Pictures from home

Where has the week gone? It seems to have flown by, at least until I got sick and then it slowed to a foggy grind. My parents took advantage of the nice weather last weekend and got out in the yard. They were kind enough to take some pictures to remind me that spring does come eventually, although it's off to an early start in the Pacific Northwest. I'm sorry for the blurriness in some of the pictures. My mother does a pretty good job, usually, but she had to snap these shots fairly quickly so she could get back to work cleaning up the yard. Right, Mom?

This patch of Crocus tommassinianus makes me smile. There are lots of these, along with Crocus 'Twilight' and 'Prince Claus' in the bed within the circular driveway. The deer almost always munch on them to some degree. I didn't ask how the other crocus looked. It's enough that this one patch is untouched, for now. The big hybrids like 'Twilight' are especially susceptible to deer browse. Before I planted those, they hardly ever bothered the much smaller 'Prince Claus'. Luckily they don't seem to like tommies much either. Species and small hybrids, that's the way to go in a deer resistant garden! The crocus pairs especially well with the bright golden-green moss that has established itself in the bed. Someday I or my parents will have to remember to dig up the crocus and spread them out a bit. I did it with a few clumps that were pushing the new corms out of the soil, but not all of them.

I planted Galanthus in various spots a few years ago and have never been home at the right time to see them bloom. It's nice to see them doing so well. Galanthus are such an elegant flower and one of my favorite early spring bulbs. I like the slightly glaucous foliage, too. I haven't asked how these have fared against the deer, either but, since I think this is one of the larger patches, I think they may actually be leaving them alone...for the most least for now. Knock on wood. Deer are creatures of habit but, like people, can suddenly decide to try something new.

My two Cyclamen coum from the spring plant sale at Winterthur are blooming. I forget which vendor I bought these from at the sale. I can see the first needs some slug bait around it. I should probably move it to a better spot. This location, a couple feet from the driveway in gravelly clay soil at the base of a Douglas fir, may be too challenging even for these lovers of dry shade. Or perhaps, like the Cyclamen hederifolium 5 or 6 feet away, it just needs a few years to really get established. It has only been a little over a year, after all. I hope it makes it. I picked this one because it has almost entirely silver leaves.

My second Cyclamen coum was selected because it has more green and I wanted the resulting seedlings between the two selections to have a range of green and silver patterns. I'm pretty sure the seedlings around the plant now are just from the seed pods it had when I planted it. This plant gets a bit more light and more water than the first plant, which you can tell by the salal, moss, and dandelion seedlings encroaching on it. I'm just imagining someday when these have sown all over the bed their in and make a delightful spring show of delicate pink flowers, though it's the leaves I really like.

A word to the wise gardener plagued by deer. Not all hellebores are deer resistant. Like so many other plants, they seem to have lost whatever made them deer resistant through human breeding efforts to make them lusher and less toxic. Where are the breeders making spiny, hard-to-chew, highly toxic plants for deer resistant landscapes? Oh, right. Most people don't want those traits, especially that last one. Unfortunately, it means that the deer delight in biting off most of the hellebore flowers, sometimes eating them, but more often scattering them about like demented flower girls set loose at a wedding. Since my parents' garden only had one hellebore until this past year, I'm hoping that the increased numbers will improve the likelihood of seeing their blooms without having to plant them inside cages like the one below. It's possible that some of the seedlings I planted will be less palatable and will be left alone or that the deer will eventually learn to recognize this relatively new plant as something gross without having to taste it. Deer do learn, though usually, like those flower girls, they prefer to learn bad habits.

 But there is hope. This hellebore isn't caged. It was hidden behind the Hakonechloa, and judging by the scattered stems the grass has been tidied up in preparation for spring. This could be enough to hide it from the deer, if only for a short while. I'm going to have to teach my mother to lift up the flowers and take pictures of the insides, too. Maybe if I direct her to some of the blogs I read she'll get the idea.

One of my parents' projects that day was uncovering the plants they had so diligently protected during those cold snaps this winter. Rhododendron rex made it through with only minimal damage. I'm more worried about it getting sufficient water in its current location. It's an odd spot where the soil is bone dry in summer just under the trees, but there's a seepage area just a few feet away, with a rather clear demarcation between the two. Hopefully my father can find the time to install the irrigation line he'd like to run out to the line of shrubs that includes this rhody.

I've heard a few stories this winter about Rhododendron 'Medusa' trying to bloom whenever there was a warm stretch. Supposedly it had quite a few blooms out right before I visited in January, but when I arrived I saw no evidence of blooms. I think my mother took issue with my doubt, so here is proof. With this kind of behavior, 'Medusa' may be more suited to southern Oregon and Northern California where cold snaps are less common. I'm going to be watching this plant closely over the years (or as close as I can) to evaluate its spring bloom show. If too many blooms try to open in winter only to be killed by frosts, the spring bloom may not be very impressive. That would be a shame, because I absolutely love the pendant, orange and red flowers.

I think this is Rhododendron 'Gartendirektor Glocker' but it could be 'Kimberly'. I had trouble remembering which was which before I moved away and didn't have enough time to fix them in my memory. This one, unsurprisingly, handled winter without a whimper. What really amazes me about this picture is the little green shoots you can see behind and to the left of the rhody, partially buried by the Douglas fir branches. That is Hemiboea subcapitata, a hardy gesneriad that forms a dense ground cover of thick, glossy leaves. I'm honestly astounded that it is coming up this early, and slightly surprised that it came up at all. Plant Delights rates this plant as hardy to USDA zone 6b, but in my experience they are somewhat generous in their hardiness ratings to begin with, and a PNW winter is very different from a North Carolina winter. I'm sure the mild winter and early spring are what allowed it to come up this early, and it is a blessing because this beautiful ground cover will have more time to become established and spread.

My two non-native mahonias are still showing off their winter color. I don't think these really needed to be protected this winter, but better safe than sorry given that they were planted late and were transplants from North Carolina. Again, big differences between a PNW winter and a North Carolina winter. Next winter I'll tell the folks they don't have to worry about these two plants, and then we'll really see what their full winter color is like.

First is an unknown seedling from a friend at Plant Delights. This one has lovely form and bright green summer foliage. With cooler temperatures the entire plant takes on reddish hues. I'm afraid it doesn't show up that well against the mulch we selected, though it's very nice in the right light. I believe I may see a seedling Vaccinium parvifolium (red huckleberry) just behind and to the right of it. Or it could be some little creeping weed. It's hard to tell in this picture. I'll hope for the huckleberry.

My second mahonia is a Mahonia 'Indianola Silver' seedling. It immediately attained the status of being one of my most treasured plants when I rescued it from the discards that were being trialed at Plant Delights. In summer the leaves are a gorgeous silvery sea green. In winter, lavender platinum coats the outer leaves, leaving the summer color exposed in the interior of the plant. It was in the discard pile because it looked terrible after a very sharp drop in temperature from well over freezing to around 8F in just one night, growing in full sun conditions with no overhead frost protection afforded by a tree canopy. In fact, I think it was 2 or 3 such harsh freezes. The poor thing was almost completely defoliated and had some tip dieback, but I wanted to see how it fared in the Pacific Northwest. After all, 'Indianola Silver' originated in Dan Hinkley's garden in Indianola, WA. A few months after moving it home to Washington, this plant sent out multiple new branches and now looks even better than it did before. Of course, the real test will come when next my parents' garden experiences a hard winter, which certainly wasn't this year. But I think my little mahonia will perform better in its new home, with some overhead protection from the Douglas firs and a much smaller risk of the kinds of extreme drops in temperature that did it in in North Carolina.

Rhododendron campanulatum ssp. aeruginosum is absolutely fine after winter, of which I had no doubt. Some of the things I found under protection when I went home in January really did surprise me. The effort would have been better spent on other plants that were more likely to be damaged. The blue color of last years new growth is long gone, but soon enough it will appear again with the new growth this spring.

Rhododendron roxieanum var. oreonastes, also looking good. I love the texture of this shrub. I can't wait to visit home again so I can try to detect the resinous scent that the foliage reportedly gives off.

Rhododendron faithiae, safe and sound inside its protective barrier. The leaves are big and leathery enough that I don't think the deer would bother it, but it's less than a foot tall yet and I've been wrong before. Best to give it a chance to grow up a bit before putting it to the test. Besides eating it, at this size they could simply step on it and do major damage. It wouldn't be the first time!

A happy surprise, at least one of my three Embothrium coccineum, or Chilean flame trees, appears to have survived the winter. At least it still has some green leaves. We'll know for sure if it starts growing this spring. I need to ask my parents if the other two are alive, as well. I planted them in three very different locations in the hopes that at least one would survive. Of course, with these trees, merely surviving the first winter may not mean much. If they don't like where they are, they may still sit there and do nothing or simply croak. If they are happy, they'll grow like gangbusters, though that may take another year. Crossing my fingers!

Podocarpus alpina 'Blue Gem' asks, "What winter?" It suffered more from the heat last summer. Right after I planted it, a heat wave hit and any new growth that touched the mulch crisped up. That super soft new growth that it had from being pampered in the nursery just couldn't take it. Hopefully that won't be a problem this summer. I'm also worried about the deer trampling this low-growing conifer. At least podocarps can resprout from old wood, unlike most conifers.

My mother is enamored with these Berberis x stenophylla 'Corallina Compacta'. I must admit she did a good job selecting these tiny, armored beasties. The deer leave them alone and they are tough and drought tolerant. I like their character and shape, the scattering of red among the evergreen foliage in winter, the deep red new growth, and the bright (and I do mean bright) orange flowers in spring.

I'm very happy that my two Prostanthera cuneata survived the winter unprotected. I got one from Xera Plants and one from Far Reaches last summer. As far as I know, neither was protected this winter and they are both totally untouched. Evergreen, wonderfully mint-scented, and bearing interesting and beautiful flowers in summer, these are one of my favorite shrubs. They seem quite heat and drought tolerant, too. Just ignore that baby dandelion by the rock, ok?

With winter barely having occurred and spring off to an early, warm start, Dracunculus vulgaris is rising early. Good thing my parents noticed and scattered some slug bait to protect the tender shoot. I'm sure they are eager to enjoy bloom. I really do need to dig that thing out and move it away from the house. What can I say? The mistakes of youth. Besides, when I planted it I didn't really have anywhere else to put it. Now I think it will do nicely in the high shade of the new rhododendron border we planted last summer. The bloom will last longer there than on the hot western side of the house. Good plan, right?

Ah, branch clean up. It's a never ending job when you live in the Pacific Northwest surrounded by conifers, in this case Douglas firs. I think I'll take that over frozen nose hairs and shoveling snow, thank you.

February is almost over and spring is fast approaching. Things are looking up, in more ways than one. I hope you are getting out in the garden preparing for spring or, for those of you still socked in my snow and cold, I hope you are happily leafing through seed and plant catalogs or visiting a local greenhouse or conservatory.


  1. Not too dissimilar to scenes here Evan. And I so covet your Mahonias!

    1. I'd love to visit those scenes across the pond, though! And I need more Mahonias!

  2. Lots of good in this report! Both mahonia are amazing, but of course you know which one I am partial to. And it's heartening to see your embothrium looking good! Mine lost a lot of leaves but also retained some, it's an odd looking beast right now. Thankfully I can see buds so I think the rest of it will be leafing back out soon. As for branch clean up, it even happens on a small urban lot. All it takes is one Doug Fir to rain down bushels and bushels of stuff. I can't imagine having a whole forest of them!

    1. They are such messy trees, but I still love them. The nice thing about living out in the forest is that you can dump the branches out of sight for nature to take care of. I was so worried about my embothrium. So glad it was a mild winter.

  3. Thoughts of deer and slugs should help to hold off the twinges of homesickness that must have been brought on by these photos from home. All of your hard work (or is it play?) is in good hands.
    Images of demented flower girls are now stuck in my head (and I look like a demented gardener, chuckling to myself).

    1. Honestly, white tail deer may be worse than our west coast black tails, but it is kind of nice not having to deal with them myself. I try not to look at the deer damage when I visit home now. I'm glad I could put that image in your head, Ricki! Hehe

  4. It looks as though your parents are taking good care of the garden in your absence, Evan, and it was nice of your mom to take pictures to share with you. I love that silvery Mahonia and the Crocus are gorgeous! I've only seen 2 Crocus blooms in my own garden this year, both fleeting, and I don't expect I'll see any more.

  5. While I do love winter, I'll take our mild PNW weather over what has befallen the east coast! I am really impressed that all of the rhododendron's pictured so no signs of lace leaf bug infestation. I've lost all my rhodies and azaleas, save one. The mahonia is really fantastic. I hope to acquire 1 or 2 soon. Cheers!

  6. How cool to get pictures of your garden at home! While I envy all of your space to grow interesting plants and live near a forest of Douglas Firs, I'm thrilled not to have to worry about demented flower girls in my fenced urban garden. Things are looking really great in your PNW garden and I especially love your mahonias. My Indianola Silver didn't take on that beautiful lavender tone this winter but then, being so close to the sound, I think our temps. were milder than yours. Such a gorgeous plant! I'd have never known that we could ask about the plants up in that area if you hadn't told me about it the day we visited Windcliff together. I think of that day with you and Vicky every time I see that plant glowing in the light shade.

  7. We seem to have had a lot of rather high winds, I've never seen so many fallen branches off the Red Cedars and the few Douglas Firs. I've heard the east coast deer have different tastes. Deer haven't bothered my Rhodies, Mahonia, or Hellebores, but may be why I don't see many Crocuses return. My tiny Corallinas were hard to find after one winter, but B. darwinii is growing great guns, and reaching out. New Mahonias are also on my list, but while yours are totally gorgeous, I want some winter-blooming Mahonia like Charity, for the hummingbirds. The 'Indianola Silver' is fantastic!


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