Abies balsamea 'Nana'

Abies balsamea 'Nana'

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Finding joy in the winter garden at Joy Creek Nursery

Last Saturday, bloggers from the Portland area (and a bit beyond, in my case) gathered at Joy Creek Nursery for their Blogger Appreciation Day. The nursery doesn't officially open for the season until the end of February, but the owners Maurice and Mike wanted to express their thanks to the blogging community for supporting local nurseries like theirs through our writings. And we bloggers were thrilled and profusely grateful in turn for this opportunity to visit a garden normally closed this time of year and mingle with friends, especially after a prolonged stretch of harsh winter weather. Thank you Maurice and Mike, for opening your garden to us. Thanks also to Ricki, who blogs at Sprig to Twig, but was on duty that day as an employee at Joy Creek. And last but certainly not least, thanks to Tamara, who writes at Chickadee Gardens and also works at Joy Creek, for coordinating the event and providing a delicious spread of food.

I love visiting gardens in the "off" season. It's a fantastic educational experience in garden design, to observe plants when they may not be as flashy or exciting as in the growing season. It's a good time to observe the bones of a garden. Do the deciduous shrubs and perennials offer winter structure or interest? What about evergreens? Do they support each other? While I love fall and winter blooms, I also love the opportunity to judge spring and summer-blooming plants without the distraction of flowers. Hearts are easily swayed by colorful blooms, but do they offer anything in other seasons? Seed heads? Attractive foliage? Interesting branch structure?

I love broadleaf evergreens. Lately I've been considering adding Nandina domestica (red berries in the background) to my own garden in some tough spots. Joy Creek offers several full-size forms, which are much more graceful than the more modern dwarfed cultivars. Lovely in all seasons, if you have a bit of room.

After the harsh (for the PNW) weather we've experienced for the last two months, this winter walk was even more educational. Mike, a skilled pruner, lead us through the garden and discussed strategies for assessing and managing plants damaged by this winter.
I never appreciated green stems before planting a golden Leycesteria formosa in my own garden. This much larger plant at Joy Creek  has a few stems broken by snow, but still provides lots of interest.

While I did listen appreciatively, my eyes (and camera) were focused on seeking out winter interested, particularly evergreens, that I might incorporate into my own garden. The lowest temperature Mike noticed at the nursery was 11F, the same as my garden. On top of that, they got a whopping 18 inches of snow, more than twice the amount that fell on my plants. This makes Joy Creek an excellent place to evaluate plants for those of us that don't live in urban heat islands or other milder areas in the PNW. For different perspectives on the gardens, and some of Mike's talking points, visit The Danger Garden, The Rainy Day Gardener, and Flutter&Hum.
Viburnum tinus, with a few brown flower buds but otherwise untouched by the harsh winter.
 While I was paying particular attention to good-looking evergreens, I did notice some blooms, both fresh and faded. Remember, I did say I love fall and winter-blooming plants. Hamamelis, or witch-hazel, provides some of the best winter blooms.

I love how the Hamamelis blooms are backed by a red-twig dogwood. The dogwood stems provide a backing for the witch-hazel, both making them more observable and creating a unique, fiery winter composition. Typical design advice would be to back the witch-hazel with an evergreen plant to make the flowers pop. Both solutions are good, but I liked the creativity here. This unique, inspiring combination is also my Wednesday Vignette, hosted by Anna at Flutter&Hum.

Winter can be bleak, but dramatic. This brown-on-grey hydrangea against cloudy skies allows texture and detail to shine through.
Winter is a great time to assess your garden for texture. The bright flowers of spring and summer, and the flaming foliage of autumn, are no longer present to distract the eye. Texture is key to creating a garden with year-round interest, regardless of seasonal flashes of color.
The sword-shaped leaves of Iris foetidissima looking good despite 11F, and not flattened by 18" of snow. I brought one of these home with me, and I think I'll be getting more! A distinctive texture in any season, but especially in winter, when similar sword-shaped leaves have often died down.
 Bupleurum fruticosum is an underused evergreen that suffers from unfortunate common names (shrubby hare's ear and thoroughwax). This member of the carrot family (Yes, the carrot family!) bares large chartreuse umbels of flowers from July to September and has attractive, rich green leaves all year, in a drought-tolerant and cold hardy package. This plant in the gardens at Joy Creek look like they barely even stopped growing through the cold weather. The bright green newer growth isn't even damaged. In my own garden, dozens of 4-6" seedlings were planted last fall, and while some of them took on intriguing purple hues from the cold, none of them appear significantly damaged. That's a tough plant!


Garrya provide some of the best winter interest in the PNW. I believe this is G. x issaquahensis 'Glasnevin Wine'. I have three garryas, and adding more of these wonderful plants is high on my list of priorities this year.

I couldn't quite capture the beauty of this Viburnum, with its delicate, dark net of old inflorescences. 

Mahonia repens is another plant on my priority list this year. This is a special selection from Far Reaches Farms, growing in the gardens at Joy Creek.

Hydrangeas are one of the specialties at Joy Creek. These macrophyllas are pruned annually to make them sturdy and prevent flopping in winter. It works!

A Euphorbia characias (I believe) turned purple by cold weather. Most of mine look like this, too.

The pink and white berries of Symphoricarpos orbiculatus look even more striking against the brown winter foliage.

A selection of Canada hemlock, perhaps Tsuga canadensis 'Gentsch White' has a touch of white frosting that glows against the older green needles, regardless of temperature. I much prefer this to actual frost or snow.

Beautiful flaking bark and lichen.
After walking through the garden, we were treated to lunch, provided by Tamara, and a slideshow about the amazing fern stumpery Maurice built at his home garden from recycled rounds of poplar that had to be cut down.

Thank you again to everyone at Joy Creek for opening your garden and allowing us bloggers a much-needed opportunity to mingle and appreciate a beautiful garden. This has been a hard winter for all of us, and I'm not just talking about the weather. Now I'm eager for another winter garden visit. Where to next?

15 comments:

  1. Nice photos, Evan! I too fell for the fiery combo of witch hazel and dogwood. Fabulous winter interest! Bupleurum is a plant I wish I had room for - I love both flowers and foliage. Nice to know it's as tough as it is. Just might have to make room for one... :)

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    1. Thanks, Anna! Bupleurum does get large, but it takes pruning well! The one at Joy Creek was pruned into a pretty narrow, upright form.

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  2. Your images of Bupleurum fruticosum look so much like new growth on a couple of my Euphorbia, they were playing tricks with my mind!

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    1. I had the same thought, looking at those photos. It reminded me of Euphorbia stygiana, albeit with much smaller leaves.

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  3. You are SO lucky to have a great nursery like this with generous owners that share ideas for handling the un-pretty aspects of gardening in your climate. I wish we had a local one willing to address the miseries of the August-September fall-out of our hot, dry summers! Your comments about the Bupleurum have me intrigued, especially as Annie's claims in can handle my zone 10b.

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    1. We really are lucky to have so many nurseries, many of them with owners like Mike and Maurice. Bupleurum fruticosum would probably be much more tidy and compact in your climate with more restricted water. In the PNW, it has the same problem as many Ceanothus, growing large and fast because it's too happy.

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    2. After seeing Denise's comment and doing a bit more research, Bupleurum may or may not do well for you. I'd say it's worth a shot, though. If you can't find it, I know where I can collect seed this fall.

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  4. Blogger Appreciation Day party is a very cool idea and it's fun reading about it from different perspectives. Almost make me want to start blogging... but no.
    I am not familiar with Bupleurum fruticosum: it sounds like a good hardy plant and I'd love to see the progression of your "dozens of 4-6" seedlings" as they mature and fill up space in your garden. Oh that picture of the peeling bark...

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    1. Blogging definitely isn't for everyone. Sometimes I'm not sure it's for me, either, but then I keep doing it.
      Bupleurum fruticosum is such an under-rated plant, but it does get large unless you really control it.

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  5. It was fun seeing everyone and almost as much fun seeing the garden from different perspectives.

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    1. So much fun! I can't wait for the next get-together!

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  6. Ooh, that Mahonia is fabulous!
    And so is your blog that I just discovered while searching for a picture of Rhododendron lepidostylum (the combination with a chartreuse fern is to die for, thank you for the inspiration).

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    1. Thank you very much! I can't take credit for the rhododendron and fern. That combination is growing at the Rhododendron Species Botanic Garden in Federal Way, Washington.

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  7. I love the bupleurum/thoroughwax and have tried it a few times here in SoCal, but it's never happy. So bummed because a dry garden shrub with umbels is right up my alley!

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    1. Wow. That's really surprising, Denise. I wonder if it's insufficient rainfall or if it could be insufficient cold. I see some sources that list zone 9 as its upper limit.

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