TV and radio personality Ciscoe Morris is known around the Pacific Northwest for his planting prowess and infectious passion for all things that grow in the ground. As spring is upon us, Morris took a break from digging in the dirt to give us some tips for getting our gardens going this year.
REFLECTIONS Magazine: When did you start gardening?
Ciscoe Morris: I did a lot of gardening when I was a kid with my mom and grandma, and then I managed to score a job at the local church as the assistant gardener when I was 10 years old. I got to work with a cool guy that never liked to use poisons, so I learned a lot of really cool ways to garden without resorting to chemical pesticides.
RM: You got quite an early start.
CM: Yep, and my goal in life is to get one of every plant on Earth in my garden at the same time before I die.
RM: How far along are you in that goal?
CM: I’m three away now (laughs).
RM: it must be a big garden.
CM: Actually it’s a small garden. My wife, Mary, is a really fantastic gardener, so we divide the garden up into his and hers gardens, so we have our own gardens to work in. It’s a lot of fun because you get to do whatever you want.
RM: So our climate can support plants native to places all over the world?
CM: That’s the amazing thing about living in Western Washington. We can grow more kinds of plants here than almost anywhere else in the world. England is pretty similar. Parts of Japan, too, but there aren’t many places on Earth that can grow such a wide variety as the Pacific Northwest.
rm: What is it about our climate that allows for such a variety?
cm: You know, it’s partially because we don’t get too cold, partially because we don’t get too hot. It’s just a really good climate to grow plants.
RM: What about the lack of sunshine? That doesn’t affect us as much as some people might think?
CM: It’s not as bad as you think. It’s a little limiting on some plants, mostly tropical plants, but many plants prefer the long days and the temperate climate we have. There aren’t many plants you can’t grow as long as, you know, we don’t get too cold. Every now and then we get those darn arctic presses though. Boy, I hate those things.
RM: Luckily, winter is just about over. What are some tips for springtime?
CM: To me, the most fun part of gardening is having hummingbirds in your garden. And we’re so lucky because we have the Anna’s hummingbird that stays here year-round, but we have another hummingbird, called the Rufous hummingbird. It’s smaller, but it’s tough. That one flies all the way down to Mexico and comes back in March. The males come back before the females, and what they’re looking for is somewhere with lots of food.
RM: What plants make good food for them?
CM: The key is you want plants that bloom. A really great one is called red-flowering currant. There are native varieties, and there are fancier ones with prettier flowers. You want the red ones, and you want to plant a lot of those. They love morning sun and need fairly good drainage.
Another great plant that I love is called Pulmonaria (lungwort). Most of them have pink and blue flowers, and the interesting thing is that old-time gardeners called it the brother and sister plant. In England, they called it the sailor-soldier plant, but I don’t know who wore the pink uniforms. They usually have really attractive variegation. The hummingbirds just die for that.
RM: What about other kinds of plants?
CM: Another great plant—it won’t attract hummingbirds, but you’ve got to have it in your garden—is Oriental Hellebore. They bloom for two and a half months, sometimes three months, and there are all these showy flowers—double flowers, yellow flowers with red in them, a whole bunch of different kinds.
RM: What about plants you can eat or use to cook?
CM: There are a lot of new fruiting plants coming out. You can buy them bare-root all the way through March. One kind called BrazelBerries is bred to be grown in pots. They have blueberries and raspberries. They don’t get very big, but they produce like crazy. You don’t need a cross pollinator, and they are great if you have a condo, or small garden.
RM: What about herbs?
CM: There are some really good rosemary plants, one of my favorites. They’ve got a new one now, maybe called drumstick rosemary, and it has straight branches. You can stick your shish kebab right on the grill and get all that rosemary flavor. A lot of people are cooking with lavender too. But there’s still nothing in the world better than basil.
RM: Any tricks for growing the perfect basil?
CM: One secret about basil is you really have to wait until June to plant it otherwise you will kill it. Basil is a hot-climate plant. Another trick is you always want to harvest early in the morning with the dew. The oils will get cooked out during the day. That’s true of almost every herb by the way.
For more tips, listen to “Gardening with Ciscoe” on 97.3 FM KIRO radio. Morris also appears on numerous TV shows throughout the region. For more information, visit ciscoe.com.