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.

//SL

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.

Check-in: why am I doing this, again?

My gardening motives over the last 5 years:

Five years ago: Food Forest omg omg grow all the foods eat the plants!! And native plants, grow all the natives!!!1!

Four years ago: I’m not really sure I want to grow kiwis. Tomatoes are not very pretty plants. Oh well, have to grow em. Watering is hard; maybe I’ll set up rainwater catchment. Wow Rosa nutkana is 12′ tall already. Hm.

Three years ago: Jesus CHRIST this is a hell of a lot of work. I do NOT want to have to build a kiwi arbor. It’s hot out here. I need to plant some shade trees and I do not need any more pears. Damn, rainwater catchment really does not work in a dry summer climate unless you have 18,0000,00000 gallons of water storage volume. How little can I water the tomatoes?

Two years ago: Oh heyyyyy xeriscaping (bats eyelashes). God it’s hot out here. Ima plant me some more trees.

Last year: I want nothing but manzanitas, weird Australian shrubbery, anything silvery, and everything also must have microscopic leaves. Oh and if there are flowers in peach/orange/pink tones, bring it.

Also last year: I finally came to a realization that cannot stand all the rectangular garden beds (not really raised; more like edged with wood) that I’d built in years prior. I hated the right angle turns I was constantly making. I hated wrestling with the hose around corners and too-narrow paths. And I started to not like the extremely variable overall form of the garden – tall plants over here one year, over there the next; vines here then there… I was craving more consistency.

Typical raised beds with wide paths all perfectly graveled, vegetables growing way up off the ground and nowhere near native soil is NOT the direction I wanted to go. I have GREAT soil – it is deficient in nothing and beautifully textured Latourell loam. So ixnay on the idea of wider paths and taller beds; though that would certainly help with the hose struggle, I just don’t want to garden that way. What I really want is curving paths and organic shapes for beds; foliar screens and room dividers; deliberate and artistic contrasts in texture and form. Not ready to completely rip everything out and start from scratch, I set about removing all the 2×6 cedar edges as beds which I had been growing vegetables became available over the course of the season.

Paths have started to form; I’ve lined some with bricks and others with old hoses, which I prefer, but old hoses are in limited quantity while bricks are abundant. I started thinking even more in terms of water-use zones, and considered automatic irrigation in some key areas. At this point I have given up at least half of the space that was formerly allocated to vegetable gardening and I’m preparing to lose even more.

new garden path marked by hoses
Look, hoses AND bricks here

As one who sees herself as an avid vegetable grower, this is a big and somewhat challenging adjustment. I never thought I’d be one of those gardeners who says, “yeah, I used to grow tomatoes….” But here I am. Priorities change and I guess gardens change along with.

Now, lest you think I’m done yet, I assure you I am not. Under these lovely (ahem) covered wagons are a dozen tomatoes (most grafted), about 40 peppers and a whole bunch of melons of various types.

Irony.

It’s totally ironic that I’ve always disliked that white shed roof, and I’ve been pretty vocal in my complaints about it, but then I go and make all these ugly-ass hoop houses. Do I really want to look at this? The honest truth is that no, I don’t. But I still love growing the plants that are under them, and I’m not yet ready to say this is the last time I’ll do this.

On top of, and in the midst of all that, as of April I have a new housemate. I want to incorporate her ideas about gardening and what she wants to grow, and perhaps satisfy her ideas about aesthetics as well, even when they differ from mine.

This is all potentially a lot of pretty quick change for me, and I’ll be the first to admit that I can take a long time to adjust to change, especially the type that feels like it reshapes my trajectory, I guess because clear trajectory feels hard for me to come by in the first place!

That said, I DID manage a project along the lines of a trajectory that I’d already started playing with in the front yard: a dry garden area; in this case a bit of a berm. This was where I grew tomatoes last year:

ducks help dig a new garden bed
Debug team is helping. So helpful. And housemate’s foot (she IS helpful for real!).

We raked the wood chips off, broke up the clods, and into that went about 5 bags of pumice (1 cu. ft. each). These bags are about $5 each from Concentrates which is right down the road from me. Easy.

plant placement in garden
Almost all are treasures from plant swaps and friends

It doesn’t look very berm-y in the above photo, but the next one might give a better idea. I had amassed quite a collection of plants that like things on the dry side and love good drainage.

ducks in new garden bed
Almost done.
Another view, two weeks later. Lots of new growth on Bulbine frutescens (the green thing this side of the poppies).

It really doesn’t look like much, but such is the nature of new plantings. I don’t love the look of the pumice but I’m willing to put up with it while I figure out a mulch; I’m not ready to commit to gravel so it’s probably wood chips or nothing. I’ve added some bits of fencing and a big pot shard to protect little plants from the ravages of dogs and hoses.

Speaking of the ravages of dogs, do you have ANY idea how hard it is to establish new shrubs when you have two large-to-giant male dogs who get into pee wars? The damage is very real. After four or five outright deaths, I’m finally coming to grips with having to just fence around plants. I’ve been reluctant in the past because if I fence off one plant, the focus will simply shift to another. While that is true, it is also true that some plants can take more pee than others.

I finally did this, in addition to multiple other fences around individual plants:

garden fence to keep dogs out
Fenced off are a young Eucryphia (among native blackcaps) and a couple of Carpenterias. Yes those are potatoes from 2 years ago at front right. Shut up.

I know, it’s gross and it seems silly; why even let your dogs back there at all, you may wonder. I’ll tell you: I want to have my cake and eat it too in getting these shrubs established, while allowing the dogs their backyard pee breaks since apparently it’s too hard to take them on walks out front so they can pee on the neighbors’ shrubbery. Besides, even if we made that a habit, these dudes would still have to mark, and mark on top, and on top, ad nauseam. Even just marking, when the dogs are 70lbs and 100lbs, is significant.

Anyway. I’ll conclude with a list of what I put in that new bed, and a photo of my favorite of all of them.

  • Two Agaves maybe salmiana or havardiana
  • Three Sphaeralcea ‘Newleaze Coral’
  • Three Anaphalis margaritacea
  • Bulbine frutescens
  • Sinningia tubiflora
  • Hesperaloe parviflora
  • Eryngium ‘Neptune’s Gold’
  • Penstemon pinifolius
  • Dasylirion wheeleri from Cistus, couldn’t resist it at Hortlandia
  • Callistemon pallidus ‘Eleanor’ from The Desert Northwest (also a Hortlandia purchase)
  • Aquilegia chrysantha var chaplinii from Xera Plants – really cool blue-purple foliage, this one is from New Mexico/Texas.
  • Arctostaphylos pumila ‘Gray Form’ also from Xera.

Thank you to my crazy fun gardening friends for the unsourced plants listed above, and to our stalwart local nurseries as well. These are all plants I could look at for days, months, years. And yes, I’ve answered my own question, haven’t I? THIS is why I am doing this.

Sigh… here’s my favorite, the Arctostaphylos pumila naturally. I didn’t get a great photo so you’ll just have to trust me that this plant is incredibly charming and very, very pretty.

This. THIS is why I’m doing this.

Thanks for reading!