Wide shots and doodling

I've been sick with a bad cold for 6 days now, and it's driving me nuts. Work and any serious gardening have been put on hiatus, as I have trouble staying on my feet for a couple hours, much less eight. And don't even think about bending down to weed or dig or plant. The sinus rush just isn't worth it. At least I'm breathing more normally, now.

So what's a sick gardener to do?  Well, ok, a lot of things. But for the sake of this post, let's say take a few wide shots of the garden and plan some new beds. It's much easier to take a few steps around the house to take wide shots than it is to walk all over to take a bunch of close-ups.

I'll start with a view from the back patio. Black lines denote the borders of beds I'd like to make, filled in with brown lines, just to clarify which side of the line the bed will be on. There's a someone steep mound right off the patio that is a bit annoying to mow (not that I'm the one doing the mowing). I'd love to get rid of it and expand the existing bed off the patio, with a path somewhere through it for access. I doubt it's going to happen, as I don't think my clients (aka my parents) agree with this idea. The dry creek bed is wonderful, but it's difficult to push a wheel-barrow across it, particularly a full one, so a bridge has been sketched in. On the far side of the creek bed, I want to turn the entire area to the left of the black line into garden space. I think I'm gaining some headway in making this happen, but I have other projects higher up on my list. It's tough, because it gets no morning sun and full afternoon sun. The soil is hard, and the Doug firs suck up most of the water here. While much of the lawn grows thickly enough, even though it does turn brown in summer, here it barely grows at all, becoming patchier towards the narrow end at the left until it becomes almost bare ground. Breaking up the soil and amending it with a lean mix would make it suitable for tough western natives and a few other plants that can take less than 8 hours of direct sun and bone dry soil in summer. The rhododendron to the left of the hummingbird feeder was placed there optimistically, but after a few years it's time to admit the conditions are too harsh even for that especially tough rhody.

Shifting the view to the right, or southwards, you can see the large open area to the southeast of the house. Cotinus 'Grace', the blazing fire near the center of this photo, has really colored up in the last week. Here you can see the narrow strip along the dry creek bed that I want to plant. The red circle marks a steep mound of soil created when the yard was regraded and the creek bed was put in. It has several rhododendrons on it that I'm working up the motivation to move. They do surprisingly well there, but it's still too hot and dry for them. Since that mound probably has the best drainage on the whole property, I want to plant a madrone on it, with other western natives that need exceptional drainage. The rest of this big, open space will be planted in park fashion, with trees and large shrubs. I've been working on a small list of trees, including Catalpa bignonioides 'Aurea' and Aesculus pavia which I have already, some smaller oaks in the back area to the left, Robinia pseudoacacia 'Purple Robe' and 'Frisia', Albizia julibrissin 'Summer Chocolate', Pistacia chinensis, Cercis occidentalis, Aesculus californicaEucalyptus perinniana, and perhaps another Eucalyptus pauciflora ssp. niphophila, or debeuzevillei. Most of the space is very dry in summer, but there is enough variation that spots can be found to accommodate the species that prefer a bit more moisture. I'm open to suggestions for your favorite drought-tolerant trees, hardy to at least zone 7b, and tolerating some compacted clay soil. I'm looking for trees that have attractive foliage (or good fall color), flowers, and/or bark. Trees that attract birds are welcome, too, especially if those birds are cedar waxwings. I'll also listen to any warnings about the trees I listed above. For instance, I know black locusts have a lot of drawbacks, and I'm weighing those against my attraction to them.

Turning around to the north, there's a path going from the patio to the area of driveway between the house and garage. I've been planting a few things this summer to the right of the steps, which is mostly blocked by the big container currently holding basil, sage, and a couple peppers. I'd like to continue the bed on the mound off the patio along this path, petering out toward the end. However, it's not a high priorty for me. A bed between the path and the back deck does hold a few plants, but it needs some serious reworking, being hotter and sunnier than I had initially thought. A downspout off the corner of the house floods the lower half of this bed in winter, making this a difficult bed to choose plants for.

Now let's go back through the house to the front door, on the west side. Here you can see the huge circular driveway, the bed in the middle I call the driveway island, the pump house, a rhody border in the background (one of the oldest areas of the garden) and the star magnolia. The driveway island is still slated to be reworked this fall. The past weekend would have been the perfect time to get started, if I hadn't come down with this cold. Grrrr.

Walking away from the house a bit and turning around, you can see the beds along the western side of the house. The big evergreen azalea on the end handled the hot summer with aplomb, but since it shows no signs of slowing down (especially now that the deer aren't trimming it back) it will have to move elsewhere.

The new(ish) steps and ramp at the front entrance created a sloped, raised bed, very steep at the north (left) end and becoming less so towards the south. Initially, it was planted with excess heaths and heathers from the driveway island, a couple Berberis x stenophylla 'Corallina Compacta', and a Mugo pine. The soil is actually grittier than I initially thought, though there are areas of predominantly clay. Still, the slope, western exposure with reflected heat from the driveway, and areas of gritty soil, make this a good bed to experiment with a few things. This year, I added two agaves, two Hesperaloe parvifolia, Geranium harveyi, Origanum dictamnus, and a few xeric ferns in the shade of larger plants.

Moving to the left, north of the steps, is the bed that directly abuts the house. This summer, I fluffed up the compacted soil with compost, raising the soil level by about 10 inches and adding a slope for better drainage, exposure, and viewing. I did it in sections, with the section shown below being the first. Remodeling a couple years ago bumped out the wall, which was oddly set back from the rest of the house by more than a foot, and bumped it out even further by putting in a bay window. The bed here has lost about 3 feet in depth, but the space under the former overhang was practically unusable anyway. I'm sticking primarily to silver/grey/blue, orange, and burgundy, with most of the color provided by foliage. I've really been loving the combo of Carex testacea and Artemisia schmidtiana.

The second section hasn't filled in as much, and it's also a little more random. I continued the Carex testacea, but there are several different silvers. I plan to add more of the same plants to both sections to make them more cohesive.

This view shows the area past the garage, where the new greenhouse sits (sort of) between Stump St. Helens and an area that is (again, sort of) the "eastern woods". The eastern woods is so named for some of the plants in it. Two persimmons (possibly seedlings of 'Meader' a selection of American persimmon), two Calycanthus floridus, a pine (which probably isn't an eastern NA species but I'm considering it representative), and Leucothoe fontanesiana 'Rainbow' (a cultivar of an eastern NA species), and two (formerly three) Kalmia latifolia. The soil has a good layer of duff from a large pile of branches that was burned (without turning all the needles and detritus to ash) and I thought it stayed more moist in summer than other areas. Perhaps it does, and this summer was just too brutal, even with the sun leaving that bed by 2:00 pm. The kalmias, especially, look terrible. The masses of mostly-dead heather that I moved to this bed just before the first heat wave (when they were still green) don't help its appearance, so we'll just view it from here. Stump St. Helens is also slated for some edits. I've already removed the invasive Cotoneaster that I was growing misguidedly. Even if it wasn't invasive, it would have grown too large for the bed, anyway. The black mondo grass needs more moisture than this bed has, so it will need to move. So does the Daboecia cantabrica and Leptinella squallida 'Platt's Black'. I'm also thinking of relocating a couple rhododendrons and a variegated pieris from this bed. This bed has turned out to be great for native penstemons, though, so I think I'll add more of those.

Moving along, this rhododendron border was one of the first plantings we created when we moved to this house. It helps to block some of the property of the neighboring junk collector. I'd love to expand this bed to the proportions you see drawn out in the photo below. However, it's not really a priority at the moment. There are some large exposed roots toward the left end that make mowing difficult. That may be the only area I claim for garden space from this.

Moving to the left from the previous photo, there's a dry, shady area between the fence and the driveway. I planted a seed-grown Styrax japonica here, with a few hellebores and Salvia forskaohlei around it. The area is really too dry for all but the salvia. I plan to plant this area sparsely with a few native shade-lovers and basically leave it alone.

Turning back around, here's a view that I've presented before, or at least a similar one. This is my (relatively) moist area, which gets morning sun  with open shade afterwards and, closer to the driveway, mostly sun.  In general, I want this to be my mesic Chilean/Asiatic area. The large bed in the distance marks the end of the moist zone. The closest bed was, until very recently, the spot were we tend to have soil and compost dumped. I reduced the latest pile to nothing in the last few weeks making other beds, and decided to start planting this ready-made sodless patch, rather than let the lawn reclaim it.

This entire corner is a low spot that gets very wet in winter. I'd like to expand the bed to the area you see drawn out below, taking advantage of the moist conditions and mostly full sun in summer to grow some different plants, yet to be determined. For now, though, I'll just focus on filling in the space I have before the creeping buttercup does.

Moving along, I'd like to connect two trees and extend a bed out, in the process creating the beginnings of a network of paths between the beds. So far this area has proven excellent for magnolias, clethra, and maples. Of my three Embothrium coccineum seedlings, the one in this area is by far the happiest. I didn't draw it in, but I'd also like to make a bog garden at this end of the dry creek bed.

I don't like the shape as it appears in this photo, but I'm playing with the idea of a bed between these two new beds. Mostly I'm just looking for a place to put in a couple Eucryphia. And you can also see again the strip I want to remove along the creek bed. At this end, it will be planted with Carex comans, Daboecia cantabrica (from Stump St. Helens), and Siberian and variegated Japanese iris. Possibly other things as well, but that's what I have right now that I could plant there. This particular section along the creek bed is slightly moist even in summer, but the creek bed helps with drainage in the winter. The bed in the foreground needs more plants, too, primarily evergreens. The large plant in the middle is the Siberian iris I mentioned, which is due for dividing.

Continuing along the end of the house, the strip along the creek bed becomes progressively dryer and more sunny as we move east (left). Somewhere along this section will see a transition to more drought tolerant plants like Rudbeckia fulgida 'Goldsturm', which is currently growing in a large patch in the driveway island and needs to be spread out in a new location. I'll probably continue the Carex comans and start adding in Carex testacea and other evergreens. You can also see a bed sketched out beyond that, where a Sciadopitys verticillata grows. I have several plants to put in this bed now. I'm just waiting for more compost to do it. An area outside the stones of the bed to the left also should be converted to garden space. The roots from the stump on the corner makes mowing difficult, not to mention the rocks to the left of it and the new faucet in front of those rocks.

A couple weeks ago, I had plants set out to decide where to put them. This grouping is what I'm thinking of for the bed around the umbrella pine in the photo above. A Cornus alternifolia 'Golden Shadows' plays center stage, with a deciduous azalea to the left, a Magnolia maudiae in front and back, and three different clumping bamboos scattered around the bed. I had originally planned on putting the dogwood closer to the driveway, possibly in the bed where the soil pile was, but I thought the variegation was too much with the variegated dove tree in the background. On the other hand, I quite liked it here, especially when viewed from the driveway, echoing the dove tree instead of competing with it. This area gets full sun until 2 or 3 in the afternoon, and stays slightly moist in summer, making it a good spot for these plants. And none of them should get so large as to shade out the nearby bed with the Acer griseum, which I plan on keeping mostly full sun. The dogwood has started developing some beautiful dark red coloring that bleeds from the formerly green areas of the leaf to the white areas.

And just for kicks, here's a view of the south end of the house, with Cotinus 'Grace' visible again in the background.

And there you have it. I got some planning done, and recorded it so I refer back to it in the future, and you got a tour of my big garden full of empty space.


  1. To have all that space, so cool! The garden's shaping up nicely and loving the curves. Hope you feel better soon!

    1. That's country living for you! The flip-side is that it's about 20 miles to the nearest large town, and even that isn't much of a destination. Thanks. I'm on the mend, just taking it easy.

  2. So. Much. Space. Wow! Sounds like you have a good idea of what you want to do, but I wonder: why no running bamboos? You have space for such a nice grove!

    Comment on trees mentioned: Albizia julibrissin -- I can't believe people plant this by choice. A zillion seeds a year, and stay viable seemingly forever. Also, they are susceptible to mimosa wilt -- at least in the eastern part of the country -- and it will kill a tree fast. Maybe these behave better out there?

    1. Actually, I'm acquiring some Phyllostachys nigra and Sasa veitchii 'Nana' from a friend. I've been reluctant to use running bamboos because I don't want them taking over (even after the garden falls under someone else's care) and I'm too cheap and lazy to install a barrier. But in my climate, with my soil, it would probably not spread very vigorously beyond a well-amended and irrigated bed.

      I've seen Albizia in North Carolina and agree that it is a very poor choice for the eastern U.S. It's much better behaved in the PNW and grows beautifully. It doesn't reseed, except perhaps in an irrigated garden, and doesn't seem to suffer from mimosa wilt here. Thanks for the feedback, though.

  3. As those that arrived before me have said, you certainly have a lot of space to play in! Unfortunately, my favorite drought-tolerant trees, Arbutus 'Marina' and Agonis flexuosa, probably won't work in zone 7b. Re Albizia julibrissin (aka the bane of my garden), it self-seeds relentlessly here, even on the back slope which gets nothing but our trivial rain and possibly run-off from the upper level. It also litters continuously and only looks good for 2-3 months out of the year. If it didn't have such a prominent spot in my garden and involve almost insurmountable effort to remove, it would be gone.

    1. I'm actually zone 8a, but I like at least half a zone of security for most things. I think Marina is reliable in Portland, but go up a few hundred feet and it can get damaged. No chance on the Agonis. How I wish it were otherwise. I love them. Good to know about the Albizia in your area. The ones I've been watching this year have looked great all summer. I think we're in the magic zone for them. According to the latest blog post from Xera Plants, 'Summer Chocolate' doesn't grow well around Puget Sound from lack of heat, and the species grows well but rarely gets enough heat to set seed in the Portland area.

  4. I don't envy you your cold and am glad to hear that you are on the mend. Your huge space awaiting plans and plants has me a little green, though. Big fan of serpentine paths and curved beds and like what you're planning!

    1. When you start getting too green, just consider the time, effort, money, and materials that will be involved.

  5. Sigh...so much space...I'm trying my best to not be jealous...and not succeeding ;-) I am tree-stupid, so really don't have any suggestions...but maybe Parrotia...pretty darn tough and really beautiful. Also...not really drought-tolerant...but I think you can hardly beat Katsura...especially if you plant a grouping...beautiful...and that scent in fall is delicious :-)

    1. I do love Parrotia. Hard to beat for fall color, but I've found mixed messages regarding it's drought tolerance. Maybe in an area that doesn't get totally bone dry. I absolutely love the scent of Katsura in the fall. It may very well be one of my favorite things. I do have an area that might just stay moist enough for one of the smaller cultivars. You've definitely got me considering the possibility.

  6. It is really nice to see all the wide shots of your garden, or should I call it "The Park"?
    I envy the fun you have planing the garden, not so much the huge challenge and work involved.
    I don't recognize the trees on your list (botanical names... how do you do it?). I do know its important to maintain a good balance between evergreens and deciduous; plant multiples of the same in small groups (you sure have the space for it), and go with what works for your climate rather then the exotics.
    When will the work commence? Get well soon.

    1. This yard soaks up resources like a sponge. If only I were rich, it would be easy to turn it into a garden. I've been learning botanical names since I was very young. It's second nature to me by now. I do plan on including evergreens in the mix, but as we're surrounded by Douglas firs on every other side, my parents want primarily deciduous trees in this area to let the winter sun into the house. I can do multiples of smaller trees, like Aesculus californica and Cercis occidentalis, but when you start considering the larger trees, the space fills up quickly. I have no schedule for these plans. Some of them will hopefully come about this fall. Others may never happen.


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