Two nursery visits = a LOT of work!

Part One

It all started with… well, where did this really start? Last summer I realized I needed to move my Nothofagus antarctica ‘Chillan’ because it was getting pretty badly scorched in hot afternoon sun. When I planted it right in my front yard, I was hoping for it to provide some light shade to my front door which opens west. On hot summer days, leaving the house is like entering a blast furnace and I had hoped to mitigate that. Well, I didn’t choose the best tree. Not only did the tree suffer even with ample water, but it’s a slow grower and it would have taken more years than I will live here to actually shade anything.

It’s a really lovely tree, but as you can see, not exactly a shade tree anytime soon, and this spot gave it way too much sun for those delicate variegated leaves.

Nothofagus antarctica, June 2019

So the idea of moving it, of course, means I have to decide where to put it. As a side-effect of that set of decisions, I decided I had to dig out all my Macleaya cordata/microcarpa. I adore my “broccoli poppies” as we’ve come to call them, but I had the clump right next to the patio where it just got too huge. Initially, I thought I would put the Nothofagus there, but later I reconsidered that and the tree ended up in a big pot, into which its baby tree roots fit quite easily, so hopefully it’ll live, and I can audition it for various spots until something makes sense.

Part Two

With the Macleaya out, and having decided NOT to put the Nothofagus in its spot, I immediately realized I had a trio of plants looking for homes that would actually (I think) be pretty great right off the edge of the patio.

Caveat: for most of the photos in this post, I wasn’t planning on making a blog post so they’re really just recordkeeping. I went back out for some better ones after I started writing so this won’t be a terribly ugly post.

In the above terrible photo, we have Corokia virgata ‘Sunsplash’ which I’ve kept in a pot for the last three years because I really didn’t know where to plant it. It’s a bit brittle, doesn’t want hot afternoon sun (we tried that), and does best with water. The same is true of the Fuchsia ‘Delta’s Sarah’ and the monocots you see between them are Kniphofia thomsonii. I think it’ll be a pretty smashing combination, although it runs the risk of being too chaotic for me. We’ll see. At any rate, these will at least all get a pretty cushy home here with afternoon shade and consistent soil moisture.

Part Three

With all that done, naturally I ended up going to a couple of my favorite plant nurseries, Cistus and Xera, both times ostensibly just to meet up with friends but how could I not come home with plants?!

Most of em

At Cistus I ended up with two plants that have been on my list for some time: Leptospermum grandiflorum and Ribes speciosum. You may notice also the spinning gum, Eucalyptus perriniana, whose story relates back to Part One…

So I was at Xera. Just hanging out, talking to my friends, looking at plants, etc. They have a lot of really seductive baby Eucalyptus trees. I casually mentioned how I wish I could bring myself to cut down my Cornus florida in the front yard and replace it with a Eucalyptus. DANGER TOPIC.

Greg says, “Well, you *did* just remove your Nothofagus…” and, well, the rest is history. And for about three glorious hours I was envisioning the magnificence of this spectacular and mighty Eucalyptus perriniana gracing the very front of my front yard, shading my door lightly, making messes of multicolored leaves and shedding bark at any and all times of year… oh, how glorious that could be…

Then reality set in and I realized that I cannot bring myself to take that part of my housemate’s garden away from her. Not yet, anyway. I am not a dictator. If I planted this tree there, I would have to require her to stay away from it and the surrounding area and NOT irrigate and NOT fertilize and possibly even remove highly fertile soil and replace it with unamended native soil. I could do that, but the risk of damaging our relationship is not worth it. I can grow this tree, and love the daylights out of it, but not in that spot.

So! After crying about that for exactly 23 seconds I took the tree to the backyard and stupidly planted it in a perfectly straight line with my Clerodendrum and Quercus hypoleucoides.

Lookin like a damn orchard out here

I took a pic to show my friend George what I’d done, once I realized it the next morning. I could not stand it. In the pic I’m pointing to the Eucalyptus and you can see the other two trees and how it’s in an exact straight line with them, and that this line *also* aligns with the property line/fence. What you can’t tell from the photo is that the Eucalyptus is *also* almost exactly equidistant between those other two…. it looks much closer to the Clerodendrum but it’s actually only about 2′ off from dead center. None of this is remotely okay.

Another grievance you may be able to detect in the previous photo is that the Euc is planted into what was my very last rectangular, 2×6-edged former vegetable bed. I knew I could get that wood and hardware out of there around the plant, but once I realized I had to move the plant, well, now we have the next phase.

Part Four

Welp, ok, so like before with the Nothofagus, once I decided to move the Euc I realized that the only place to put it was already occupied by somebody else. In this case, a really beautiful specimen of Sphaeralcea ‘Newleaze Coral’ – a selection of a west coast native subshrub that has performed absolutely famously in my garden since acquiring 3 little starts last spring. So, let the work begin.

The first task was to remove all the 2×6 cedar boards and the hardware holding them together. I didn’t document that but let me tell you I will never build a raised bed again. This last one (of the original 9) was the most overbuilt of all. I know what we were thinking (keep moles out) but it was erroneous. After removing the boards and hardware I had to dig down so I could cut out as much of the hardware cloth that spans the entire underside of the bed a foot or so down as possible. The ducks, of course, helped.

Finally! There are no longer any horrible right angles in my garden. What a relief!

Now I’ve moved the Euc. It was in its original spot, just past where Papi is standing, for only one day. Directly behind/above Papi in this pic, you can see the Sphaeralcea that I removed from where the Euc is now. And those are the damn boards that I will never have in my garden again.

Look how insanely cute this tree is right now. Like, what planet are YOU from??

Baby Eucaplytus perriniana, spinning gum

With that whole bed clear now, I wondered what to plant in it.

Part Five

Remember how I mentioned I picked up a Leptospermum grandiflorum at Cistus? No? It’s okay, this is way too long a post to remember that sort of thing. Anyway I put it somewhere stupid, and then some thinking set in.

Leptospermum grandiflorum

I realized I had two Callistemons along my north fence that really don’t work that well there. They want more water, less mole activity, and also I want them more “up-front” rather than relegated to the hedge. So I removed them, and put the L. grandiflorum where they were.

I love this Lepto so much I had to take a few closeups. Couldn’t decide between them so you get both. See how much more blue its leaves are compared to the L. lanigerum behind it in the above pic?

In this next pic, you can see it contrasted against the deep green of Leptospermum namadgiensis. I love all Leptos but this one is really winning my heart right now.

Leptospermum grandiflorum. Grow, baby, grow…

Ok so! Now we have two Callistemons I just dug up, and I’ve got one more that I’ve held in a pot for the last year because I planted it in a location it did not like. I put them all together where I’d originally sited the Eucalyptus.

Bottlebrushes! And a Hebe.

And I am starting to really like my garden again. Groups of sclerophlls with native forbs in between. I think that’s what I want.

Speaking of… I think this is

Part Six

Into another bed that used to house peppers or watermelons, I put Quercus vaccinifolia, a little Penstemon, a beautiful blue-leaved Callistemon, and an Olearia. I have to protect smaller plants with cages, so it does not look good.

But hopefully they will thrive and eventually look better.


Part Seven

After planting/moving/screwing around with all these lovely sclerophylls, I then sowed some seeds in all the disturbed/open ground.

  • Castilleja miniata – paintbrush (say it with me: cas-tee-YAY-ha)
  • Eschscholzia caespitosa – tufted poppy
  • Eschscholzia californica ‘Mikado’ – a red California poppy
  • Clarkia bottae – bunchbowl godetia, big success last year!
  • Clarkia concinna – redi ribbons clarkia – moderate success last year; I sowed too late so maybe better this year
  • Platystemon californicum – cream cups
  • Beach Lupine – I suspect this is Lupinus albifrons? seed collected by my wonderful girlfriend from her own garden.

I am so, so excited. I am beginning to love my garden in a way that I never have before. It is a highly motivating feeling, and I bet you can guess that all of this is not all I did. I’ll follow up with more posts. But this is enough for now.

I’ll close with something that came as a lovely surprise today – not the first egg of the season, but the first from my favorite chicken Mochuela:

It’s green, and weird-shaped, and beautiful.

The ducks have been laying on and off for months, and Misha laid a single egg a month ago, but I feel like this might be the real harbinger of spring that I’ve been awaiting.

Thanks for reading this whole post. If you got this far, kudos to you and you better go friend me on some social media channel or other. <3

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.


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!