Abies balsamea 'Nana'

Abies balsamea 'Nana'

Monday, June 30, 2014

Visiting the Okanogan

Last week my mother and I went to visit family in the Okanogan area of eastern Washington. We didn't manage as much hiking as I had hoped, and we had missed the peak display of wildflowers, but despite some people's belief to the contrary, I was truly and simply pleased just to be there in good company, regardless of a good floral display. Not that a few flowers ever hurts.

Ribes cereum, or squaw currant,  provides an important supply of nectar for hummingbirds when it flowers early in the season. The berries are edible, but are so bland they are better left for the birds.

One of several species of Erigeron native to the area.

Eriogonum heracleoides, or parsnip-flowered buckwheat, is a good nectar source for bees and was used by Native Americans to treat a wide range of ailments. 

The cream to yellow flowers often age to a ruddy pink. 

The fireweed (Epilobium angustifolium) was coming into bloom. In areas recently disturbed (usually by fire) this plant can establish huge colonies blazing bright pink when in bloom.

I'm fairly certain this is Penstemon procerus, or small-flowered penstemon, though it could be Penstemon pruinosus. The former has flowers 8-12 mm long while the latter has flowers over 13 mm long and is generally hairier. I admit I was mostly just admiring the beautiful little flowers and not really paying close attention to distinguishing features.

After a welcome rain shower, Purshia tridentata, or antelope brush, displays beautiful dark bark that contrasts with the small green leaves and yellow/reddish seed capsules.

Calochortus lyallii, also called Lyall's mariposa lily or cat's ears, is a lovely member of the lily family. It grows abundantly in the Okanogan area and throughout central Washington and north into British Columbia. There have to be some perks to living east of the Cascades, after all.

Water! This wide marshy area must provide welcome relief for the animals living in the area, though at this particular moment it's mostly a playground for the two canine companions in the lower right.

Shepherdia canadensis, or soopolallie, is a relative of Eleagnus native to Canada and the western and northern United States. It is also known as russet buffalo berry, but soopolallie is so much more fun to say. Apparently Native Americans used the berries dried, boiled into a syrup for beverages, or mixed them with a little water and whipped them into a light froth called Indian ice cream. The berries were an important trade item and all parts of the plant were used to treat a wide variety of maladies.

Galls have always fascinated me. They can be formed by insects, mites, and fungi. Roses are subject to many kinds of galls. These bright red galls were restricted to the leaves.

This gall was forming from young side shoots.

Always a favorite of mine when I visit the Okanogan is this Ipomopsis aggregata, or scarlet gilia. I just love the bright red flowers, often subtly mottled with lighter and darker shades. The finely dissected leaves, which I couldn't get a good picture of, have a coating of matted grey hairs, giving them an overall silvery appearance.

One morning we awoke to a young bull moose just a few yards away from the house. Forgive me my blurry photo. It was far enough away that I had some trouble stabilizing the camera at my maximum zoom. 

Here's a less blurry shot, just before he moved out of sight over the hill. Unfortunately I didn't see his flying squirrel companion.

The Okanogan is also a place of panoramic vistas, enhanced by building clouds. 
 On the drive home, we stopped to walk through Ohme Gardens in Wenatchee. This garden stands on the rocky tip of a ridge above the town. It forms a little oasis above the hustle and bustle of highways, packing houses, and the dry desert.

Without a doubt, one of the outstanding features of Ohme is the rock work. Walls, paths, pools, and benches all showcase native rock, matching the natural outcroppings.

Several historic structures exist on the property, including this one, supported by these wonderful gnarled logs.

The garden boasts several pools, complete with gorgeous waterfalls and lush plantings.

Much of the garden is covered in low ground covers and other low-growing plants to provide beautiful open views.

Oh to have natural rock outcroppings like this to play with!

A swallow-tail butterfly was enjoying the lavender.

Some of the paths are a little challenging. I'm glad I'm not afraid of heights!

I love Asplenium trichomanes, or maidenhair spleenwort. Ohme has some of the healthiest patches I've seen in their shadier nooks. Provided they have enough water, this fern loves growing in shady rock crevices.

Seriously, can I have that bench? Complete with rocky cliff, of course.

A view down to the lower pond, with juniper and fireweed in the foreground.

Looking up from a low path, the trees rise up like pinnacles on a rocky fortress.

Creeping Jenny is a widely used ground cover in this garden and is very effective with the grey rocks. In a garden west of the Cascades I would be too afraid of it taking over completely, but here it is a tough and wonderful ground cover.

Another perilous path winds down and along the side of the ridge.

Below and beyond the garden are fruit-packing houses, highways, and the Columbia River.

 While the garden as a whole is beautiful, it is full of many rather common plants. Nothing wrong with things like cotoneaster, thyme, geraniums, and creeping Jenny, they just aren't terribly exciting to me. But one plant always draws me in when I visit this garden: Dryas octopetala, commonly called white mountain avens.

A member of the rose family, the white flowers perhaps resemble more closely a buttercup or anemone.

The feather seed heads add further to the resemblance to anemones or pasque flowers, yet this mat-forming woody sub-shrub is indeed a member of the Rosaceae.

Both the flowers and feather seed heads are lovely, but my favorite feature of this plant is the leaves. Held almost vertically, the bright green upper surface contrasts beautifully with the lighter undersides. A few sedum flowers rise through the foliage here to produce an even more magical display. 
And that's the story of why I was so quiet last week. I have a lot of catching up to do. So much has happened in the garden in just one week!

Saturday, June 21, 2014

How much Hoya is too much?

The answer to this question, the ultimate question, the question of life, the universe, and everything is.....


Ok, I may have recently watched The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and I may be a little goofy from being tired after a hard day's work in the garden. Back to the important things in life: plants.

My Hoya carnosa, which I recently included in this months Bloom Day post, is currently setting mass quantities of blooms. While I usually enjoy the strong, sweet scent, it can be a bit overpowering. One or two umbels at a time I can handle, but four clusters of flowers open at once and at peak odiferousness (who says you can't make up words?) are quite overpowering on a warm evening in a confined space. I feel that I can now empathize (slightly) with my mother, who has never liked the smell of these flowers.

I'm sure for those fortunate enough to grow hoya outside year-round, the scent carries pleasantly through the garden, but I'm actually glad that mine normally staggers its blooms, rather than opening many at once. It has many more flower clusters at various stages of development, promising a long season of sticky, sweet-scented flowers.
A dangerous serpent guards the mystical, floating orb in the center of the hoya-verse.
I won't be posting much next week, but when I get back to it I should have some cool pictures of the Okanogan area in eastern Washington to share!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The good, the bad, and...well, you know how it goes.

Yesterday I noticed the Crocosmia 'Lucifer' in the island bed starting to put out its first flower spikes. They probably won't put on much of a show this year since they were greatly reduced last fall, but it made me realize how much all the plants in this bed have grown since I first came back home in April and I decided it was worth sharing. Besides, my mind has been agonizing over ideas to improve this bed since I moved back and I need an outlet to air my criticisms and hopefully realize a few redeeming points.

I was really pretty disappointed with how this bed looked in early spring. What I realized later, though, was that I was seeing it at possibly its absolute worst time. The early bulbs were past, the heathers had only recently been cut back and it was a year to cut them back hard, the ornamental grasses had recently been cut back, several plants had suffered damage over the winter, and the perennials and deciduous shrubs had yet to fill in for the season. The deer have gradually acquired a taste for grape hyacinths, clipping back the winter foliage. In the beginning I didn't mind, because they didn't seem to care much for the flowers and generally left them alone aside from accidentally nipping a young flower spike with the leaves, but it's progressed to the point where they keep the foliage so well-sheared that most of the emerging flower spikes are clipped off in the process. The grape hyacinths, in turn, had grown so thick that they simply looked like ugly patches of fleshy-leaved grass. I promptly removed as much of the grape hyacinth as I could, though I know it will be an ongoing battle as I certainly didn't get them all. Frankly I'm relieved to have made the determination to eradicate them. I never was that happy with the floppy winter leaves, and after the deer decided it was a buffet the aesthetics were not improved.
The "island bed" in early April. The heathers are poor little sheared things and there are lots of dead Carex comans, a sedge that lasts only 2 or 3 years in this bed, though it reseeds. Add the carpet of weeds which thankfully isn't too visible in this picture, and the whole thing just had a sad, dilapidated feeling to me.

The Rhododendron impeditum were hit especially hard this winter. These two were cut back to within a few inches of the ground and have resprouted vigorously. The others required only a little trimming to remove the dead branches. I'm surprised they were damaged in this manner, as this rhododendron is supposedly hardy to USDA zone 5, but then these plants have been damaged both by unusual winter events and summer heat before. The lavender behind the rhodies looks terrible.  I planted lavenders in this bed after getting really fed up with the deer destroying everything and I just wanted something they would be sure to leave alone. Lavender is one of the few plants that can truly be called deer-proof. Except for one, though, I'm just not happy with them. They need to go.

I suppose it doesn't look too bad from this angle, but the ball-shaped heathers rankled me and the empty area behind them screamed out for something. The big patch of brown is a huge swath of lime thyme that wasn't sheared back properly, resulting in this die-back. Just goes to show: mind the thyme, lest it get away from you.

A closer view of the ugly dead thyme and such. Ugh.

At least the foliage of Allium siculum was doing a fair job of filling this space, along with the emerging blades of Molinia caerulea 'Variegata'.

The one thing I really like about this bed in the winter is that you can see the carpet of Asarum caudatum under the red Acer palmatum var. dissectum that is the centerpiece of the bed. The green carpet really makes the maple pop, and the maple provides an annual mulch of leaves and shade from the summer sun for the Asarum. I wish my plant combinations were always so inspired.

The sad dwarf conifer in the center of this photo is Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Fernspray Gold'. Originally there were three spaced around the bed to contrast with the maple and 'Crimson Pygmy' barberries, but the other two died years ago and weren't replaced. Between the deer clipping off the graceful fern-like branches that give this cultivar its name and the dense inner growth continually turning ugly and brown from lack of air circulation, there was no longer any point in prolonging this lone survivors misery. 

It wasn't all bad in April. Geranium 'Dark Reiter' was beginning to unfold its gorgeous purple leaves, though I had to quickly apply slug bait before the slugs devoured it. 

This space is one of three patches of Crocosmia 'Lucifer', which really should have been reduced sooner. Sneaky little devil has a habit of getting away from its gardeners.

Another view, again, just not very inspiring this time of year. 

 Now, in June, things have filled in and the sheared heathers have put on lots of new growth. It's the exuberant mass of color I intended, a centerpiece that greets you as you drive up to the house. It still has a lot of work that needs to be done, though. I need to relocate some of the heathers, as they simply do too well here and are getting much bigger than expected. There is an imbalance both in quantity and distribution of evergreen and deciduous plants that needs to be remedied (if I only knew how). Basically things need shuffling around, editing, adjusting, etc. In other words, gardening.

It helps that I waited until evening to shoot these photos, but it really does look so much better than it did in April. The maple in the center needed some pruning that none of us got to. It's developing that unfortunate red haystack look.

Origanum 'Kent's Beauty' has grown up to cover the fading foliage of spring bulbs, Salvia nemorosa 'Ostfriesland' (East Friesland) contrasts beautifully between the bright heather and variegeted Molinia.

The Molinia has filled in, the thyme is recovering, the barberries are (as always) growing out of control, and the heathers are loosening out of their sheared domes. My father and I both have trouble letting plants grow together, everything must have space between it. We're considering joining a self-help group.

Another view, towards the house. 

The lime thyme creates pools of light between the darker heaths and heathers. The yellow in the middle of the picture is another heather that turns orange in winter. Unfortunately the other heathers are putting the squeeze on it and it doesn't look too good close up.

Here the lime thyme even had the kindness to cascade over the retaining wall. By the end of summer it will probably have reached the bottom of the wall and be attempting to take over the driveway.

While I like the thyme for contrast, it does grow quickly and requires reining-in to prevent it overtaking everything else in the bed. The stems grow into surrounding plants and elongate, popping up in the middle of a heather or Rhododendron impeditum. It also dies out in large patches, which can be mostly prevented by regular shearing, but not completely, so occasionally I have to dig clumps from the edge to patch the holes.

Another unfortunate bare patch which is especially weedy.. The two lavenders in the middle of this photo really aren't doing it for me here and need to go. But what to put in their place? I just noticed looking at this picture how nicely the chartreuse heath contrasts with the light blue-green leaves of Oreganum 'Kent's Beauty'. At least that's something positive, though that heath needs to be rescued from the barberry next to it as it gets shaded out.

This is another area that is an ugly void in winter, and it's not much better now. The bearded iris, nodding onion, and 'Dark Reiter' geranium simply don't fill this space, and being deciduous they allow lots of weeds to grow over winter. At the edge of the bed is a slowly expanding patch of Hutchinsia alpina, one of my favorite ground covers. It only gets 2-3 inches tall, so it doesn't swamp delicate spring bulbs or grow up into the larger plants like lime thyme can. Once this patch matures a bit more (and if I remember to keep up with the slug bait) it will have beautiful white blooms almost all year on delicate stems about 4 inches tall. The slugs don't bother my other patch in the Stump. St. Helens bed. It's true what people say: location, location, location!

The void in this picture is where that Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Fernspray Gold' was. I'm considering my options to fill this space, among them moving the gold heather on the right over to make more room for it and the salvias. That would fill the space, but the heather would be lost behind the barberries when viewed from the house. I'm also thinking of buying 3 Erica arborea 'Estrella Gold' to recreate the three gold counterpoints to the maple and barberries. The latter idea has the added benefits of adding some much-needed taller evergreens in the interior of the bed and providing profuse flowers with a powerful, wafting vanilla scent. Huh, kind of sounds like I've made my decision, doesn't it?

The crocosmia has been further reduced to create tighter clumps, though wayward sprouts continue to appear several feet away at the former perimeter of the patch. The Molinia has really filled this area. I wish it didn't leave such a void when it goes dormant, though in truth the dead stems last for most of winter. Somewhere on the other side of the closest barberry is a couple more lavenders that I will happily remove to make room for one of the three new Erica arborea 'Estrella Gold' (or whatever golden trio I decide to buy).
I'm really looking forward to watching this bed as it progresses over the summer. There are many more plants that have yet to bloom, some of which I've never seen bloom in person since I've never been home when they bloom. I know it probably doesn't look nearly as bad as I think it does (keep in mind most of the pictures make it look A LOT better than it does) but there is definitely room for improvement. I've been looking at evergreen ground covers to fill in some of the spaces that look empty in winter. Some of the candidates are: Veronica liwanensis or hybrids such as 'Tidal Pool', Acaena 'Blue Haze', and shorter cultivars of Ajuga reptans. Currently I'm favoring the Veronica and Acaena. The asarum under the maple has reseeded in the lower level of the planter, making me see that it would make a lovely ground cover on the north side of the maple "bastion" and maybe I'll let it run and reseed where it may around the other plants. It is one of my favorite natives (and, dare I say, one of my favorite plants) and is evergreen and deer-resistant. The slugs like it, but I already have to apply slug bait everywhere anyway. The asarum would also provide some alleviation from the majority of fine textures. 

The other sure addition that I've determined in writing this post is that I want to recreate the golden trio I originally had in this bed. The intention was to provide evergreen contrast to the maple and barberries in a taller form than the thyme and heathers. The taller form also serves to create a step, of sorts, between the maple and the lower surrounding plants. Without that step, the maple simply juts up from the surrounding bed, especially in winter when the taller perennials are dormant. In winter the golden evergreen foliage provides additional bright color, something that is always appreciated in Pacific Northwest winters. So with these thoughts in mind, I really want to find a 3-4 foot-tall, deer-resistant evergreen to recreate fill that void. While I already have an embarrassment of heaths and heathers in this bed, I really like the idea of the Erica arborea 'Estrella Gold'. Erica is a well-tested deer-resistant genus in my garden and I don't have any of the taller kinds like Erica arborea. And I've been lusting after it since seeing (and smelling) what I'm quite sure was an 'Estrella Gold' at The Barn (click here). Then there are also many yellow dwarf conifers that may be suitable (and more deer-resistant than the Chamaecyparis). I'm also thinking of going silver/blue instead of gold/yellow. So many choices. 

I think half of all the plants in this bed may actually be Calluna vulgaris. At least it seems that way often enough. The reason behind this is (1) it's a tough, deer-resistant plant, and (2) one year after shearing them back I had a carpet of cuttings that rooted by themselves. Among these self-rooted cuttings were a variety of interesting sports (mutations from the original plant), one of the things that got me interested in plant breeding and selection. From only three cultivars that I planted originally, I now have over a dozen different forms, most of which I believe are mutations from only one of those original cultivars. So of course I saved a number of different plants that I liked and planted them around this bed and other places to see how they would develop. I have green plants with bright orange new growth in spring, one with slightly woolly foliage and lime green tips in winter, prostrate forms, and several beautiful smoky blue-grey forms. Unfortunately I really can't keep them all in this bed. Fortunately I have lots of other places to put them.

And those are my wordy, drawn-out thoughts on this bed. If you made it this far, thanks for reading! Happy gardening!
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!