The Gardens at McMenamins St. Johns Pub & Theater

I've been driving by the St. Johns Pub every day for a couple months now, on the way to and from work. Every time I do, my eye wants to wander from the road to explore the plants around the building. So, a couple weeks ago, I finally went exploring.

 Right as you step out of the car, there are plants to admire. These Choisya 'Aztec Pearl' (?) were still blooming sporadically at the beginning of December.

The cooler weather gives the fragrant white blooms a pink blush. I had a Choisya 'Sundance' once, but was slow in planting it. The poor, root-bound thing spent one too many winters in a gallon pot. I really need to try the genus again, this time actually in the ground.

This is what happens when you wait a couple weeks to write a post. I'm less certain of the identity of the beautiful grey foliage below than when I took the photo. The leaves don't look pointed enough to be Salvia apiana. A Phlomis, maybe? Whatever it is, I love it. One can never have too much furry grey foliage.

The Arbutus unedo 'Compacta' fruit had mostly dropped from the branches above to form a colorful carpet on the ground.

In the hellstrip outside the main entrance, I'd been admiring this cotoneaster since I started driving this way. The berries started out bright orange, but had deepened to a reddish orange by the time I took these photos.

Cotoneaster glaucophyllus hort. has a form similar to the herringbone pattern of other, better known cotoneasters such as Cotoneaster microphyllus or C. horizontalis, but with the added draw of beautiful grey foliage. The color does darken in the rain, giving the effect below of dark green with frosted edges.

It seems like a versatile plant, pairing well with everything from fine textured grasses like Nassella tenuissima to the bold foliage of Chamaerops humilis. Drought-tolerant once established, it could be used as a tall ground cover under taller shrubs like Arctostaphylos. But it also accepts summer water, meaning you can grow it with thirstier plants, too. If you're looking for this plant, be warned there is some confusion surrounding it. The species C. glaucophyllus is a much larger shrub to 10-12' tall with inch-long green leaves with grey reverses. What we typically have available in the horticulture industry is the 2-4' shrub with 1/4" grey leaves you see here, a completely different plant, thus the "hort." appending the name.

An Arctostaphylos trained to lacy effect partially obscures a small shed and shows off its beautiful bark against the light paint color.

I love the shaggy bark and ferny leaves of Catalina ironwood (Lyonothamnus floribundus ssp. asplenifolius), as well as just the overall habit of this small tree. Every time I see it, I love it more. I just wish it was a tiny bit hardier. It seems fine in Portland, and would probably even be OK most years in my slightly cooler garden. However, I prefer to plant things that are hardy at least half a zone lower, especially when it comes to long-term investments like trees. For me, that means USDA zone 7b, and Catalina ironwood is only hardy to zone 8b, maybe 8a.

Climate change will have to progress a little further before I feel comfortable planting something like Catalina ironwood in my parents' garden, and by that time I sincerely hope I've got my own garden a bit further south. Until then, I'll have to settle for enjoying this tree around Portland. Sorry about the blurry leaves below. It was a bit breezy that day.

A fine textured backdrop of Leptospermum frames a cluster of Clerodendrum trichotomum fruit.

I confess, I enjoy seeing yuccas, but I'm not very good at identifying them beyond the ubiquitous Yucca filamentosa. I want to say this is some variegated cultivar of Yucca gloriosa. Whatever it is, it's beautiful, and the white flowers and pink buds are most welcome at the beginning of December.

Opuntia, Hesperaloe, and Zauschneria make a wonderful combination. Just because I don't want glochids in my current garden, doesn't mean I don't appreciate opuntia in other gardens.

As long as I don't have to clean up or weed around them, they make a wonderful accompaniment to things like hesperaloe.

Something I am very fond of, and finally added to my garden earlier this year, is Erica arborea. This appears to be one of the green cultivars, as opposed to the chartreuse 'Estrella Gold' cultivar I planted in my garden. I love how the buds add highlights to the foliage. It's almost like subtle little Christmas decorations.

The branches take on the form of chaotic spires all over the shrub. In spring, those pink-tinged buds will open into masses of small, honey-scented flowers that will be absolutely covered in bees.

 This straggly shrub doesn't look like much, but I found it fascinating. It's some type of shrubby lupine, perhaps Lupinus arboreus?

Agave-philes should avert their eyes. Someone must have taken affront at this agaves pointed look. Why would anyone disfigure a plant like this?

The others formed beautiful, perfect rosettes. I'm trying to keep my parents' garden more "user-friendly" but someday I would love a few Agave ovatifolia in my garden.

This vignette is one of my favorites in the garden around the pub. It even has me reconsidering lambs-ears. I once had the full-size version, but grew tired of cleaning up the mushy dead foliage that formed in our heavy winter rains, and reining in the overly enthusiastic growth that threatened to smother neighboring plants. Perhaps the dwarf variety in the photo below is worth trying. It forms a lovely carpet that isn't about to swallow anything, and the smaller foliage probably holds up better in PNW winters.

I just added two Seseli gummiferum to my own garden, so I was excited to see mature plants here to see what they turn into. They weren't all as attractive as the perfect specimen below, but they all were going into a relatively good-looking semi-dormancy.

I love love love the textures in this vignette. Muehlenbeckia axillaris rambles through a narrow-leaved rhododendron and a yew. As vigorous as wire vine can be, I wonder how old this planting is and how often the vine has to be thinned out so that it doesn't smother the two shrubs.

Heading into the outside dining area next to the theater, I found one pristine white galanthus bloom.

I am finally coming around to the charms of evergreen oaks. One of the many hazards of working at Cistus Nursery. I'm still just starting to learn the many different species, but I think this may be Quercus arizonica. Or perhaps Q. grisea or Q. rugosa? Or something else entirely. As I said, I'm just starting to learn them.

Choisya ternata 'Sundance' is the one I killed years ago by keeping it in a pot for too long with too cold a winter. Now that I think about it, I remember something eating the bark from the base of the stem, too, girdling the plant. Poor thing never had a chance. I love the more mellow light green this cultivar develops in shadier conditions, as seen below at the St. Johns pub. I find this subtler color more appealing than the brazen yellow produced in full sun.

Callistemon seed pods. Is there anything better? I'm working on adding more of these to my garden.

I began this post with a lantern, so I'll end it with another. I enjoyed this scene with the orange lantern, blue Cunninghamia lanceolata 'Glauca', and the wonderfully-shaped metal torch.

It was early in the morning, so I couldn't have gone inside even if I wanted to. And I didn't particularly want to. McMenamins are great restaurants, but I was really just there for the plants. I rarely eat out because I'm so cheap. I have to save what little money I have for important things, like plants. I'm amazed at how much can be crammed into small gardens like this. Planting things so closely can have advantages, like forcing plants to grow naturally into more interesting shapes, as they lean out for sunlight. It's one way to give your garden more personality, even if you have to start out with perfectly uniform plants from the nursery. I'm starting to consider this tactic for my own garden, because I hate perfectly straight, rounded trees and shrubs. I want oddballs with personality, plus I can justify fitting even more into a large garden.


  1. Thanks for the expanded tour. Like you I strain to see things as I drive by, although I have stopped a couple of times for a closer look. Do you really think a person destroyed the center tips on that A. ovatifolia? It looks so, savage.

    1. I just can't think of any other animal silly enough to bother. But maybe it was a drunk raccoon?

  2. There are so many wonderful textural combinations in this garden. That's something I need to pay more attention to in my own garden. I love that 'Sundance' Choisya but suppose I shouldn't push my luck with a water-hungry plant at this stage.

    1. Texture is often overlooked. I know I'm guilty of it, too. I wonder if the Choisya arizonica cultivars or arizonica x ternata hybrids would be better for you. They're more drought-tolerant, though they have finer foliage. If gold foliage is what you're after, there's Choisya arizonica 'Goldstone' or Choisya 'Goldfingers', which is a hybrid between arizonica and ternata.

  3. Is it usual for these somewhat more tender species of Yucca to flower around this time of year? I saw a whole bed of ones that looked almost exactly like the one you photographed flowering beautifully in DC two days ago and was really confused as to why they were all sending up inflorescences right now.

    1. I'm really not sure. I thought it was perhaps a heat requirement, as in they don't get enough heat until the end of summer to start forming inflorescences. It makes sense for the PNW, but if you saw the same thing in DC, perhaps this is just the time of year they bloom. It could make sense in terms of cooler weather allowing flowers to last longer, or pollinators that summer further north and spend winter further south where these yuccas are native.

  4. From the first photograph, a vignette of lantern, sign and maple, I new this would be a worth while visit. One wonders if the plant combinations are well thought through or just a lucky guess. The silvery sage may be berggarten, it looks similar to what I have in my garden. And you are right, there is nothing better then Callistemon seed pods: they remind me of my childhood in a much warmer climate then the PNW. You are lucky to be able to consider them for your garden.

  5. The Kennedy School gets all the press, but all of the McMenamins' gardens are worth closer investigation. This was a fun tour. And thanks for clearing up that bit about what it means when .hort is tacked on to a plant name.


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