Pacific Northwest

April, 2005
Regional Report

Favorite or New Plant

Flowering Tobacco
Gardens are mainly for visual delight, but I think they should contain scented plants, too. When an annual possesses good looks, easy culture and fragrance, it becomes especially valuable to me. That's why I allow the most room for old-fashioned flowering tobacco (Nicotiana alata), which grows 3 to 4 feet tall and about 2 feet wide. This plant has medium-green oval leaves that are soft to the touch. The white, star-shaped blossoms are wonderfully sweet smelling in early morning or right at dusk, and they bloom prolifically from early July until frost. Nicotiana sometimes self-sows, which makes it even more welcome in my garden.

Clever Gardening Technique

Compost Sifter
My husband and I use a lot of the compost we make as a mulch for our shrub and perennial beds. Because the compost sits on top of the soil rather than being incorporated into the soil, we like it to have a uniform, finely textured appearance. To filter out the larger, unprocessed chunks, we built two sifter boxes that allow us to screen two different sizes.

The boxes are simple rectangular frames made out of 2X4s screwed together at the corners. We sized them to fit squarely on top of our wheelbarrow. For sifting, we used two kinds of screens: hardware cloth for fine sifting, and two offset layers of 2-inch square vinyl trellising for coarser sifting. We stretched the screens tightly and stapled them in place. A strip of lath along the outside of the box helps to secure the ends of the hardware cloth.

We sift the compost by lifting it, two scoops at a time, onto the screen and then moving the compost back and forth across the mesh. The small particles fall into the wheelbarrow below. The large chunks that remain on the screen go back into the pile for further composting. When we first started sifting, we moved the compost around the screen with our hands. Then we discovered that using two 12-inch by 6-inch pieces of plywood makes the process go faster. Not only is the finished product attractive, it makes a healthy mulch for our beds.

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