Winter Report

A couple weeks ago I visited my parents' house back in Washington for a few days. What a surprise to actually have a couple dry days, and even sunlight, while I was there! So of course I had to get out in the garden to see how the many plants I had added this past summer were fairing. As I had known, there were some surprising successes and some equally disappointing failures. Many of these plants probably should have been planted earlier to become more established. Winters in the Pacific Northwest, at least near the Cascade foothills, seem to be developing the destructive trend of super mild temperatures followed by sudden, sharp drops as Arctic air masses flood in from the north or east. Without the buffering effects of the Pacific Ocean or Puget Sound, or the heat island of Portland, these weather patterns can be extremely damaging, especially to young plants.

Still, there were many pleasant surprises to be found among the dearth of new plants. Also some well-meant but at times misguided attempts at winter protection. I didn't lift all the covers or dig through all the branch piles insulating some of my recent plantings. Overall what I found seemed to be surviving, so I left others to be surprises for my next visit home.

Apologies in advance for the blurry photos (and the quantity). For some reason I didn't get some things as in focus as I thought.

Thick frost limned the foliage of this Rubus calycinoides. I'm not sure what to think of this plant. It started out as a single small shoot, and has since become an aggressive patch. I was much younger when I first planted it, and didn't realize the vigor of this ground cover. It's in an area that is simply too small for it, and it threatens to swamp its neighbors. I actually like the texture and toughness of it though the leaves do crisp up in these cold snaps, but it needs to be in a larger area where it can be the suffocating ground cover that it is. 

Had I taken a little more time to really observe the light and choose the best perspective from which to photograph the late sun hitting this Molinia caerulea 'Variegata' it could have been quite a pretty picture. Still, you get an idea of how well the flower stalks of this easy, tough, and graceful monocot stand up to a Pacific Northwest. By the end of winter, they will be easy to remove, detaching at the base. Hardly even any cutting needed, a feature that makes this and Hakonechloa two of my favorite grasses.

My first ever cyclamen purchased at Bark and Garden in Olympia, WA somewhere around 4-6 years ago, a Cyclamen hederifolium, has become a beautiful plant bearing narrow, silver leaves all winter. It even started producing seedlings, something I had read required two cyclamen to occur. I guess mine is self-fertile, and it is a good bearer of silver seedlings, one of which can just be seen at the bottom of the picture, a silver heart next to the leaf with the Douglas fir needle on it.

A more recent addition, this Cyclamen coum (and accompanying babies) is from a plant sale at Winterthur Gardens in Delaware. You can see the deep fuchsia of two flowers in this photo. The second of this species I purchased at the sale is an almost pure silver selection, but it doesn't seem to be doing as well in its location, which is drier and rockier. Next time I'm home I'll have to try to remember to move it, although I have plenty of seedlings now besides the ones visible in this photo, and before I moved this summer I scattered seed from my three mature cyclamen all over, so we'll see what comes up in spring.

One of the really surprising successes was the aspidistra I brought back from North Carolina. Among them, this Aspidistra oblanceifolia 'Nagoya Stars' is one of the best looking. Most of the others are seedlings with only one or two leaves and had varying appearances, but I feel most of them have a good chance at survival. The true test will be how well they grow in summer. I kept forgetting to look at the big Aspidistra elatior that I propagated in college and finally planted out this summer, but I'm sure it's fine since the seedlings in the same bed are ok.
Besides 'Nagoya Stars' and a couple spotted and really dark forest-green seedlings, one of my favorites is this subtly-striped seedling. I'll be happy to see this one grow. Hopefully it survives the deer.

This Rohdea japonica was deemed not noteworthy at PDN, but once it gets established I expect it to grow the extra long (1-2 feet) leaves that made me take it home.

This Rhododendron rex is receiving protection from winter winds, which can be drying and harmful to large leaves when those Arctic fronts come in, but its cage is open at the top, so it hasn't been too pampered. I doubt it even needed the wind protection, but maybe that will give it an edge in growing this spring.

Sadly unstable, I still love this black and green mondo grass. The original growth had a green stripe down the middle of each leaf, which I hoped would be stable, but as you can see it's jumping around and getting wider and narrower depending on the individual growth.

Completely unprotected, I was really happy to see my Woodwardia unigemmata 'Ping Wu' hardly touched by the fluctuating temperatures of winter. I can't wait to see this plant fully-grown with giant fronds bearing plantlets at the ends.

Now one of the unpleasant surprises. Deer don't bother Gaultheria species much, and it's a genus I love so I decided to start a collection. Unfortunately, Gaultheria forrestii seems to be delicious. They would have to go after my favorite one. I was looking forward to seeing the Prussian blue berries against the bright red stems. Perhaps in the future. Deer often change their tastes and plants can sometimes become unpalatable to them by producing tougher growth or more secondary metabolites that are toxic or unpalatable to grazers. For now I'll have to remind my parents to occasionally make sure the chicken wire protecting it stays in place. It still has a handful of leaves and should resprout from the base, so there's hope yet.

Thankfully, Gaultheria mucronata is too tough and prickly for the deer to bother with, though my small, as yet spindly, plants are tough to photograph. I didn't see any of the small berries that I saw developing this summer. Perhaps as they grow they'll bare more fruit and hold on to them better. The hybrid, Gaultheria x wisleyensis 'Ruby' was untouched by deer, but the berries must be too similar to its other parent, the native Gaultheria shallon, because it was obvious they had been eaten right off the plant. I'm much more easy-going about decorative fruit being eaten than I am about leaves, or whole plants.

Rhododendron 'Medusa' is doing just fine with no protection. I'm not surprised by this, but you never know. Apparently, this rhododendron blooms intermittently in winter whenever there's a warm stretch. It had a couple flowers out just before I arrived.

My Mahonia 'Indianola Silver' had a frost blanket covering it, which I don't really think it needed but it couldn't hurt this first year after such a hard treatment last winter and summer. You can see a bit of the lavender silver winter color I loved about this plant in North Carolina. Though it's darker and perhaps not quite as shiny as it was the first time I saw it, it also hasn't been bleached by the bad winter it experienced in NC, which caused it to be culled from the garden. My gain.

Another Mahonia seedling from NC, given to me by a good friend, turns a gorgeous red in winter. 

The larger of my two Schefflera taiwaniana is in the ground while the smaller one is inside (hopefully getting watered, hint, hint). Obviously the deer gave it a taste before it got covered in by the frost blanket. Hopefully they don't return for another course this spring.

My Azara microphylla is mostly covered by a Douglas fir-branch tepee, but the branches that are poking out look fine. I had read this was a tested and tough plant for the Pacific Northwest, but these reports almost all come from the Puget Sound area and Portland, both milder than my parents' garden, so this is a nice surprise. Another plant I don't think needed any protection. 

Completely untouched by deer and showing a lot of growth since I moved in August, Glumicalyx goseloides is a definite winner. Hardy to USDA zone 6, I wasn't worried about it being hardy, but it's nice to see it so happy. I love the texture of the leafy stems and the scent of the foliage, even if it is a bit odd, something like chocolate mixed with a bit of wild geranium
Billardiera longiflora has some frost damage at the upper ends, but most of it looks pretty good. I'm hoping it stays polite and doesn't completely overwhelm the slow-growing Acer griseum it's growing on before the tree can attain some size.

Cunninghamia lanceolata 'Glauca' is doing well, though it has some typical winter bronzing. I think it's already forming an upright shoot from the base. We'll have to see how it develops, but I think that bit of wisdom I read somewhere about not staking these trees when you plant them is right.

This wispy Callistemon pityoides 'Mt. Kosciuszko Form'  was hard to photograph, but take my word that it looks completely untouched by cold, unlike the little start of Callistemon 'Elleanor' with its pot sunk into a raised bed for some added protection. That lady is toast. 

Definitely one of the best surprises is Prostanthera cuneata. I planted two of these in different locations, and both look fantastic. The foliage is wonderful for a burst of minty fragrance any time of year. One of my new favorite plants.
Native Satureja douglasii (yerba buena) has taken on hints of its purple winter color. In harsher conditions, full sun, no summer water, lean soil, the plant can take on almost metallic, deep purple tones.

Daphne x transatlantica 'Blafra' (Eternal Fragrance) has nearly doubled in size since I planted it this summer. The frost nipped buds showed that it was flowering right up until frost, and probably even after that until it got really cold.

Podocarpus alpina 'Blue Gem' looks great. No problem with the cold here!

Gaultheria miquelliana surprised me not by its hardiness, but through its gorgeous color transformation to shades of ruby and garnet. This will make a beautiful patch of color all winter, especially as it spreads into a larger swath.
Arctostaphylos malloryi SBH 9145, from Cistus, unfortunately suffered in the reflected heat at the end of the house this summer, and if it wasn't already dead from that, winter has certainly finished it off. It was such a beautiful plant I'd be willing to try it again in a spot without reflected heat or during a cooler summer.

I didn't have much hope for this Convulvulus cneorum, and I'm pretty sure my doubts have been confirmed here. It's a shame, because I have a serious crush on this silvery beauty, possibly one of the most silver plants you can grow. I have a major thing for silver foliage. I'll just have to move somewhere I can grow it. 

Fortunately, Arctostaphylos silvicola 'Ghostly' is performing wonderfully on the south wall of my parents' house, unlike A. malloryi. Out of the two, this one was my favorite anyway, because it was a little paler. 

Time and the rest of winter will tell how this Digitalis obscura performs. It's suffered damage, but could still bounce back easily in spring if it doesn't suffer too much damage over the rest of winter.

Despite being torn up by deer (again) and lying on the ground for who knows how long, this Geranium robustum seems to be doing fine. And at least one of my Geranium pulchrum showed signs of life. I hope they make it through winter (and deer) to turn into something next summer. These South African geraniums were one of my seed experiments last spring.

All three Cistus are doing fine, with 'Snow Fire' and 'Mickie' looking the best. For some reason, 'Mickie' got a winter shelter despite surviving being planted the year before in November and coming through that winter smelling like a rockrose. 'Jenkyn Place' is looking a bit thin, but both it and 'Snow Fire' are young plants that will make beautiful, full specimens with some judicious yearly pruning early in life.

At least one of my three Embothrium coccineum appears to be alive under its mound of fir branches and sword fern fronds, if a bit flattened. I have hopes that they will survive the winter and put on growth this spring and summer. These trees are known for being finicky and hard to place, but with three planted in different locations throughout the yard with different conditions, chances are at least one will survive. The two Eucalyptus neglecta, protected by mini "greenhouses" appear perfectly happy. If only the deer hadn't weeded out the E. debeuzevillei. The Clethra barbinervis showed some evidence of freeze damage rupturing the bark near the base. I hope it wasn't as bad as it looks, as it's one of my favorite small trees. An as yet unidentified Clethra species from Far Reaches Farm (which I don't have the label of with me) appeared untouched. One of the new magnolias, either M. wilsonii or M. globosa, didn't look so great. I just realized in writing this post that I forgot to even look at the Philadelphus madrensis. My Penstemon rupicola starts seem to have survived the remainder of summer for the most part and grew well in the fall rains. My camellia seedlings all seem to be doing well, despite having no winter protection in their containers. There were lots of other successes and failures, which the jet lag helped me to blur together, but these are what struck me the most.

Here's hoping the rest of the winter is easy for my plants and my friends on the West Coast.


  1. Oh that mondo grass! Did it occur in your garden?

    I'm also intrigued by the Glumicalyx goseloides and happy that so many of your plants are looking good. Here's hoping it's clear sailing from here on out...

    1. The mondo grass is another memento from PDN. There were multiple sports like this and they didn't want them because they are unstable. It will have to be monitored for reversions to all green or all black. I fell in love with the flowers of Glumicalyx (orange colored and chocolate scented), but the plant is really nice too. This time of year it's a nice, loose dome of textured, scented foliage.

  2. All in all, impressive results Evan! It'll be interesting to see how they look in spring if you get another trip out west. I love that 'Nagoya Stars' Aspidistra.

    1. Thanks, Kris! I showed more of the successes than failures, but things aren't as bad as I expected them to be. I hope I can make it back out sometime in spring or summer to see things again.


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