Abies balsamea 'Nana'

Abies balsamea 'Nana'

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Wednesday Vignette: Potential

The photo I'm sharing this week for Wednesday Vignette, hosted by Anna at Flutter & Hum, will be a bit repetitive to my Facebook friends, but I wanted to show everyone else, too. I shared most of the progress of my big projects yesterday. Today I'm showing the area off the back patio after I finished mulching it yesterday. I took the photo this morning, as the fog eliminated any shadows that would have obscured it.

I love the sight of a freshly-prepared bed, with that sharp contrast between dark mulch and bright bark chips on the paths. ready and waiting to be planted. It represents potential. It's the same reason I love flower buds as much as the flowers themselves. I have an idea of what I want this bed to be, but at this point it's still just an idea, hovering in the ether. I also love prepared beds because it means the next step is the most fun: planting! I'm still trying to wait for the rains, both to relieve me of worrying about watering and to soften the soil so I don't need a pickax to dig. I might plant a few things, watering the planting holes thoroughly to get them through until it rains. It depends on how much self-control I have. But now I can start placing things and get a better idea of where I want to plant everything. 

Click on the photo for a larger version.

This is just one area, though. I still have four other large areas, and a couple little spots, to cover before I'm done spreading mulch. Back to work...

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Work in Progress

It's been some time since I posted any progress on the new garden areas I've been working on. That's because until last week there wasn't much to share. Things kind of sat through the end of the summer heat, and all I really did was dig out the dandelions and other perennial weeds that started coming back post-tilling, and think. I did a lot of thinking, which lead to a couple more areas being expanded to connect small beds into larger ones and simplify mowing and general flow. With cooler weather, and the rains beginning to make a return, it's finally time to start working on those fall projects in earnest. I've made enough progress I feel an update needs to be written, though this is definitely an "in progress" report. Nothing very pretty or exciting to show my fellow plant geeks yet, just a lot of ideas and ground work being done.
Ten yards of walk-on bark, delivered by Swanson's Bark and Wood Products, our go-to source for bulk landscaping materials.
We had to order mulch and bark chips for the paths before the rains really returned and made the ground too soft for the delivery trucks to come in or for me to use either the riding lawnmower or wheelbarrow without making a muddy mess of the lawn. We went on a Sunday to order everything. The two people there looked a little dumbfounded when we told them we wanted 45 cubic yards of their "organic plus" mix, a blend of composted bark, coarse sand, and a bit of gravel. Apparently, the dispatchers don't work on Sundays and the people who were there helping us weren't sure how many trucks would be needed to deliver such a large quantity. So we left having ordered only the 10 yards of walk-on bark for the paths, and saved the mulch for later. Laying the paths first wasn't how I'd planned to do it, but that's how it went.
The last load of bark chips.
I finished the paths in three days. Thank goodness the bark chips were light, as the riding lawnmower wouldn't start and I had to move it all using the wheelbarrow. I had a few days to rest before the mulch arrived yesterday. Then it was back to work. I did end up reducing my estimate a bit, to 40 cubic yards instead of 45. I overestimated at every step, so I think I'll still have enough for everything and this allowed the mulch to be delivered in only two loads instead of three.

Two trucks, two piles of mulch. They look so small from this angle, with the driveway island hogging center stage. But each of those piles is 20 cubic yards.

It was after the mulch was delivered that I realized I hadn't done an update for these projects, except for a few status updates on Facebook. So here is a brief tour of the new additions.

This rhododendron border near the western edge of the property was one of the first we planted when we moved to this house. It's main purpose was to help screen off the view of the neighbor's junkyard. Now that he's clear-cut his property, that screen is even more important. The original border ends near the left side of this photo. The rhododendrons to the right of the path are all ones we've moved here this summer to put them in a better, though still too dry, location, and to extend the screen. The original border will extend to connect all of these plants together.

I should have taken this picture before the soil was dumped there, but oh well. This shows more of the original border. As you can see, only one of the rhododendron actually grew tall enough to provide any screening. There's another, hidden behind the soil pile, we thought would get taller, but it stayed pretty short. I've also planted two vine maples and three yews  behind this border closer to the fence to help block the view.

This photo shows a little better the path that I put in. To the left of the new path, we're also going to create a bed to eliminate some mowing problems (large roots, uneven ground, etc). So I'm tackling this pile second, to give it more time to kill the grass underneath. I'll have to spread it around a bit to cover more. A nameless but decent-looking Japanese maple has been sitting on the deck for several years as a half-trained bonsai. It's going to be planted in this bed, right about where that short shrub is at the tip of the soil pile. That plant is a pieris that was supposed to be 'Mountain Fire' or something involving "fire" in the name. Anyway, it was supposed to get much taller, but somehow took on this compact, ground-covering form instead. The mound it's planted on is an old burn pile littered with junk (our junkyard neighbor is the ex-husband of the woman who sold us this house, so we find some of his junk on our property). We've always assumed there's something horrible in the soil that mutated the pieris into a groundcover, only half-jokingly. Before the pieris, we tried growing a monkey puzzle tree there, and it died. So I hope neither death nor dwarfing occurs when I plant the Japanese maple there. It's a tough one, so hopefully it will be fine. On either side of the path, I'm going to plant Hakonechloa macra 'All Gold', which I have a great mass of already to the right of the path. I also want something dark green, though, so the hakonechloa doesn't become overwhelmingly bright. There's always sword ferns.

The narrow ends of this bed make it a bit hard to mow around and use the new edger on, so a minor expansion is helping take care of those issues and give me more planting space. You can see the expansion in the discolored grass. Yes, I'm a little ashamed to say I used chemicals on some of these areas, including this one. I had been tilling other areas, but found that here where the grass actually grows thickly the tiller struggled and left too many roots and rhizomes to regrow. And in this relatively moist area, especially with the rains returning, tilling would become less effective in killing the grass and many perennial weeds, particularly the creeping buttercup, which can simply re-root from a piece of stem if it doesn't dry out. Since I was already clearing other large areas, I sprayed this area, too. Tilling burns fossil fuels, spraying uses harmful chemicals, and I was preparing too many areas to do by hand. Any method has it's pros and cons. I console myself with the fact that I rarely use chemicals and I'm planting many natives and getting rid of lawn and invasive weeds. It also leaves the soil structure intact, though it does likely fry most of the soil organisms. They'll come back from the surrounding area.

I extended this area a bit, too, to connect the rhododendron on the right and give the many large plants crammed into this bed a little more room. The center of this bed, at least, was cleared by layering compost on top of cardboard. This area stays remarkably green in summer, and gets lots of morning sun with afternoon shade. Good conditions for lush plants with large leaves. This area is going to become my little valley of the giants. I have a Rhododendron rex and sinogrande that are both in locations which are really too dry and lean. Even with supplemental water, they struggle in the dryness of summer. So I'm moving them into this bed, where the soil is rich and stays moist but seems to drain fairly well.

A path curls into this bed to provide access for maintenance, and a larger area at the end will eventually provide a hidden spot to sit and contemplate giant leaves. I'm moving the Rhododendron faithiae in the middle of the curl to the front of this bed and replacing it with the Rhododendron sinogrande. The Rhododendron rex will be near the beginning of the path. Three species of Fargesia are arranged around the future seating area to give it dense screening. The Crinodendron hookerianum that I've kept in a container for the last year is growing much faster than I expected and I've decided to risk planting it at one end of the sitting area, on the right in the big pot. There's a Cunninghamia lanceolata 'Glauca' hidden behind the Crinodendron that will eventually grow up over everything. It will probably do so in 2-3 years, actually, as it's growing very well in this area after being moved from its original location which was too hot and dry. Additional plantings in this area will be simple, mostly dark green ground covers with some silver mixed in, as well as some green and yellow, but relatively little of those. I want it to be lush and peaceful. But of course there will be surprises, too, especially when the two Embothrium coccineum in this bed reach blooming size. This is also where I have my tetrapanax. I had to move them to put the path in. They were not amused. Hopefully they pull out of their wilting sulk and survive winter.

Next to the valley of the giants is the Acer griseum (AG) bed, which I'm planning to plant mostly with low, ground-hugging plants, inspired by subalpine plants in the Cascades but planted mostly with plants from New Zealand and similar places. Putting such small plants next to all those giant-leaved ones gives me a little giggle. The soil becomes drier around the AG bed as you move to the left, or east, and the plants will change accordingly to more drought-tolerant selections.

I'm including this picture mostly for my own reference. I have an azalea in a large blue container that I'm going to plant in the ground. I'm thinking of putting the container on this stump and I'm currently trying to decide what to plant in it, but that's a minor detail that can wait.

This wall on the west side of the AG bed will have plants cascading over it. Right now I'm thinking Leucothoe keiskei. I left a little sliver of room between the path and the base of the wall to put something there, too. I'm thinking Chiastophyllum oppositifolium, possibly some small ferns.

I need to move it closer to the wall, perhaps, but the plan is to have this Edgeworthia chrysantha 'Akebono' growing out over the path so you can look up into the blooms.


Two smaller paths arc out from the main path circling the AG bed. I tried to curve them to where you can't see clearly to the ends of them, but they just aren't long enough for that. I love the Alchemilla mollis I got at the spring plant swap, growing along the bottom of the log on the right. It's already filling in wonderfully.

Looking south toward the AG bed. The smaller bed in the foreground is going to turn back into lawn, and the plants will be redistributed through the area surrounding the AG bed, two Pittosporum tobira 'Tall 'n' Tough', an Olearia macrodonta, and a Grevillea victoriae 'UBC'. The grevillea may go elsewhere. Luckily it's still small enough to move without too much risk. Established grevilleas are not candidates for relocation.

The most recent change was to connect three beds here into one big one around the giant mound of salal. I've been tackling the thistles, non-native blackberries, and other weeds in that mound, too, trying not to harm the salal too much so it fills back in over the weeds and smothers what's left.

A view between the AG bed surrounds and the new bed. There's a bed somewhat visible between them that is also reverting back to lawn, and the plants in it will be redistributed to the larger beds. I want a nice wide entrance into this area. Eventually, there will be cork oak branches arching overhead to form a canopy, though I may never see it in my lifetime. In the background, the mound is still covered in plastic. It's been covered for a few months, in the hopes of baking the Canadian thistle and other tough weeds out of it. Hopefully it's been long enough. The plastic will be coming off soon, possibly this week, as I continue to spread mulch. I need to remember to keep checking on the Arbutus menziesii in the area. I'm trying to collect seeds to direct sow on the mound, and one other place, but I'm not exactly sure when they ripen, other than in fall.

A path now runs along the side of the mound to provide access. I can just picture walking along here, looking up at the branches of the deodar cedar to the left and madrona trunks to the right.

Going back to a spot just north of the AG bed and looking east, you can see the new bed in the upper right corner and part of the big garden on the left. Another wide avenue of grass runs between them. Remember the little bed in the foreground to the right is disappearing. I may pull the edge of the AG bed surrounds out just to the edge of where that little bed is now, just for visual flow. Right now it's so far back from the edge of the new bed that it seems a little disjointed, at least to my eye.

The area that sparked all these projects. I'm coming to think of this as the "hell garden," for multiple reasons. I've repeatedly asked myself what the hell I was thinking as I created these massive garden expansions. I'm glad I'm finally making big, cohesive garden areas instead of little bits here and there, but I've promised myself never to tackle so much at once ever again. Next time I'll work more gradually. This area is also like a giant hellstrip. Shaded in the morning, the sun starts to reach the near edge around ten and by noon the sun blazes over the entire area, baking it for the rest of the day. The soil is remarkably well-drained, but it is an extremely lean clay loam. The Douglas firs on the eastern edge of it suck up all the moisture. Conditions are so harsh that the "lawn," which in our case is really just tough, weedy grasses and an assortment of weeds, has always been patchy here except in the lower right area near the creek bed. Large parts of this area showed more bare soil than plants. Even the dandelions turn brown here. Hellish conditions, to be sure, but a great opportunity for a dry garden.

Panning to the right, standing on the back patio, you can see Cotinus 'Grace' in the more mesic corner of the hell garden, and parts of the other beds out in the yard.

Further right, with 'Grace' on the left for reference, you can see more of the AG bed and its surrounds, as well as the house across the road. As things grow, the view of the road will disappear. I'm also planting a mixed screen along the fence for good measure.

Back to the hell garden, after the first day of mulching. The angle of the photo makes the area that now has mulch look much smaller than it is. In reality, it's probably the single largest area of all, certainly larger than the rest of the areas in the hell garden combined. I should be able to finish mulching the hell garden today, if I get this post finished, get the banana bread baked, and get out there.


It hasn't all been bark chips and mulch. We've been working with blocks, too. This narrow strip off the back patio reduces a curve in the path to hopefully make mowing a little easier. The plan is to have a small kitchen herb garden here, as the patio is right off the dining room and kitchen.

Along the front of the house, the natural rock border has been replaced with more formal wall blocks. I struggled to find a picture that included the old border. I haven't been working on my photo organization project as I meant to do. Apparently I tried to exclude it from photos, a realization that made it easier to let go of the natural stone and embrace the concrete wall blocks that replaced them. This photo is from before I redid the bed last year.

Playing with the panorama function on my phone, I got this extra-long photo. It makes it look like the two beds go back from the steps, but they actually go in towards the steps. I do like the new blocks. We found a concrete block that was made to look more natural, with uneven faces and varying colors, even mixed colors in some of the blocks.

And that's what's been happening in my garden. I hope I didn't bore anyone too much. Bed preparation isn't very exciting, but it means the next step is plants!


Thursday, September 15, 2016

September Combinations

This month I'm combining my posts for Garden Bloggers Bloom Day, hosted by Carol at May Dreams Gardens, and Foliage Follow-up, hosted by Pam at Digging, to feature some combinations in the garden that I'm really enjoying. Admittedly, I'm also doubling up to save on time a bit. Work on my fall projects is ramping back up with the delivery of bark chips for pathways, so most of my time is devoted to that. I'm determined to "finish" the initial garden planting this fall, minus the usual tweaks and corrections that occur in every garden over time.

But back on topic, these are some combinations of flower and foliage in my garden that are really catching my eye this month. Ok, some of them are just flowers, and some are just foliage. I couldn't completely suppress my urge to document everything.

In the greenhouse:

Streptocarpus 'Waterbug' keeps blooming. I finally managed a shot that shows the true color pretty well, instead of making it look much more blue than it is.

Also a fairly accurate representation of the color on Rhododendron 'Littlest Angel'. The last two flower buds finally opened. It's grown so much this year, I bet the show next year will be amazing.

The flowers on this Gasteria from Cistus are both showy and strange, an unusual combination. Seems like most weird flowers tend towards colors in the dark maroon/brown or green ranges. I learned while I was working at Cistus that Gasteria was named for the resemblance of the flower to a stomach ("gaster" is a Latin word for "stomach"). Look at all those beautiful orange and green stomachs!

On the patio, Lapageria rosea is blooming its heart out. Nearly 20 open flowers and many more buds, all in a 5-gallon pot. The cooler temperatures have deepened the color of the flowers, too.

It's not a good picture, but I just had to share the flower buds developing on this Parahebe perfoliata. Two of my plants have been blooming virtually all summer. I guess they're happy!

Ok, now for some actual combinations. The angle of the light in this photo made for interesting shadows, highlighting the Berggarten sage in the foreground, dappling the Mikado California poppies behind them, and generally doing interesting things with the lime thyme, Carex testacea, and Euphorbia 'Nothowlee' in the background.

More poppies and sage, with heather blooms fading to silvery seed capsules and heath making a rich green backdrop for the Carex testacea in the background to contrast with.

The last heatwave we had in August finally got these orange Bidens going full-speed. I love it with the Carex testacea and Seafoam artemisia.

Artemisia abrotanum is blooming, not that you can tell by the color. The blooms are tiny silver-grey balls along the tops of the stems, adding a different texture to the foliage. In the background, Euphorbia 'Nothowlee' create dark purple shadows with Carex testacea, Mikado California poppies, Euphorbia rigida, faded stems of Allium christophii, Erysimum, and others create a play of other colors and textures. I really love this vignette right now. It will be even better as the Euphorbia 'Nothowlee' grow larger.

My one and only aster, Aster x frikartii 'Monch' holds its blooms among the golden stems of Molinia caerulea 'Variegata'.

And back to a single plant for a minute: I thought I had lost the Orostachys iwarenge I planted last fall, but a few tiny rosettes survived and grew. The ones turning into miniature spires will bloom soon. Now if only the birds will stop ripping the plant apart. I suppose I should be grateful they're debugging the garden for me, but do they have to be so rough about it?

Back to combinations: I got this Colchicum from Kate Bryant last fall. I think it's 'The Giant', but now I can't remember. It's planted among some black mondo grass, which is filling in very slowly. Syneilesis x hybrid, from Jane the Mulchmaid, peeks in from above. As slow as the mondo grass is, I think the Prunella vulgaris and Fragaria virginiana may require quite a bit of control if I don't want them to take over.

The Colchicum look as good as I thought they would popping up through the black mondo grass. Isn't it nice when combinations actually work out as you planned? Now I just need the mondo grass to fill in!

I can't do a September Bloom Day post, even one combined with Foliage Follow-up, without including at least one Tricyrtis. Toad lilies are some of my favorite fall flowers. My other two didn't bloom as well this year, though the Tricyrtis hirta isn't actually open yet. The one photographed here is Tricyrtis 'Blue Wonder', or at least one of the plants that is sold under that name. It's significantly less blue this year than last year. I wonder if it's a pH, temperature, or water issue. It's still beautiful.

Last November I sowed seeds of Anaphalis margaritacea, or pearly everlasting, in several areas of the garden. I've watched as the seedlings grew over the summer. I was surprised when some of them reached blooming size. This is one of my favorite native wildflowers for late summer/early fall blooms. I also like the foliage, which is usually grey on top and nearly white below. There's also a sweet, slightly resinous scent that wafts around the plant, sometimes for several feet in the right conditions.

My camera insisted on making these Cyclamen purpurascens flowers much lighter than the near magenta they are in real life. Wild strawberry leaves and the cone-like seed heads of Prunella vulgaris create the backdrop.

I actually took this photo because of how garish the combination initially struck me as, but it's growing on me. Crinodendron hookerianum dangles a lantern-like flower amidst the brilliant foliage of Trachelospermum asiaticum 'Ogon Nishiki'. I do need more of the Trachelospermum.

Dicliptera suberecta blooms atop fuzzy grey stems, with Escscholzia californica 'Mikado' in the background. The foliage is a near match in color, but the blooms of the Dicliptera have more pinkish red in them than the poppies.

Absolutely loving my Glaucium flavum var. aurantiacum that I grew from seed purchased from Milton's Garden Menagerie last year.

You might have noticed by now that I have a love of plants with orange flowers and silver/grey/blue foliage. They're favorite combinations in and of themselves. One of my top favorites of those is Epilobium (Zauschneria) septentrionalis 'Wayne's Silver'. Besides growing in compacted clay that gets soggy in winter (though not with standing water over it) and gets no water in summer, it's such a beautiful plant. The effect is enhanced by the greener leaves at the base of the flowers.

Geranium robustum was looking messy a month or two ago with all the old flowering stems creating a tangle and not much foliage. A quick trim and it's back to being full and lush with silvery, ferny foliage. It's even putting out more blooms.

I've been trying to resist planting until the rains make a more reliable return, but a few showers weakened me and I decided to do a bit of planting in this relatively moist area. Two new Podocarpus lawrencei 'Blue Gem', found on sale at Tsugawa's Nursery in Woodland, WA, Erica cinerea from the same source, and a couple relocated bronze Carex testacea. There's a dark purplish green-leaved Phygelius in the middle, somewhere in front of the red-flowered Lobelia cardinalis 'Victoria', but it's small and hiding behind a carex in this photo.

I love the rich green of the Erica foliage and its purple flowers in combination with the blue Podocarpus and bronze Carex. I'm learning through trial and error the best way to use the unusual color of the carex.

In a moist, shady spot, Satureja douglasii blooms all summer. Look closely. They're tiny and white. Here it is twining through a dark Ajuga reptans. I love the combination of dark purple and saturated green.

Purely a foliage composition. Silver Carex testacea at the base, with variegated Japanese iris foliage and what I think is Juncus effusus mingling above. I definitely need to do more silver and green in the garden.

Yucca filamentosa and Epilobium (Zauschneria) 'U.C. Hybrid' make a great combination on the south end of the house.

I don't think I've ever noticed the fall color of Liatris spicata before. Maybe it didn't acquire these red tints at its former location.

This combination of Rubeckia fulgida 'Goldsturm' and Molinia caerulea 'Variegata' has been one of my favorites in the garden since the rudbeckia started blooming in early August.

It's interesting that some of the rudbeckia is growing much larger than others. They all came from the same clump. I think the lusher bits have just tapped into more water and nutrients and are better established.

Cornus alternifolia 'WStackman' (Golden Shadows) and a silver Pulmonaria seemed an odd combination to me at first, but I love it.

Matthiola fruticulosa ssp. perennis 'Alba', Calceolaria integrifolia 'Kentish Hero', and Rhododendron impeditum in the background are another of my favorite combinations lately. Something about the olive-green tones of the rhododendron foliage and the velvety silver stock with those burning orange and red flowers.

I was so excited when the Heptacodium miconioides I purchased from the discount section at Tsugawas last year started showing flower buds this year (oh, and grew over 4 feet, besides). But that pales in comparison to my excitement at the open flowers. The jasmine-scented flowers are addictive, when I can find a flower to sniff that isn't occupied by a honey bee. The first flowers to open have already dropped and the pinkish red bracts are starting to grow. I love this plant. It's hard to equate the plant this year to the sad tangle of half-dead stems I purchased last year.

I'll finish off with a couple combinations that aren't actually planted yet.

I was thrilled that this Calceolaria arachnoidea made it through our soggy winter. It bloomed heavily in spring and early summer, and I let those blooms set and ripen into seed, which I collected about a month ago. Now it's blooming again with those rich purple blooms. I happened to set three potted Hebe ochracea 'James Stirling' on the stump the Calceolaria is growing next to, just to get them out of the way, and absolutely love the combination. It's not one I would have thought of. Accidental combinations are the best, aren't they? I'm not sure I'll be able to plant the hebes close enough to the calceolaria, but I'm going to do my best to recreate this combination.

Another accidentally-discovered combination, a near-perfect color echo between Dasiphora fruticosa 'Summer Dawn' and Yucca filamentosa 'Color Guard', both waiting in the pot ghetto until they can be planted. I think I'll be finding neighboring homes for them when I move them out into the garden. And just a tiny little rant for spice: the Dasiphora, which has a perfectly lovely cultivar name, has also been saddled with the useless trademarked name Lemon Sweetie. Why? Just why?

Thanks so much for taking the time to leave a comment! I love hearing what readers think and answering questions. I also welcome suggestions for improvement!