The Plants of Downtown Milwaukie

I get my coffee from the Painted Lady Coffeehouse because they carry beans roasted by my good friend Justin of Badbeard’s Microroastery, who I met years ago through music – he’s an excellent cellist and boy does he know how to roast coffee!

I went down early because I was completely out of beans (for three days! the horror!), and I’d just had a service technician come diagnose my not-working-very-well furnace (not good, recommended all-out replacement), and I really needed to just take a walk and look at plants and not think about how I’m going to come up with the money. AND my car overheated yesterday so there’s nervousness about that.

Turns out, sleepy little downtown Milwaukie has some rather interesting plantings! It’s not all boxwood and Nandina!

Although… those do exist and this has to be the most spectacular Nandina I’ve ever seen:

Nandina just falling over with berries

Just outside the door of the Painted Lady they have a sort of nice little container planting – I like how the red pot matches the violas:

Looks like Ilex crenata ‘Sky Pencil’, a Sedum, and Violas

Down the block this sign just seems to scream admonishment about sheared boxwood with chickweed as ground cover.  They’re not all like this!

On to something more interesting.

Lavender, Berberis, Ligustrum, Sedum.. nice rocks

I rather liked this corner planting featuring a bright green Ligustrum japonicum, a Berberis in lovely fall colors, and multiple lavenders.  The simplicity here is what I think draws me.


another view of same

Right at the corner there’s a swath of Coreopsis – I remember these from summer and they were spectacular.  There are several around on street corners in this area.

Coreopsis verticillata. I like them when they’re all dead too

Another corner planting, across the street, features more coreopsis, one of several grasses you’ll see more of eventually, what I believe is Glechoma hederacea, and Nepeta, which even had a couple flowers.  I really like that rock.


Next corner features a painfully sheared Ceanothus, but wait, what’s this black thing!?


NOWAY REALLY? I’ve never seen a black Phygelius before.  I googled of course, and came up with *maybe* Phygelius x rectus ‘Devil’s Tears’, but only a couple of sites even mention dark foliage, much less black foliage.  Sorry for the out-of-focus bits there; with iPhone it’s really one or the other and I figured the leaves were more important here.

Across the sidewalk from the interesting Phygelius and the painfully pruned Ceanothus we find Oenothera lindheimerii, looking wonderfully spazzy just like mine at home, some unidentifiable ground covers (Liriope maybe, for the grassy ones) another big swath of Coreopsis, and what I figure is Juniperus squamata ‘Blue Star’.  Despite not noticing the Phygelius ever before, I do remember seeing this corner in summers past and thinking it looks pretty great for a low-to-no-maintenance, no-water street corner.  We’ll come back next summer so you can see what I’m on about since it’s not particularly impressive now.


What I think is impressive about all this is that, as mentioned, it’s not all Nandina/Sarcococca/Viburnum davidii/Spiraea japonica; what I think of as the standard parking lot plants.  These corners exist because of the way parking is organized at the diagonal on a lot of these streets, and I appreciate that someone took the opportunity to plant at least a few interesting things.

See what I mean here about diagonal parking:

Above, we have the same juniper, some moppy and somehow charming Chamaecyparis, the tree is a dogwood, and how about that Lobelia laxiflora right in the middle with the variegated Euphorbia?

Lobelia laxiflora blooming on December 9. Such a happening plant. I know not everyone loves it but I do.

Wouldn’t be without some member of Apiaceae… This fennel looks like it’s being quite nicely contained by those grassy clumps, and probably gets stepped on and run over too.  Natural pruning make for a nice compact little blip of a plant rather than that towering out of control thug fennel can be.

I’m 100% sure this is not an on-purpose plant.

Next up, around the corner, some unusual selections for built-in street-side planter boxes: Agaves and chickweed!

These are on the east side of this building.


It seems almost all Agaves in urban/publicly accessible spaces get abused, and this one is no exception!

Battle scars. Were its adversaries drunk people falling into it? Mindless idiots passing by and thwacking it with sticks? Shopping carts? I’d guess any and all.

Next up, a huge formless mound of Chamaecyparis! But wait, this Achillea here has super silvery leaves and if I’m going to have Achillea popping up all over my garden (I do) I’d rather have it be silvery than the plain dark green stuff I have.  I pocketed a seed head.

If it has to have yellow flowers, I can handle that.

Across the street we have some plantings that I imagine went in during the construction of the MAX Orange Line.  This is a bowl with rocks in the bottom and a bunch of plants around it, many of them native.  It’s really quite nice.  I wonder how huge those birch trees are going to get.  Did they plant them on purpose to suck up runoff water?

runoff catchment basin I presume?

Mostly natives. What I could make out was a young Thuja (plicata?), lots of Ribes sangiuneum, various grasses, lots of Juncus down in the bowl along with those birches, and some rather lovely Mahonia repens. And these tiny tiny roses with leaves smaller than Lonicera nitida.  Very cute.

Tiniest rose ever


Coffee for me, thanks

Here you can see the rocks at the bottom of the bowl.  I guess this is designed to just become a lake when necessary?

The high side under the pine tree sports mostly Mahonia repens and Polystichum munitum, but there are also Echinacea purpurea sort of sprinkled throughout.

I found myself really liking this Mahonia repens.  Interesting soft colors, matte finish, the nice roundish leaves, and low.  I think I will use this in a particularly problematic dry shade area I’ve got.

On the way home, I stopped to take that opening photo of the spectacular Nandina and because of the way I’d parked (drove into spot, then backed up) I noticed water on the ground that had obviously come from my car.  Well! Now we have a reason for yesterday’s overheating! There is a leak somewhere.

When I got home I found the source of the leak: the valve that opens and closes the intake to the heater core was broken, the little valve flap inside wasn’t connected to the lever that is supposed to open and close it via a cable.

This is broken.

But guess what! I had a spare.

Much better! And by the way this now costs $92 at Pelican Parts WHAT. No way.

Unfortunately, as with all heater-related car things, the damn thing is pretty much in the center of the car. You can’t even see but it right in front of the firewall down underneath stuff and man I was glad the engine was still warm while I was doing this because my hands wouldn’t have been able to tolerate that level of contortion when cold.  And it makes the backs of my knees hurt to have to lean way in for a spell.  I was motivated, I think, by my downtown Milwaukie plant walk.

It’s way down in there trust me, it sucked

I know this is supposed to be a plant blog but hey, a gardener’s gotta travel.  This post was brought to you by my *working* car, which now sports a non-leaky cooling system and some new coolant to boot, just in time for winter!

There, car AND plants. Better?

And because everything is rather dreary outdoors these days, I give you my indoor Pelargonium as a parting shot. How can this not cheer a person up a bit?

Pelargonium x hortorum ‘Vancouver Centennial’ is even more intense in real life.

Have a great weekend!

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