Abies balsamea 'Nana'

Abies balsamea 'Nana'

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Wednesday Vignette: Progress and Change

(alt. title: No More Monkeys Jumpin' on the Bed!)

This week for my Wednesday Vignette, hosted by Anna at Flutter & Hum, I'm sharing a set before and after pictures of a bed in my garden. Ok, so they aren't really all that pretty, and I'm not sure they even qualify as vignettes, but just go with it. The point is to share things that inspire, excite, and make us think, right? Well, I'm excited by this little change and can finally think about the next steps. And I'm being a bit lazy and want this post to do double-duty to cover a phase in one of my projects.

Pre-removal. It almost doesn't look bad, looking at this photo, just a bit wild and informal. At least it's mostly full.

Yesterday, I decided it was time to tackle the Mimulus cardinalis in the Acer griseum bed. This bed has mostly been a messy, embarrassing eyesore since shortly after my brother and I built it some years ago. It lay empty and became full of weeds. It became storage for plants that didn't have homes yet, either planted directly into the raised bed or simply sunk into the soil still in their pots for winter protection. One of those pots contained some Mimulus cardinalis I brought home with me when I still worked at Castle Rock Nursery. The monkey flower reseeded and spread through the loose, water-retentive soil of the raised bed like wildfire. It quickly become known as monkey weed. But we allowed it mostly free reign of the bed. It was pretty, required no care from us other than cutting down old stems in winter, and it helped prevent less-desirable weeds from taking over the bed. Also, the hummingbirds might have retaliated with lethal force if we had dared remove the monkey flower, so perfectly adapted to serve and be served by the tiny flying syringes.

Post-removal. Look at all that space! That was all covered in monkey weed! And wild strawberries. Now I can actually see what to do with this bed!

Fast-forward several years, and I've since spread divisions and seedlings of the Mimulus to several areas of the garden, with denser, tougher soils where they won't grow into 4' monsters. That's the real problem with the monkey flowers in this bed. They do far too well (a novel reason for me to pull plants out, over-performing). The soil is loose and rich, easy to grow in. Surely the hummingbird overlords will be appeased, right? I can tackle the Monkey Monster that has overtaken the Acer griseum bed now, right? I nervously set to with a shovel and hori hori, keeping my head low in case of fly-by needles, to de-monkey-fy the bed. I've been wanting to do this for years, but until now didn't have a clear enough idea of what I wanted this bed to be to justify removing them. They've been place-holders, of sorts. Now I not only have a direction for this bed, I'm designing a large area around it. I can't have a chaotic, shapeless weed patch in the middle of my lovely new garden area! Time to clean house!
A full (packed down) cart load of Mimulus, and a bit of wild strawberry. If you've been wondering about the ugly dead grass around the bed, I tilled most of it and sprayed the rest closer to the bed. I don't like using chemicals, but didn't want to risk running the tiller into the rocks around the bed. There are also weeds like Canadian thistle in the soil around this bed, which really do call for spraying.

Tearing out plants can be so therapeutic. I know, it seems an odd thing for a gardener to say, but I don't think I'm alone. It felt wonderful to tackle this project and get it off my mind, sweeping away the dust (oh, wait, those are Mimulus seeds) so I can actually see what needs to be done in this bed, what needs to move where, what needs to be added or subtracted. It's like spring cleaning, even if it's done at the end of summer. It's a bit like what I've been doing with my life for the last year. This won't be the last of the monkey flower seen in this bed. After years of growing in this bed, there's a substantial seed bank that's been accruing interest for all that time. I wish my savings account had interest rates like monkey flower seeds. Hmm, where was I? Oh, right. So, I will have to continue pulling monkey flowers from this bed as the copious seedlings appear. I imagine it will take several years to get it to a point where the bed is planted and soil need no longer be disturbed to awaken the sleeping beast within. But I'm excited to finally know what I want to do with this bed, and to be able to see the bed clearly without the monkey weed in the way (Again, like my life. Ooh, I sense an allegory!). Because of the well-drained, moisture-retentive soil in this raised bed, and a siting that provides mostly full sun with shade during the hottest part of the day in summer for most of the bed, it's the perfect place to experiment with Southern Hemisphere plants like Calceolaria arachnoidea, Bolax gummiferaAstelia 'Red Devil' and Coprosma 'Roy's Red'. I've already had success with the first two in this bed, and I've planted the second two. We'll see how they handle this winter. I have to be careful about height, though. I don't want too many tall plants in this bed blocking off the view of the Acer griseum, particularly on the north side (this photo was taken from the south side). So this bed will be full of plants less than 2' tall, with only a few taller shrubs breaking up the low growth. I'm picturing the windswept heathlands of Tasmania meeting a woodland garden in a strange but wonderful synergy.

You may have noticed in the second picture that there was one monkey flower left in the bed. One of the benefits of letting a plant reseed in your garden is that sometimes you'll get something new. As I was evicting the monkey monsters, I got an unexpected bonus in the form of this rather interesting seedling with flowers in multiple peachy colors on the same plant. I had noticed it a bit over the summer, but kept thinking my mind was playing tricks on me as I would later be unable to find it again in the morass of monkey weeds filling the bed. You never know what treasures you'll discover when you do some serious searching and clear out the dust, in gardening and in life.

So there's my (sort of) Wednesday Vignette post, and some progress in the garden. Progress makes me happy. I've been feeling a little panicked and overwhelmed lately, and it's nice to tackle something where I can see results immediately, and check it off my list. On that note, I'm slowly picking up the pace in my coding studies, establishing habits and figuring out goals to help me succeed. It's a good feeling, like I actually know what I'm doing and have things pretty together. (I don't, but it's nice to feel that way.)

Monday, August 29, 2016

End of August Favorites

I'm fudging this post a little bit. Technically, the end of the month favorites meme, hosted by Loree at The Danger Garden, is supposed to be posted on the last Friday of the month. But last week was so hot that I stayed inside and put together a post on my North Cascades trip instead of going outside to pick out favorites. As it turns out, though, I'm just going through the results of my prolific photo-taking this summer to find those favorites. I could have done that on Friday!

Trachelium caeruleum 'Hamer Pandora' has been a favorite all summer. This picture from last month shows it at its peak. It's beginning to wind down, but I'm eagerly watching the seed heads develop so I can grow more!

Picking favorites this summer has been quite a task in my garden, anyways. It's funny. I remember a time just a couple years ago when I only had a handful of favorites. It wasn't hard to pick one or two plants to feature. This year, my garden is so full of plants that I love every time I see them, it's hard not to repeat myself.

Another favorite whenever it's in bloom: Lapageria rosea. The heat last week washed the color out of the flowers a bit, leaving them more pink than usual. This vine and I are kindred spirits. Neither of us is fond of heat, or extreme cold, for that matter.
So, for my favorites post this month, rather than worry about repeats, I'm mostly going to share a few of the plants that have been prominent in my mind lately. I have several large areas I've been preparing to plant this fall, and much of my mental capacity has been bent towards planning those areas. And, rather than coming up with ideas of all the plants I could buy to fill those areas, I've been examining the plants already in my garden to see what I could propagate or move into these new areas. Oh, there's been plenty of buying, too, now that nurseries are starting to discount their plants.

Calluna vulgaris is a perennial favorite of mine despite how common it is in the Pacific Northwest. I think it's highly under-rated and misunderstood. Most people think this plant needs a lot of moisture, but it's actually quite drought-tolerant. In nature, this species ranges from the moist moors of the British Isles to the dry oak woodlands of Spain. In my garden, this adaptable shrub grows in full sun to part shade; in soils ranging from loose, silty Mt. St. Helens volcanic ash dredged from a river bed to compacted clay, to the native clay loam of my garden. Nowhere does it get more than 2 or 3 deep waterings all summer, except for extremely hot summers like last year, when I did give them more water.

I grow heather primarily for the foliage, but in August they burst into bloom. It can be a bit overwhelming, actually. Most heather blooms come in pink to lavender, with the full spectrum ranging from white to magenta. The bees, especially bumblebees and honeybees, absolutely adore them.
They do look lovely backlit by the evening light.
 I began with about four cultivars, two of which were the orange/chartreuse foliage varieties that take on more reddish tones in cool weather. The other two were plain green in foliage, with magenta and lavender flowers. One year, I found a carpet of seedlings around several of the mature plants, in a whole range of foliage colors. As they matured, a myriad of growth habits also appeared, from nearly flat to upright. My favorites are the woolly grey-leaved ones, which I've shown on my blog numerous times. It's happened again this year, little seedlings everywhere ranging from grey through green to charteuse/orange. I'll be happily spreading these through some of the new areas of my garden, as well as sharing them with friends.
A white-flowered seedling that appeared in my garden. It also has bright chartreuse new growth in winter and spring.

One of the charteuse/orange cultivars. I usually don't mind orange and pink together, but I'll admit this combination does clash a bit. Luckily, they aren't very noticeable except like this, up close and personal.
 The heathers also combine well with a lot of my other favorites. This has been my first year growing California poppies. I chose 'Mikado', a red strain.

And the liquid, mercurial silver of Geranium harveyi. I was pleased to discover this hardy South African geranium roots very easily from cuttings. I've got a good crop growing on for planting in the new garden areas this fall.

Artemisia abrotanum 'Silver', also called southern wormwood, has been drawing my eye all summer with it's fine texture, which reminds me a lot of 'Seafoam' in an upright form without the curls. I do love the greenish grey color, but what initially attracted me to this plant was the interesting golden cast it takes on in harsher conditions. I've got a batch of this plant growing on from cuttings that I'll plant in some of the new garden areas, which should be tougher growing than this bed.

Collomia grandiflora is one of my favorite native wildflowers. I was so happy to see lots of them appear in my garden after direct-sowing the seed earlier in spring. I've started collecting seed from the first plants to bloom, a bit of a challenge as the heads ripen gradually and the seeds are slightly explosive. Cutting whole branches, or even the entire plant if it's done blooming, and sticking it upside-down in a bag while the seeds continue to ripen and explode, seems to be the way to go.

While I've lamented the dense concentration of this Gilia capitata in one bed where I didn't want anything quite so tall, I have enjoyed it in the garden this summer, as have the honey bees. Hopefully next year it's a bit more spread out and growing where it isn't quite so in the way.

I'd love to buy a whole nursery flat of this Helleborus x sternii [silver selection] from Cistus for one of the areas I'm preparing. I love the large, evergreen (ever silver!) leaves and drought-tolerance. I'm working on breaking up the many fine textures in my garden with coarser foliage like this.

I love both of the plants in this photo, but for this post I'm focusing on the Comptonia peregrina. It's done exceptionally well this year, finally taking off after I purchased it two years ago as a half-dead, straggly discount plant. It's been proliferous in its production of rhizomes, sending up new shoots all around the main plant. I'm going to dig most of them this winter to plant in one of the new areas, and pot up a few to hopefully share with friends. I absolutely love the texture and rich green color of the leaves, as well as the delicious cinnamon scent released when the leaves are brushed or crushed. Though it is deciduous, it takes on pleasant russet tones that age to a lovely chestnut brown. Some of those brown leaves hang on through winter, and the stems themselves are interestingly lined with fat buds that become catkins in spring. It's a tough plant, growing in sun to shade, sand or clay, wet or fairly dry. Why is this plant not more popular?!

I did say I have a lot of favorites in my garden, but this last plant has really had me fawning over it: Matthiola fruticulosa ssp. perennis 'Alba', more easily called white-flowered perennial stock. That velvety, cool grey foliage has been a soothing balm through the hot days of summer.

I sowed some seed directly, but the largest plants are the ones I sowed in pots and transplanted to the garden when they were a few inches tall. Now they're 2 feet tall and wide! I ended up with a lot of them in the Acer griseum bed. Too many, really. I'm hoping I can transplant the smaller ones into the surrounding area, which is one of the zones I've been preparing for fall planting. Sequim Rare Plants has a great description on their website, though they appear to be out of stock at the moment (pun absolutely intended).

I'm looking forward to the fragrant white flowers, too, but I really love this plant for its foliage. The last three plants will be going into parts of the same area around the Acer griseum bed. In case you're interested in what else I'd like to put in this area, here's the Pinterest board I've been gathering ideas on. I want the area to be primarily soothing green and silver foliage with only a few shots of brighter color and flowers. These plants are more favorites, currently, as they're on my mind and I'm really excited to put this bed together.

Friday, August 26, 2016

North Cascades Trip: Grasshopper Pass

This is the second installment of my trip to the North Cascades and Pasayten Wilderness in July. For the first part, see this post. I took a lot of photos of this incredible area, so let's jump right to them without too much talk. I'll just say that large portions of this area burned in a forest fire 11 or 12 years ago. You can still see many burned trees, but the area has recovered amazingly well.

Most of the photos in this post don't show the burned areas, but here's an example.


 Larches dominate most of the upper slopes. At these altitudes (around 6500') these are most likely Larix lyalli, though they're quite large specimens.

This hike is absolutely full of gorgeous vistas.



Likely an Eriogonum, but I'm not sure which one.

Possibly Penstemon davidsonii, but it could be one of the other species.

Whichever species, this was an impressive show!

This is most likely either Phlox diffusa or Phlox hoodii.

Phyllodoce empetriformis.

Whole meadows of it!

Veronica cusickii

Cassiope mertensiana

More beautiful larches. This grove must be amazing in the fall.


A mini meadow of Antennaria lanata.

Perilous snow crossing!


Polemonium pulcherrimum

Anemone drummondii

Phacelia sericea (blue-violet) and what I think is Saxifraga tolmiei (white).

Close-up of Phacelia sericea

The rock face where the phacelia is growing. Amazing where plants will grow.

Veronica cusickii, phlox, lewisia, and more!

I never expected to find Polysticum munitum (western sword fern) here, much less growing out of a rock crevice.

I think this is Saxifraga mertensiana.

Alpine garden

Happy patch of Lewisia columbiana.

Vista of mountains in the distance.

The sharp point on the left I think is Tower Mountain. On the right is Azurite Peak.

Lupine meadow, with paintbrush scattered throughout.

So much lichen!

Another view of those distant peaks with a mix of living and dead trees in the foreground. It's amazing how fires can leave living trees right next to burnt ones.

I think this is Penstemon procerus.

Rhododendron albiflorum

And a close-up of the rhododendron.

In the next part of this series, I'll share photos of the trail to Harts Pass.
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