Abies balsamea 'Nana'

Abies balsamea 'Nana'

Friday, April 29, 2016

April Favorites Round-up

April is another month that is difficult to choose favorites, because so much is happening in the garden. Or maybe it's hard because so many of my plants are still fairly new, and I'm a hopeless plant addict who couldn't pick an actual favorite if his life depended on it.

This month, though, one group of plants really stands out in my garden: the deciduous azaleas. After the fence was completed last spring, I stopped at Means Nursery in Scappoose, OR. With the newly established deer-free zone, the azaleas were simply irresistible. At our last house, we had this big, beautiful deciduous azalea with dark yellow, highly fragrant flowers. I don't know what its name was, but I loved it, so I had to add some to this garden. If I ever find one like that old plant for sale, I'll snap it up without a second thought.

But here's what is growing in this garden:

First up is Rhododendron 'Mount St. Helens', which we've had for several years. Last year (or was it the year before?) I lifted it out of the burned out stump it's growing in to improve the soil and raise the soil level. I added peat moss and native soil to the mix of mostly compost that was in there, which had broken down and sunk down too far. The peat moss acidifies the soil and improves moisture retention. The native soil is already acidic and, being clay loam, holds a lot of nutrients. It also won't break down like the organic matter does, so hopefully things won't sink as much, though the plan is to add compost annually to compensate for any settling. With 8 trusses, this is the best bloom display this azalea has had in years. It's not chlorotic, it wasn't too dry last summer, and the deer haven't been at it! The mountain is finally erupting again.

'Golden Lights' is one of the new azaleas I added last year, in one of the new shade beds I carved out of the lawn. 'Golden Lights is a mildew-resistant cultivar growing to 3-6 feet tall and wide, with fragrant, golden yellow flowers. Selected at the University of Minnesota, this cultivar is far hardier than I will ever need to test, -40 degrees Fahrenheit! I think it was much more yellow last year, but I rather like this more orange color. I think the flowers lighten to yellow as they age.

In the same bed is 'Mandarin Lights', another ridiculously hardy azalea. Not particularly fragrant, this cultivar does have darker orange flowers which I love. The leaves also seem to emerge a bit later than those of 'Golden Lights', which you can see in the photo above.

This one was labelled 'Mary Poppins', but it looks rather more yellow than the pictures I find online. I think it was darker last year, and more ruffled. I wonder if I got a couple tags switched around...

I have two more that haven't bloomed yet: 'Molalla Red' a ruffled, fiery red cultivar that I got at the same time as 'Mount St. Helens' that has been suffering from deer browsing and drought on top of a raised mound in full sun, and 'Fireball', another red that I picked up along with the Lights and 'Mary Poppins'. Poor 'Molalla Red has suffered so much in the past few years, it's barely clinging to life. It certainly won't be blooming this year. We moved the rhododendrons that were growing on that mound a few weeks ago. Time to move the azalea, too. I think 'Fireball' has flower buds. It's just a later bloomer.

There are lots of other great plants in the garden this month. Iris tenax is blooming all through the perimeter of the woods and where it has seeded into some of my garden beds. Last year I intentionally sowed some seeds in more beds, and the seedlings have been growing rapidly this spring.

I planted two Erica arborea 'Estrella Gold' last year, after finding them looking like they were ready to be dumped at Tsugawa's Nursery in Woodland, WA. I've been admiring the flower buds since last summer. Now the flowers are finally open, creating a froth of white at the ends of the branches, with scattered constellations of white blooms throughout. The scent is of incredibly rich honey.

Here's a close-up of the tiny blooms. Though many heaths are really quite drought-tolerant, this Mediterranean tree heath is even more so, tolerating dry summers quite well. 'Estrella Gold' grows more slowly than the species, to 4 feet (6 feet under ideal conditions and great age). The species can grow to 8 feet. I'm not sure why, but some sources claim this heath is hardy only to zone 9 (8 with protection). Perhaps they watered it too much and it didn't harden off properly for winter. Anyway, it's really hardy to zone 7, and I've seen specimens of this cultivar and the species that certainly have survived temperatures of 10 degrees or slightly below. By the way, there is a small batch of this plant at Cistus Nursery, that will be available at some point.

 Rhododendron 'Nancy Evans' is one of my favorite cultivars. The foliage makes it attractive all year, but the peachy yellow blooms in spring really make it wonderful. It's not a common color in hardy, evergreen shrub.

Evening light filtering through the trees backlights the blooms and makes them glow.

Rhododendron 'Black Magic' has dark, blood red blooms, touched with black. For some reason, this plant hasn't bloomed well for several years. I'm really not sure why, though it does seem to suffer from chlorosis while the other rhododendrons in the same bed seem completely fine. Perhaps it needs an even more acid soil than most.

Whatever the problem, it seems solved (at least for this year). The plant is covered in buds, and I couldn't be happier. Dark red is one of my favorite flower colors.

Rounding out my favorite rhododendrons this month is 'Medusa'. This one got a little too dry last summer, and doesn't have as many flower buds as it did the year before, but I'm grateful for the flowers it does have. I need to loosen the soil in this whole bed and work out a better irrigation system.

I'm pretty sure Epimedium wushanense could be featured as a favorite every month of the year, but right now it's especially nice because of the new foliage and blooms. My clone is particularly mottled, keeping it's color throughout the year instead of fading to green. The first flush in spring is more green, but last year it produced a second flush of foliage and flowers with very heavy mottling (on the leaves, at least).

 The flowers aren't the easiest to appreciate, but I kind of love that about them. I have a fondness for flowers you have to look for, like many epimediums, asarums, and others that hide their blooms under their leaves.

 That doesn't mean I don't like more brazen blooms that lift themselves far above the foliage. I ordered three Primula veris 'Sunset Shades' from Annie's Annuals earlier this year, and I'm enjoying the resulting blooms greatly. They all turned out to be different colors, one yellow, one red, and one orange. The red and orange are by far my favorites. Interestingly, the darkest blooms are the most fragrant. Usually yellow or white blooms are more fragrant. The red is also the most floriferous (so far) with the largest blooms.

The orange is a pretty close match for the red in terms of number and size of blooms, though it's not quite as fragrant. All three are growing in the bed surrounding my Acer metcalfii, which stays somewhat moist even in summer. With all these blooms, I'll probably be able to collect seeds this year!

And that concludes my favorites for April. Well, that's all I'm going to show for now, at least. In reality, pretty much the whole garden is my favorite this month, except for the weeds popping up in the beds and the grass encroaching from the edges. I've been shifting from planting to maintenance, so hopefully I'll get ahead of those two issues by fall, when I switch back to planting.

Make sure to click over to The Danger Garden, where Loree, our host for the favorite plants of the month meme, has shared some excellent plants of her own, and other bloggers leave links to their favorites in the comments.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Wednesday Vignette

On Monday, I went for my first hike this year, taking a friend to hike Hamilton Mountain on the Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge. It's a good thing I did, otherwise I would have had trouble finding something to share this week for Wednesday Vignette, hosted by Anna of Flutter & Hum. I'd tried several times on Sunday to go out and take pictures of the garden, but every time I did, it would start raining, and then hailing. But Hamilton Mountain provided a wealth of beauty from which to select a vignette. There were many to choose from, but there was something about this shot that really struck me. The wood, rock, water, and moss just look so beautiful. This was taken on the bridge below the Pool of Winds, a waterfall in a round chamber with only a narrow slot to let the water escape. I'll share a picture of that later.

Truth be told, I was really trying to get a photo of the dipper flitting up and down the waterfall, with only half a mind towards composing a nice picture. Below is a cropped version of the photo above. See the grey, bird-shaped blur near the center of the picture? Just at the right edge of the waterfall? It's almost the same color as the rocks. These fascinating birds flit and run about the rocks, catching insects. They also dive into the water, half flying and half running along the stream bed underwater. They're name comes from this underwater hunting, as well as their habit to bob up and down when standing.

I may not have managed a clean shot of the bird (I really needed a telephoto lense) but I do love the original shot above for all the other elements in it. The bird is almost a hidden bonus, a feathered Where's Waldo.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Checking in on the plant babies

I'm currently getting ready for my first hike of the season, taking a friend to Beacon Rock and Hamilton Mountain, on the Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge. Before I go, though, here's a quick look at the progress of most of my seedlings:

The Glaucium flavum var. aurantiacum grew rapidly in the greenhouse as soon as we got a few warm, sunny days. They've been hardening off outside next to the garage for a week or two now.

That foliage...

Less impressive in photographs but just as interesting (to me, at least) the Bupleurum spinosum seedlings are growing well, too.

 These Santolina chamaecyparissus 'Lemon Queen' began as cuttings from the garden of Anna at Flutter & Hum. They've been growing prodigiously, and I've been dutifully pinching them back to make nice, bushy plants. Now that they've been moved outside, they're just starting to take on the grey coloration more typical of these fragrant, shrubby herbs. I became smitten with this santolina after seeing in Anna's garden because of the pale, moonlight yellow flowers on fragrant grey foliage, when so many other grey-foliaged plants have jarring, true yellow flowers.

Because they've been in the greenhouse and growing rapidly, they aren't as grey as they normally would be. Now they're starting to take on that desirable coloration.

I've gone Bupleurum crazy this year, also growing a flat of Bupleurum fruticosum. I started the seed at work, actually, but had such prodigious germination that I took a very small portion of them home, as well. With 2-4 seedlings to a pot, this is more than even I can use in my large garden.

The greenhouse isn't bereft of babies, though. Here's the seed corner, still full of exciting things.

I'm trying Asclepias speciosa from seed. Actually, I purchased Asclepias tuberosa, as well, but chose to direct sow that species, mixed in with the meadow seed I spread over most of the new beds. To the left of the milkweed seedlings, just starting to pop up, you can see a few Billardiera longiflora seedlings. These I sowed intentionally, but I also had a fair amount germinate at the base of the parent plant and took those to work to pot up. I was rather surprised to find them germinating on their own outside. Unfortunately, that location, at the base of an Acer griseum, proved too good a location. I dug up the parent plant and relocated it to the base of the star magnolia, a much larger plant for the vine to climb up.

Artemisia ludoviciana, two pots in center, will be added to the oak woodland/meadow area, and other places as I decide. I think I'll have enough.

I'm very excited by these Aristolochia fimbriata seedlings, which I brought back from North Carolina and then promptly forgot in the refrigerator for a couple years.

And finally, anyone want tomatoes? I don't know why I sowed this many, but I did. Two varieties, a cherry tomato named Isis Candy, and a beefsteak tomato named Chianti Rose. The latter is said to have the full, complex flavor of heirloom tomatoes with a shorter ripening time. I'd better pot a few up for the spring swap, though even with our two heatwaves, it's a bit early for tomatoes in the Pacific Northwest.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Greenhouse improvements

This weekend one of my goals was to finally install the secondary shelves we ordered for the greenhouse several weeks ago. I had found myself nearing a shortage on space as I was sowing seeds, and wanting a place to keep smaller plants.

The first step was simply clearing off one side of the greenhouse to set things up.

This little guy was hiding in the corner. He (or she) stuck it out for a surprising time before the drilling became too much. The little frog made its way to the other side of the greenhouse where it stayed for the rest of the time. I lost track of it after moving things back to the other side.

Sorry I don't have more photos of the process. I was in work mode. Suffice it to say, I love the new shelves, even if they did end up a bit wonky. I misplaced the directions and couldn't find them until I was done. I made several mistakes so that the cedar slats don't fit properly into the metal framework, but they still hold plants. That's all that matters, right? Right now the shelves are mostly holding small succulents, orchids, and bromeliads. Things that wanted a bit more shade (or at least tolerate more) than even the shade cloth provides now can find it under the shelves. I tried to place things that could handle more water under the orchids and things that couldn't under the succulents. We'll see how that works out.

So much more space for seeds and new plants! And I took out the tower of spiral iron shelves at the back wall. It made it difficult to access the back corners and all the electrical stuff on the back wall. Now the heater can sit out in the open, away from the shelves, and I feel more secure that I won't accidentally douse it with water.

And that's how I spent a good chunk of my Sunday. Thankfully I managed to finish by 12:30, before it got really hot.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Foliage Follow-up - April, 2016

The day after Garden Bloggers Bloom Day is dedicated to appreciation of foliage, when Pam at Digging reminds us of the importance of foliage in the garden. With spring full upon us and blooms abounding, it's easy to get over-excited about the flowers and overlook the emerging foliage that will carry the garden through the coming seasons.

So it's only fitting that I provide a glut of foliar photos after my lengthy bloom day post yesterday, right?

This Cryptanthus I picked up at Portland Nursery on Division is coloring up with the stronger light of spring. It's starting to look more like the 'Red Baron' that I tentatively identified it as after finding some labelled plants at the Stark location during their houseplant sale. The pattern of silvery trichomes down the center of the leaves, and the overall shape and habit of the plant were the same, but my plant is mostly green while those were completely red. Many bromeliads change color according to the lighting conditions they're grown in.

 Last summer I moved my Poncirus trifoliata 'Monstrosa' (aka Flying Dragon) and was worried it might have been over-stressed, but it's leafing out again! Hopefully those nasty ants that were chewing the leaves off in its old location by the woods don't find it here.

I planted this Callistemon viridiflorus, which my boss insisted I have (he really had to twist my arm) in January, not expecting the drop to 20F that came a week or two later. Most of the leaves turned brown on the south side, and I was worried, but this tough little plant is growing after all. Not bad for an 8" tall twig in a 2" band planted in winter.

I love the orange blush on some of the foliage of Cornus alternifolia 'Wstackman' (aka Golden Shadows).

It may be odd to appreciate senescing leaves in spring, but I am anyway. With all the evergreen oaks I've been planting, I'm going to have to get used to fall in spring. I'm ok with that. I love fall. The Quercus mexicana that I so violently dug and transplanted from the display gardens at work have mostly dropped all their leaves in shock, though the stems and buds remain firm and healthy looking. The three Quercus suber (one shown below) are full of golden highlights as the oldest leaves start to drop. It's really a rather beautiful effect, and an unexpected one in spring.

I scattered seed of Phacelia campanulata all over the garden a couple weeks ago. The cotyledons are speckled like little oblong pebbles. Most of them aren't sown this densely. Obviously I didn't use any kind of spreader, and my hand-sowing got them a bit thick here.

Alchemilla alpina is my favorite in the genus for the silvery edges of the rich green leaves. Thanks to Anna at Flutter & Hum for sharing this with me!

Another gift from Anna is this Vitis vinifera 'Purpurea'. We chopped off a lot of its root system when we dug it out of her garden, and I eyed it worriedly all winter, but the buds are finally swelling. The heat this weekend should produce some actual growth.

I love the foliage of Cotinus 'Grace', from the moment it emerges to the very last leaf that drops in autumn.

Purplish-pink new stems are emerging thickly on my Parahebe perfoliata, even up to 6 inches from the main plant. It's more of a spreader than I thought, but I'm happy with that.

Last summer, a friend shared with me a tuber of Tropaeolum speciosum. I planted it in front of my Arctostaphylos sylvicola 'Ghostly'  on the south end of the house, over a foot deep (you'll find recommendations for planting the tubers about 18 inches down) in compacted clay soil. I did add a bit of gravel to the planting hole, but I worried that the hole would become a well, full of water. The Arctostaphylos has thrived there for several years, but I didn't plant it 18 inches deep. It has the opportunity to keep its roots near the surface, and is fairly clay tolerant to begin with. So I was amazed to find this popping up, a shoot of the Tropaeolum! This is one tough plant! If you can find it, it's worth trying.

Not as densely-furred as when they emerged, the expanded foliage of this Syneilesis hybrid is still attractive in its unique shape.

I scattered seed from my Primula bulleyana in the new shade beds last fall. Now they're popping up. In a couple years, the show will be amazing. Planting a large garden often requires a lot of patience.

Mahonia x media 'Arthur Menzies' has shown its appreciation of being rescued from the Tough Love sale at Cistus by nearly doubling in size with one spurt of growth.

I love the new growth on pieris. This one is another from Anna's garden. She wasn't confident about her memory of the cultivar (that never happens to anyone else, right?) but thought it was 'Mountain Fire'.

Hydrangea quercifolia is my favorite hydrangea. Love those leaves!

This variegated Davidia involucrata, a Dan Hinkley selection, is always a favorite.

Alison, do you recognize the Acer circinatum you gave me? It's leafing out beautifully. You'd never know it sat in a pot all crispy last summer.

I'm still giddy over all the plants that are growing, realizing they won't be mowed down by voracious deer. This Vaccinium parvifolium, or red huckleberry, will actually be able to grow this year.

Same for this Amelanchier alnifolia, known locally as saskatoon. So many native trees and shrubs will be able to grow more than a half inch this year because they are protected by the deer fence.

The flowers of Epimedium wushanense are nice, but the real reason I grow this plant is for the foliage.

The rare reticulated form of Gaultheria shallon? No, just a generous coating of Douglas fir pollen. The heat wave last week seemed to cause all the catkin-bearing plants to release their pollen all at once. Everything was turning yellow. My sinuses and I are thankful for the rain this week, clearing the air at least for a time, and washing most of the pollen off the foliage.

Geranium 'Dark Reiter' popping up through Hutchinsia alpina provides a strong contrast.

I've shared this vignette before, but I still love it. The Carex comans has grown considerably since the last time I showed it here. Eventually it may cover the Asarum caudatum entirely. The asarum probably wouldn't care, especially with summer coming, but the vignette would be lost.

Seseli gummiferum persisted through winter with a small rosette of leaves atop their stems. With the warmer weather, larger leaves are emerging.

With no thirsty deer to hoover them up last summer, my sedums are growing lush and full. Sedum oreganum shown here.

Running along one side of a dry creekbed in the driveway island is this swath of Sedum spathulifolium and Sedum spurium 'Red Carpet', with a few Sempervivum mixed in.

This is one of the "weeds" I allowed to grow out of curiosity. It turned out to be a perennial, or perhaps a biennial. Maybe it will bloom this year and I'll find out what it is. I love the silver foliage.

Bits of Satureja douglasii that I transplanted last fall are bursting with growth in one of the shade beds started on last summer.

The emerging foliage of Tricyrtis 'Blue Wonder' has attractive purplish mottling.

I just planted this Heucherella from Little Prince a couple weeks ago, and I'm already having trouble remembering the name. Hunting down the label would take too much time.

The Heucherella above is a nice compliment to the warm coppery new growth and stems on this Clethra species from Far Reaches.

The purple new foliage on Acer metcalfii is a favorite of mine.

My Schefflera taiwaniana lost most of its leaves by the end of last summer, and it had grown so well, too. I'm glad it's leafing out again. I feared, stressed as it was, that it wouldn't survive winter. This year I need to remember to fluff the mulch in this bed and work the soil with a garden fork a bit, so that summer irrigation can penetrate deeply. Setting up a better system than a clogged soaker hose would be a good idea, too.

Vaccinium ovatum seems to be settling into this bed nicely, though. I need to get more of these.

With the emergence of new foliage, I suddenly find myself forgiving 'Seafoam' artemisia it's winter deciduousness.

Melianthus villosus surprised me by coming back from the roots. When the top died, I assumed I had killed this plant a second time.

I planted a variegated yucca of unknown identity in the spot I previously grew Dracunculus vulgaris. Apparently I missed one. It will have to go, because it's blocking the yucca, which has held a bluish purple color all winter. In summer it has a beautiful bluish green-on-green variegation.

Golden, fuzzy new croziers emerge on Polystichum setiferum Divisilobum Group. If I had been on top of things, I'd have harvested the plantlets forming on the older fronds to share at the Portland Garden Bloggers' spring swap. Maybe I'll have them ready for the fall swap.

Last week I was fretting over the seeds I had sown, fearing they would dry out while I was staying in Portland for part of the week. Thankfully, my dad was on vacation and was able to keep things watered. The heat and moisture resulted in lots of seedlings of native bunchgrass and wildflowers. Like the Phacelia, I got a few spots a bit too thick, like this bit shown below.

Quercus douglasiana 'Cache Creek Form', from Cistus Nursery, may well be my favorite foliage in the garden right now. Fuzzy, pale blue green, with purple edging. Tiny black spiders seem to be enjoying it, too.

 Did you know Catalpa bignonioides 'Aurea', the golden catalpa, starts out purple? News to me. I like it.

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!