Abies balsamea 'Nana'

Abies balsamea 'Nana'

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

January Favorites and Wednesday Vignette

This winter is certainly turning out to be a good test for hardiness and plants that look good in winter despite snow, ice, and multiple days below freezing. My garden is full of young plants showing various levels of damage. Some are outright dead, while many will likely recover and be much hardier by next winter. I won't know for sure until the weather warms in spring, maybe even summer. Still, it's awfully depressing that this horrible winter had to happen the year I chose to do my big garden expansion and fall planting.
Callistemon 'Eleanor' looks decidedly water-soaked in this photo, taken shortly after the thaw. The leaves on both of my plants have since begun to bleach, definitely dead. This came as a bit of a surprise, as 'Eleanor' is supposed to be quite hardy. I wonder if it isn't the true 'Eleanor'. I hope they come back from the roots. 
But it's not all bad. Some plants have surprised me in a good way, and are looking great. One of my favorites this month may even surprise readers. If you've been following this blog long enough, or just know my gardening style, you'll know I'm not big on hardy cacti. I enjoy seeing some of them in other gardens, but I've never had a great desire to have any in mine. So it was with some surprise that an opuntia has been one of my favorite plants this month.

I'm not sure which one this is. It hitched a ride to my garden as a random pad in the pot of Lapageria rosea I brought home almost two years ago. The lapageria has a pampered life, getting moved around to just the right spot throughout the year so it doesn't get too hot or too cold. It spends winter in the greenhouse with the other tender plants that don't need as much warmth as houseplants. But the random opuntia pad? I tossed it into the Stump St. Helens bed, next to the Viburnum davidii. It was spineless, without even glochids, as far as I could see (or feel). Why not? I left it alone, glancing at it whenever I happened to be looking at the other plants in the bed. One day, I notice a new pad forming. It got chewed up by a slug, but the plant just produced another pad. They weren't very big, but I was surprised it seemed to be doing so well in this bed in half shade, slightly raised above the surrounding ground level, but with no special amendments to my clay loam.
Wait, that's not an opuntia. This was the closest I could find to a photo of it from last year, in July. It's just a few inches from the base of the pearly everlasting in this photo. It's a great illustration of how little I thought of it at the time.
It surprised me even more when it survived 19 degrees (F) and record rain last fall and winter. I had thought for sure it was the tender, spineless form of Opuntia ficus-indica (that being the only spineless opuntia I knew of, in my limited knowledge of cacti) and would collapse with any significant frost. Even more surprising was that it didn't rot with all the rain. I hadn't mixed any gravel in to improve drainage where I tossed the pad down. Ok, I thought, maybe this plant is worth keeping after all.

The next summer, it grew larger pads, and they mostly escaped being eaten by slugs. Still not a very big plant, overall, but it was starting to look like something. I still didn't pay a whole lot of attention to it, though. Fast forward to this winter. Multiple snow events where the snow stayed for several days to over a week, multiple days in a row where the temperature never rose above freezing, and an ultimate low between 11 and 12 degrees Fahrenheit. I thought for sure the little opuntia would be mush. On the 18th, after the snow finally melted and the temperature had soared to a balmy 53F, I went out to check on this nameless hitchhiker. Wouldn't you know? It looks perfect! The original pad has shriveled, true, but that's to be expected after a few years. The rest of it looks fine.
This is the plucky little opuntia now. It's the first photo I've ever taken of it, and I think you can see why. It's not much to look at, is it?
While researching potential plants to add to the garden this year, I stumbled upon several other spineless opuntia, the most exciting of which (to me) is the hardy Opuntia cacanapa 'Ellisiana'. It seems there may be several clones of this plant floating around, some with glochids but no spines, and some purportedly sans glochids or spines. Naturally, I want the latter. The glochids are the worst part. I love the architecture of the pads, and it would make a great textural contrast to the generally small-leaved shrubs in the hell garden. Looks like 2017 will be the year I intentionally plant cacti in my garden. I never would have imagined that one of my favorite plants to come out of this awful winter would be an opuntia, though I still don't intend to plant any of the spiny ones. I wonder if I'll ever be able to figure out the name of my hitchhiker. Right now I'm guessing perhaps a selection of Opuntia humifusa, but I'm really just guessing. It's still only a few pads and has yet to show its full size or growth habit, let alone flowers.

While I've been craving green more than anything else, two of my favorite plants this month have very little green to show. The brilliant stems of Cornus sericea 'Midwinter Fire' and spidery blooms of Hamamelis 'Jelena' glow, whether the day is dark and rainy or everything is covered in bleak, white snow.

Back to craving green. This Juncus, which was relocated from where it seeded itself in on a dry mound in almost full sun, has become one of my favorites. It's grown a bit more lush since I relocated it to the edge of the dry creek bed but, though it has spread out a bit after all that snow, it's still mostly upright. I love the spiky green punctuations it provides in this line of mostly Carex comans. Because this plant is so tough and evergreen (and available), I'm going to divided these clumps in spring and spread them further along the dry creek bed and into other beds, if I have enough. I also collected and scattered seed last fall, so hopefully I'll have more volunteers showing up.

Polystichum munitum, the western sword fern, is remarkably upright when grown in sun. It did get a little toasted in summer, but this plant is still getting established and did better than the previous year. The ferns out in the woods, under the trees and thus protected from some of the snow, are also still pretty resiliently upright. I'll be harvesting more from our woods to fill in the shadier parts of the garden.

I've become a fan of Phygelius. I had already fallen for them last summer when they were blooming, but I appreciate them even more now. While the fuchsias have all had their leaves fried off by cold, and their stems have probably died to the ground, the Phygelius are barely damaged. Remember, it got down to 11-12F in my garden one night, and 13F the next, with multiple days below freezing. For some reason I just didn't have much faith that these would be so hardy. Unfortunately, I'm not sure which cultivar this is.

I know I've shown this image, or one like it, a dozen times already, but I'm still not sick of it. (Hopefully no one else is, either.) Podocarpus 'Blue Gem' and the bronze form of Carex comans look good all year. While the carex really is sort of a brown color, it's in warm shades that help to combat the gloom of winter. The rich blue-green of the podocarpus is always a favorite of mine, and the contrasting cool tone enhances the warmth of the sedge.

Those are my favorites for January. Please visit Loree at The Danger Garden to see more plants that are helping to keep their gardener's spirits up through the winter doldrums.

Last Saturday I went for a walk in the woods. I'd been wanting to get out for a long walk for weeks, but the snow and extreme cold kept me indoors. It was wonderful to enjoy the natural scenery. I didn't even mind that it started raining as I headed back. Really, any one of these could be my contribution to Wednesday Vignette, hosted by Anna at Flutter&Hum, but I think I'm favorite the mossy maple trunks in the second photo. It's more important than ever that we take time to recharge, however each of us may do that. For me, it's going out into nature and soaking up all that natural beauty.
I love this old stump sticking up out of a beaver pond, covered in Polypodium glycyrrhiza (licorice fern).

So bright! So mossy! This is why I love living in the Pacific Northwest. Even the deciduous trees are often evergreen.

An impressive swath of Mahonia (or Berberis) nervosa. I'm planning to incorporate a fair amount of this tough, beautiful native evergreen into my garden this year.

I love mosses. We have so many in the PNW, and some of them are very lush, like this Plagiomnium species. (Thank goodness for field guides, so I can impress people with my "knowledge".)

More beautiful moss draping these young Douglas firs. 

Last spring I was obsessed with figuring out the name of this native sedge with broad leaves. With the help of a couple different Facebook groups, I'm sort of almost tentatively certain this is Carex hendersonii. Ok, I suppose I'm a little more sure than that. I'm happy to see that it's evergreen. Plants growing in drier locations are still showing their summer scorch and a bit of winter dieback, but when grown in moist, shady areas like this patch, it's a beautiful native evergreen, pairing well with sword fern and salal.
Thanks, as always, for reading. For my fellow gardeners in the PNW, I hope you've taken advantage of the milder weather to get out and revitalize. Of course, I wish the same for everyone else. I just know we've really needed it here.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

From Snowy to Soggy

Yesterday the thaw finally began in my garden. Temperatures hovered around 34 for most of the day until sometime after noon, when it shot up to 46F. Rain and wind accompanied the rising temperature, and by the time it got dark there was only a little snow left on the ground. I avidly watched melting snow cascading out of the trees and thinning on the ground until the sun went down. I woke up to 50 degrees, with rain still pouring and wind still howling. I'm relieved to have the snow gone and the temperature above freezing. It's very soggy out there, but that's pretty normal for winter in the PNW. It seems marvelous in comparison to what we've been getting for the last month.

Usnea lichen plastered to my window by the wind and rain. Sorry for the blurry phone picture.
As a reminder, here's what my garden looked like last week. It didn't change much until yesterday. Seven inches of snow gone in less than 24 hours, probably less than 12 hours, actually.

It's late for both, but this post is my contribution to Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day, hosted by Carol at May Dreams Gardens and Foliage Follow-Up, hosted by Pam at Digging. I refused to take any more snow photos, so I waited until it melted so I could take stock of my garden, find the few blooms outside, and judge what foliage still looks good after being deep frozen and flattened over the last 2-3 weeks.

My houseplants have really been getting a lot of attention this winter. I'm sure they're as relieved as I am to have the snow gone, so that pesky guy who's always staring at them and poking them will leave them alone.
Bloom spike on an unknown Tillandsia, with Quesnellia marmorata foliage in the background.

Ludisia discolor blooms rising above Vriesea ospinae-gruberi (smudged form).

Vriesea ospinae-gruberi is surprising me with the speed of growth on its bloom spike.

My last Christmas cactus bloom.

The latest spike on Neostylis Lou Sneary 'Bluebird'

This is only the second or third tillandsia I've managed to rebloom, Tillandsia fuchsii var. gracilis

Next to last bloom on Phragmipedium Olaf Gruss, at least for a little while. Two more spikes are about ready to come out of the leaves.

The pampered mottled-leaf Phalaenopsis growing under lights are all rapidly developing flower buds, except one which seems to have a stalled bloom spike down in the leaves.
 As you can see, there's a lot happening indoors, and that's just the flowers, though almost all of my houseplants are chosen for foliage first. Now we'll check on the greenhouse. No major losses out there, though a cryptanthus must have gotten hit with some neem oil while I was spraying and had a bad reaction. It may not recover, but I have another of the same type in the house. I was pretty negligent with the greenhouse during this cold weather. I didn't want to go outside at all. Luckily, the heater kept working and nothing dried out too much.
Erica oatesii got a little bit dry and was drooping slightly. The flowers look a little wilted, too. Oops.

Lots of flower spikes on this gorgeous Gasteria from Cistus. I love it for the plump grey, almost silver leaves, but the flowers are a very nice bonus.

I love this little variegated Podocarpus macrophylla. It was slow to start, but it seems to be gaining vigor.

This unknown Agapetes (or possibly Vaccinium) from the Rhododendron Species Botanic Garden is about to bloom for the first time for me. Collection SEH#25066
 Ok. Moving out to the garden now. It was hard not to focus on all the damaged, squashed, bedraggled plants, but I tried to pay attention to what does look good. Someday all the evergreen trees and shrubs I planted will grow up and the garden won't look so sad in winter.
Viburnum davidii really is invaluable in winter with its beautiful green leaves with reddish stems and buds.

Vibrantly green Hutchinsia alpina. I love this diminutive ground cover.

I meant to take rooted bits of this Arctostaphylos uva-ursi to spread around the garden, but it's been too cold for the last month. Soon. Again with the green leaves and red stems. I love it.

A little flattened by snow and washed out by cold, but I still enjoy this patch of Carex comans, with red Cornus sericea 'Hedgerows Gold' on the right. It even makes the brown stems of Mimulus cardinalis look good.

Hamamelis 'Jelena' says, "I still ain't bovvered." (If you don't get it, you need more Catherine Tate in your life, though it's an acquired taste.)

Chestnut leaves still looking great on Comptonia peregrinans, aided by a green Juncus. It's retained a lot more leaves than it did last year. I'm not complaining. This is one brown I don't mind.

Penny's Pink hellebore just about ready to open.

Still loving the seed heads of Prunella vulgaris. It will be even better when the Adiantum venustum fills in around it.

The two plants above reside in this bed. As you can see, the plants have a lot of filling in to do.

The bed next to it is even worse. Ugh. What a flat, featureless mess. A featureless mess? How did I manage that?

The silver (in summer) Mahonia confusa seedling is showing some cold-induced speckling. That may disappear or manifest as actual damage. Too soon to tell.

I thought I had enough Vaccinium ovatum, but after this winter I think I want even more. Gorgeous evergreen foliage in one of the toughest beds I have, and it looks like those flower buds could pop open any day.

Blechnum penna-marina ssp. alpina looking good.

I may be adding more Sarcococca to my shady areas, too. S. hookeriana var. humilis is full of flower buds ready to open any day. 

Edgeworthia chrysantha 'Akebono' doesn't appear to show any vegetative damage, but at least one of the flower buds is falling apart. It's the one that started to open back in December. I wonder if the other three buds will hang on or start to fall apart, too. 

I was trying not to include any of the really ugly photos in this post (I'll do a separate damage report later) but this Baccharis really disappointed me. It looked so good, but I guess the cold and then the snow was too much for it after all. It still has some green in there, so we'll see how it recovers in spring. It did put on a lot of late growth that may not have been fully hardened. Maybe it will do better next year.

I only have two Calocedrus decurrens, and they're both out by the road, but they've been among my favorite plants this winter. I'm planning to add more to peripheral areas that need screening, but maybe I should invite some into the garden proper.

I always love this combination of Acer griseum bark and Osmanthus heterophyllus 'Goshiki'. The one on the left dropped a lot of leaves, but I think that's just because I moved it this year and it wasn't very happy about it.

Cornus sanguinea 'Midwinter Fire' was stunning in the snow and is still one of the bright spots of my winter landscape after the snow has melted. I need more blue Juncus and other evergreens to fill in around the cornus and provide contrast.

Cedrus deodara 'Feelin' Blue' and Abies balsamea 'Nana' always look good, but are even more appreciated in winter.

Callistemon pityoides [Mt. Kosciuszko form] was a little sprawly in the snow, but popped right back up as soon as it melted. This, C. viridiflorus, and possibly C. pallidus 'Best Blue' all appear undamaged (despite the latter two being very small plants added last year), while my other callistemon all show damage to some degree.

Euphorbia 'Ascot Rainbow', with Calluna vulgaris providing an almost olive-green backdrop.

Much of the Driveway Island still looks good, flattened Seseli gummiferum not withstanding.  The mix of colors here really brightens my mood.

Erica carnea started opening during the extreme cold and snow.

Helleborus argutifolius in bud, though it looks a little water-soaked.

More Calluna vulgaris and Carex comans, with dried stems of Stipa gigantea, Aster x frikartii 'Monch', and an Allium christophii inflorescence.

Erysimum buds ready to pop despite being buried in snow.

This combination of Helleborus x sternii and Carex comans was looking like a flop, the carex overtaking the hellebore. But a bit of growth on the part of the hellebore and some flattening by rain and snow of the carex has made it a success. I love the textural contrast.

Erica x darleyensis and a blazing orange Calluna vulgaris.

Another Erysimum, this one cherry red. The plants themselves are almost all sprawled, flopped, and ugly, but I'll take the flowers. I'll cut back the plants at some point to make them grow back all pretty.
I know it's only mid-January, but can this be the end of winter in the Pacific Northwest? We've already gotten a lot more than we're used to. My mind has been spinning with garden plans. I'm doubling down on my plans to add more solid, drought-tolerant evergreens to the garden. It's easy enough to include flowers, even if they are incidental to the foliage, but what I really crave is green, pure and simple. If you made it this far, thanks for taking the time to read this lengthy post.
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!