Midsummer Drought Test

Over time and increasingly, I’m finding myself wanting a completely xeric front yard.  It probably started with seeing posts by Danger Garden and Flutter & Hum about Greg Shepherd’s garden, but there have been a million research projects, tests, conversations, garden visits, and boring hours watering plants by hand that have led me to commit to this.

NOTE: I’m also testing the new Gutenberg editor from WordPress – apparently it’s eventually going to become the default so might as well get into it now.  So far, so good…

Anyway, there are a couple areas in the front yard which are exceptions to the xeric scheme, most notably, this:

Eggplants, winter cabbage, leeks, lettuce – I like the look of them.

I want to retain some space in the front to grow edibles: no ducks here, good sun, and so far, no verticillium wilt which is very problematic for eggplants in back and I LOVE eggplants and would never be without them.

So aside from the above area, I didn’t water for weeks because I wanted to really SEE how bad it would look.  Some plants wear a parched look kind of okay and live through it, others just don’t.

The Losers

These plants are on my list for removal or relocation.  I am excited! This means I get to choose new plants to put in their places!

Veronica spicata

Veronica spicata – came with the house

I’m done with deadheading and watering this Veronica.  I like Veronica, but I have better things to do.

Eutrochium purpureum

Eutrochium purpureum

Joe Pye weed is another plant I really like a lot, but when I planted it, I wasn’t thinking about how much water it might want – it is definitely not part of the plant palette I should be using here.  And see that Calla in the lower left? I didn’t explicitly photograph it but I think it should move as well – its luscious black flowers are completely dessicated.  The Phormium is fine.

Santolina ‘Lemon Fizz’

Ouch, this poor Santolina has really taken a beating.  I am not 100% sure I’m going to move it, but at the very least I need to see if a mole has tunneled under it.  Here’s my other one, which receives basically no water: 

Happy Santolina ‘Lemon Fizz’

Although I rather like the profusion of brown puffballs, something is definitely up with that first one and I need to help it.

Agastache ‘Apricot Sunset’

Agastache ‘Apricot Sunset’ – sorry this is a terrible photo but you get the idea; the Agastache is wilting and the Phygelius isn’t.

At least I *think* it’s ‘Apricot Sunset’.  I got it at Portland Nursery and planted it at the same time as the two Phygelius you see behind it. They don’t care at all about water! The Agastache will move to the backyard where there are two others and they can all be a mass of  sunset colors together.

This bigass Cynara

It was some interesting Italian cultivar and I’ve lost the tag long ago

This spectacular artichoke has given us its grand finale this year! Pups may arise and if they do, I may or may not keep them.  I’ve enjoyed its huge silvery leaves for the last three years, and the bees go crazy for the flowers, but I’m ready for a change.  This isn’t really about no-water, it’s more about the plant just running the normal course of its life. And I want that Perovskia to be less floppy, which it’ll have an easier time doing if there isn’t a giant thistle immediately to the south of it.

Lysimachia clethroides

Major fail

My neighbor has a big stand of Lysimachia clethroides which she doesn’t water AT ALL and it looks just like this! It’s terrible! I don’t even like this plant, I don’t know why I have it.  

Echinacea purpurea

Echinacea is NOT drought-tolerant, no matter what the ENTIRE DAMN INTERNET tells you

Do a google search right now for “Echinacea drought-tolerant” and every last flipping search result will assert that “Echinacea is blissfully drought-tolerant” or some such.  FALSE.  This thing is also a slug magnet.  So she gets to relocate to the back yard! Maybe with all those Agastaches. 

Imperata cylindrica

HA Hahahaaaa what was I thinking

Now, I KNEW I’d have to water this grass but I planted it in several places here anyway, stupidly creating more work for myself because now I have to move it.  To someone else’s garden.  It can’t go in the back because the ducks will eat it.  It looks SO bad right now! I’ll water it from now on and it’ll be better by the time fall comes and I dig it up. 

And lastly:

Stachyurus salicifolius

This lovely thing really does need more water than I am willing to drag out to this farthest-from-the-hose part of the yard.  I will move it this fall. 

The Winners!

Ok now for the ones that passed the test. Not everyone got an A+ but I’d say anything in the B range or better is a pass. 

Epilobium/Zauschneria

I have ‘Bowman’ (pictured) and ‘Silver Select’ in here, along with some Sedum sediforme ‘Spanish Selection’ – All from Xera Plants. The sedum does look dry, but I give them all an A+ along with the Zauschnerias.

I planted these last fall, and they have not had a single drop of water that didn’t come from the sky.  They are also 4-5x the size they were at planting.  We better get some more Zauschneria cultivars out there cause everybody should be planting them.

Agave parryi var. truncata

A no-brainer.

I planted this in May after purchasing it from Pomarius Nursery last fall and keeping it in a pot under shelter all winter/spring. Took me that long to decide where, and then I spaded in a fair amount of pumice (from Concentrates, about $5/bag) and made something of a berm for it and a few other desert plants. Hopefully that’ll keep them from being waterlogged in the winter.

Origanum x ‘Bristol Cross’

I purchased this plant at Concentrates in 2015 and it has performed really, really well in this partly sunny spot (hot afternoon sun, mostly) just inside the canopy of my dogwood tree here. I watered it consistently last summer and very little this summer – just one good watering in June. It’s a little dry-looking but it’s blooming its heart out anyway. A- for looking quite decent, if not flipping amazing, even with moles and thirsty dogwood roots to contend with.

Gaura/Oenothera lindheimeri

The unphotographable Gaura is the absolute rockstar of my front yard – they’re wild and weird and they haven’t a care in the world.  I might try giving them a haircut just to see what happens.

Lavender

Duh. It’s lavender, they’re all Mediterranean and everything. I need to prune it some.

Arctostaphylos x densiflora ‘Howard McMinn’

Arctostaphylos mewukka ‘Mottley Crue’

Arctostaphylos silvicola ‘Ghostly’

Naturally, all the manzanitas look fantastic.  Extra credit to ‘Ghostly’ for enduring a mole tunnel DIRECTLY under the center of the plant which went unnoticed by me for probably months, until I detected the slightest tip-burn on the youngest leaves.

Ozothamnus rosmarinifolius ‘Silver Jubilee’

The smaller of the two commonly available Ozothamnus cultivars (that I know of), this plant just rocks my world.  It’s silver, it has tiny leaves, it makes rad flowers and does it twice a year, and it needs NO WATER. Love.  This was the first of three that I have planted (the other two are in the backyard).  I could see three or five more… 

Geranium harveyi

Wow. I am impressed.  After a bit of a rough start, this South African hardy Geranium (to low 20’s, according to Annie’s Annuals where I got it mail-order) has really taken off – it lost almost all of its leaves for a while because this is a rough area that is hard for me to water (hose isn’t long enough, soil is hard clay, blah blah blah). I planted it in April I think, and it took it a couple months to get established but now it looks great and I have high hopes.  I will mulch it well this winter and protect it with whatever I can if I have to.  Other sources say it’s hardier and I would love input on that if anyone has experience with it.  I’m a sucker for silver. And purple (flowers). And Geraniums in general.

Symphoricarpos (Snowberry)

this is not a great photo, but at least you can see the plant is green and lush

My last winner is our locally native snowberry.  I got these at the Friends of Tryon Creek native plant sale in late winter of 2015 and decided to test them out here under the thirsty dogwood tree in almost full shade.  They are doing fantastic there.  I love these leaves, the plant form, and those snow-white berries in the fall/winter.  You can see them forming here if you look close. In the right setting I personally think snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus and/or other western species) can be a very good garden plant. 

There are of course multiple others that I could show you, but with the selections presented I hope you get the idea that a bit of a shift is upcoming as I move toward a more sustainable and lower-input garden in the front yard.  I find myself much more excited about the plants that can thrive on their own with little or no input (read: water) from me, and there is a definite sense of accomplishment and delight with a garden that is aesthetically pleasing, botanically interesting, and also ecologically sound and sustainable.  It’s not all about laziness 😉

And one last thing! I wrote this entire post using the new Gutenberg editor from WordPress – first time for me.  After a brief learning curve at the start (new icons, things in different places, etc) I have to say I LOVE it.  It feels faster and easier and smoother and just all-around better than the old WYSIWYG editor which I’ve been using for many years. Good job, Automattic.  There is room for improvement in small ways, but so far, I think it’s fantastic! 

The Evolution of a Garden Bed

Warning: long post.

When we first started gardening here, in 2014, the initial intention was something along the  lines of “food forest” and/or to grow as much edible stuff as possible.  I still love doing that and always will (I think?) but the more I get into botany and climate-adapted plants and cool stuff from Australia, the more I find myself edging toward “sustainable” rather than “edible” — and those two are often (but don’t have to be) mutually exclusive.  I also just like growing weird plants.

My fellow garden blogger Lance has some really wonderful essays on what “sustainable” really means.  I’ve been reading Lance’s writing for years and his impact on me is immeasurable.  For any gardener in the west coast of North America, understanding of sustainability, as well as the distinction between “drought-tolerant” and “climate-adapted” are really important, notably because of summer drought, which, while it’s normal here, is a thing that can severely impact us and can and should influence our plant selections and garden designs.

In my northern Willamette Valley garden, growing vegetables in a home garden is generally terrifically unsustainable but also really fun because we have a long frost-free season and mostly excellent soil.  Still, it’s a lot of work and uses a lot of water to grow plants that are not at all climate-adapted to a dry-summer Pacific Northwest climate (ok some are better than others, but it also depends on how you work with the seasons).  I do it all anyway because I enjoy it, but I fully understand that this isn’t by any means about saving money, time, or water. It’s about my sanity, it’s about botanical experiments, and it’s very much about the immense joy that David and I get out of eating seasonally, preserving, and having our meals dictated at least in some part by what is available to eat in the garden on any given day.

All that said, my own focus in gardening has definitely shifted from “food forest.” I still want to grow things we can eat, but not only edibles.  In 2015 we established two 4′ x 10′ vegetable gardening beds in the front yard, in areas that were previously lawn grass.  We edged them with 2×6 cedar as we did with the 9 similar beds we have in the back.  Mind you these are not, for the most part, raised beds.  I’d call them “edged beds” because most of them aren’t raised at all – the cedar edging merely helps to keep grass and clover out.   It works.

This year I decided to convert one of the beds in the front from an edged edible garden bed to an ornamental bed.  A lot went into that, and now I want to show the whole entire process.

In August 2015, we began by making these two “edged” beds:

After this picture was taken, we sunk the 2x6s down a bit

The first year we planted brassicas and leeks. I recall some of those being collards – evidently before I realized you don’t need to grow collards if you grow all the others because you can use the leaves of any of them.  Also apparently I thought you had to blanch leeks by planting them deep and backfilling.  You don’t.

Cabbage and leeks. The board looks bent but it’s not.

One of those seedlings did this, the following March:

Good job, purple broccoli!

Eventually we also started the process of grass removal and establishing some paths through the front yard.  That was done with a lot of wood chips and these ridiculous bricks to temporarily mark the paths (temporarily meaning, for like a year). In 2016 I also started planting non-grass plants in the front.  May of 2017:

garlic on the right, planted the previous fall. Peppers will go in the middle. How did those chickens get out there?!
Another angle, same work session: leek in front, garlic, peppers added.  All those bamboo sticks are to prevent our gigantic horse-dog from smashing through there.

A couple weeks later, same area:

Mulched the beds with wood chips, added more peppers

August 2017, and that leek is flowering and the peppers are going well:

Typical jumble of various edibles at different stages

Then, I found this at Pomarius Nursery while visiting with my friend Larienne who came down from Seattle for a day of nursery-hopping:

Agave parryi var. truncata

And did not plant it into the ground.  Instead, I started to slowly re-imagine this scene with a more silver-blue-gray color scheme while the agave spent the winter in its pot under the eave, not getting much sun, nor water.

needs more silver-blue

My color fetish caused me to take a trip to Xera Plants for Cupressus glabra ‘Sulphurea’, which you can see here auditioning its spot, along with several other plants you can’t really make out.  I also got a Caesalpinia gilliesii which ended up spending the winter in a big pot under the eave with the agave.

Caesalpinia gilliesii on left, Cupressus glabra ‘Sulphurea’ in little pot to the right behind the big cabbage

In late fall of 2017, Robb Sloan of NoName Nursery handed me a whole flat of Pulsatilla vulgaris ‘Rubra’ or is it var. rubra? Joy Creek calls it ‘Rubra’ and Far Reaches calls it var. rubra.  Joy Creek is closer so we’ll go with ‘Rubra’.  I briefly considered planting some of them here, and in this pic showing February 2018 snow dusting on my mess of a front yard you can see the flat in the lower left.  That is one tough plant and I really put them to the test by leaving them out there all winter.  None of the 50 of them died.

Pot ghetto begins

Pot ghettos at my house happen when I end up with plants I’m not sure what to do with yet, such as those Pulsatillas, or when I can’t plant them because I have to prepare the area (remove grass, usually).  And that’s exactly what started accumulating here.  I hated it.  This is the most prominent part of my entire garden for us, it should be the most beautiful and interesting, not a stupid eyesore! I’m an idiot sometimes.

Finally after much thinking I decided to at least remove the wood bed edges.  I did it to both beds but apparently only took a photo of this one.  At this point I’d finally made the decision to keep the bed below for vegetables, but convert the other to ornamental.

cedar removed, March 2018.  Here I’m about to put in a flat of lettuce and onions.

Still I wasn’t sure what to plant there. Sometimes I guess you just have to wait for inspiration.  One day in about April of this year, it finally came, in the form of a small tree from Paul Bonine of Xera.  It was labeled as Nothofagus antarctica ‘Variegata’, which apparently is synonymous with the cultivar ‘Chillan’.  I immediately knew exactly what to do with it and planted it out right in the middle of the south end of that bed.

Turns out I took a picture from the roof.  You can see the Nothofagus, barely, in the lower left near a big green blob which is a volunteer lemon balm I’ve since removed:

Now the pot ghetto starts to migrate, there are two agaves there

The brilliant chartreuse of the Nothofagus is just what’s needed to balance a bunch of silvery-blue desert plants.  And I’m a sucker for microscopic leaves.  This is the perfect specimen plant to anchor this area and get me to plant the rest of it.  Nothofagus casts so little shade, I don’t think it will be a problem even when it gets taller.

Initially I wanted to plant the agaves (yeah I ended up with another one, from Little Prince) just to the south of the Nothofagus but that would be too close to the driveway.  Rudy the dog would inevitably spear himself on them as he spills out of the car on that side usually.  They need to be further away from heavily trafficked areas.

Once I decided on the spot, more plants materialized to accompany agaves.  Euphorbia rigida and Euphorbia myrsinites which came from Amy Campion at the swap, a Hesperaloe parviflora from Xera, an Opuntia macrocentra which – don’t hate me – came from Home Depot, and a couple of Stipa barbata which also came from the swap but I’m not sure who brought them (please LMK if it was you!).

finally, a plan

In the above picture I’ve gathered up the two agaves and the various other plants that I think will compliment them and I’m about to dig in a couple bags of pumice which I got from Concentrates, Inc. I get my potting soil, fertilizer, and bird food there too.  I love Concentrates!

First, though, a detour: directly under the Nothofagus, I threw down some Angelina sedum when I planted the tree, and I want this area to evolve and for plants to shift around a bit.  So far, I have this combination which is a bit of an ode to Evan Bean of The Practical Plant Geek:

Papaver nudicaule, Angelina sedum, Plantago major ‘Rubrifolia’, and Cerinthe major.

I planted 6 Plantago major ‘Rubrifolia’ around here and I love them.  They are a wonderful contrast to the sedum and the bright orange poppy.  Evan grew the Plantago from seed, and I grew the poppy and the Cerinthe from seed (found Cerinthe seeds at Garden Fever).  I also blame Evan for the poppy because the inspiration to grow them was sparked by a conversation with him about poppies back in March.

In addition to the above, I also sowed (whyyy?) Nicotiana sylvestris and after agonizing about where to put them for a long time, a few ended up here too.  Here is the whole area:

Oh, hey, a california poppy ended up in here too. That is fine.

You can’t see it well, but in the above photo, flanked by two red plantains to the left of the poppy is a Grevillea australis.  I’m hoping it will be a better choice than agaves for this area – dense, painless, floral scent can be experienced up close easily, etc.  I’ll probably end up with more stuff like that along the driveway eventually.  The rest of these I will allow to do whatever they want and just edit as needed.  My favorite kind of gardening is these kinds of naturalization experiments.

I wish I’d taken this from the same angle as the previous photo – I was focusing on the tree.  Too sunny today for a better pic!
The very beginnings of my little desert berm

Just to the right of this scene there is more chartreuse.  It just ends up happening: the foliage color scheme in the front yard is decidedly silver/gray, chartreuse, and red/purple, and an even mix of all three. I can live with that.

Here is the very chartreuse little scene is just to the right of the view above of the newly planted “desert berm”:

Cupressus glabra ‘Suphurea’, Alchemilla mollis, Sisyrinchium striatum

Let’s see how long it takes that Cupressus to become a problem.  Should be fun!

And just to the left:

Now that I think about it, it occurs to me that the way I seem to design the front garden is reactionary.  These two plants absolutely a reaction to the Salvia ‘Hot Lips’ behind them – I find the color of the Santolina especially, and also the flowers of the x Halimiocistus, help me deal with the gaudiness of the red and white Salvia.  Instead of removing the Salvia, I’m planting things around it to make it work. You can’t see it well but there’s a Callistemon viridiflorus in there too, to help satisfy my craving for light yellow/chartreuse next to red.

I’m doing that with the big red Japanese maple too.  I may change my mind eventually and take it out, but for now, it’s really helping drive some design decisions.  In fact, that tree dominates the entire front yard and affects almost every decision I make, whether it’s about foliage color, plant form, or plant placement.  The venerable maple demands to be part of the conversation. For someone new to garden design such as myself, this isn’t just helpful but necessary.

This has been a “before” and “during” post for this part of the garden, formerly vegetable bed #10, and now it’s basically two zones – the immediate surrounds of the Nothofagus, and the desert berm. Hopefully they’ll mush together a bit as the reseeders migrate around and I’ll end up with something interesting that relates to the rest of the front yard at least somewhat.  I should probably mulch the berm or add rocks? What would you do? Cram some more plants in there? All these plants are brand-new to me so I’m very interested in suggestions!

 

 

Lettuce!

‘Winterwunder’ and ‘Arctic King’ sowed indoors January 8

I probably sowed these seeds way earlier than I needed to, because look, they’re two months old and still babies.  Whatever.  They’re fully hardened off – they’ve been outside in their flat along with various alliums and I only brought them in one or two nights when it dipped well below freezing.  Basically, I’ve been dragging my feet on preparing this bed for them.  I needed to rake off all the wood chip mulch that was here, then level the soil a bit and actually add some soil to bring the level up above the rest of the wood chips surrounding it, and I didn’t want to do any of that while the soil was super heavy sticky wet.  So after a couple dry days, I finally did it.

Here’s the bed.  It used to have a 2×6 wood edge around it like all my vegetable beds, and (it took me forever) I finally decided to remove the wood and allow this bed to become a more natural shape which will feel a lot better in the front yard.  This is actually the sunniest bed of all, but it’s also the most visible, and since it’s part of the front yard I like to grow things that look pretty here, like brassicas and eggplants and alliums.

I stood on a car for this

Eventually I’ll move some of those rocks around and shoot for something more kidney-shaped.

One thing that’s good about having a couple of vegetable beds out front is that the ducks don’t come to the front yard unless I’m with them.  So I can safely plant seedlings and not have to fence them off to prevent them getting trampled or eaten.

Oh you’re wondering about all those gallon nursery pots? Hostas, every single one of them.  This is the ridiculous horde of hostas I got at Fred Meyer last summer because they were $2 each and I apparently had $50 burning a hole in my pocket.  These will all go over to Wichita Ave, because she loves hostas, and the north side of her house just begs for a whole bed of them.  Okay I might keep one ‘Sum & Substance’ just because it’s insane and chartreuse.

Other fun tasks for the day included cutting last year’s (mostly) dead stems of Gaura and no I’m not calling it Oenothera yet.

I leave them in place as long as I can stand it because I love this

Grassing.  There is no “weeding” in my front garden.  The only “weed” is grass.  So I grassed.

Bye grass. That’s Arctostaphylos ‘Howard McMinn’ and and artichoke which I just adore

The moles, the moles are here.  Hi moles!

I found about 15 of these

But you know what? I’ve decided I’m going to work with the moles, not against them.  I’ve managed to convince myself that they’re the primary reason the lavenders are so happy in this area which has very dense, hard, clay soil.  Moles as soil aerators and creators of better drainage. Sure, why not?

I also took some of that mass of Angelina sedum and threw them around a bit.

sorry bout that thumb

And lastly my neighbor’s Kanzan cherry is about to burst open.  I love this bud phase!

 

That’s it for today. Stay tuned for some REALLY fun stuff upcoming at Wichita Ave!!