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The Seattle Times | Pacific Northwest
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Plant Life Valerie Easton

Clippings

Fresh ideas add life to outdoor spaces

Rocks of ages, saved for thee

Sylvia Matlock and Ross Johnson excavated the past to redesign their Vashon Island nursery. Who would have thought cages stuffed with stones would freshen up the look at DIG Floral and Garden and become a hot new landscaping trend?

Such contraptions retained the shores of the Nile River more than 7,000 years ago. First made of woven reed baskets filled with soil or rocks, gabions evolved by the time of the Civil War into willow-woven, sand-filled cylinders used as military fortifications. Soldiers turned them into weapons by filling gabions with wool or straw, then lighting them on fire to roll down hillsides into advancing enemies. Today's gabions aren't quite so dramatic. They're usually built of steel wire, filled with boulders or riprap, and mostly used to repair or prevent erosion along rivers and highways, or to build foundations or dams.

Now gabions are making an appearance in Northwest gardens as architectural features. They actually gain strength over time as soil and vegetation fill in and colonize between the rocks, reinforcing the structure's heft and solidity. And just think, if you're not using gabions as retaining walls, they can be filled with pretty much anything big enough not to fall through the wire mesh. The thought of beach-ball-filled gabions, or who knows what else, should inspire creativity among gardeners on a quest for out-of-the-ordinary garden décor.

A great place to see gabions retaining a hillside is behind Merrill Hall at the Center for Urban Horticulture, 3501 N.E. 41st St. These are "green" gabions, filled with recycled concrete. To appreciate how visually effective rock and wire can be, stop in DIG at 19028 Vashon Highway S.W., where gabion towers define space and create backdrop for plant displays.

Wish for a table or a seat, and Pouf! it appears

We've come a long way since the 1970s, when indoor/outdoor carpeting was an innovation. A new product with the unlikely name of "Primary Pouf" looks so great you'll want to use it year-round, indoors and out. As durable as a Mack truck, these cube-like little stools weigh almost nothing. Poufs are made of all-weather foam that's soft enough to sit on, yet firm enough to serve as a table. And the colors! Berry, olive, chartreuse, orange and chocolate, among others, all with gray polypropylene legs. Pull a pouf up to a patio table for extra seating or up to the couch to hold a dinner tray. Scatter them around a swim pool or set a plant on them — these classy poufs shed rain and don't fade, yet their matte finish looks almost like upholstery when you bring them indoors. Poufs are designed by Arne Quinze and made by the same company that created the furniture for the downtown Seattle Public Library. They cost $330, hold up to 300 pounds, and are available from Design Within Reach, 1918 First Ave., Seattle, 206-443-9900 or www.dwr.com.

Bring back the bees, one garden at a time

We all love a mystery, yet I've been puzzled why the many articles about vanishing honeybees are mostly speculation over what's gone wrong. There seem as many theories as there are theorists. Whatever the source of the problem, our garden practices can help solve it. How we garden protects and encourages bees, or kills them off. Think of the network of gardens throughout the country, and the world, that provide haven or not for honeybees, and never doubt that gardeners can make the difference in the future of this primary pollinator.

Good organic gardening practices are vital to saving our bee population. Avoid using all poisons, which kill off desirable insects as surely as whatever you mean to destroy. Plant native shrubs and flowers, which have co-evolved along with the bees. Leave some areas of soil mulch-free as habitat for ground-nesting bees. Remember that simpler, older flower cultivars with fewer petals are most attractive to bees. Draw them to your garden by planting in clumps rather than scattering flowers around — which makes for better garden design as well. You can feed bees over a long season by extending bloom time in your garden with plants like hellebores, mahonia, flowering currant and asters that flower early and late. To learn more, see www.xerces.org.

Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer and author of "A Pattern Garden." Her e-mail address is valeaston@comcast.net.

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