Getting Re-acquainted, Part I

As some people are aware, I recently moved from North Carolina to my parents' home in Washington State. This was a difficult decision to make and was the result of many factors. While this meant leaving my job as assistant garden curator at Juniper Level Botanic Garden, where I met some life-long friends and professional contacts and had a plant geek's playground to work in, it was necessary for many reasons. While there was nothing wrong with my job, something was missing. I realized that I really wanted to focus on attaining my goal of becoming an ornamental plant breeder. Step one was to apply to graduate schools and I have no qualms saying that my top choice is Oregon State University. A major reason for this is the fact that it is in the Pacific Northwest, which brings me to another reason I wanted to move back home. While I could have kept my job until I was accepted into a graduate program, I was severely depressed and homesick and simply needed to spend some time at home with my family to recuperate. Life outside of work in North Carolina was severely lacking for me. Perhaps that isn't the right way to say it, though. Rather, I was not a good fit for North Carolina, or Pennsylvania, or Massachusetts, or Washington, D.C., all of which I lived in for at least 3 months for internships (and my actual job in North Carolina). The more places I visit, the more I love the Pacific Northwest. Our culture encourages people to leave home and explore, and seems to devalue people who end up living close to where they grew up. While it is very beneficial to experience different places and people, I can't feel shame for wanting to return to a region as beautiful as this one.

The drive from North Carolina to Washington only served to reaffirm that impression, as much of the country looks like this:

Of course, there are many places I would love to visit all across the country that have spectacular natural beauty, the Pacific Northwest is always where I want to return.

Little did I know what awaited me at my parents' house. I am thrilled to be back in the Pacific Northwest and I feel more comfortable and content than I have in the past two years. That said, I have my work cut out for me getting my parents' garden back into shape. In fact, it hasn't just been cut out for me, it's been chopped up into itty bitty pieces and spread across the yard to grow more pieces. It's not all my parents' fault. I'm not the only one in my family who has had a rough time in the last few years and my parents simply haven't had time to keep the garden up in the face of numerous cans of worms on top of their jobs and life as usual. In the last year, things have settled a bit, but my parents were busy with multiple remodels to the interior and exterior of the house. I'm glad they were finally able to get these changes made, but again it meant the garden didn't get as much attention as it needed. On the plus side, some of the changes outside the house included a new patio, a substantial dry creek bed, and many new planting opportunities!

So that's my story. Maybe not necessary, but my personality drives me to explain things. Now let's get to the interesting part, the garden. The property is mostly covered by secondary Douglas fir forest with a young understory. As you'll see later, we have a LOT of western sword fern (Polystichum munitum), probably about 2 acres worth at least.

The first picture is an aerial view of part of my parents' 5 acre property. You can see what I meant by a substantial dry creek bed. It stretches for several hundred feet from the edge of the driveway, around the house, to the edge of the trees. I love this as well as the path that follows it around the end of the house and the new areas to plant (though the contractor put landscape fabric and even black plastic in most of those dark brown areas you can see, a big pet peeve of mine). As you can see, the yard is mostly a yard and not heavily landscaped or planted. Sometimes I envy gardeners with smaller properties because it is easier to decide where to begin. The boundaries are easier to fill. I redesigned the bed in the middle of the driveway as my high school culminating project (did anyone else have that requirement in high school?) and it has gone through at least one major overall (after the Phormium killing winters) and numerous tweaks. I always laugh when I look at it on Google Earth, because it looks like a bad graphic from a computer landscaping program. The acid green is lime thyme, a chartreuse variety that I swear looks much nicer in real life with the burgundy laceleaf Japanese maple in the center and 'Crimson Pygmy' Japanese barberry (though it needs some serious maintenance at the moment).

Since this blog started with my indoor plants, here are a few pictures of my indoor growing areas. I'm largely limited to two rooms because my parents' cat attacks most plants. So only things that she won't chew on grow outside those two rooms.

My one south-facing window for plants is located in my bedroom. Notice the growing space has been extended with an elegant board and table cloth affair on top of an old desk. 

The west-facing window in my room is also full of plants. Despite my mother's thinly-veiled criticism, I enjoy sleeping in a room filled with plants.

My other cat-free room. I had to close the blinds to take the picture because the room is dark but the view out the window was very bright.

One of the remodels is a pseudo bay window. This is prime future plant real estate.

A half-wall between the entry and living room also provides future plant space.

Terrariums, cryptanthus, and my Clivia miniata are usually safe from the cat, unless she gets moody.

Sansevierias and the Mandarin orange I started from seed are also safe from the malevolent hairball.
The aspidistra has since been planted outside.
That's it for the inside. Let's head back outside, shall we? Here's that bed in the middle of the driveway you saw from above. Several things were hit hard by the last hard freeze and it is full of weeds, not to mention it needs some serious tweaking. I realized after taking the following pictures that you can't really see the weeds, but trust me, they are there!

From the house.

Looking towards the house. When we first built the walls,
we were surprised by how much the driveway actually slopes.
That and the tall central planter make this bed a little more fortress-like than I would prefer,
 though the moss and plants spilling over the edge have softened it a bit.

Here you can see the garage and part of the barn behind it.
The bed has 3 dry creek beds radiating out from the center.

All of the Rhododendron impeditum unfortunately took a big hit in thelast hard frost we experienced this winter. Does anyone know if these will resprout if the dead areas are pruned out?

Center stage is given to a red weeping laceleaf Japanese maple (Acer palmatum v. dissectum cultivar) that my parents purchased as a stick of a sapling shortly before they were wed, making this a very special tree in our family.

The native Asarum caudatum, or wild ginger, is one of the few combinations that I'm really happy with. It provides a beautiful foil for the emerging foliage of the maple and loves the annual mulch of maple leaves it receives in the fall. This is a combination that really works. Unfortunately the soil we used to fill the raised planter has sunk significantly and I worry the roots at the base of the maple may get too exposed (not that you can see them through the asarum).  I have to decide whether to lift the asarum and add more soil or simply remove the top row of bricks. Thoughts?

This is the source of the acid green color in the aerial photo: lime thyme. The new growth is bright green, but it matures to a lovely cool-toned chartreuse that contrasts dramatically with the burgundy of the maple and other plants.

Unfortunately winter this year (and I suspect a lack of adequate maintenance) has left most of it looking like this. It needs some serious cutting back and filling in of dead patches, which I've done before. 

I don't remember the name of the Chamaecyparis in the middle of this photo, but once there were three of them around the maple serving as upright points of contrast to the maple and barberries. Now only this one remains and the deer keep it sheered so that it stays dense and constantly has ugly dead patches. This one will have to go, but what to replace it with, if anything? I have a feeling things would fill in just fine if I simply took it out and didn't put anything in.

One of only two geraniums that I have purposefully planted (the invasive Geranium robertianum carpeting the woods makes me leery of the genus), 'Dark Reiter' has it's first few leaves chewed off by deer grazing on Muscari leaves, but later is untouched. I plan on starting a Muscari removal this year as I'm tired of seeing their ugly deer-clipped foliage all winter and only getting a few blooms in spring. The deer don't seem to eat the blooms on purpose. Rather most of the young flowering shoots get clipped off as they eat the leaves.

A bit of parent shaming here. The green shoots coming up sporadically are the remains of one patch of Crocosmia 'Lucifer', all three clumps of which needed dug and reduced last year. I don't know why the remaining corms were left scattered like this instead of grouped back into tidy clumps. (Actually, now that I think about it, we may have discussed removing the Crocosmia entirely, and these are simply pieces that were missed. The Crocosmia really was getting out of control, but I'm not sure now about the decision to remove it as it is a major summer feature of this bed.)
 To-do list for this bed:

  • weed
  • cut back and fill in dead areas of the lime thyme
  • add soil under the maple or remove the top row of bricks
  • remove Chamaecyparis
  • Prune out the dead areas on the Rhododendron impeditum(s). Possibly remove them and replace with . . .
There are a lot of other problems with this bed, which I'll cover at a later date, but that covers what I've discussed here.

My next post will be a continuation of this tour through the garden and the things I need to fix. These are going to be some long posts. I hope you (and I) can handle them!

Until next time.


  1. I'm exhausted! And I thought I had a lot of work to do in the garden...

    Your comment about our culture praising those who move out and away reminds me of a conversation I had with my husband the other day. He's from Nebraska and has spent time in Seattle, Spokane, Ventura (CA), and Japan before ending up on Portland. Me? PNW only...Spokane, Cheney, Pullman (those last two school related), Seattle and Portland. He wishes I had experienced life beyond the PNW, but heck I got lucky with where I was born. Not that I wouldn't mind a little time in California...

    ("a bad graphic from a computer landscaping program"....hahaha!)

    1. And that's just one bed. I forgot to add "dig out grape hyacinths." Started on that today. I still have the rest of the yard to work on. I am glad that I got the experiences of different places and people, but there is just no place like the Pacific Northwest (though I wouldn't mind some time in California either, lol).

      I'm always a little embarrassed when I think of how that bed looks from above. It's rather the worse for wear now, but at it's peak it really did look beautiful, even though it doesn't have the most interesting plants.

  2. p.s. when will you find out if you've been excepted at OSU?

    1. I applied for fall quarter, and I may hear something around May or June, but I already know from speaking with possible advisers that there probably won't be funding for me this fall as they already have commitments to other students. But I'm getting my foot in the door!

  3. Welcome home! There's something magical about the word and feeling - HOME. It's nice to have experience living in other places but your heart knows where home is and where you're happiest. Good for you for having wonderful educational experiences and good for you for realizing where you need to be. You have your work cut out for you but what fun you'll have doing it. Having a small urban garden myself, I often lust after larger space to plant the many trees that I would love to have, to make a huge pond, augment the forest floor with wonderful shade plants, etc. There grass is always greener on the other side, I guess. What do your parents think of your plans to turn their domicile into a jungle?

    1. Thanks, Peter! The forest floor here is too subject to deer-browsing for me to do much augmenting there, not that my parents ever get out into the woods to see such things anyway, but I'm definitely planning to add some cool trees and large shrubs to the open areas this year. Those are the things my parents can take care of. They aren't so good with herbaceous things or small shrubs. And big things can grow above the deer!

      What makes you think my parents get an opinion on my turning their house into a jungle? lol. Actually, my parents are looking at greenhouses again. Granted, last time they were looking it didn't amount to anything, but maybe this time...

  4. You do have your work cut out for you. I was fascinated by your opening statements about home. I grew up and lived for over 50 years in Massachusetts, never living anywhere else. Then I came out here to the PNW for a short visit, and for the first time, I felt like I was home. I was compelled to move here. I'm far away from family, and yet, I don't mind. I love it here.

    I have to admit, hardy Geraniums are just about my favorite genus. Stinking Robert notwithstanding, they're great plants, IMO.

    1. New England was probably my favorite out of the different places I lived on the east coast, but nothing feels more like home to me than that Pacific Northwest. I'm glad you said that, because I've been feeling a little guilty that I missed the PNW more than I did my family. But my friends and family could call and email me. I couldn't pick up a phone and talk to the PNW.


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