Abies balsamea 'Nana'

Abies balsamea 'Nana'

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Wednesday Vignette

Today I'm joining in on the Wednesday Vignette meme hosted by Flutter and Hum. I like the idea of being able to post a picture of just about anything, like Wordless Wednesday, but without the restriction of being "wordless."

My favorite stage of growth in Siberian irises is when the stalks are rising and twisting up, like some strange or ancient sea creature. I love the sinuous stems and subtle color gradations between green and purple. They look so nice against the fresh spring grass and the rocks of the dry creek bed (only visible here as a bit of grey in the background).

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Over-exited iris

 While digging things out of the driveway island, I spied a fallen flower stalk from the Siberian iris. My immediate reaction was to curse the deer under my breath and wonder when that fence is finally going up. But I decided to walk over for a closer look.

Looking closer, it appears this particular flower burst apart. I guess it was a little, um...premature...

Don't you just hate when that happens? Actually that looks downright terrifying.

Gardeners aren't the only ones excited for spring. The plants can hardly contain themselves. 

Speaking of the fence, I came home today to find white paint marking the line for the new fence. We're getting closer!

Monday, April 27, 2015

Groundbreaking on the greenhouse project

Today we officially started work on the greenhouse. Siting was a challenge because most of the property is walled in by towering Douglas firs. We opted for a location that optimized on morning sun but starts getting shade in summer around 2:00 pm (if I remember correctly). Even there, the sun takes a few hours in the morning to reach. The only place that gets sun pretty much all day is a small area near the road where the trees were removed, but since it wasn't practical to run power and water all the way out there, we opted for a compromise between light and convenience. Since it's right next to Stump St. Helens, I really will have to do something about its rather dilapidated state.

We laid out the 4x6 lumber for the foundation, marked off the area, and started digging. Although our property doesn't really have any slopes that would provide interesting topography for landscaping, none of it is truly flat, so there was much fiddling with strings and levels involved in getting the initial trenches dug.

Once we were on the level (I just can't resist a bad joke) we finished digging out the center. Now the project is on hold until we get crushed gravel to finish the foundation and floor. The pile of soil in the back will be used to build up that corner and raise everything up a bit. The alternative was to dig out more ground uphill so that the corner in the forefront wouldn't be completely buried. The option that requires less digging is usually best, in my opinion. Actually, I'm not sure that is my opinion, because I'm considering a gravel garden/dry stream bed between the greenhouse and Stump St. Helens for drainage and a few other reasons.

With the greenhouse project halted for the day, I set about digging out and moving some plants from the driveway island. Photos and details in a later post. I'm chomping at the bit for the fence to go up. I'm not exactly sure when that is happening, and my fingers are getting really itchy to start planting.

Friday, April 24, 2015

New Additions in the Garden

Ok, enough with houseplants (for now, anyway). It's spring and it's time to be doing things outside. But with so much to be done, I've been lazy about taking my camera along with me. I've been weeding, cleaning up debris, visiting nurseries, moving a few plants, and putting new ones in. And all without my camera. It's harder than I thought to get back into a blogging frame of mind after my hiatus. Mostly I've been practicing constructive staring (thanks to Alison for one of my new favorite terms), thinking of ways to revamp the driveway island bed and dreaming of what I'll be able to plant after the fence goes up. It will be so nice to not have to cage every tree I plant. They make the yard look ugly and get in the way when I'm trying to photograph said plants.

Well, nothing I can do about that until the new fence is up. Until then, I can still plant relatively deer-resistant plants like the ones below.

Helianthemum 'Henfield Brilliant', from Xera, is already blooming. Well, it was when I took this picture, at least. Right now the flowers are closed up because the weather is cloudy, rainy, hailing, and generally a bit unpleasant. Nice of the flowers to protect themselves when no one is going to be outside to see them anyway. I love the brilliant, orange-red flowers and the grey-green foliage.

I planted a trio (only two visible here) on the slope between the steps and ramp leading to the front door. This slope is planted mostly with various shades of heather that I moved from the driveway island, and definitely needs some different textures and colors to add some variety and color in other seasons. The soil is pretty tough clay, but it's a slope, so I'm hoping it will balance out, drainage wise. It also faces west and gets baking-hot in summer. The heathers, Berberis stenophylla 'Corallina Compacta', and Penstemon rupicola seem to be doing fine so far. I hope the helianthemums like it, too.

One of my ideas for the island is to add more silver and blue, now that I've decided to tear out most of the lime thyme. The thyme is wonderful and creates a lot of drama with the burgundy foliage in the bed, but miss just one or two trimmings and it gets leggy, flops, and leaves huge, ugly bare patches. It's such a good groundcover that it even smothers itself! Er...yeah...about that... So I'm trying other evergreen groundcovers and perennials. Carex comans was one of the original elements in the design, where it was supposed to grow in the gravel "streams", flowing down them like water. Well, those original plants rotted out after a couple years as the gravel shifted down to bury their crowns, and it looked more like a raging flood anyway, since the carex was too big for the narrow streams. But those original plants left numerous seedlings, practically a lawn in some areas of the bed. At first I cursed them and tried to get rid of all of them. It was a gut reaction to a potentially very weedy plant. Having spent many hours removing English ivy and Scotch broom from various places in high school, I have a healthy fear of invasive species. Then came grudging acceptance (laziness), allowing a few to stick around. They really only colonized the bare soil, of which there was far too much, and actually created a nice, soft filler effect in a silvery grey-green color that I appreciated. I came to like this reseeding grass.

Even if the individual plants could become tawny messes after a few years, there were always fresh new ones to replace them. And it's never shown itself outside of that bed. This year, I've decided to actively utilize this free source of silvery plants, taking seedlings and spreading them out in areas I want filled. One of those areas is photographed below. It looks pretty rough now, and you can hardly see the tiny seedlings scattered throughout the area, but they should grow quickly. I moved two Helleborus x sternii (right) from Stump St. Helens, and bought a Helleborus argutifolius (left) from Joy Creek to make a trio of courser silver foliage amongst the carex. I also transplanted seedlings of Penstemon serrulatus from Stump St. Helens and mixed a few of those in amongst the carex, too. The purple and blue flowers will contrast nicely with the light silver of the carex and hellebore and complement the color of the red laceleaf Japanese maple (hopefully). I don't know how this mix is really going to turn out. I'm sure the hellebores will get big enough not to be swamped by the carex, but I am a bit uncertain about the penstemon, though I know at least the flowers will be tall enough to rise above the carex and provide their color for most of the summer. But the carex and hellebore will add some much-needed evergreen foliage and height to this area now that I've torn out the lime thyme.

Leptospermum lanigerum 'Silver Form', from Xera, is my first tea tree! This replaces the Arctostaphylos malloryi from Cistus that unfortunately fried in the heatwave last summer, since it had just been planted when the heat kicked in. Spring is a safer time to plant on a south-facing wall. The foliage smells rather like citronella to me, not my favorite scent, but not entirely unpleasant. I do prefer the sweet-spicy scent of Leptospermum namadgiensis, though. That one is next on my list. Time to get more leptospermum!

I literally just added Kniphofia hirsuta to my wishlist, when what should I find at Joy Creek but that very plant! This is an evergreen kniphofia whose flowers are only 1' tall. I love kniphofia, but I wish their spiky leaves were evergreen. Well this one is! I'm also lusting after Kniphofia typhoides, not evergreen, but it does have chocolate-colored, coconut-scented flowers arising from blue-green leaves!

After seeing Lupinus albifrons in so many posts by Danger Garden, I decided to give it a try, too. Again, I'm feeding my silver plant craving. I've been warned by several fellow plant lovers that this one can be a challenge, but I'll never know if I don't try, right?

I was never that impressed with Parahebe perfoliata in pictures, but this is another plant I fell in love with after seeing it live and in bloom at the Danger Garden (such a wonderfully bad influence).

I'm loving the slightly glaucous foliage and eagerly awaiting the purplish-blue blooms.

Since Merwilla plumbea (formerly Scilla natalensis) survived winter, despite being from the summer rainfall region of South Africa, I decided to add the more tried and tested Scilla peruviana to my garden as well. Again, I'm going for more blues, or at least near-blues.

Last Thursday I spent an amazing day nursery hopping in Portland with a bunch of fantastic, plant-crazed people, including Riz Reyes, who passed out this Pacific Coast iris to everyone. It's my first Pacific Coast hybrid. The only Pacific Coast irises I've had until now was the native Iris tenax. I've been wanting to add some PCH irises for a couple years now. Thanks, Riz!

Low, evergreen, small-scale groundcovers are hard to find. I'm trying out Globularia cordifolia for this purpose. Oh, and would you look at that? More blue! I like the tidy foliage, too. Looks like it will make a nice clean groundcover.

I was actually really proud of myself on that nursery trip. I got way more plants than I told myself I would get (naturally), but I managed to only select things I knew where to place...except for two. The first of these was Acanthus syriacus, from Xera. I have plenty of places I could put this. The hitch is that once this plant is in the ground somewhere, it's basically going to be in that spot forever, even if you move it. Like any other acanthus, it resprouts from the roots, so care is required in deciding the planting location.

The second plant I'm not quite sure where to put is Sophora davidii. This plant has been on my wishlist for about 6 months, not nearly as long as some other plants, but it quickly reached high priority on my list. So when I spotted one of only two plants at Joy Creek, I immediately claimed it.

The fragrant white flowers arise from blue calyxes. I love blue and white, and I need more fragrance in my garden. Actually, I think this shrub would look very nice in the gravel garden I've been imagining on the far side of the dry creek bed from the back patio. This may be the next plant to go in. I'd love to prepare the whole area at once, but I haven't been able to convince my parents to spring for the quarter-ten gravel to amend the clay soil. They seem to think the fence, greenhouse, and other projects should probably be taken care of before we tackle another. They're probably right. I'll just have to add plants to that area one by one, then.

Preparation for the greenhouse will hopefully start this weekend, and I'm going to get to work on taking more pictures and tackling a few projects, which sadly includes removing some plants. I love Rhododendron impeditum, but for several years now most of the plants have been hit hard by frosts. I don't think they like the sudden cold snaps we've been having, preceded by mild temperatures. They loose most of their foliage, look hideous, bloom poorly, and are declining. Time to make way for something new. This kind of thing is another reason I need to do some serious work on the island bed. It's been a few years since it had the necessary tweaking to correct small problems, and they've added up.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

New 'Old Blue' (and company)

All plant fanatics understand the thrill of getting a box that says "Live Plants." I left behind a lot of plants in Wisconsin to make the move a bit easier. They were ones that had declined in the dark, dry winter to the point that I'd rather replace them or not bother with them altogether. Others just didn't interest me as they did when I got them. 

One plant in particular was one I really wanted to replace. My Begonia 'Old Blue' suffered from my failure to repot it (for many, many months after it should have been upgraded to a bigger home) and the dark and dry Milwaukee apartment I lived in reduced it to the point where it was easier to leave the old one behind and replace it when I got back to Washington. I just love the big leaves with their satin-like finish and subtle variations in color depending on the light and other conditions they grow in. It had gotten quite leggy though, so I cut it back hard rather than repotting it. In the aftermath, I never did really give it good conditions to recover from that. 

The old 'Old Blue', back in North Carolina where it reached its peak, color-wise. Those varying shades of silver, blue, green, and even subtle purple are why I absolutely had to get another.
So when I got settled back in Washington, I quickly put in an order to Steve's Leaves. 'Old Blue' is the result of their breeding program, along with several other fantastic foliage begonias. This has become one of my favorite mail-order sources for interesting indoor foliage plants. They are reasonably priced and the plants are very healthy and large for the pot size. And no, I was not compensated in any way to say that. I just think they do a good job.
Ample newspaper packing kept the plants snug and secure on their journey.

One thing I appreciate about Steve's Leaves is that they tape the label to the outside of the wrapped plants. Though I also appreciate the mystery of opening up each one without knowing what you'll see next. 
The new 'Old Blue'. I really do love these leaves. Pictures just don't do them justice. They only show a static image, rather than the constant play of light on the satin surface.

Begonias arrive a little rumpled and crumpled in the mail, but they adjust after a few days. The new 'Old Blue' is even better than the original, larger and with lots of growing points. This will make a nice full plant.

Of course the new 'Old Blue' couldn't travel alone. This Maranta 'Silver Band' replaces the one that succumbed to spider mites in North Carolina. I've been wanting another one for over a year now. Spider mites have never been a problem for me in the Northwest (knock on wood), just the other parts of the county I've lived in.

Just like with 'Old Blue', the new 'Silver Band' is more full than the first one I bought. This will make a beautiful plant.
Begonia 'Moonlit Snow' is the final traveling companion. With this I've completed my begonia trifecta from Steve's Leaves. They have many other fantastic plants, including new hybrids from their own breeding program, but 'Old Blue', 'Moonlit Snow', and 'Starry Nights' are the three that I first fell in love with when I found their website and that hasn't changed. For some reason, 'Moonlit Snow' didn't make it onto my first order, so I made sure to rectify that situation for this second order. I'm so glad I did.
'Moonlit Snow' came out of its wrappings especially rumpled and stuck out all to one side, like a bad case of bedhead, but like the other two it is big and healthy.

Named for its resemblance to a field of snow in the moonlight, this begonia will get the same charcoal color as 'Starry Night', below. I think that may be why I only got 'Starry Night' at first, but they really are totally different.

'Starry Night', from my original order from Steve's Leaves, has shorter, less pointed leaves than 'Moonlit Snow', and a large field of silver surrounded by small silver "stars", instead of the scattered "snow catching the moonlight" of 'Moonlit Snow'.

'Moonlit Snow' really impressed me as it unfurled from its travel-induced crumple and spread out more evenly. I think this one may have the most elegant form out of the three begonias, though there's something about the subtlety of the colors textures in 'Old Blue' that still makes it my favorite (which surprised me at first). 
 And finally, a brief teaser about these plants that arrived in a separate order from The Violet Barn. These plants are so small right now that I won't gush about them too much. I'll save that for later when they've grown up a bit. I will say that I'm particularly excited about the first plant on the left in each picture. Primulina 'Patina' in the first picture, has greenish-silver down the center of each leaf, with a coating of red hairs across the entire surface, making for a beautiful effect on mature plants. Nematanthus brasiliensis has leaves with purple undersides and spectacular yellow flowers variably streaked with maroon, backed by a jagged red calyx, and suspended on a long, dangling pedicel

Left to right: Primulina 'Patina', Primulina 'Betty', Streptocarpus 'Waterbug'

Left to right: Nematanthus brasiliensis, Nematanthus corticola, Columnea 'Janella'
Of course, I haven't just been feeding my houseplant addiction. I've been spending time out in the garden moving things around, cleaning things up, and adding new plants. I just haven't been very good about taking pictures. It's been an "action over action shots" kind of week, getting things done and not bothering to drag the camera along with me. Most of the results don't look very impressive yet, being largely comprised of very small plants in a very large landscape, but I will be sharing some of these developments with you.

Happy gardening!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Foliage Follow-up: April 2015

Pam at Digging hosts Foliage Follow-Up the day after Garden Bloggers Bloom Day. Really, flowers are nice, but foliage is what really carries the garden through the seasons.

Hosta 'The Shining'. I wonder if I'll get more into hostas once the fence is up?

Golden scales adorn the leaves of Rhododendron superbum, one of my vireyas.

Water droplets on Molinia caerulea 'Variegata'

The slightly silver leaves of Helleborus x sternii. I need more of these types of hellebore with attractive foliage and more sun tolerance.

I finally managed a decent picture of Callistemon pityoides 'Mt. Kosciusco Form'. I love the big golden buds!

Feathery new growth on Cedrus deodara.

I love Glumicalyx gosseloides. Aside from a few yellow stems on the bottom of the plant, it stayed beautifully green all winter. It reminds me of a sedum, but unlike those the scented foliage of Glumicalyx isn't bothered by deer. I can't wait for the drooping, orange, chocolate-scented flowers! I'm planning on taking lots of cuttings of this. I want more!

Acer metcalfii, from Far Reaches Farm, is one of the snake-barked maples. I didn't know that it also had this gorgeous, purple-black new growth! This first flush is much more intense than the later new growth.

Bright pinkish red new growth on Mahonia 'Indianola Silver'

The first leaves on the Davidia involucrata 'Variegata' are unfolding from the buds. 

With all the water captured on this leaf, it looks like some wonderful jewel.

Not only did both my little Woodwardia unigemmata survive the winter, but they are sending up these gorgeous new fronds! Can't wait for these plants to grow up!

Epimedium saggitatum foliage. Only a few flecks on this understated beauty.

Conversely, there's really nothing understated about the mottled riot of the new leaves on this Epimedium wushanense.

Pieris japonica 'Variegata' is gorgeous with pinkish red new growth.

My seed-grown tree peonies are resplendent in their red new growth.

A nice Metasequoia glyptostroboides 'Ogon' seedling. I need to remember to move it come summer so it doesn't get so washed out.
I'm fairly pleased with the combination of Daphne x transatlantica 'Blafra', Dentaria diphylla, and Ophiopogon japonicus 'Nana'. The large leaves of the dentaria are a nice seasonal contrast to the finer textures of the daphne and mondo grass, and the various shades of green make a simple background for the fragrant white flowers of the daphne. Definitely not slug-proof, though!

Thanks so much for taking the time to leave a comment! I love hearing what readers think and answering questions. I also welcome suggestions for improvement!