Abies balsamea 'Nana'

Abies balsamea 'Nana'

Monday, May 4, 2015

Driveway Island Rehab

Last year I covered a few of the tasks needing to be done to rehab the driveway island in this post. My dad took care of adding soil around the maple in the center, and my fear that this would smother most of the Asarum caudatum has proved groundless. Since I've been home, I've taken out most of the lime thyme, having grown tired of the bare patches and dieback. I left a few healthy patches, because I still love their color, but I don't know if they'll stay. I've started a switch to more silver, orange, and burgundy foliage and blue and orange flowers, embracing the reseeding Carex comans (the original plants were 'Frosted Curls') by spreading a few seedlings around. I added a trio of silvery Helleborus argutifolius and H. x sterniiPenstemon serrulatus seedlings (mine is darker purple with blue lips, sometimes completely blue), and Veronica liwanensis as a new trial groundcover. There's still a lot of work to be done; a lot of thinking, too.

It really doesn't look that bad from certain angles, but there are huge holes, bare spots, and certain plants that just aren't playing nice with each other. If you're wondering why the maple looks like it's only started leafing out while everything else seems much further along, it's because no one bothered to spray deer repellent on it. Just because you're going to get a fence, doesn't mean you don't have to keep protecting plants until the fence actually goes up.

I spent some time last week removing more things. Showing dieback and burnt foliage after even a mild winter, it was time to take the Rhododendron impeditum out. I also started removing heaths and heathers. I had relied on them heavily for evergreen, deer-proof foliage, and when I got all those colorful sports spontaneously appearing I went a little overboard. With a fence in my future, I can let go of many of the overgrown and less attractive heathers in favor of plants that were formerly off limits. This left some holes, so you can easily tell where things were just taken out by the dark soil I used to fill in the holes.

One impeditum came out from here. This portion is now almost completely heaths and heathers. I'm thinking of moving at least half of them, leaving only three.

The big heather to the right of the dark soil in the picture below is also coming out, but I'm going to keep it and plant it elsewhere. This individual is the source of most of the sports I've selected, particularly the smoky grey-green ones I love. I'm also thinking of moving the big pink winter-blooming heaths. But of course those are the biggest ones.

By far the barest area of this bed is now on the west side. Much of it was covered by thyme, heaths, and heathers. I took out more heathers here, and it will take time for the carex, hellebores, and penstemon to grow, not that there are any of those in those two huge dark patches.


Three of the Rhododendron impeditum were definitely beyond saving, but the other three were still in decent shape. I do love these little rhodies, so I couldn't quite bring myself to throw them in the brush pile with everything else. Instead, I used them to start filling in the bed with the paperbark maple, now virtually weed-free after almost a year with a cobbled-together layer of cardboard, black plastic (after I ran out of cardboard), and extra soil to hold it all down. I removed the plastic from the area the rhodies went into, as I will with the rest of the bed as I get plants to put in. I'm hoping that this bed will be a better home for the rhodies. The deep, loose soil is fast draining but moisture retentive, perfect for these alpine rhodies. This area also gets plenty of sun, but is shaded during the hottest part of the day. Plus, it's surrounded by grass instead of hot driveway. I think the summer heat and drought is what caused these rhodies to suffer each winter, so with those factors greatly reduced I have hope they'll make a comeback. Plus they look great with the big rocks, stumps, and log that make up the wall around this bed.

One of them was thinned a few years ago after a bad dieback. I actually like this more open, rugged look, as opposed to the dense, full mounds this plant usually forms in cultivation. I think I'll treat the other two the same way, after they've had a chance to settle in.
 I also moved Rhododendron 'Carmen' from the back patio bed, which was too hot for it. It, too, should be happier along the rock wall in the paperbark bed.

Back to the driveway island, further tasks include:
  • Finish removing the heaths and heathers. Most of the gold and grey selections will stay but need redistributed throughout the bed.
  • Remove the 'Crimson Pygmy' barberries.
  • Divide and redistribute the crocus and Allium siculum (aka Nectaroscordum).
  • Remove the red oriental poppy. 
  • Decide on new plants to put in for the new design.
I'm going to attempt to work around the existing plants as much as possible, but I'll probably end up shifting a lot of things around. Some of the plants I'm considering for this bed include:

Erica arborea 'Estrella Gold'
Hebe ochracea 'James Sterling'
Hebe pimelioides 'Quicksilver'
Carex testacea (not sure yet that I want a third "grass" in the bed)
Sedums with grey/white, burgundy, or orange foliage
Heuchera/Heucherella (sun-tolerant selections that are reliably evergreen in zone 7b, suggestions welcome)
Teucrium chamaedrys 'Summer Sunshine'

Of course, none of these are definite and I expect this list to change drastically as I continue to consider the possibilities. This bed gets full sun from around 9 or 10am to around 3-5pm, depending on the area of the bed. The soil is a mix of native clay soil, silty top soil brought in from who-knows-where, and lots of organic matter. Decent drainage without any pooling in winter, but plants that need really good drainage in the PNW, such as Agastache rupestris, only last a few years. Relatively drought tolerant plants preferred, needing water only every couple weeks at the height of summer, or less. Being surrounded by dark gravel, it can get quite warm, but I haven't noticed much stress from that, except possibly the Rhododendron impeditum. Suggestions welcome!

I'm not sure about the Crocosmia 'Lucifer' staying in this bed. I love it, but with the new color scheme I'd prefer orange over red. Then again, I'm not sure where else I could plant 'Lucifer' safely. If I got rid of it, the hummingbirds would declare war. I guess, like rules, color schemes are made to be broken.

One of my main goals for this bed is to increase the amount of evergreen foliage. I'm tired of it looking so bare and dull in winter. With the fence, I'll be able to plant broadleaf evergreens that will give it a much more lush appearance in winter than the heathers could ever manage. Though I'm having more trouble than I would have thought finding larger evergreen foliage for sun, on plants that grow 3 feet tall or less. There are lots of huge shrubs and shade plants with big leaves, but they aren't suitable for this bed. I've tried lamb's ears, but I hated cleaning out the old, mushy foliage after winter. It was ugly in winter and messy to clean. Asarum caudatum seedlings have been popping up more and more in this bed, usually under or on the northern side of existing plants. I'm not sure it would like the hottest, sunniest parts of this bed, but I think I'll let it do whatever it likes under taller plants and in the shadier areas. I took cuttings of my Glumicalyx goseloides, so hopefully I'll have more of that to plant in this bed. I might finally brave euphorbias again. I tried Euphorbia myrsinites in Stump St. Helens years ago. When it started to reseed I panicked and tore it all out. This was in my high school ecology club days, tearing out English ivy from the local state park. I've learned to be a little more tolerant of garden seedlings, as long as they are easy to remove or aren't too thuggish. Better a garden plant that I can potentially use somewhere else than a weed, right?


12 comments:

  1. Not intending to be a Debbie Downer but just a warning. The winter of 2013/14 did in both of my Hebe pimelioides 'Quicksilver'. They were UGLY dead sticks with just a few leaves clinging to one branch. Of course that didn't stop my from planting a couple more...

    Looks like you're having fun!

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    1. Thanks for the warning. That's unfortunate because I've read it's supposed to be quite hardy. Well, I guess I'll try it and enjoy it while it lasts.

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  2. I've found epimedium to be the answer to my winter blah-looking garden . Not quite a broad leaf evergreen but very manageable evergreen'ish and tough as nails.
    I also like the open and rugged look of the Rhododendron impeditum: I hope they enjoy their rocky new place.

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    1. I could try epimedium. I'm concerned that most of this bed would get too much hot sun, but most anything in the PNW can take more sun than the books say.

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  3. You've been very busy with all those changes but it's shaping up very nicely! The rhododendrons will provide more height and structure and hopefully do well. Glad to hear the Asarum caudatum was fine even after the thick top dressing.

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    1. I would have been so sad if my beautiful Asarum carpet had to start over from a tiny patch right at the base of the maple trunk. So glad it pushed through the new soil.

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  4. One doesn't need to be a fortuneteller to predict that there's a lot of work in your near future. I'm sure all the prep and planning you're doing will lead to positive results. And in the nursery/garden center wonderland that is the PNW, I'm sure your prospects of locating the plants on your wish list are good.

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    1. Yep, a lot of work. But I'm looking forward to seeing the resulting facelift this bed needs.

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  5. Looks like you're as busy tearing your garden apart and starting over as I am. I don't even have a new fence to blame, just an overactive thirst for new and different plants. I hope you do try another Euphorbia. I've heard that E. myrsinites can be a very aggressive spreader, way more so than others, so pulling it out may have been a smart move. You should try 'Fire Glow' or "Fire Charm,' I think they both have orange flowers. I have quite a lot of Asarum caudatum too, I've found it to be pretty much unkillable, and a great ground cover.

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    1. Yes! It's fun to redo a part of the garden isn't it? I was looking at euphorbias with dark leaves, like Blackbird. I like Fire Glow and Fire Charm, but if you search Google for Fire Glow, you'll get a post by Loree showing how much it can spread. I might be willing to try it in an unwatered area of the garden or in a pot with the bottom cut out, sunk into the soil. Asarum caudatum is one of my favorite natives. :)

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  6. Well, you sure have come roaring back. Good timing, with the fence coming, and all. It will be fun to watch your progress.

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  7. I'm in a much better place now, in every sense, and it shows in my return to blogging. I can't wait for the fence!

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