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!

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!