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. 


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.


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! 

A Visit to Joy Creek

Last Friday I made the trip out to Scappoose with my friend Carol to visit Joy Creek Nursery for the first time.  They have a vast and wonderful display garden which held delights around every corner.  We got lost in it for what must have been a couple of hours (it’s BIG).  Here’s some plant porn for you:

Hydrangea ‘Oregon Pride’

Just as we entered the garden, Mike (one of the owners) came over and named a couple plants for us.  First he showed us his “Plant of the Week” which he said he thinks might have to be “Plant of the Month”: Hydrangea ‘Oregon Pride’.  I’m all for Plant of the Month (June) especially with that name because June was Pride Month, how apropos!

I’m not big on Hydrangea macrophylla but I do love me some black stems! I actually have a little black-stemmed one that came with the house.  Like ‘Oregon Pride’, it also has these fabulous chartreuse buds.

Mike saw me eyeing this curious fir.  He said it’s Abies koreana ‘Starker’s Dwarf’ and that it’s 50 years old, if I recall correctly.

It’s only about 20′ tall

Abies koreana ‘Starker’s Dwarf’ – everything about it was cute

Acanthus flowers looked fantastic in front of a golden Cotinus.

Acanthus mollis

There are several big sprays of Eryngium giganteum around, also fabulous with the same Cotinus.

Eryngium giganteum

Bee party!

I loved the color combination of these soft peachy roses with the Eryngium.

Eryngium and roses

I didn’t catch the name of this next plant but it seems like a Ligularia.  Hydrangea aspera in the background doing its cotton candy phase.

Ligularia, I think.

Musa basjoo with Trachycarpus looking for all the world like summer will never end

Big tropical leaves halted us in our tracks for quite some time.

Gunnera tinctoria is a good 7 feet tall

Carol kindly posed for scale

She actually had a very small Gunnera, which died.  After seeing this, she was glad it kicked the bucket! It’s quite the challenge in just about any garden to make room for one of these.

Call me weird but I really liked this foliage combination of Persicaria ‘Painter’s Palette’ and a bronze Carex.  The brown of the Carex really brought out the red splashes.  I couldn’t get a great photo so you might have to take my word for it.

Persicaria ‘Painter’s Palette’ and a bronze Carex

I never cease to be thrilled with gray-green or silvery foliage against purple:

Eucomis probably ‘Sparkling Burgundy’ with a grape

I loved this next vignette – what a cooling scene visually on a hot summer day.  Under a large English walnut (take that, allelopathy!) grow these Astrantias, Brunnera, Hebe (‘Western Hills’?), Hostas flowering in the distance, and a ton of other plants.

Walnut trees (Juglans spp.) are commonly believed to exhibit allelopathy toward other plants.  Without getting overly technical it means they exude a chemical called hydrojuglone, which is converted to juglone by oxidation, and it’s juglone that supposedly can inhibit the growth of some plants.  This whole thing isn’t well understood, I imagine because there hasn’t been a lot of research put into it (why spend research dollars figuring out what will grow under walnuts when most commercial walnut orchards don’t want other plants under the trees?), but for home gardeners, Joy Creek’s garden here certainly proves that growing stuff under walnuts is very possible.

A few paces from there and we found the famed Rudbeckia field.  Earlier, Mike had told us some visitors asserted this could be seen from outer space.  It did not dissapoint!

Rudbeckia, Kniphofia

But I found the Kniphofia even more interesting.

I have K. uvaria, but I haven’t been impressed with it because it blooms for a very short time and tends to look pretty ragged the rest of the year.  I’d like to try growing one that blooms for longer and has better foliage. I also don’t love the creamsicle look – I prefer the ones with at least somewhat more uniform color.

Much as I love conifers, I am very picky about which ones end up in my garden. I am NOT picky about good foliage combinations, and I just loved this.  I’m guessing Tsuga heterophylla and some kind of Chamaecyparis.

I was intrigued by these really gigantic rose hips. With hairs even.  I didn’t find a tag on or anywhere near the plant, unfortunately.

see? crazy big! they look like developing pears but for the hair.

You know when you visit a garden where the plants are mature and you see something real big and go “oh shit” because you realize you haven’t accounted for mature size when you planted the wee little specimen you have? This Bupleurum fruticosum totally did that for me.

Lavender, Hydrangea, Bupleurum fruticosum

…. And then you laugh and just go “oh well, whatever”…

I do love me some blue Hosta.  Mostly, though, I was excited about native Vancouveria used as a “filler” plant among the Hosta and rather exotic-looking ferns here.

surely Crytomium, but idk which

I love that fern!

At this point we were nowhere near done seeing the gardens – in fact we’d only been through about half of it, but my phone was really low on charge, so I stopped taking pictures, except of the plants I came for.

Drimys lanceolata (four of them, I love them that much!)

And I couldn’t resist this Salvia discolor even though it’s questionably hardy.

Salvia discolor

I planted it out into the garden but now that I’m researching it I’m pretty sure I’ll lose it over the winter unless we get spectacularly lucky with a warm winter again.  I might even dig it now so I don’t have to do it in November when the plant is more established.  I wanted white foliage in the spot I put it in, but fortunately I have two Helichrysum thianschanicum I got from Xera, so maybe I’ll put one of those there instead.

It was really fun and inspiring to visit Joy Creek Nursery and I’m really glad I went (finally).  I recommend visiting if you haven’t.  Plus GREAT PEOPLE work there!!

Introduction to Place Pigalle

I’ve made promises to show you this wonderful garden, and finally, here we are.  Just the backyard today – there’s a lot going on! We decided to call it “Place Pigalle” because of the two lovely pug crosses (x rat terrier) that live here – we’re always referring to them as piglets or pig-something, so we thought “Place Pigalle” was funny and fitting.  It’s also the name of a public square in Paris, and a fancy Seattle restaurant.

So first let me introduce you to the dogs, Maggie (left) and Oliver (right).  Maggie was at the plant swap at my house, so some of you may have met her. Her look here is a “ball request”.  Oliver’s look is one of general superiority.  He is extra fancy.  Parisian, doubtless.

Maggie and Oliver the piggers

They are wonderful dogs and good friends with my dog, Rudy.  They’re quite a bit easier on a garden than Rudy, though!

Now the garden.

Magnolia macrophylla, bamboo and Tetrapanax in back, hardy Gardenia in the foreground

Above is the view when you stand on the steps that are the entrance to the garden through a French door. This time of year, the Magnolia dominates, but when it’s bare, you can see two beautiful plants behind it, one of which is kind of visible here: Metapanax delavayi and Eucalyptus parvula.

Zantedeschia as tall as me under the Magnolia!

I had to get two photos from this magical vantage point.

In the second photo (above) you can see a tall, dark, and handsome Poncirus trifoliata glowing in the evening sun – it’s just to the right of the calla flowers.

If you look to the left you see this:

Fatsia ‘Spider’s Web’ with Japanese anemones and a LOT of toad lilies

Which is just about the best Fatsia ‘Spider’s Web’ I’ve ever seen.  It was a bit ragged after the winter of 16/17, but you just tidy them up and they grow out of it.  This the north wall of the house.

Back to the Magnolia area.

Corylopsis pauciflora (?), Iris domestica, Geraniums, Daphne x houtteana

In addition to the callas, the Magnolia’s underplanting includes Thalictrum that is flowering up into the Magnolia’s canopy (how did I not photograph that? It was over 8′ tall), a mix of interesting hardy Geraniums, a couple stands of fantastic orange-flowered Iris domestica, this amazing Corylopsis which I believe is C. pauciflora, and lots of Bletilla striata.

There’s a fuchsia in there too, can you spot it?

The Corylopsis absolutely glows, more so than these photos even show. I love it so much I took cuttings and will plant one of them into my garden soon.

Bletilla striata

At the edge of this patio area, this Acanthus demands attention! There are two of them.

Acanthus mollis, presumably ‘Whitewater’

An about-face from there puts you face-to-face (well, ok, knee-to-face) with a big stand of whatever curiosity this is (can anyone ID this for me?).  Orchidaceae, to start. This is amid some rushes, a lot of Sarracenias, the cool architectural Equisetum, several amazing ferns, and a big stand of bananas.

Musa basjoo stems didn’t die to the ground last winter

In the picture above you can make out the multiple trunks of Metapanax delavayi, as well as an orange Abutilon on the other side of the koi pond. Looking straight up from there, you get this:

Tetrapanax, Musa basjoo, Metapanax delavayi, and a wisp of Eucalyptus parvula

Schefflera delavayi and Chionanthus retusus with Phygelius

Above, at the base of the Eucalyptus, there are a couple of big floppy Phygelius and some Lobelia tupa which you’ll have to take my word for. The back row consists of Phyllostachys nigra, Schefflera delavayi, and Chionanthus retusus at right.

Embothrium coccineum and friends

In the far corner, a very protected spot, a young Embothrium coccineum grows against a very cool metal thing that came from a neighbor around the corner.  I’m not sure if said neighbor made it or if it actually originated at the BBC Steel scrapyard.  Under it are a copule of Carex?, A Hebe (lots more of that same Hebe in the front yard) and the Euphorbia is ‘Blackbird’ or similar.

Over in the other corner…

Dactylicapnos/Dicentra scandens on Trachycarpus fortunei trunk

A masterful pairing.

Oh hey, here’s more Lobelia tupa!

Lobelia tupa blooming in partial shade

And that’s a second stand of Phyllostachys nigra to the left behind the Lobelia.

Continuing along the path around the pond…

Tetrapanax smushed into giant Cannas

A BIG stand of the really tall Cannas – these get to 12′ by the end of the season.  A Tetrapanax baby from the main one has been allowed to grow in here and it’s really cool-looking I think.

Across the path from that scene is the bubbler for the pond.

Lady ferns, bamboo, Hymenocallis, blechnum chilense?

Abutilon ‘Tiger Eye’ maybe.

A view of the pond from the other side.  Abutilon ‘Tiger Eye’ seems likely, with burgundy Eucomis and Potentilla gelida – we’ll see more of that in a minute.

Sarracenia alabamensis

There are at least three different Sarracenias at the pond edges.

More Sarracenias with Eucomis and Potentilla

Now for a new area.  Originally, a large triangular section of this backyard was a meadow of gleaming lime green Irish moss (Sagina subulata), with a Sarracenia bog in one part of it and a Poncirus trifoliata as a focal point.  The Sagina proved much too labor intensive for my friends who live here, so a drastic design change occurred.  In addition, there was a wooden fence covered in Parthenocissus quinquefolia.  The fence was rebuilt and the Virginia creeper was removed at the time.  So this section was looking very stark: just a plain new wooden fence and a lot of weeds and grasses where the Sagina had failed to compete with them.

I encouraged my friends to consider canopy layer first.  Several tree ideas came up: Trachycarpus (they love them and wanted another), Eriobotrya japonica or Loquat, and Lyonothamnus floribundus ssp aspleniifolius, the Catalina ironwood, were in the final running.  In the photo below, you can see the Trachycarpus made the cut.

This Gunnera was also moved here from another part of the garden that is now a patio area with irregular rock pavers similar to the original patio area you saw in the Bletilla photo earlier.

Gunnera and Macleaya

For the other tree, they had to choose between a loquat and a Catalina ironwood. I suggested they go look at mature specimens of each tree – the big loquat on SE 12th just north of the Max tracks near Clinton Street, and the two Lyonothamnus in the parking lot near Pomarius Nursery on NW Vaughn between 19th and 20th

After seeing and standing under the two tree options, the choice was made:

Do you see it in there? It’s the Lyonothamnus (yay this was the choice I’d have made myself)!  Right in front of that, dominating this scene which admittedly is pretty much all plants that want to dominate a scene, is Chamaerops humilis var. cerifera/argenta, the blue Mediterranean fan palm.  The little one I have came from the same grower – they were really sweet and bought it for me while they were there!

Also pictured above: at left, Fatsia japonica ‘Murakamo Nishiki’, with Musella lasiocarpa behind it, a bunch of Colocasias along the fence, and climbing on the fence is an evergreen Clematis.

Trachycarpus takil and Clematis ‘Rooguchi’

The new Trachycarpus came from Palmscape in Boring.  Turns out if you spring for a big one, they deliver it and even plant the thing in the ground for you! How bout that.   This one gets a Clematis ‘Rooguchi’ trunk adornment.

The ground cover layer in here consists of this combination, echoing the color scheme of the Eucomis and Potentilla gelida:

Setcreasea pallida with a blue Hosta, and two colors of Acaena inermis

Across the path with slightly different plants we echoed that color scheme again:

Acaena inermis in two colors, Helianthemum ‘Henfield Brilliant’, and Astelia

There’s still a central meadow-type area here – the original design was (I thought) quite brilliant in that the sea of lime green Sagina and well as the wall of Virginia creeper offered large areas of visual and spatial relief to an otherwise really exciting garden.  Well, we just couldn’t keep that.  So what we tried to do was maintain a fairly strict color palette, tying in as much as possible with what was already present.  Hence the purple/silver theme you see above.

Anigozanthos flavidus, Orlaya grandiflora, dog

I couldn’t get a satisfactory wide shot of this meadow area but I will sometime – it’ll be better after it’s filled in a bit more anyway.  For now, here are some of the plants we used.  Anigozanthos flavidus and Orlaya grandiflora above both came from Xera, as did the Helianthemum and I believe also the Astelia in the previous photo.

Chondrapetalum tectorum ‘Dwarf’, Gilia tricolor

Orlaya, variegated Carex, Anigozanthos, Eryngiums, Impatiens seedlings

That’s almost it for the backyard.  Of course there are dozens of plants and vignettes I didn’t focus on, but we’ll do more tours for sure.


I did say this was going to be back yard only, but I can’t resist one picture of a particularly stunning plant in the front.  You’ll see more later, but for now, behold this unreal white Dierama:

It was incredibly difficult to get these photos because I had Rudy on a leash and he was pulling hard because so many new smells!

Crappy photos but you get the idea. There are two big clumps of them and they’re just stunning!

I hope you’ve enjoyed this initial tour.  I promise there will be more!