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.


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!

Shrub moving

We’re having such a mild December and yesterday was pretty glorious so I decided to finally make a couple of moves I’ve been thinking about for a while.

I didn’t take a “before” picture of Stachyurus salicifolius in place but if you look at my last post, you’ll see it in my list of “losers” in the game of summer drought tolerance.  In this pic, I am pointing to where it was:

Way out by the street, where the hose doesn’t reach… and I hadn’t really noticed until my friend Paul Bonine (of Xera Plants, which is where I got this plant) pointed out that it’s been getting chomped by root weevils.

Here’s the plant after I dug it:

All those notches in the leaves are from adult root weevils feeding.

I read up a bit.  From PNW Extension: 

Adult weevils are night feeders that mostly remain in the soil or in debris at the base of the plant during the day, then climb up to feed on leaves at night. Look for ragged notches on the edges of leaves, or flower petals. Twigs of plants may die beyond where weevils have girdled the twig (salal, rockrose, yew, juniper, etc.). Larvae, found around roots, are C-shaped, legless, and white, or slightly reddish, with tan heads, up to 0.5 inch in size. All species are quite similar in appearance and habits of feeding on root hairs, larger roots and root crown.

Sounds like a job for some ducks, eh? To start, they help me dig the hole.

I put the plant near the chicken coop, but the chickens themselves actually don’t currently have access to the area (I can change that). Lots of benefits for Ms. Stachyurus in this location: WAY more water, higher soil nutrition, and ducks who will hopefully eradicate those weevils.  It’s also in a spot where I will see it every day, and there’s plenty of room there for it to get ginormous.

In the spot where the Stachyurus was, I moved (yikes, I know) a young Arctostaphylos ‘Lester Roundtree.”  

I had wanted a nice big evergreen shrub here, and this is definitely a better choice overall.  The spot I had this plant in is right in the middle of the front yard and I had been feeling uneasy about that placement almost from the minute I planted it there.  The new spot might be a bit shady, so I expect it to reach for the sun and get weird.  I love it when they do that.  We’ll see…

Here’s where the manzanita was: 

Disturbed soil in foreground marks the spot.

This is a small berm which I intend to enlarge and use for things that really love good drainage.  I was concerned that the smaller plants here would get overtaken by the manzanita.  What’s in there is Helichrysum thianschanicum, Stipa barbata, some Dierama seedlings that probably won’t make it (I’ll plant more), a couple Agaves, Euphorbias and Hesperaloe parviflora, among other things.

What should I put here? I was thinking another Agave… I really love the contrast of fine-textured plants like Stipa and Helichrysum against the stoutness of Agaves. 

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!