Summer Garden Tours: The Gardens at Stillmeadows

Winter has yet to "officially" arrive, according to the calendar, but the weather says otherwise. Our first snow arrived last week, about 4-5 inches in my garden. Luckily, my area escaped the freezing rain that wreaked havoc in Portland. It did, however, get down to about 22F one morning before the snow fell, and I was concerned for some of my plants, like the tiny, 6" tall olives and Grevillea victoriae I had planted this fall. Amazingly, they look fine, with only one olive showing possible damage to some of the new growth that had emerged after planting. Below are a few scenes from my garden after the snow had begun to melt.
The unusually mild fall allowed one random, late stem of blooms on this 'Goldsturm' rudbeckia. The sudden cold and snowfall resulted in a black-eyed Susan with snowy cataracts. Surprisingly, after the thaw, the flowers are mostly undamaged.

Probably my biggest surprise was the Abutilon megapotamicum. The flowers weren't even damaged by the cold or snow! 

The dried, cone-like seed heads of Prunella vulgaris obviously weren't damaged by the cold or snow. They just look really pretty in it!
 Winter isn't over yet, though. In fact, it hasn't even started. More cold is on the way this week, and this time I think I might actually protect some of the very small starts I planted, just in case. Other than that, nothing very exciting is happening in my garden at the moment. With all the new areas full of tiny new plants, it looks quite bare, even more so, in some ways, than when those areas were all grass. Hopefully all those new plants are developing nice, healthy root systems so they can grow like weeds come spring. Until then, there's not a lot to report on the home front, so this is a good time to start revisiting my summer garden tours.

Back in the first week of August, I went to a few gardens on the Castle Rock Bloomin' Tour. I think this event has only been going for 2 or 3 years now. It's a nice opportunity to discover gardens in this somewhat rural area, where you might not be otherwise come across them. I certainly had no idea that something on the scale of this first garden existed in this area.

Multiple water features bring sound and movement to the garden. I think this one may have been newer. The plants are still filling in.
The Gardens at Stillmeadows was the first garden we visited as part of the tour. For more information on the gardens, which include a gift shop and spa retreat, visit their website.

The gardener's description from their website:

"In 1992, I stood on Stillmeadows lane looking at a twenty-six acre parcel that was nothing more than a clear cut, a messy one at that. but the deciding factor to purchase the land was a huge full spectrum rainbow perfectly framing the land.  This was a sign.  This land was to be our home.
The actual gardens began with some left-over plants from my first landscape project and as far as a plan for the garden, I  didn’t have one.   Each year I’d get another idea and they just kept coming.  Granted this is the hardest way to build a garden because you need to keep going backwards in order to harmonize the old sections with the new.  And if I had to do it again, I would make a  plan.
Twenty plus years later the garden is more than I could have imagined.  Still, I encourage all my clients that a good plan is a wise beginning.
Each season reveals a different garden.  May-June and September are my favorite times of year in the garden.
Some of the plants you’ll find of interest are the Cryptomeria Japonica, ornamental grasses, many varieties of Echinacea, and several rare evergreens.
The Gardens at Stillmeadows.  Always growing."

After getting out of the car at the bottom of a long driveway (I think spa visitors can park closer) I noticed the "Whimsical Forest Trail" sign, complete with a creepy doll reminiscent of the girl from The Ring. Why not?

I didn't take many pictures of the...whimsy...of the trail, and I'll spare you most of the photos I took. Let's just say it missed the mark for me. Maybe "whimsy" just isn't my thing. Although it may not be the owners' fault. These flower floozies look like they party regularly, and probably trash the whole trail while they're at it.

This tree has seen things. Things it can never un-see.

Moving on to the garden proper, not without some trepidation after that trail, we were greeted with bountiful color. The gardens here are not full of horticultural rarities. Rather, they do a good job of showing the possibilities of plants that can be found easily. You know, those plants that us snobby plant geeks have a tendency to forget or even look down on for the sin of being common, overused, or misused in municipal plantings. This garden made me see more than one common plant in a new light, and that's the mark of a good garden.

Echinaceas abound here. I enjoyed this combination of pink and chartreuse.

I know I've seen them in landscapes before, but for some reason I actually paid attention to them that day and developed a new appreciation for them. I also saw how well the red and orange hybrids were performing in this garden and wanted to give them another chance in my own garden. I had tried 'Tomato Soup' years ago and lost it the first winter after planting. I'd read the hybrids didn't handle wet winters well, and chalked my failure up to that, even though I had planted it in a raised bed. They seem to flourish in this garden, so I couldn't resist trying them again in my own. A yellow Coreopsis and white-flowered heath (Calluna vulgaris) make a nice backdrop.

This garden is also the first one where I've paid attention to Euphorbia cyparissias 'Fens Ruby'. I had ground covers on the brain during this period, as I was planning for my fall garden expansions, so I was on the lookout for anything I might be able to use in my own plans. What may be viewed as aggressive by some gardeners becomes a welcome ally for others, particularly in large gardens where fast fillers can be worth their weight in gold.

This garden features heath (Calluna vulgaris) and heathers quite extensively, something I'd been struggling with in my own garden. Seeing them put to good use in this garden made me feel better about using so many in my own. They really are great plants, well-adapted to the PNW, and can provide a range of colors and bloom times throughout the year. I really need more white-flowered ones like those in the photo below.

This pergola-covered sitting area was so inviting.

I love this combination of blue and white, with a bit of rich green to ground it.

As I said, the grounds include a spa retreat, complete with sauna. I was more interested in the combination of silvery artemisia, yellow rudbeckia, and chartreuse sedum foliage.

I so wanted to walk past this gate to see what was down the path, but decided to be a good garden guest.

One of my favorite areas of this garden was this stream, under a canopy of white-trunked birches. The white flowers and chartreuse foliage of the plants below kept the understory bright and serene, evoking a lush woodland stream. I'm also using this photo as my Wednesday Vignette. I need a shot of summer this week. This scene gives me that, but with a lush, cool feeling. It's so tranquil and calming, something I think we could all use a bit more of. Be sure to visit Anna at Flutter&Hum for more Wednesday Vignette posts.

I know I've seen this combination somewhere before, but it still grabs my attention with its striking contrasts.

Brown and blue has become one of my favorite foliage combinations, thanks in part to this combination of blue spruce and brown sedge. I'd like to say this is some selection of Carex buchananii, but I'm not sure.

I'd already started to create my own blue and brown combination after some bronze Carex comans seedlings mysteriously arose out of my patch of silver-green plants, and I increased it this year. Both colors also look good with burgundy/purple/red foliage, and also with the yellows of senescing foliage in the fall. It's a combination I'd love to use more, and I've been spreading seeds from my bronze Carex comans around in the hopes of more.

As I said before, I was on the lookout for ground covers. After seeing Stachys byzantina in this garden, I'm tempted to try it again. It looks so nice here. Dense and full, no big masses of dead foliage. In my garden, it always got too mushy in winter. Woolly leaves that disintegrate into furry mush. Not my idea of a good time. I hated cleaning them up. But they were also growing in particularly rich soil and grew rather lushly, overtaking some of their neighbors. Perhaps elsewhere in my garden, with leaner soil (and maybe a different cultivar) they wouldn't be so bad.

Monarda and grasses make a lovely combination. I tried monarda once, but planted it in a spot that was too dry and far from a hose. I have other spots where it could grow, but don't have any particularly strong desire to plant it in any of those spots. I do love this combination, though!

This meadow of Nassella tenuissima and blue fescue was another favorite scene of mine in this garden. The blue fescue and tawny nassella go so well together, and the nassella shimmered and moved in the summer breeze. I'd spent most of my gardening life somewhat fearful of the exuberant self-sowing nature of Nassella tenuissima, but after seeing this planting, I realized I didn't care. I wanted it.

I also thought it was a novel combination to plant roses among the nassella. It's not a pairing I would normally think of, but the nassella makes the roses look all the more vibrant, and at the same time, a bit more natural, I think.

I love any garden with Acer griseum (paperbark maple). This has to be one of my top ten favorite trees, just don't make me actually write down a top ten list. I'd have to get creative with numbers to fit them all in.

More birches emerging from a huge swath of heath, dotted with a few deciduous shrubs to echo the background. I wouldn't mind recreating this heath ground cover in my garden, at least in some spots. It's tough, easy, and will stop just about any weed. And the bees go absolutely bonkers for it.

More birches, and that beautiful white-flowered aster-like flower. I want to say it's Eurybia divaricata, but I'm not sure. My knowledge of the aster family is pretty limited. I can't find anything about a cultivar with chartreuse foliage like this, but did find one photo of supposedly the regular species with foliage this color. Does it depend on the growing conditions? I see the ones in more shade are darker green. Looking at this photo again, I'm tempted to find a place somewhere in one of my shade beds to try it.

I love the texture of the leucothoe in this phot, and the tiered branches of the cryptomeria(?). I also remember finding the statue emerging from the jungle perfectly chosen and placed. I'm hoping that my leucothoe will start to perform better in its new location with more shade and moisture.

Looking at ground covers again. I turned my nose up at ground cover junipers for a long time, partly due to the large and poorly-placed junipers that grew on one edge of the driveway island when we moved into our current house. But I've been looking at the smaller, lower-growing varieties lately and want to find places for more of them in my garden.

I always try to pay attention to how plants interact, whether one dominates the other or they play nicely, and was especially paying attention to the ground covers in this garden. In a contest between this Juniperus horizontalis(?) and thyme, the thyme appears to be winning.

Simple combinations draw me more and more, like the heather providing a soft green underplanting for this 'Forest Pansy' redbud.

I'm not usually interested in Hydrangea macrophylla or serrata cultivars and hybrids, but this one caught my attention. I could possibly find room in the garden for something like this. Or I could have, at one point. I'm not so sure now, with everything else I've planted.

Whimsy done right. I found the lighter touches of whimsy in the garden to be better-implemented than along the trail.

I've always kept my heaths and heathers sheared to prevent them from thinning out, but I've started to admire their natural forms more. Here, an especially rangy one weaves through surrounding plants in a charmingly wild manner. I've been tempted to let some of the many seedling heaths grow naturally, so I can observe their growth habits. After I redid the driveway island last year and disturbed the soil, I've got another crop of seedlings, meaning a chance to do just that and let them grow au naturel, after I transplant them to spots with enough room.

One last shot from this garden, of a rather nice, natural-looking waterfall. I would love to have something like this in my garden. Maybe someday.


  1. What a lovely tour of The Gardens at Stillmeadows. I enjoyed it more because of the use of "common" PNW plants. The trick is to create those combinations and vignettes that make it extraordinary, which this garden is. In a recent post you were marveling at the transition of plants from the more maintained garden into the native trees in the background; allowing heath seedlings to develop into their natural state could be useful in achieving this goal.
    I share you thoughts on what constitutes Whimsy done right. I sometimes check myself on the tacky-meter :-)

    1. This garden does a great job of creating beautiful combinations and vignettes. Your idea of using the heath seedlings as part of the transitional parts of the garden is a good one. They tolerate enough shade and are drought-tolerant enough that I may even be able to try some along the edges of the trees.

  2. I can't resist new and/or exotic plants, but the old standards acquired that status for good reason, as this garden illustrates. As for Stachys, I can give you some S. 'Helen Von Styne' to try. The leaves are bigger, it flowers less and makes a stunning ground cover.

    1. Yes, though many of our "old standards" require supplemental irrigation, unless they're on a site that naturally stays a bit moist in summer. I do have one area like that in my garden, and I know other gardeners have more moisture in their soil than I do. Thank you for the offer, Ricki. That's very kind. Perhaps you could bring some to the next plant swap, if I don't see you before then?

  3. The birch/heather areas remind me quite a bit of one of the parks I visited in the Netherlands last year...if you ever make it over there, you should check it out, I think it would right up your alley :-)

    1. That garden is beautiful! You're right, it is exactly up my alley! It reminds me a bit of subalpine meadows in the Cascades. I love natural-looking gardens like this.

  4. Beautiful snow photos! Thanks for the garden tour. Snow flakes are falling and it felt good to see a summer garden.

    1. Thank you! I'm actually glad we got snow BEFORE the cold this time. So unusual.

  5. For what it's worth, I felt the same way about Nassella tenuissima...until one day when a switch got flipped and I had to have it, a lot of it. I feared it taking over the front garden with its promiscuous ways, but it hasn't at all. In fact I'm a little disappointed I didn't get a bunch of free plants! (I wonder if it's because of lack of summer water? And what does get watered is targeted right at the plants rather than distributed overhead like a sprinkler?)

    1. Isn't that funny? The one who instilled the fear of Nasella in me was my first boss, at a nursery. Now that I think of it, the nasella did mostly pop up in pots and other spots that got water. I hope I get seedlings. I'm depending on the nasella and various other reseeders to cover the soil early on until the shrubs fill in.

  6. Oh, to have that much space to garden! It'd probably kill me but the idea of giving plants full reign to spread is enticing. I'd love to have a stream running through my garden too (not to speak of a waterfall) but then I suppose our drought would be a problem there - it's always something.

    1. Evergreen ground covers and mulch are the best friends of gardeners with large yards. Selecting the right plants and letting them fill in and grow mostly on their own reduces maintenance a lot. That's one of the reasons I prefer evergreen shrubs over perennials, though the perennials do fill in faster.

  7. The Forest Pansy with the heath or heather carpet underneath blew me away! Simply beautiful! There is a lot to be said for the ability to make more common plants shine. Like Ricki said, they are common for a reason. I think the reason we often sneer in their general direction is that they are so often used in uninspired ways. Not so here. Individually, Forest Pansy and heather are as common as dirt, but combined like that - yowza! It's not the plant - it's the gardener!

    1. Isn't that a great combination? It's just two plants, but its simplicity is part of the appeal. Purple and deep green are great together.


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