In which I praise the glory of the little apple, manzanita

arctostaphylos branches

The more I garden, the more I am enamored by manzanitas. Actually, I am going to do a little plug right now for one of my favorite local growers/nurseries, Xera Plants. Several years ago, my friend and co-owner of Xera, Paul Bonine, wrote this great piece for Pacific Horticulture Society:

Paul starts his article with the phrase: “No other shrub is more symbolic of the Pacific Coast than manzanita.”

And then, on his own website (disclaimer: I did the programming for that site but he did all the writing), he calls manzanita “the ultimate shrub of the west.”

I cannot possibly agree more. Why? Because in a xeric climate, AKA Mediterranean climate, AKA dry-summer climate, AKA totally perverse but also awesome climate in which plants have devised brilliant adaptations to the experience of receiving water from The Gods only when most of them don’t need it, there really is no better, no more pleasing, no more beautifully lush-year-round plant than the manzanita.

What I fail to understand, however, is why they aren’t more common in gardens. Actually we were talking about that the other day and all we could surmise is that there are a number of factors:

  • Relative novelty in the horticultural trade – they’re still not *that* easy to find and certainly not at places like Fred Meyer or The Box Stores
  • The perception that they’re hard to grow. In some cases/species, this may be true
  • The need to plant them at a relatively small size (no, you can’t just go get a 5-gallon and have instant manzanita hedge). A gardener must exhibit some degree of patience

An impressive row of 5 big manzanitas in Montavilla

I counted, and I think I now have a total of 11 manzanitas. I want to show you the most recent acquisitions and visit a couple of older favorites.

I should show you the spot, but I don’t have a stellar picture right now. For a couple years I have been agonizing about what to plant to fill in a space immediately to the north of my now-12-foot-tall Lyonothamnus; an impressive but not imposing tree which I am totally in love with.

That spot to the left (north) of the tree is a Major Focal Point and I have really struggled with what to put there, especially now with the tree casting some shade.

After my friend August came over and suggested a big ol’ Nolina (something like this, perhaps?), I somehow managed to entertain that idea and then come to remember that actually, this is a perfect spot for a larger manzanita. So I got Austin Griffiths, a longstanding favorite of mine and the same cultivar pictured in both of the above photos.

Baby Austin. He’s a sweet boy and he will be BIG

Austin is one of the earliest bloomers, too, apparently, although microclimate makes a difference and I’ve heard reports from some that theirs don’t start until January or even February; I’m pretty sure it depends on the year, too. Those big ones in Montavilla started in late November this year:

Arctostaphylos x ‘Austin Griffiths’ starting to bloom on November 24, with a lot more to come!

Incidentally, my friend Tamara wrote a great post about these very plants back in February of 2015, when she encountered them blooming their asses off. Go read that, it’s fun!

In my last post I talked about removing the “freeway roses” and that I’d decided to replace them with a manzanita. I chose Arctostaphylos bakeri ‘Louis Edmonds’ for this spot.

Arctostaphylos bakeri ‘Louis Edmonds’ just planted.

Another new addition came from my friend Chris, a devout plant nerd who loves all the same sorts of plants I do (weird Australian shrubs and trees, manzanitas, and peppers, ha!). This is A. glauca ‘Canyon Blush’:

She’s a tiny bb so she gets a bodyguard, for a while.

To protecc, from ducc, and doggo

While we’re over in this area, check out this beauty just next to ‘Canyon Blush’:

‘Canyon Blush’ in the foreground with A. canescens var. sonomensis

I have two Arctostaphylos canascens var. sonomensis planted in this area, and when Chris offered me this specimen of ‘Canyon Blush’ I immediately knew I wanted to see them all together. I think they’ll end up looking pretty flippin amazing, especially with ‘Austin Griffiths right next door.

Let’s go back to the front yard. I finally FINALLY removed the gigantic Salvia ‘Hot Lips’ that was right by the front door and committed to something with more year-round interest, but that still gives the hummingbirds what they want. This was a suggestion again from Paul at Xera – Arctostaphylos pajaroensis ‘Myrtle Wolf’:

‘Myrtle Wolf’ forming buds in this picture from November 14; it is now blooming.

Once the flowers are full-on, I’ll update this post with a pic of them, as well as the plant I chose as a companion here. Right under this manzanita, I planted a beautiful Agave ovatifolia ‘Frosty Blue’ which was a gift from my friend James in California. I couldn’t be more pleased with this duo as a foundation to my front-door vignette.

Let’s check on the first manzanita I planted here. This is an A. x densiflora selection and I can’t remember if it’s ‘Sentinel’, ‘Harmony’, or ‘Howard McMinn’ but I’m leaning toward ‘Howard McMinn’.

Can you believe how amazing this looks in November?!

I am really happy about that plant. The small, narrow leaves work really well with the texture of the Gaura and lavender near it and I’m really looking forward to seeing it eventually dominate this scene a bit more.

Speaking of dominate, though, I actually planted another thing that will eventually dominate over the manzanita above, possibly to its detriment, but we’ll see – this is Arbutus arizonica, another gift from my friend Chris:

Arbutus arizonica baby

This smallish tree has wonderfully blue leaves which are narrower than our native Pacific madrone, and my guess is that it’ll be a little more resistant to Phytophthora, although in this spot it should be just fine because it’ll never get summer water anyway.

Can you EVEN with the new growth in fall?! So cute!

It’s a really beautiful tree and yes, it might ultimately shade out the (I think) ‘Howard McMinn’ but my hope is that their relative growth rates and such will be copacetic enough that Howard will be established enough to cope with a little shade by the time the Arbutus is actually casting any shade. We shall see.

A couple other older manzanitas I planted at the same time as Howard, so, a couple years ago? This is Arctostaphylos silvicola ‘Ghostly’:

Leaning a lot because it’s under the canopy of the dogwood. I don’t mind that one bit.

And this is Arctostaphylos mewukka ‘Mottley Crue’:

Also leaning, again, cool by me

I am pretty pleased with the performance and appearance of these two that are kind of under the dogwood canopy. I like the lean they’re exhibiting, and they seem to benefit from the dogwood’s thirsty roots ensuring that there will be no soil moisture in the summer! Ha. They’ve both experienced a bit of mold/fungus on their lowermost leaves, which I attribute to the presence of deciduous leaves at their bases and possibly to being a bit shaded, but mostly, I think it’s just that they’re young still and rather close to the ground. They’ll grow out of this more or less, I hope.

Ok that wraps up this week’s geekout on Arctostaphylos with a side of Arbutus. Thanks for reading. Go plant some manzanitas, you will not be disappointed.


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.

Fall Planting: Part 1

(Of however many parts it takes)

This is my third year gardening at my current house. The first year, the focus was on establishing vegetable gardening beds.  The second year, we did a little more of that, and started the process of eliminating lawn.  Now we have a total of 11 rectangular vegetable beds (4′ x 10′) which are edged with cedar to keep the clover and creepy grass out.  This year the focus is ornamental plants.

When we first moved here, I had “food forest” ideas – for a time, we wanted every single plant to produce something edible.  My, how experience changes things! After living in an apartment building for 10 years with only a tiny garden space, we were delusional in our enthusiasm.  It’s not that we can’t eat all the things that come out of the garden, it’s that we run out of time to prepare and preserve.

Besides, I want to grow cool stuff. So here are a few of the plants that went in the ground today, all front yard.

Cupressus glabra ‘Sulphurea’ – sooo excited to find this at Xera Plants the other day

The idea with the cypress here is to be a color/form contrast to the Japanese maple, which wants to be a blob. This spot was begging me for something light-colored and upright in form.  I tried a Lomatia myricoides first, but it died quickly because I planted it into some imported soil that turned out to be really high in every nutrient – Lomatia, like all members of the family Proteaceae, can’t tolerate excessive phosphorus in the soil.  Hopefully the cypress will enjoy it (and, it’s next to that soil but not exactly in it).

I’ve known for a while that Proteaceae members don’t like extra phosphorus, and presumed this is simply because Australian soils tend to be very low in it.  I came across a very interesting publication that detailed what is actually going on.  Rather than try to distill it, I’ll quote:

Many Proteaceae, including Banksia and Hakea species, but not Embothrium coccineum , are readily killed by phosphorus fertilisation; they are highly sensitive to slightly enhanced soil phosphorus levels. They tend to accumulate phosphorus in their leaves, to concentrations that would be severely toxic to any plant (typically ≥ 1% of the dry mass). However, other plants rarely achieve such high concentrations in their leaves, even when heavily fertilised with phosphorus. That is because most plants reduce their phosphorus-uptake capacity when supplied with high phosphorus concentrations in the soil or nutrient solution. They close the doors through which phosphorus enters the roots when a big crowd of phosphorus molecules is waiting to move in. We discovered that the extreme sensitivity of H. prostrata and other Proteaceae is due to a very low capacity to reduce their phosphorus-uptake systems when elevated phosphorus levels are present in the soil. Some time, during the course of millions of years of evolution on severely phosphorus-impoverished soils, for many Proteaceae this trait disappeared.

Right right, millions of years.  Not gonna undo that, now are we? But wait, there’s more:

Having discovered the physiological cause of the phosphorus sensitivity of some Proteaceae, we made a wider survey of related species. Interestingly, some plants that are closely related to hakeas, e.g. , Grevillea crithmifolia , also belonging to the Proteaceae, do not suffer from phosphorus toxicity, even when exposed to phosphorus levels that are much higher than those that kill some Hakea or Banksia species. This grevillea closes its doors through which phosphorus moves in when supplied with a lot of phosphorus. We have also discovered that these traits apply to various species of South African Proteaceae. Relatively P-insensitive Proteaceae species are typically associated with soils that contain more plan-available phosphorus, e.g. , those derived from more nutrient-rich parent material. The sheer diversity of traits adopted by various Proteaceae from Australia, South America and South Africa offers enormous potential for breeders who are keen to develop new cultivars in the Proteaceae. It should not be too difficult to cross phosphorus insensitivity into new cultivars, which could then be grown without the risk of phosphorus poisoning in our gardens.

Well how do you like that? So now all we need to do is find Proteaceae species that have this door-closing ability that are also cold-tolerant, and breed away.  Great! I’m on it! Just kidding.  Anyway I thought it was interesting, and it does give me some hope that someone someday will come up with a P-tolerant river lomatia.

A couple of manzanitas:

Arctostaphylos mewukka ‘Motley Crue’, from Cistus Nursery. The Origanum is from Xera, I think I got it last year.


Arctostaphylos silvicola ‘Ghostly’, from Xera

By the way, the stakes on this manzanita and the cypress are because I tend to try to wash all the container medium off the roots (or most of it anyway) for two reasons: one, roots almost always end up getting all twisted and tangled, which just goes with the territory of container life.  I like to spread them out like a fan when planting, rather than digging a deep hole and having them all go down-ish.  Reason two is that I want the plant to have native soil around all its roots.  Too many times I’ve found weird pockets of some kind of peat-and-perlite in the ground, the size of some poor plant’s pot, where the plant was long dead because the peat got hydrophobic and the plant never got a chance to move its roots into the surrounding soil… I hate that. Anyway when you spread roots out like a fan, generally they’ll need a stake for a while.


Amsonia ciliata ‘Halfway to Arkansas’ , from Pomarius Nursery

This is out front by the street, an area which is supposed to be a no-summer-water zone.  I’m curious to see how this Amsonia handles it.  The plant with green leaves on the left is indeed a calla, one with shockingly black flowers that came with the house, and it does quite well, believe it or not.  I’ll move the Amsonia if I have to, I just liked this texture for this spot.

Helichrysum tianshanicum, from Xera

Have you ever bought a plant and almost immediately realized you should have bought three of them? This is one of those, for me.  I love this plant and I’d like to repeat it a few times.

Callistemon viridiflorus ‘Shamrock’, from Xera

I am really looking forward to seeing this thing make a bunch of gatorade-colored bottlebrush flowers against the house.  By the way can you guess what my favorite plant nursery is?

Now let’s go out to the hot/dry zone, by the street.  My favorite area…

Sempervivum, from Pomarius

I picked up 4 of these cuties a few weeks ago because they were absolutely irresistible. I already had some right here by the curb and the’re really happy and don’t care about moles, so I’m just going to sort of line the curb with them.  They are rather shocking in flower, in a good way. This next one is my favorite.


Sempervivum, also from Pomarius

As I was planting these, I started noticing that there is an awful lot of silvery-blue foliage happening in my front yard and I LOVE IT.  So I took some pictures of that.

Salvia officinalis ‘Berggarten’, came with the house. I like this next to that chartreuse Santolina


Cabbage ‘January King’, seeds from Territorial

Lest you forget I am one of those front-yard vegetable gardeners.  This is probably my favorite cabbage right now.  I start these from seed indoors in June, set them out in August, and they mature January-March.  Although last year we had one that got really huge and we ended up harvesting it in July – I think that was because I started them too late, in July rather than June, and it didn’t get enough growing done before the winter to mature in the cool months.  The result was a somewhat bitter taste, so it went into the slow cooker rather than becoming slaw or salad.

NOID lavender and Liriodendron and dogwood leaves

My neighbor’s Liriodendron is a great tree.  Gives us many leaves and nice things to look at, like this.

Lastly, I felt the need to record what Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Jelena’ is doing.  I have wanted one of these, specifically this cultivar, for a very long time and when I was up at Cistus in May of this year, I think it was the day after my birthday, I found one with a really nice tall, open, arching form.  It’s 8′ tall now.  I’d show you the whole tree but it’s sunny now so absolutely impossible to photograph.  And it was super windy this morning, which also makes for challenging photgraphy! Anyway, the point is the leaf color:

Weird, no? This tree had a lot of mole activity around/under it this year, and of course I filled in those mole tunnels with that same super-rich soil that killed the Lomatia.  I wonder if that is why the leaf color is still so very green?

That’s all the pictures I took but I planted a lot more stuff, including:

Santolina virens ‘Lemon Fizz’ from Ace Hardware on Woodstock, great garden store in the back!
Geranium cinererum ‘Lawrence Flatman’, Geranium phaeum ‘Lily Lovell’, Garrya elliptica, and Crithmum maritimum, all from Xera Plants
Oxalis oregana ‘Klamath Ruby’ and Vancouveria hexandra, from Cistus Nursery tough love sale

Happy fall planting! The weather is off-the-charts awesome for it.