticultural Society’s Spring Gardening Symposium. The date is March 22, and the theme is “Small Spaces — Big Impact.”

It’s a coup to coax Shirley Watts, an inspiring and innovative San Francisco Bay Area designer, to Seattle to speak. Watts designs with ecology in mind (she did a fantastic bee garden at the Late Show exhibition in Napa, Calif.). She uses salvaged materials and tough, low-maintenance plants to create contemporary, comfortable garden spaces. Her work is a little wild, always surprising. Andrew Wilson, Chelsea Flower Show judge, designer and author of a book on small gardens, will hop across the pond to tell us about design trends in the UK. Famed Oregon hellebore breeder Marietta O’Byrne and local landscape-construction expert Scot Eckley will hold forth about plants and practicalities.

The past couple of years, the event sold out weeks ahead, so it’s a good idea to sign up early. The symposium runs from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., and includes lunch prepared in the kitchens of Bastyr University. Cost is $65 for members, $85 for nonmembers. Find details at

Ravishing new roses

How can roses get any more seductive? Ask David Austin. His new varieties of English roses for 2014 are voluptuously frilled and intensely fragrant.

“Austin has been working hard to increase disease resistance and hardiness,” says Rachel Anderson, rose buyer at Christianson’s Nursery near Mount Vernon. She’s excited about ‘The Lark Ascending,’ a repeat-flowering, cup-shaped rose with silky apricot petals. She points out that the deeply double, salmon-colored ‘Boscobel’ is part of the new “simple-to-grow series,” featuring roses easy enough for beginning gardeners.

Christianson’s offers a long list of roses every winter (, including all five new Austin roses. Bare-root roses should go into the ground in late winter. Potted roses are best planted in April or May, Anderson advises.

Local lettuce all year: yes

Did you suffer fresh-lettuce withdrawal when your garden wound down in late autumn? Kale persists, but it’s not the same as mesclun or freshly picked butter lettuce. It’s hard to reconcile yourself to big, limp heads of leaf lettuce grown in Arizona or Mexico and shipped thousands of miles. But now there’s hope for local lettuce year-round.

Colin McCrate of Seattle Urban Farm Co. says his company is putting up greenhouses with inner covers (inspired by the work of Eliot Coleman, to protect lettuce through the winter. He hopes to supply Bastille in Ballard (to supplement what they grow on their roof), and other restaurants with fresh lettuces through future winters.

Maureen Murphy, owner of Bayview Farm & Garden on Whidbey Island, is growing lettuce hydroponically throughout the year. She delivered her first heads of taste-test-winning lettuce to local grocery stores in January. Murphy also plans to supply restaurants and the cafe at her nursery.

How much lettuce? “The one pond we have has about a 3,600-head capacity. We plant little seedlings at one end and harvest at the other end of the pond.” Murphy hopes to produce between 45,000 and 50,000 heads of lettuce by this time next year. The technology is new, and patents are pending. A water scientist who used to work for NASA is involved. “What we’re doing here is creating sophisticated, controlled environment agriculture. It’s the future,” says Murphy.

Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer. Check out her blog at

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