Welcome, Spring, and thank you

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:

Ribes sanguineum ‘Xera’s Lime Punch’
Do not not grow this plant, mkay?
Ceanothus ‘Italian Skies’ buds about to burst. I can’t wait!
Oh how beautuful is this. Citrus trifoliata ‘Flying Dragon’ seedling. It’s in a pot.
Phygelius ‘Magenta’ from Annie’s Annuals – I can’t wait for it and neither can the hummingbirds.
On a warm day (above say 55F) it smells like honey and it wafts. Grevillea australis.
Euphorbia something and I just love it. These are immune to dog pee, by the way.
There are many flower buds coming up on this Aquilegia longississima. Beautiful leaf color, too. This blue/purple coloration just happened this past week.
Grevillea ‘Ivanhoe’ looking like he might give me some flowers this year!

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.

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.

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!