Plant Evaluations: West Side Story

Ok, bad title, but this edition does cover the beds along the west side of the house. Chalk it up to scarring from my high school band days. Like last time, I won't cover everything, but will touch on a few highlights and surprises.

 Lupinus sericatus took a little damage in the bed along the west side of the house, but mostly it looks ratty because of cutworm damage. This is a tough location, as it gets scorchingly hot in summer but doesn't get any sun until around noon. In winter, the sun doesn't hit until afternoon, thawing things out during a freeze just before it starts to get dark again and things refreeze. This summer, I raised the soil level and created a slope away from the house. Fluffing up the soil improved the drainage of water, and the slope helps cold air drain away from this bed. I think it has improved the winter conditions in this bed immensely, though the afternoon thaw will always be an issue.

Geranium henryanum turned a little green from the cold, but sustained relatively little damage. The foliage of Melianthus villosus looked like it might make it after thawing out, as seen below, but later on it drooped and wilted. The foliage has had it for this year, but the stem looks fine.

 Have I finally broken the rosemary curse? I've tried planting rosemary several times, usually in this bed along the west side of the house. Typically, I buy a plant and keep it restricted in a pot all summer, then plant it too late, at which point it takes off and has lots of tender growth to freeze off in winter. And almost every time, there has been either a mild fall with a sudden freeze, or just an especially cold winter overall, or a very wet fall or winter involving overflowing gutters, resulting in dead rosemary. This year, I planted three, one here along the west side of the house, one on the southwest corner, and a dwarf variety I kept in a container and moved to the greenhouse during the freeze. All three made it through the cold snap. The variety below, 'Foxtail' showed a little bit of frost damage as darkened needles near the center of the plant, but otherwise appears fine. I think it benefited greatly from improving the air and water drainage in this bed. The hot summer also helped greatly to harden off all that vigorous new growth.

I was really excited to plant Eryngium agavifolium this summer, but I'm a little disappointed now. I wanted the leaves to stay upright all winter, but instead, they've flopped, flattened, and turned a watery, dark green. It's not an attractive look, at least in my opinion. At the moment, I don't think this plant has much future in my garden. Towards the back of this bed, it may have stayed too frosty.

Also disappointing is this Veronica spicata subsp. incana. I know I've gushed over the foliage several times this summer and fall. It started producing numerous new shoots from the center of the plant in fall, which I was hoping would fill in the awkwardly-sprawling nursery plant I put in the ground. Unfortunately, the tender new growth didn't appreciate the freeze, and the blooms that were just starting to open were all killed. Its appearance has worsened since taking the photo below. This may not be the wonderful, blue-flowered, evergreen, silver-leaved ground cover I had hoped for. However, its timing may have been off this year from growing in a nursery. It can happen, so I'll give it another year in the ground to really get settled before I pronounce final judgement.

Hebe ochracea 'James Stirling' came through just fine, with the cold perhaps intensifying the "old gold' cast of the foliage.

Hebe pimeleoides 'Quicksilver' is fine, too. I was a little worried about this one, having heard from others that they had lost this plant. Perhaps it just wasn't cold enough.

 Below is one of the Erysimum from which I collected seed and grew the seedling shown in my Monday post. All three plants have grown into large, lush plants. Being released from extremely cramped conditions in a gallon pot and receiving extra water to establish them this summer probably made them more lush than they would otherwise be. I actually miss the smaller, grey foliage they had when I first purchased them, and hope the foliage returns to something more like that next summer with a reduced watering regime. A couple weeks after the freeze, you can't even see the damage that's visible below, and flower buds are starting to appear at the tips of the stems.

Usually, my kniphofias die back at some point in winter. Not yet, though. Despite 18 degrees F., they remained evergreen, though perhaps a bit floppier than they were before the freeze.

The foliage of Bommeria hispida took a hit from the freeze, and did not recover. Hopefully, new fronds will emerge in spring.

The two agaves I planted this summer, both supposedly hardy to zone 7 according to their labels, showed varying results. 'Royal Spine', shown below, turned soft and dark green from the freeze, and continued to degrade in the following two weeks. I recently removed it and planted a new Origanum dictamnus in its place. The label doth lie. Lesson learned, I quickly moved on.

Conversely, Agave leopoldii appears to be fine, taking no damage from the freeze. Frankly, I like this one better anyway.

Dianthus 'Frosty Fire' had nothing to fear from the frost, but cutworms and slugs have decimated the foliage. I'll have to decide whether to keep this one or not. Will the cutworm population return to the normal, minimal problem it used to be next year, or will it remain a serious issue? Is it worth keeping up with regular pesticide applications, organic or otherwise, to protect this plant from voracious pests? I'm really not sure.

Unfazed by cold, Berberis stenophylla 'Corallina Compacta' even produced a few sprigs of new growth once the temperature rose. What a weird, wonderful plant. I want many more of these, but I don't remember seeing any this year. I may have to try some cuttings, though many barberries give poor results from cuttings.

Unlike the Bommeria shown earlier, these Cheilanthes remained evergreen. So guess which fern I'll be adding more of in spring?

Origanum dictamnus, unlike 'Kent Beauty' kept its foliage even through the freeze, though some of it has obviously been killed. Even dead though, the thick, slightly woolly foliage is attractive. I purchased two more of these at Garden Fever and have since added them to the garden.

Ballota pseudodictamnus has been gradually dropping foliage since the freeze, looking more and more ragged. I'm sure the record rainfall hasn't helped, as this plant requires excellent drainage.

Salvia chamaedryoides came through the freeze perfectly, and still looks good after all this rain, despite growing in somewhat clay-ish soil. I'm a sucker for blue flowers and grey foliage, so I'm really hoping this plant will survive in the conditions I can provide. It prefers drier winters and sandier soils, so we shall see.

 Salvia jamensis 'Sierra San Antonia dropped most of its foliage after this photo was taken, but still has tiny green leaves along the stems. Still, it doesn't look as full as the salvia in the previous photo. I like more leaves. It's not nearly bad enough to earn an automatic trip to the compost, though. I'll keep it and see how it does. I'm sure a heavy pruning in the spring will improve things, as it came from the nursery with an awfully gangly shape. But I have to wait until early spring, as cutting shrubby salvias back in fall or early winter can result in their death, or at least set them back quite a bit.

And that's it for this edition of plant evaluations. Next time, I'll show a couple more sections of the garden


  1. I'm so glad to see your Lupinus sericatus doing well, I'll try it again. Remind me where you got it? All of my Eryngium Agavifolium look like that every winter, in the spring I cut (pull) off all the old foliage when the new starts to appear. Oh and it took 12F for my Hebe 'Quicksilver' to bite the dust, hopefully we won't see that again for awhile. I love these reports!

    1. I ordered the lupine from Annie's. Ah, too bad that Eryngium doesn't hold up better in winter. It's a nice plant, but this means it doesn't really work for how I wanted to use it.

  2. It's too bad that we often have to learn the truth of plant labels the hard way. For my part, I've found that "drought tolerant" has a wide range of interpretations. I love that Hebe 'Quicksilver' and will have to hunt it down.

    1. Yes, what is drought tolerant in one region may not be in another. Even within the same region, soil types and microclimates have huge impacts. I always love seeing Hebe 'Quicksilver', but this is my first time growing it myself. I hope you find it in your area!

  3. I'm glad you finally found success with a Rosemary. I've lost several until I got lucky with a donated start from a friend. Two enthusiastic thumbs up for Hebe James Sterling. I have 3 in varying sizes; the bronze hue in winter is dazzling! I yanked out my Hebe quicksilver as it got leggy and bare in the center. I wish I had instead pruned it hard to encourage new growth... Maybe I'll try it again.

    1. I'm so glad I'm not the only one who's had trouble with rosemary! Not that I'm happy you had trouble, but you know what I mean. It's supposed to be such an easy plant, but I just don't have a good record with it. Thanks for the advice regarding 'Quicksilver'. I'll have to remember to keep it trimmed along with the lavenders and heathers.


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