Big shoes to fill

I called them my “freeway roses” and one time I had a conversation with my neighbor in which I told her I was thinking of removing them. She said (paraphrasing) “Noooo! They’re pretty!”

They were. Sort of. The great things about Meidiland roses are: Need zero supplemental water, need no pruning, ever, they’re incredibly resistant to every disease including the ubiquitous black spot, and they bloom for 6 to 8 months. Oh and they’re evergreen. So why would I get rid of such a great plant that does a fantastic job of screening the front yard from the street and helping to create that sense of enclosure that I crave?

“It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important.” 
― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

I wasted no time on them; no thought nor concern. I wasn’t invested in them. At all. They came with the house. They were a plant that I never in a million years would have chosen, for this garden.

I know it sounds sad. But Portland’s freeways sport thousands of those roses, so no need for any moments of silence. Shall we have a look at the hole?

You would not previously have been able to see my car’s butt
Ex-rose area from the street. Big shoes to fill here.

In the picture above you can really see how big that clump of four plants was: their footprint is clearly marked as the big bare area with lavender on the right, the purple Heuchera behind. What’s that plant in the pot, you ask? Why, that’s Grevillea ‘Neil Bell’ auditioning that spot.

I actually want to plant a manzanita in there too, with the Grevillea. But I don’t have one yet. Fortunately, however, while on a recent botany field trip with my friend Paul, I happened to pick up some Arbutus menziesii sticks from the side of the road…

You have to envision the leaves
Ersatz manzanita. I think it should actually go over to the right about a foot or so.

What if I *also* could have Grevillea x gaudichaudii under that ersatz manzanita? Um yes. Now to find one… if anyone knows please dish it!

Over on the left in pic above, there are two plants worth mentioning. One is a Gala apple that was not planted well (it’s very unstable and probably has terrible roots) and a Garrya elliptica. You can see them both here – apple in back and Garrya is small, in front:

Apple and Garrya, which I’m realizing you actually can’t really see well in this pic.

What I intend to do is move that apple and probably espalier it somewhere else. Backyard, I guess. This is a terrible place for it and it needs to be re-planted anyway to get its root situation sorted out, if possible. I’m hoping the Garrya will occupy its space, mostly. I’m interested in seeing how this trio of shrubs (Garrya, Grevillea, and Arctostaphylos) ends up interacting with each other in this spot, which gets some pretty good blasting afternoon sun and heat, but is otherwise mostly dappled shade from the dogwood overhead. And I think what I envision is for the Garrya and Arcto to get up-pruned, both quite a lot, depending on what they offer in terms of pruning opportunity. Then the Grevillea can do its blob thing, but the whole area won’t end up being a totally solid evergreen wall; instead there will be some alternation and undulation of trunks and foliage. I hope.

Garrya elliptica gets pretty big, but seems to handle sun or shade or anything in between quite well. I saw one in Australia, in the town of Leura in the Blue Mountains, that was in full shade and it was this lovely sinewy thing that wound its way up through other plants and a fence and was mostly up-pruned – I think that’s what I would hope to end up with. We shall see.

I’m not done, there are two more spots. Let’s start with the less developed situation. I am proud to announce that the oh-so-annoying English laurel hedge of encroachment is GONE. Thanks, Dad!

10-15+ feet tall laurel hedge was here right at the edge of the ivy. That’s the property line. There will be no ivy on my property under any circumstances ever.

Dad kindly showed up for two sessions with his electric chain saw. First he cut the whole thing to knee-level, then after a few weeks and some rather impressive regrowth, he came back and chopped it again, this time flush with the soil. There will be more killing in the future, and I want to discuss ivy removal with the neighbor (and possibly limbing up the dead branches of the blue spruce), but more immediately, we now have a LOT more gardenable space!

Here’s the view from the street:

This was a solid mass of laurel from the curb to the Lonicera (dead center in this pic)

It is such a relief to have that gone. There was also a cherry plum in there, about 25′ tall, which we took out. Nasty sticky drippy seedy tree. Now there’s a pile of dirt and wood chips, both of which I really want to get out of there, and I didn’t take pictures focusing on them, but there are three large shrubs toward the street which will also come out: a Nandina, a Berberis (you can see it above on left), and a Mahonia aquifolium (my least favorite of all the Mahonias in the world).

I’m saving the best for last: HOT LIPS IS GONE.

You can see its wake.. see how it pushed the Callistemon down and left?

It went to a very appreciative home, along with the roses. Those will both be GREAT plants for someone who loves easy-care flowers and border color. That Salvia was something I’d put some effort into making peace with. I appreciated its low water needs, its popularity with the hummingbirds, and its nearly evergreen-ness most years. But it was really too much of something I didn’t truly love, especially in this most prominent spot in the entire garden, right by the front door.

I’m now really happy with the plant selection here. Let me give you an annotated pic:

and some Sedum oreganum and an asparagus fern. That big culinary sage in upper left will come out eventually but that’s a whole nother post.

This plant palette makes me much happier than just the ONE BIGASS SALVIA which totally dominated this entire scene previously. If ‘Ivanhoe’ lives consistently through winters here, it’ll eventually have to move and what I might do is put it right where G. victoriae is, because this is too much hot afternoon sun for G. vic to hold onto its flower buds. It has already aborted most of them, and we haven’t even had a hot summer.

But waaay down at the base of the plant, this one flower truss made it:

I love this soft salmon pink color! Not what I expected, but I’ll take it.

But that won’t help the hummingbirds much – they won’t even know it’s there as it’s three inches off the ground.

I’m finding that lately, my plant choices are shifting. Rather than just whatever I think is botanically curious or super gorgeous, I’m taking into account a plant’s utility for pollinators, birds and other wildlife, and for local ecology generally. Hyperlocal, even, inasmuch as that relates to my water provision regimes for the various hydrozones in the garden.

That does NOT mean, by any means, that I want to plant nothing but local natives. I have a lot of those and I’m actively looking for more. What it DOES mean is that I’m seeking maximum year-round support for hummingbirds. I’m prioritizing native and non-native annual flowers that are super popular with the warm-season insect pollinators such as bees. I’m starting to consider nesting materials beyond dog hair. I’m interested in attracting beneficial and/or predatory insects (what eats flea beetles? I’d love to know).

Basically I’m seeing this garden more and more as not just my personal project, but a place that can favorably support a whole lot of organisms beyond just me. That includes not just the wild and domesticated animals and insects that live here and visit, but also the people that live here and visit. Tall order? Nah. Makes it all more interesting. Big shoes to fill with all these large plants getting removed. But it means we’ll end up with a better garden for everyone all around, in time.

Thanks for reading. I’ll take better pictures next time I promise.

Then and Now

I found some old pics. Enjoy!

May 25, 2016
July 8, 2019
April 30, 2016
July 8, 2019.
August 21, 2015. Converted lawn into veg beds.
July 8, 2019. Some of these plants are edible!
April 28, 2016. Chicken house under construction.
July 8, 2019

Clearly it’s a mess no matter what I do. Nonetheless, I think I like all of the “now” views better.

Plants in the mail!

Back when I was really into cars the running joke was about how you should always have your car parts mailed to your neighbor, so your wife doesn’t see how much you’ve been ordering online (and how much $$$)… Well, it’s no different with plants, but this time, it was fellow blogger Lance Garden Riots who had the order sent to me!

Now, to be fair, he didn’t really do it to hide it from his wife. It’s because we went in on the order together to save on shipping, and the delivery timing coincided better with a time I’d be able to receive it.

It’s always interesting to see how plants are shipped. I was impressed with this method!

plants in a shipping box

Flowers by the Sea is a mail order nursery specializing in Salvia, a genus that I find particularly interesting, not only for their utility to pollinators, but also because so many are drought-tolerant heat lovers and that’s a pretty important niche in any west coast garden especially inland.

Continuing with the unpacking, under the layer of peanuts there are plants, each in a 4″ pot, very carefully wrapped in 2-3 sheets of newsprint:

plant wrapped for shipping
Salvia pachyphylla ‘Blue Flame’

The first one is Lance’s – Salvia pachyphylla ‘Blue Flame’ aka Giant Purple Desert Sage. It doesn’t look giant here but the foliage smells wonderful – that classic desert sage scent. I can’t wait to see what Lance does with it!

plant wrapped in paper

The taller plants had been folded over inside the paper – you can sort of see that here (I’ve unfolded this one). There was very little breakage.

salvia plant in pot

The above pictured was the only plant that had any of its soil come out of the pot, and as you can see it was only a bit of a dusting.

unboxed mail-order plants
The whole shipment

Here they are all unboxed. My two are the Salvia africana-lutea ‘Kirstenbosch’ (in front with the brown flowers) and the one directly behind it which is Salvia x jamensis ‘Full Moon’. I had also ordered S. semiatrata but unfortunately it was out of stock by the time they shipped.

Now here they are one day later – they’ve unfolded a bit and I have all the confidence in the world that they’ll continue to do so and in a week there will be no remaining evidence of having been folded over for shipping. Pretty neat technique!

boink

In other Salvia-related news, I’m changing up the area by the front door which involves removing (finally, phew) the gigantic ‘Hot Lips’ as well as (at least most of) the culinary sage ‘Berggarten’. Both are very successful plants there, but dangit, I want more interesting things in that highly visible area. Honestly I’ve been sort of stuck, design-wise, in this area for a while (analysis paralysis, anyone?) but my housemate Kate got me unstuck. Basically, she said the Hot Lips is boring and the red and white color is pretty gaudy, and the culinary sage is just an oversized blob that belongs in a less prominent spot, if we’re going to have it at all. Despite my myriad excuses for leaving those plants (both of which came with the house) in place for so long, I knew immediately that she’s absolutely right.

Anyway stay tuned – here’s a “before” pic:

culinary sage plant
So very successful. But I’m over it.

Lastly, I’m happy to report that my S. discolor made it through the winter in its pot, protected under my patio right up against the house. Now it’s out in the garden looking very pretty!

Salvia discolor and that’s Digitalis ‘Honey Trumpet’ at left

Happy gardening.