My friend in a Facebook plant group posted yesterday, saying, “Show us your buds” and while I didn’t manage to post on her thread, I did go out and take some pictures on that beautiful, if frightening, first day of spring. Without further ado:
That’s all, just a little record of what’s looking particularly interesting today, March 19, 2020.
Stay sanitized, stay physically distanced, and keep gardening, my friends.
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:
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.
One of those seedlings did this, the following March:
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:
A couple weeks later, same area:
August 2017, and that leek is flowering and the peppers are going well:
Then, I found this at Pomarius Nursery while visiting with my friend Larienne who came down from Seattle for a day of nursery-hopping:
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.
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.
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 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.
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:
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!).
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:
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:
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.
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”:
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!
Just a stroll around the garden. My flowering plants have always been kind of spread out – not grouped together all that much, so when I go around and take pics of everything that’s flowering I’m always shocked!
Let’s start with the Clematis. I think Grace and I agreed the other day that this could well be ‘Elsa Spath’ (it came with the house so we’ll never know for sure but the description fits very well).
My sister gave me this blueberry and it’s extremely floriferous!
These pansies seeded themselves (from a hanging basket two years ago) into this pot with the grape and have been happily blooming away for months now.
Dwarf Korean Lilac – Syringa meyeri – is just starting its fragrant flower show. I love its super-cute cupped leaves. Excellent fall color, too!
I let all that broccoli go to seed and the bees are having a ball.
Aptly named Polygonatum odoratum smells lovely, a very interesting scent. You really have to get down low to smell it, though!
My one Rhododendron. I kind of want to keep this one… Kind of. There were two others against the east wall of the house which we removed last year – they were so infested with lace bugs and bud blast and they were coarse and not fun to be around on the patio. This one has some lace bugs too, but it’s not as bad. I pruned it pretty hard last year, so it’s not covering itself with flowers like usual, but I think it’s healthier overall.
Speaking of covering self with flowers. This is my neighbor’s and it’s very fragrant. It WAFTS.
Look at the lusciousness.
This next plant never ceases to amaze me. It started blooming in January, and look:
Pelargonium ‘Vancouver Centennial’ bloomed indoors over the winter, and it’s been adjusting to outdoor life for several weeks now by coloring up its leaves with anthocynanin. It was much lighter over the winter (pic from November).
Little Limnanthes is so cheery! I kind of like this with that weird orange Heuchera (upper right).
And then there’s this old girl. This won’t stop until frost.
Here’s my plan with that Salvia, and yeah, hold me to this, would you? I’ve planted a few things around it that, once they grow a bit, will allow me to drastically reduce the size of the Salvia or move it/remove it (most likely the latter because this color of flowers is damned hard to work with and it’s not what I really want here). But until then, I’m going to just prune it as needed to allow those other plants some space. I kind of like how it’s a weird shape right now which you can only see from the other side (I tried, but could’t get a convincing picture – you have to see it in person). Maybe I should think of it as a sculpture.
Moving on – more pansies in a pot! Survivors from last year’s Mother’s Day event.
My third Geranium to bloom this year (three more to go) (unless I buy more plants, which I will).
The other geraniums are G. macrorrhizum and G. pyrenaicum ‘Bill Wallis’ and you can see them both in this post.
This little Geum rivale just won’t quit and I find it kind of irresistably cute.. It’s really doing well this year. I might have to move it to where it can get more water over the summer. It survived here last year, but I might have been watering it constantly (I don’t remember).
Lavender #1 is off to a great start! Nothin yet from #2.
I like this little Euphorbia. It’s very delicate and seems to only seed around very lightly. So far. We’ll see.
Almost at the end, we’re over in the forgotten zone where the pile of wood chips almost buried this Ornithogalum, which I find very aptly named – see how the mass of flowers looks like an umbel?
I wish it had better foliage, but that’s what cover-up plants are for!
I don’t think I ever took a picture of this CWTH* lily-flowered tulip (which lasted for EVER by the way), but isn’t it just the epitome of absolute decadence right now? I weirdly love tulips when they’re falling apart. My friend Carol taught me to appreciate them in this state a million years ago, and it has stuck with me. The parrot tulips are the best. I should grow them just for that.
I’ll end with the most stunning flowering plant of all right now. This thing lights up my whole street and I love it when it flowers. I hope my neighbors do too as they drive by.
Update for Alison! Yes, Geum rivale has pretty nifty seed heads, though they’re not as flamboyant as G. triflorum: