Garden inspiration: Richie Steffen lecture on great plants

InspiratSpring Garden Inspirationion from Richie Steffen

Richie Steffen gave the lecture this week for the winter speaker series for the Snohomish County Master Gardener foundation.  The series is so popular it sold out with season ticket holders and the line up of speakers is wonderful as  always.  I wasn’t able to see the first lecture, but I didn’t want to miss Richie Steffen as I hadn’t seen him speak before.

Photo by Richie Steffen, courtesy of Great Plant Pic

One trend I’ve noticed in speakers for Master Gardener groups is that the speakers tend to focus on describing their favorite plants or plants they thing we would like or should buy.  Every now and then we will get a person who focuses on design or “pests and problems”… gpp-logo-colorbut overwhelmingly its a very entertaining speaker who comes with a list of plants and beautiful pictures.  Am I complaining about this?  Not really.  At least not yet.  And anyway… that’s what Richie Steffen does… he IS the Great Plant Picks guy after all.

My seeds are ready…

January is a tough month for me as a gardener.  I have my seeds in hand and  my plans are made.  But I can’t quite start yet.  I can do the boring stuff… clean the greenhouse, make sure the lights are ready, get proper containers and make sure I have soil for seeds.  But it may still get really cold, so I can’t move out the tender plants in the greenhouse yet so things are really cramped.  And if I start seeds too soon and they are ready mid-march but if we have a frost predicted… I have a holy mess of plants that are unhappy and

Audrey from Little Shop of Horrors

either need to be potted up or are going to be stunted because they don’t like being potted up or are cramped in a small container or whatever reason they decide to not be happy.  Yes, I am anthropomorphizing plants…


Erythronium oregonum GIANT WHITE FAWN LILY Richie Steffen, courtesy of Great Plant Picks

Garden lectures in the winter are a few hours of heaven.  Talking to other gardeners, looking at beautiful pictures of plants and gardens, finding a new plant in just the right color for that unusual spot in the garden… Part of the fun is the process… for me part of the fun of traveling is in the preparation and planning of what I’m going to do where ever I may be going.  Same is true for gardeners in the winter. 

That’s why the Richie Steffen lecture yesterday was such a god-send.  Richie is a great photographer in addition to having a depth of knowledge that is really unsurpassed in the Pacific Northwest.  He spent roughly 100 minutes on two topics and although they did boil down to lists of cool plants, he did it in an entertaining and useful way.  The first half was titled Perennials for Every Season and of course started out with our current spring season.  He made me want to go out to my local nurseries and find most of these wonderful plants even though I doubt I would actually get them in the ground right now!

Narcissus ‘Rinjnveld’s Early Sensation’

In spring we are looking at bulbs of course and one he recommended that will be buying next fall is Narcissus ‘Rinjnveld’s Early Sensation’ as a large early blooming narcissus that lasts for many more weeks than the normal 2 you might get later in the spring.  Richie spoke of the usefulness of spring ephemerals because they bloom and show off but then fade and are gone by the time the summer plants are starting on stage.  He suggested trying to plant with a month interval in blooming so that you don’t have a beautiful bloom right next to a bunch if dying ugly foliage.  He also suggested that the dime store primroses should not be our gage  for primroses as there are many very good ones out there.  I found interesting his support of species peonies and emphasized how different they are from the hybrids.  They flower earlier and should not be dead headed as they have great seed heads.

California fuchsia, photo from Joy Creek nurseries, courtesy of Great Plant Picks.

After speaking about Summer and autumn plants he spoke for the next 45 minutes about “50 Perennials for 5 problems”.  This was a great way for him to group his plant list into subject areas.  The 5 problems he spoke of were Hot and dry, Dry shade, Slopped sites, wet soils, and compacted soils.  On my property my biggest problems are the slopped site, dry shade and to a degree hot and dry.  I say hot and dry NOT because we get very hot here.  But because I have so much sandy soil that drainage occurs fast and for the few weeks in the summer when we do have really hot conditions I have to be particularly careful.  For the hot and dry section I was interested in a “new to me” plant called Epilobium californica… commonly names California fuchsia.  There was a nice Lobelia tupa with deep red stems although it sounds like it can get huge.

“Trachystemon orientalis B” by Wouter Hagens

Dry shade is always a problem area.  He suggested some of the typical plants two I am going to explore are Trachystemon orientalis which has large leaves, and a fern names Dryopteris complexa.  Richie is an expert on ferns… check out my book review of his latest book, The Plant Lovers Guide to Ferns.

The areas I have for dry shade are also places my chickens tend to congregate to stay out of the heat or rain.  So nay plants I put there need to be strong enough to complete with their scratching and grazing.  For example I can never keep hostas around the chickens as they eat them before they can establish themselves.

For sloped sites I was intrigued with the idea of using Iris hybrids PCH (pacific coast hybrids).Wetmeadowwithwildirises  I remember when I was a kid we vacationed in Colorado and we came across huge fields of wild purple irises.  We weren’t a wealthy family and having displays of large groupings of flowers was something I only saw in books.  But I was able to cut a few dozen of these wild irises and take them back to where we were staying.  So recreating that memory might be a nice way to add a special story to my garden design.

I really enjoyed this Richie Steffen lecture and would encourage anyone who hasn’t seen him speak to try and see him.  I believe he has twRichie Steffen lecture SnoCO MG (1 of 1)-5o lectures at the 2016 Northwest Flower and Garden Show in February.  He also told us the new theme for the Great Plants Picks this year is Birds & Bees (and hummingbirds and butterflies) and although the new poster is not yet available he did show us a preview.  They will be available at the flower show though.

I would encourage everyone to remember why we garden… and we all have different reasons but I think after many years we sometimes forget to stop and think about what it is we really love about gardening… and then refocus on that love.  Do you really love vegetable gardening but spend too much time snowcreek_2246_17944304making the lawn look “just right” because the neighbors looks “just right”?  What happened to that color scheme you used to care so much about?  I had a deep red/maroon color scheme but some lobelias in that scheme died for no apparent reason (but they all died so I presume it was a disease of some sort) and that bummed me out… but Richie’s lecture today got me re-inspired to work on that color scheme again.

What do you love most about the garden that you want to re-focus on???  Let us all know in the comments below!

Further reading:

Read my book review of the new book by Richie Steffen titled The Plant Lovers Guide to Ferns.

Subscribe to our newsletter for more great articles, DIY and garden talk!

Thank you for subscribing!  If you havent downloaded it yet check out our free 22-page e-book on Seed starting at the link below!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *