End of April Favorites

Welcome to a late edition of month end favorites, hosted by The Danger Garden on the last Friday of the month. I meant to post this on Friday, but I spent much of that day digging some massive yuccas from a friend's yard (and then recovering from said escapade). Then I had trouble choosing favorites. How does a gardener pick a handful of favorites when every bloom, every new leaf or shoot, thrills eyes that were starved by a winter too long and too cold? I've done my best to narrow it down, but really, everything that is growing or blooming right now (let's face it, any plant that's alive) makes me giddy and could be considered a favorite.

Macleaya microcarpa has been high on my list of favorites since it started emerging in March. I kind of want to get more for at least one other spot. Macleaya cordata would be ok, too. Maybe I shouldn't jump the gun. The two small plants I added last year are still settling in and thus haven't started running amok.

It thrills me to no end to see the many (many) divisions of Hakonechloa macra 'All Gold' I planted last year emerging after their slumber.

This terrible photo just doesn't convey the same impression as seeing the emerging chartreuse shoots (say that 5 times fast) in person. I imagine the grass is going to appear rather overwhelming once it fully emerges. Once the camellias, fatsia, Mahonia gracilipes, and other dark green shrubs grow up, the grass will make a (hopefully) beautiful bright ground cover beneath them, like natural uplighting.

Until then, the sword ferns will be helping to balance out the brightness of the hakone grass. Once the young fronds develop their mature dark green, that is. Right now, the bright young shoots are almost the same shade as the grass.

I've moved around 40 western sword ferns from the woods, where they form a solid ground cover over much of the area beneath the trees, into the garden area this spring. I love this common native of the Pacific Northwest. Look at those golden fiddleheads!

Such wonderful architecture at every stage. They will really help give certain areas of the garden a more filled in look as the small shrubs grow. A wonderful garden work horse and a perennial favorite.

Euphorbia 'Nothowlee' (BLACKBIRD) is a favorite once again as it shows off it's orange bracts and red flowers above the dark foliage. This is also a favorite scene with the Carex testacea to the right; lime thyme, Carex comans, Erica arborea 'Estrella Gold' and other plants in the background.

Another favorite scene and a favorite plant, Asarum caudatum. I love the fresh new heart-shaped leaves emerging. Most, if not all, of the pieces I dug out from around the maple (peaking into this photo, top left) are also sending up new growth, and a surprising number of blooms, promising a lush green carpet this summer.

Erica arborea 'Estrella Gold' was a favorite this month last year, too, though last year at this time it was in full bloom. It doesn't need to be in bloom to be a favorite. I love the buds and foliage, too! Which is why I now have 8 of these plants scattered around the garden.

Also blooming later than last year (ok, everything is late this year) Magnolia stellata was a favorite last March. Sorry for the repeats, but it really is a favorite when in bloom.

I got this Disporum while I was working at Cistus. I'm not sure which one it is. It could be 'Night Heron', but I think that cultivar is darker. Either way, I love it. Normally evergreen in the PNW, it was smashed by the snow so I cut back the old stems. It's sending up new stems in spades.

Another favorite native, Vaccinium ovatum, the evergreen huckleberry. I have many of these plants in a bed I replanted this spring. It's not quite finished, but I do intend to cover that project with a blog post...eventually. It's a bit of an experiment. You'll see.

I have three different Fargesia, clumping bamboos that like afternoon shade. This Fargesia rufa is currently my favorite because it sends up new culms (stems) long before the other two. The tallest are already twice the height of the previous culms.

Blechnum penna-marina ssp. alpina is extremely gratifying right now with it's beautiful red-tinged new fronds. I also have the larger species form, Blechnum penna-marina, as well as Blechnum chilense, that are both starting to grow, but this little miniature is ahead of them both.

It was warm enough today that I could smell the Primula vulgaris  veris 'Sunset Shades' as I was walking by 2 or 3 yards away. Definitely a favorite. I wrote this post after two days of wrestling large yuccas out of and then into the ground. Apologies for misnaming the primula in my exhausted state.

Rhododendron roxieanum var. oreonastes, love those speckled flowers! And the foliage is always fantastic. It should do much better now that it's been relocated from the dry shade it was in.

Cornus alternifolia 'WStackman' and this pulmonaria ('Diana Claire', I think) have been a favorite combination for the last two months. Even before the dogwood began to leaf out, the dark twigs and buds against the silvery leaves and blue/purple/pink blooms of the lungwort drew my eye.

Rhododendron 'Emma and May' only has a couple of flower buds this year, but the new growth is just as beautiful, if not as fragrant, as the flowers.

I always love the intense purple of Rhododendron impeditum. This photo shows them a bit more toward the red end of the spectrum than they really are.

This has been a favorite scene all month. I divided some of my bronze Carex comans and put the divisions in the strip in the foreground, along with some Mahonia nervosa for a contrast in texture in color. I also added a Callistemon 'Woodlander's Hardy Red'. None of them make much of an impact yet, but the potential excites me.

Zooming in on part of the scene above, the Alchemilla mollis, which disappointingly turned to mush this winter, has rebounded with gusto. I love it along the bottom of that rotting log. There are a couple sword ferns mixed in with the alchemilla.  Above are the Rhododendron impeditum, and the grey leaves of Calceolaria arachnoidea returning after turning mostly to mush after the coldest part of winter. Oh, and the moss in the rocks, and around the stump and log, along with the Polypodium scouleri I added recently. A lot of favorites in this scene.

Further breaking down the scene two photos above to zoom in on another favorite, Cordyline australis. Having been trying to wait until the soil warmed a bit to avoid potentially rotting them in cold, saturated soil, I lost patience and decided to plant the cordylines I purchased from Garden World in February. They were such a balm after the cold winter.

Speaking of how cold winter was, I've been going back and forth about the wisdom of planting these. They are a bit tender, even though some sources claim they're more reliable than phormiums in the PNW. I planted these instead of large ornamental grasses partly because they are evergreen, but a bad winter like this one can kill them to the ground, making them essentially the same as those deciduous ornamental grasses. Only time will tell how frequently these are killed back in this garden, and whether they'll even survive long-term in this heavy soil.

 I don't regret planting them. Even if they turn out to be annuals in my garden, I'm really enjoying their form, movement, and tropical greenery in the garden. In fact, every time I see Cordyline australis now, I want to buy more. I keep looking through blocks of them at nurseries to pick out the ones with slight differences in color. Oh, this one has a slight bronze color. Ah! That one has an orange midrib! I'm willing to be optimistic and believe that these regular green cordylines will be perennial in my garden, though they will never grow into trees as they can along the coast. I may even plant some of the variegated selections, though with their lesser hardiness and vigor they would certainly be annuals.

I can't end this favorites post without giving some of my houseplants their due, particularly this group of orchids and bromeliads in my bedroom window. They really brighten up even the darkest, rainiest day, which we've had quite a few of this spring.

The flower on my dwarf Billbergia nutans is opening. I love the green petals with inky blue borders. Only one flower this year. Last year it had 3 or 4 flowers on one spike. I think I didn't keep it very happy last summer. I'll treat it a little better this year.


  1. I can understand why you're so excited to see all those plants emerging from their lengthy winter slumber - your garden may be new-ish but it's clearly coming into its own. I recently saw a large area blanketed in Asarum caudatum at the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden - it made me wonder if I could grow it here too. I've lost a few Cordyline here so I'm gun-shy there but I appreciate their appeal. I had something of a problem narrowing my favorites this month too, except that it's because we're already moving into summer with Agapanthus, Achillea, and Arthropodium cirratum nearing bloom stage and the Albizia julibrissin already covered in leaves.

    1. Asarum caudatum probably likes a lot of shade that far south. You should give it a try! It's such a wonderful native ground cover. I'm surprised you've lost cordylines in your climate. Too hot and dry, you think? We have the opposite problem in the north. I guess they really like that stretch along the coast from San Francisco north into Washington.

  2. I enjoy seeing wide shots of your planting beds. I remember them so bare and new last fall; it is so cool to share the excitement of seeing them come to life and fill in. Hakone grass is absolutely my favorite grass. It has good form and movement even in winter when it's all dried up. A bit of a job to cut it back before the new growth comes up in early March, but totally worth it.
    I will look into adding Asarum caudatum to my garden. How vigorous you'd you say it is?

    1. Much of it still seems to bare to me, but the perennials should make things look more full this year. Asarum caudatum has been pretty vigorous for me, but not to the point of being aggressive. It fills patches of bare ground without smothering existing plants. It's even surprised me with its drought tolerance, though it does prefer a good organic layer (decomposing leaves and needles are a favorite) and moist soil.

  3. I abuse my Billbergia nutans terribly, and it rewards me with lots of flowers, I don't know why. It already flowered this winter out in the greenhouse. So many favorites! I didn't know Primula vulgaris had a scent, I'll have to see if I can catch a whiff of it next warmish day. Hey, I can actually see some of the plants in your long shots now, they must be getting bigger.

    1. Oops, that should be Primula veris. Sorry, I was really tired when I wrote this. I think my Billbergia may have been too hot and dry on the patio last summer. Hooray! My plants are starting to become visible in shots other than close-ups!

  4. Wow, Evan - looks amazing! I also love the new look of your blog. Very impressive. Funny, we've been transplanting sword ferns, too. I know the feeling.

    1. Thanks, Tamara! At least sword ferns are shallow-rooted. I wish I'd taken advantage of my endless supply of these wonderful ferns sooner!

  5. Wow, things are really taking shape up there! In my experience, with Macleaya cordata, you're not going to experience much running amok until the second or third year. THEN things will get interesting.

    Walking around Kennedy School a couple days ago I was stunned by the beauty of their Blechnum penna-marina ssp. alpina (I think?) covering the ground on the north side of the building. The red is especially lovely, as is yours. My Alchemilla mollis almost always turns to mush over the winter, but the new growth this spring seems especially vigorous. Thanks for sharing your favs!

    1. Thanks, Loree! I know it will be another year or two before the Macleaya starts to run. I wonder if I'll still love it then, which is why I'm hesitating to plant more in another location. But I kinda think I will anyway! For some reason I was thinking Alchemilla mollis was more evergreen. At least it comes back early in the season. It's those ones that take forever to wake up in spring that really bother me.

  6. You have so many plants exotic and unknown in SoCal, it's fun to see them. A few familiars like the Magnolia stellata. Mine finished blooming months ago.

    Here the problem with Cordyline is too dry and the Phormium mealybug, which also attacks Phormiums. I have not noticed them bothered by heat. I prefer Cordylines to Phormiums because they don't get so enormous and don't revert from interesting to plain.

    1. I always think the same thing when I read blogs about SoCal gardens or other warmer regions. It's fun being able to see what people in different climates can grow.

      I thought drought was the more likely problem, as opposed to heat. Cordylines may be more popular than phormiums here, too. Both are killed to the ground in hard winters like what we just had, but it seems the cordylines come back more reliably.

  7. We did a lot of transplanting sword ferns from the woods to the garden proper early on. In the last two or three years they have been popping up all over the place of their own accord. That's OK. How can we possibly have too many sword ferns?

    1. They popped up on their own in a few places long before I intentionally transplanted any. The oddest ones are in the dry creek bed. They get scorched in the summer, but they always come back. They're such big, beautiful, architectural plants. I love them.


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