Signs of Spring

It’s only natural that after a few days out of town one must inspect one’s garden.  Happily, I found lots of signs of spring!

Ok, ok, the daffodils aren’t in my garden – they’re across the street from the place where I get my coffee beans in downtown Milwaukie.  By the way a big part of the point of this blog is to serve as a record of when things get planted, when they come up, when and how they die, etc.  So some posts, like this one, are really more about recordkeeping than anything else.

Anyway back to the garden.  I do have daffodils! But they are not as far along; I *think* these are ‘Salome’ so they’ll bloom later than the yellow guys above.

This next one is the very beginnings of the Macleya cordata/microcarpa.  Look at those wee little veins!

Here comes Persicaria virginiana ‘Lance Corporal’ – turns out the ducks really like eating the seeds of these.  That’s probably to my advantage as I don’t need this thing to spread all over the place.

And here’s ‘Painter’s Palette’:

This was one of the biggest suprises! The largest leaf here on the Tetrapanax never actually died/fell off over the winter.  I really wish I had a photo of it from last week – it was really curled backwards and looking shivery.  But now it’s grown and almost completely unfurled, AND those two new leaves! Those were just tiny little ideas last week!

My little Azara microphylla! Are they supposed to be fragrant? I couldn’t detect a scent.  Maybe more plant volume is needed.  Hold on I just figured out that these are not OPEN yet.  Duh.  Sorry, I’m new to this plant…


Not only did Hydrangea quercifolia (cv unknown) not lose its leaves, but it’s already pushing out new ones.

Tanacetum parthenium (feverfew) has been trying to bloom all winter.  Finally! Apparently it’s a short-lived perennial but most gardeners probably consider it a self-seeding annual.  I think they all got killed off last winter.  This is one of a scant handful of plants my chickens won’t eat, but I still have to protect it from those jerks because they’ll scratch at the ground around the plants and dig them up.

Allium schoenoprasum – chives.  Been going like this for a month now.  Yeah that’s perlite.  This is a raised bed we made last year for kitchen herbs that like excellent drainage.  The soil is mostly Sunshine mix #3 which was left over from a friend’s indoor garden; it only gets used once because sanitation, you know, mites and the like.  Turns out rosemary, basil, and thyme love it.

And while we’re on the subject of edibles LOOK my ornamental cauliflower did this! I’ll remind you so you don’t have to remember or scroll: this was started from seed in July 2016. I know! It’s crazy!

Ok let’s go to the front yard and see what’s going on.

Hamamelis ‘Jelena’ is finally finishing up.  Two months of bloom: I am impressed.  And then afterward these shiny wine-red sepals hang out for a while and look cool.

Underneath the Hamamelis is a pile of seedlings of Limnanthes douglasii, which actually first came up in the fall and had no problem with frosts or ice or anything.  There was Nemophila maculata here too but I’m not sure it managed to reseed itself.  I might help these move around a bit.

Grevillea victoriae is too young to flower but it has some very promising coppery new growth.  Those dark wiry stems belong to ‘Hot Lips’ Salvia which lost almost no leaves this year and barely even suffered an interruption of flowering (it has flower buds on it now).  Last year, it lost 90% of its leaves and stopped flowering from December through about April.

This is just cause I thought it looked really freakin cool.  It’s a cabbage leaf (yeah I grow cabbage in the front yard shut up) that got eaten I guess a while ago? None of those holes look particularly new, I mean look at all the healing that has happened.

This isn’t pretty but I had to make a record of it.  Snapdragons don’t get killed by zone niney winters.

And right along with cabbage I also love to not clear out leaves and dead stuff! My neighbors love me, I know it. Here’s Oenothera lindheimeri.  Which has a new-to-me common name of Gaura, tyvm.

And look! It’s showing signs of life under all those oak leaves and dead sticks from last year!

This isn’t leafy growth but while I was looking at gaura this red color caught my eye.  It’s roots of Lysimachia clethroides.  Isn’t that rad?

And speaking of Lysimachia, you know what? Here’s yet another great reason to skip the fall/winter yard clean up with the die-back perennials: you can see how much they spread from year to year! Here’s Lysimachia ciliata ‘Firecracker’, coming up in easily twice the area it occupied last year.

Ugh, I gotta get that grass out of there.

The hellebores in the backyard are in a pot, looking amazing because they’re not getting eaten by anything, but these are experiencing the usual predation; still, a nice flush of bloom.

Okay okay here’s the other one in the pot.

(I really want to get some of those gorgeous hybrids I keep seeing)

Sambucus is happening!  This is one of the native ones.  I don’t know which.  Right behind it is Rosa nutkana, still sleeping.

Here’s Dicentra formosa – I don’t remember this ever completely disappearing this year, come to think of it.

Mahonia aquifolium is working toward flowers. See the spider?

Underneath/in front of it, some tulips are battling slugs and the Zauschneria/Epilobium I planted last fall never died off.  This area was covered in daylilies and they always looked bloody awful by about July so I moved them and replaced them with these.  I put sedum in here too so there will be something green when/if Zauchnerias die back.  We’ll see how it goes.

Last one, then you get chicken pictures.  This is Agastache, probably ‘Apache Sunset’ and it never fully died away either.  I just cleared several handfuls of leaves off of it and look at this!

I wasn’t kidding about chickens! Just for fun, this is the mob I have to contend with.  Well, four of the six anyway.

L-R Mochuela, Misha, and Sammy, with Pinky in the back.

As of now, finally, everyone’s done molting (they all molt annually, usually late fall/early winter, but Pinky started in December and just finished the Longest Molt Ever). We’re getting 2-5 eggs daily (in February! OMG) which includes at least one duck egg.  Now that we have 8 birds total I have a feeling we’ll have some eggs available for sale this year.

And lastly, as promised I did sow 45 tomato seeds about 3 days ago.  Early, yes, but I have a reason: I’m going to try grafting them this year and I wanted to allow a little extra time for what I expect will be an inevitable albeit temporary growth slowdown on the part of the tomatoes, due to getting chopped in half at an early age.

I hope you’re noticing signs of spring here and there too – in your garden, or even if it’s just freeway forsythias, new spring growth is always a welcome sight!

Palm Springs, Part 1 of 3

This week I got a rare opportunity to leave my house and actually get on an airplane! I’ll confess that before we got there, I expected that I wouldn’t be all that interested in a bunch of southern California plants that I can’t grow.  I was dead wrong about that, as you will see.

The first thing I want to show you is that this really is a desert. The Coachella Valley is where dates are grown, but truth be told the only farms I saw were wind farms. What you’re seeing from the plane here is the incredibly stark difference between the natural landscape and the irrigated golf-resort-type places that are everywhere around Palm Springs.  It reminds me very much of the Phoenix area, where I lived for a few insanity-inducing months in I think 1999.  I couldn’t stand to witness this kind of resource usage.


In this post I’m going to show you some of the plants I found around town in an attempt to show what gardening is like here.


One of the first plants I saw that I freaked about was this Cercis occidentalis.  The flowers and leaves are bigger in real life than pictures online would have one think.  Just beautiful. I’m guessing a particularly mild winter has allowed them to keep their leaves but in a colder winter here, or certainly a colder climate, they’re fully deciduous, and likely bloom a bit later.  This is a crappy zoomed-in iPhone picture, but still.  The largest leaves here are as big as your hand.

Oh.  It was impossibly sunny, of course, the whole time so will just have to contend with that for this tour.

Except these next two plants.  This was just after sundown.  Of course I gravitated toward this silvery thing the minute I saw it but then I realized, it’s everywhere.  People here are probably sick of it.  I love it.

The leaves have a dense, soft indumentum and they’re a little thick.  Encelia farinosa, brittlebush.


Next up is this beauty which I had a rough time photographing.  These are just roadside plants, so far.  I love love love this color scheme.

What is it? I’ll find out eventually.


A morning walk yielded quite a few interesting scenes.  This is the street in front of the condo where we stayed.  What an alien landscape to this Portland native…

I do recognize some plants in the above scene.  Washingtonia robusta, the ubiquitous Mexican fan palm, Parkinsonia (palo verde) on the right, and those poor pollarded things are olives.  They do really crazy things to olive trees here.  This next photo is an extremely common, if horrific, sight.


Given that most of the architecture here is decidedly midcentury, that design aesthetic clearly influences horticulture as well.  The poor olive above sort of looks like one of those 60’s floor lamps .. hold on let me just get you a picture:


Sigh.. moving on.  I really appreciate the use of rock (and NOT grass) in many yards.  And the barrel cacti are so awesome! Also, I noticed that garden/yard lighting is a huge thing here.  Perhaps an indicator of the general economic status of Palm Springs.

Right around the corner from the barrel cacti planting above is this colorful joint. The tall sticks are ocotillo, and the octopus with the hot pink flowers is, I think, some kind of curious Bouganvillea.  Nice to see some non-butchered olives, although these may well have been pollarded at some point (just not recently).


This next garden is much more to my liking. A delightful mess with a broad range of texture.  I love it.

Above, Opuntia microdasys?


Olive trees in natural form are lovely.  This is a very typical plant combination: olives, with underplantings of Opuntia, Yucca, Agave.

This garden is sort of on the edge of an untended area, and sports an ocotillo, saguaros, what looks like yucca, creosote bush (Larrea tridentata) and some exceptional fake flowers in the pots, which reportedly have been there for at least a year.


This is part of the same property. In fact, those palms in the distance on the right are the same ones in the photo above.  I really liked this scene and the apparently deliberate use of native plants here.  This is mostly Encelia farinosa (brittlebush) with Agave and Larrea in the foreground.


I’m glad no one cut these Agave inflorescences down.  They look great!


One of the challenges of full-sun photography with an iPhone is that often, you can’t see the screen at all because either there’s glare, or everything else is too bright and it appears black, or whatever.  I didn’t realize this photo ended up with what look like smears, but dangit this plant is way too cool to exclude just because the photo is weird.  Of course I have no idea which Opuntia this is – rufida? A cultivar? Whatever it is, I found it very impressive.

I could have easily taken 53,000 pictures of Bougainvillea because they were absolutely everywhere, but instead I collected a sizeable handful of the hot pink ones and pressed them in a book, and photographed only this stunning orange specimen, a much less common color.

This messed with my head for a second until I realized it’s the same Bougainvillea growing into a Cercis occidentalis.


I could not get closer to this for a better pic, but this thing was stunning and I am pretty sure it’s Bryophyllum daigremontianum.

Bamboo was a surprise! Someone must water this…


This garden was great! Pretty much all cacti, from the street all the way back to the small house which was set back about 50 feet.


This pretty little Asteraceae thing was very common.  I like it a lot in front of this dark wall.  That would be a great color for a house if all your plants are silvery.


Dramatic architectural palms like this really dominate the landscape, much the way conifers do in the Northwest (although of course the palms are much smaller overall).  Lower right is Euphorbia tirucalli, also very common here.

The “other” way of going about it — some folks have rocks and sand as their ground layer, and some actually have lawns.  You saw the airplane photo.  Still, it’s palms with Agave-Yucca-cactus underneath.  Very typical.  That hedge on the right is Nerium.


This Opuntia! I need to grow it.  Or at least some similarly purple one.  “Santa Rita” seems to be a name for this or something like it.


I confess I have no idea what any of this stuff is but I absolutely adore this little vignette.

And these! Callistemon ‘Little John’ was incredibly common!  You cannot walk two blocks without seeing one.  More likely, you’d see about ten of them.  It really is a great plant for zone 9 and up xeriscapes.  It looks good all the time.  These are quite common in Sydney too, by the way, so it doesn’t actually require a low/no water biome.


Parking lot plants … I could do endless posts about parking lot plants, really.  I don’t know why but I find it a fascinating subject.  Just one photo here, of a plant that surprised me.  I don’t even know what it is but I liked everything about this scene (except for my crap photo which was again because I couldn’t see the screen at all).  Just think: it made this flower and no one broke it off, peed on it (I mean probably not), ran into it with a shopping cart or a car door, or fell down drunk onto it.  Good job, Palm Springs.


And finally, what post about garden observations in an unfamiliar place would be complete without an investigation of likely weeds that people probably pull out of their gardens all the time? This roadside Physalis was cute as a button, I thought.  But as a Physalis, I can see it as one of those things that just appears everywhere and probably grows super vigorously and annoys the hell out of people.

And from the same family here’s a big Datura wrightii I nearly tripped over.  What a beauty!


So what did I discover? That gardens here are a mix of native/xeriscape and not-native/non-xeriscape.  But if you take the lawns out of the equation, there are very few drought-intolerant plants. People seem to understand that is IS actually a desert.  Except for the lawns, which are clearly one of the most pervasive and indelible obsessions in the American landscape.

I discovered Opuntia!  I’ve noticed them before, but I’ve never been particularly interested.  Now they have my attention! You’ll see a LOT more of them in upcoming posts.

I realized I no longer hate palm trees.  I had such a bad trip living in Phoenix all those years ago and I associated palms – specifically Washingtonia – with that time and with these places I couldn’t stand to be.  But I’m over that and can certainly recognize that my psychosis isn’t the palms’ fault.  Now I can love them.  They’re like landscape exclamation points.  Or Greek columns.  Or fireworks.  Nah, not fireworks, I hate fireworks.  I never thought I’d say this but I actually wouldn’t mind having a palm or two in the garden.  Chamaerops humilis var. cerifera is on my list.

Overall plant diversity in cultivated landscapes and gardens seems low to me here.  I’m not sure if that’s accurate, or if that’s just the impression I got.  Despite that, this is a very colorful place and I love that aspect of it.

Ok, that’s it for the sidewalk tour.  Stay tuned for Part 2, the weird and wonderful Moorten Botanical Garden, and then Part 3 will be a trip to Joshua Tree National Park.


Winter Vegetable Garden, February 2018

The vegetable garden is always a year-round affair for me.  That doesn’t mean I actually harvest and eat things every month, but there is always activity.

I started these on January 18.  There are Walla Walla onions, two or three varieties of storage onions, two varieties of lettuce, leeks, and shallots.  There are also a few spinach plants in here too out of the picture frame.  Both lettuce varieties are particularly cold-hardy; later in the spring I’ll transition to different varieties that don’t need to be cold-hardy, and eventually in the summer we’ll get into varieties that are actually bolt-resistant and tolerant of heat.


In my 2nd seedling tray I have almost all peppers.  This one row is eggplant, and they’re up first! I sowed these seeds on January 26.


Outside now, in the back yard, we have some broccoli! I’m almost positive this is variety ‘Rudolph’ which is a purple sprouting type that doesn’t require vernalization, so it matures earlier, and slightly more uniformly? With more of an actual head? This is how it seems to me anyway, compared to regular purple sprouting broccoli which really doesn’t make a central head at all.  These plants are flipping beautiful, too.

yeah, this is the same plant as the first picture above. I really like this one!

I’ve had a much easier time growing Brassicaceae plants this year than ever before.  I attribute that to a couple of garden helpers you’ll meet later in this post.

On to cabbage.  This one is ready for harvest anytime! The variety here is ‘January King.’  This is my favorite winter cabbage variety – if I had to grow just one, it’d be this one.


I’m not sure, but this may be ‘January King’ as well. But this one doesn’t look like it’s going to head up.  I always think that when they’re at this stage, and usually they prove me wrong.  We’ll see.  It looks like ornamental kale, kind of, doesn’t it?


Here are some other cabbages – these came from an overwintering cabbage blend from Territorial.  So who knows what the actual varieties are.  I don’t really care; they change what’s in their blends every year anyway.

See all the evidence of something eating the lower/older leaves on these?  All these Brassicaceae family plants have that to some degree or other.  It’s about half slugs and half birds.  Earlier in the fall, before the ducks were coming over to this side of the garden, the slugs and probably cutworms were having their way.  I’m happy to report that I have done absolutely nothing I mean NOTHING to combat slugs and cutworms this year.  The ducks eat them all!

This next one is a crappy picture, sorry! But this shows the cabbage on the far right in the above photo.  You can see that it’s heading up very nicely and should be ready later this month.


I just harvested three plants’ worth of Brussels sprouts. I thought this one could go a bit longer so I left it. Again this is from one of those winter season mixes from Territorial.  Nordic Winter Blend Hybrid, it says.  Three different varieties apparently.  So maybe those others were earlier-maturing.

I have to put a plug here for growing these Brussels sprouts over the winter.  You might find yourself hosing off aphids a couple times in September, but then once the cool weather hits, the aphids split town and you’re golden.  It’s a million times easier to grow all these Brassicas in the cool season, I find.  If you haven’t done it, I encourage you to try next year.  Get varieties bred for the cool season, or for overwintering, sow your seed indoors in mid-June, and set plants out in August.  Watch ’em for aphids and spray with Bt for those cabbage moths.  You’ll only have to do that until the cool weather of fall comes.  They don’t need any protection from freezes, I promise.


Here’s my helper Ramona, digging slugs and worms out from under the 2″ layer of wood chip mulch in there.

These plants are tall enough that she can easily walk under and among them and keep everything tidy.  Sure, she nibbles a leaf now and then, but mostly the ducks are after insects.  I feed them grain every day, too.


These next plants are the cauliflower.  In this pic, the large plants in back are the ones I’ve been calling my “ornamental cauliflower”  — they were started from seed in July of 2016.  Yes, 2016 and that is not a typo.  They just didn’t flower – not in the summer, not in the winter, not in the spring… I think it’s just a combination of a lot of factors that prevented whatever triggers their flowering process.  Compare their size to the plants in front, which were started in June 2017.


And it turns out, one of them is actually a broccoli! I had no idea.  It can’t be purple cauliflower because I didn’t have seed for that in 2016.


This is the stalk on the purple broccoli plant above.  Can you believe that? This plant was originally more upright, but a few weeks ago it fell over.  And of course kept right on going…


Here are the trunks of the other two plants.  If you look closely you can see the plants’ first year of growth mapped out in the leaf scars.  From the bottom of the stalks, it goes from summer, then to winter, and then summer again where the scars are more spaced out.


I have really loved these plants and I’ll be sad to harvest them.  I might actually try just cutting the flowers and leaving the plants, to see just how long they’ll go.  Will they bolt eventually? Will they just keep growing? Are they truly perennial or will they someday actually die? I find them quite fascinating and beautiful.


Lastly we have nearly 300 garlic cloves planted in this bed.  Well, cloves-turning-into-heads.  The ducks nibbled our garlic quite a bit last year too, but they haven’t done that this year.  I really do think it’s because of the wood chips.  A few of them are a little smashed – that’s because Ramona landed directly on them the other day when she flew over. The ducks roost at night in the coop with the chickens, and when I let all of them out in the mornings, the ducks fly over the 5′ fence out of the chicken run and into the garden, where they hang out all day until I let them go back and roost at night.  They’re not super accurate fliers, so a smashed garlic plant on occasion is just part of the deal.


Next week I’ll be starting my tomatoes indoors.  This year, I’m trying a completely new-to-me thing with them: grafting! You can bet I’ll document that whole process here.

That’s it for the vegetable garden highlights.  This has been a remarkably mild January, and overall a zone 9 winter, but mild winters aren’t really a requirement for winter gardening in the Northwest; you can still grow brassicas and garlic over the winter in zone 7.  That said, here’s hoping February turns out to be as kind as January has been!