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Originally published October 15, 2011 at 7:01 PM | Page modified October 16, 2011 at 7:43 AM

Plant Life

Of giant potted plants, lilies and a wetland walk

Plant Life columnist Valerie Easton guides us to artist Ginny Ruffner's new Seattle piece "Urban Garden, urges us to plant lilies and encourages us to take an urban nature walk.

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Valerie Easton writes in her blog about gardens and the people who make them. A columnist for The Seattle Times' Pacific Northwest Magazine for the last 14 years and author of four books on gardening, she lives on Whidbey Island where she loves to hike, read and garden.
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Flowers bloom on Seventh Avenue

If you're garden-minded, the gigantic, colorful new sculpture outside the Sheraton Hotel in downtown Seattle is public art at its best. "Urban Garden" at the corner of Seventh Avenue and Union Street was seven years in the making. The vibrant, fanciful mix of moving parts and Jack-and-the-Beanstalk flora was designed by Seattle artist Ginny Ruffner and crafted by the local firm Fabrication Specialties.

The 27-foot-tall kinetic sculpture is a stunning vehicle for Ruffner's exuberant color artistry. A noted gardener herself, Ruffner's flowers are realistic enough to seem organic despite being made of metal. Vivid turquoise bluebells with prominent yellow anthers, olive-green leaves, a school-bus-yellow daisy and flame-red watering can dominate the busy street corner. And that's before the pieces start moving as smoothly as the hands on a Swiss clock. The daisy spins and the bluebells pop open after water pours from the tilting watering can. Passers-by can watch the mechanical action through a window in the giant flowerpot, or just sit and relax on the saucer-rim bench.

Ruffner's work anchors the Sheraton's new Garden Walk, designed by Gustafson Guthrie Nichol. A glass canopy floats overhead, mirrored walls reflect historic buildings, and vines are beginning to climb the sides of the hotel to create a green corridor on the block between Pike and Union streets.

Halloween is lily time

There's not much to do in the garden this late in the year besides tidy up and plant lilies. You can put lily bulbs into the ground well into November, and you'll be glad you did if you add some martagons, a species more delicate and subtle than the showy Orientals. Lilium martagon x 'Claude Shride' is a classic, dark-red beauty that butterflies love. Martagons are unusual for lilies because they can take partial shade and look their best in a woodland setting.

'Halloween Embers' is new this fall, introduced by B&D Lilies in Port Townsend (www.bdlilies.com/) just in time for the holiday it's named after. Its orange petals and dramatically dark purple/black centers are so intensely colored you won't miss scent in this up-facing Asiatic lily.

Proprietress Dianna Gibson tells me that B&D's new Aurelian (trumpet) lilies are unlike anything introduced in the past 30 years or so. 'Goldfinch' is an especially luscious new trumpet that's hardy, fragrant, 5 to 6 feet tall, long-blooming and drop-dead gorgeous.

Walk wetlands right in the city

No need to drive to the Skagit Valley to see wetlands and birds in full autumn hue and cry. In the heart of the city, not far from University Village, is a loop trail that winds through grasslands, past ponds and along the shore of Lake Washington. This old dump site is an urban treasure worthy of being visited by more than Husky fans on their way to and from the stadium on game days.

Known as "the Montlake fill" by locals, with the unfortunate official name of UBNA (Union Bay Natural Area), the 74-acre site serves as a living research lab for students doing restoration work. Managed by the University of Washington Botanic Gardens, it's the second-largest natural system left on Lake Washington. The flat, gravel loop trail is easily walkable. Park at the Center for Urban Horticulture's free lots (3501 N.E. 41st St.); the trail starts at the lower level, and maps are posted, although it's easy to find your way.

October into November is the time to visit Union Bay. The grasses are at their tawny best, cattails have grown huge and plump, and the ponds and trees are filled with birds. Audubon board member and master birder Connie Sidles spots up to 40 species a day at UBNA this time of year, including bald eagles, red-tailed hawks, merlins, kingfishers, downy woodpeckers and double-crested cormorants.

Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer and author of "The New Low-Maintenance Garden." Check out her blog at www.valeaston.com.

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