More Summer Evaluations

Planted in fall of 2016, the newest garden areas have had time to begin showing what works and what doesn't. As I cast a critical eye over everything to evaluate its performance, I'm also planning extensive changes. More on that later this fall when I start planting again, hopefully. For now, here are a few of the winners, and losers, in the summer-dry garden areas. These photos were taken on August 2nd. I'm writing this post rather later than I had planned, but the point is that up to that day, I hadn't watered these areas at all except for a handful of new plants. After I took these photos, we had a brief cool spell during which I took pity and gave everything a bit of water. Not that it did much, but a few plants looked somewhat relieved afterward. With temperatures in the 70's forecast for later this week, I plan to give everything a bit more water. It's been a very long, dry summer for the Pacific Northwest. Much of Oregon and southwest Washington are in a state of severe drought from lack of spring rains, so it's been a tough year for gardens, especially young ones like mine.

Since this is such a long, photo-heavy post, I've kept the size smaller on most of them, but you can view larger versions by clicking on any photo.

First up, a couple wide shots of the Hell Garden, the driest part of the garden, living up to its name, looking like hell.

It gets progressively drier as you move from bed 1 to 2, 3, and 4.  Bed 3 gets very dry on the end to the left. On the left side of the weeping blue Atlas cedar, bed 5, it gets extremely dry even along the dry creek bed.

I'm skipping the strip along the creek to the right of the cedar because I have been watering that section, so it's not a good illustration of what's been performing with no water. It still needs some editing, though. We'll start the evaluations in the next bed up from the creek border in the first photo, bed 1 for the purposes of this post. I have several Erica arborea 'Estrella Gold' distributed throughout the Hell Garden, so it's interesting to compare their performance in the different areas. This one is in the least harsh bed and put on the most growth. However, since taking these photos, it's also begun to show signs of stress similar to the Cotinus 'Grace' and Grevillea 'Leane' which died in this bed previously, presumably from phytophthora. The Erica, then, may be on its way out, for all that it's growing the fastest of all the ones in this part of the garden. Update: It did die, which makes me very nervous about the fate of the Grevillea miquelliana in this bed. I'm going to have to be very careful with watering.

None of the Santolina chamaecyparissus 'Lemon Queen' in the Hell Garden look good. The ones in this bed grew too much and flopped open awkwardly. I've since cut them back in hopes that they'll grow more foliage and look nice again, but they are ultimately temporary filler plants, so they can go anytime.

I've had mixed results with Pacific Coast Irises in this bed. They seem happy and then suddenly die to almost nothing, then struggle back to life and increase again.

Lavandula stoechas 'Bright Luxurious' is a compact Spanish lavender with, to me, a particularly nice scent. It's growing well in this bed, but seems to suffer from some kind of insect damage, perhaps thrips or some other small sucking insect, that makes the foliage look faded and shabby. They may get yanked.

Penstemon heterophyllus 'Electric Blue' performed so well last year and again this spring, but now many of my plants are dying out. This is one of the better looking ones.

Thymus herba-barona, or caraway-scented thyme, is growing well, but is too open to suppress weeds, and the old flower heads make the plant look crispy and brown. They're so short, it's difficult to trim them off.

Newly-planted this spring, Lomatia tinctoria has impressed me with its toughness. I have been watering it, since it's new, but infrequently and irregularly. The only problem it had was some rabbit nibbling in spring when the little demons came in force and were tasting everything.

Grevillea miqueliana, no problem. It's perfectly happy with no water. Actually, I lie. It has gotten a bit of incidental water from irrigating other plants in this bed.

I have two varieties of Helianthemum, 'Henfield Brilliant' and 'Cheviot'. None of them look good, even the ones that get a bit of supplemental water from their proximity to the Opuntia cacanapa 'Ellisiana' I watered because it seemed to need some supplemental irrigation to fill out its new pads. However, Helianthemum can take a while to really fill in, and these were all grown from cuttings. They may need a bit of help and time to get better established and look good. Now, do I have the patience to wait for that, or will I rip them out in favor of something else?

Thymus serpyllum 'Minor' looks good, but it has gotten some water as I pampered the Opuntia.

Same with this woolly thyme, getting a bit of extra water.

Now contrast the above photo with this patch of woolly thyme in bed 2, which hasn't gotten any water. Woolly thyme isn't supposed to be all those colors...

The yucca in this bed is still getting re-established from a drastic dig and reduction of its rhizomes, but it's filling in nicely. The Salvia officinalis 'Purpurascens' had some trouble this year from me cutting them back too hard and at the wrong time, but have sort of come back. The one in this photo is the best. Some of the others died, others came back poorly. I want to leave my parents with easier plants that don't need cutting back to keep them from getting leggy.

Penstemon pinifolius would prefer more water, please. The ones in other areas that do get occasional water, even just once or twice a month, look wonderful. Not surprising, given that this native of New Mexico and Arizona mountains is accustomed to summer thunderstorms.

In contrast to the Erica arborea 'Estrella Gold' in the previous bed, this one which has received no water didn't grow as much, but it also hasn't died since taking these photos, unlike the other one. Note to self: remove the Epilobium canum 'Catalina' so it's not smothering the little heath.

This trio has done well, though the Mimulus aurantiacus looks like it could do with a bit more water. The blue foliage of Ruta graveolens 'Jackman's Blue' is fresh and healthy, despite that bit of brown at the base from earlier in the year. However, most of the rue I planted in the Hell Garden does not look this good. This one just got lucky with the right spot, I suppose. In the upper right, Arctostaphylos hookeri 'Wayside' is starting to take off after planting in 2016 from stressed bargain plants.

Marrubium supinum is somewhere in the middle, looking ok but not really as full and happy as I would like. I do like the little brown balls left over after the flowers fade. I just wish the foliage would fill out better.

This little Phlomis 'Sunningdale Gold' came through winter as little more than a rooted cutting, not well established. It doesn't look great now, but the fact that it's alive at all is kind of impressive, and the little bit of foliage that is there looks good. I plan to try many more phlomis in the garden, but I will start with larger, healthier plants.

Now we're moving to the next bed out, bed 3. This bed is even drier than the previous two.
Grevillea 'Neil Bell', no water, no problem, which is more than I can say for the Epilobium UC Hybrid surrounding it. That will be replaced by more Arctostaphylos hookeri 'Wayside' as the nearby plant grows, but I may try something else here, too, in the interim.

Mimulus aurantiacus hybrids look a bit more stressed than in bed 2. They'll perk up when they do finally get some water, but do I want to keep seeing this in the garden? Maybe they'll handle summer better as they continue to get more established, or I won't mind as much when there's more healthy green foliage from other plants.

Santolina 'Lemon Queen' in bed 3 didn't grow and flop as much as in bed 1, but still don't look good. It's like they all went nuts flowering and barely produced any foliage.

Yellow with crispy brown interiors isn't a good look for these plants.

Dasiphora fruticosa 'Summer Dawn' is looking good in this bed, even as tiny plants. However, this bed is about the limit of their drought tolerance, as you'll see in the next bed.

Still in bed 3, Callistemon pallidus Best Blue is looking decent. It put on some growth but not much. It would grow more if I supplied irrigation, which I may do next year to push it along to a larger size.

Ceanothus 'Midnight Blue' was obtained as a threadbare discount plant, and it has stayed threadbare. I'm losing patience with it and plan to replace it with the lusher and larger-flowered 'Kurt Zadnick', and I'll start with a healthy plant not a discount one.

Salvia officinalis 'Berggarten' is not impressing me in the drought-tolerant garden. This one is the best of the bunch, and it's still not the lush dome of blue-grey foliage this plant should be. Lots of yellow and very open at the bottom.

None of the Arctostaphylos in the Hell Garden are suffering at all from the dry spring and drier summer, as expected. 'John Dourley' has been putting on new growth continuously all summer. Soon I won't have to worry about the other plants around it looking bad because the Arcto will have overtaken them.

Arctostaphylos manzanita 'Blue Tip' is wonderful as always. My camera seems to want to make things yellow lately. The large leaves are a beautiful blue and contrast wonderfully with the red young stems.

Another example of Mimulus aurantiacus not quite hacking it in the dry garden.

This Erica arborea 'Estrella Gold' at the far left end of bed 3 has struggled in this extremely dry spot, but still appears to be gaining headway as it becomes more established.

Moving on to bed 4, which blends into the trees at the back of the hell garden, this little white-flowered Cistus I got from Fred Meyer, a Little Prince plant, is absolutely wonderful. It's growing into a nice, compact dome of healthy green foliage, not turning into an enormous monster like many Cistus do. Perfect for the front of a border or in smaller gardens. It also has continued to bloom off and on after the main show in spring. I need more of this.

Cupressus macrocarpa 'Wilma Goldcrest' is alive, but extremely slow in this very dry bed. I kind of want something faster.

Some of the Mahonia aquifolium I planted in this bed are starting to take off. Others are still struggling, likely from not getting well-established the first year. Watering drought-tolerant plants well for the first year or two pays huge dividends later.

The many Bupleurum fruticosum seedlings I planted are alive and have grown a little, but not as much as I expected, and almost all are looking drought-stressed to some degree, with yellow and curling leaves.

A wider view of part of bed 4. As you can see, it has a lot of filling in to do.

Here's what most of the Ruta graveolens looks like in the Hell Garden. Fail.

Leptospermum grandifolium bloomed this year, and seems to be holding its own despite some damage in the winter before last. Like the Callistemon, I should have watered this more to help it recover faster from cold damage, grow larger, and get better established.

Even this volunteer Ceanothus seedling has a lot of yellow leaves and looks like it would prefer more water. But it's not suffering too badly. I'm excited to see what it turns into.

Grevillea 'Marshall Olbrich' returned from near death after the terrible winter of 2016/17 and hasn't suffered from the dryness at all.

Ceanothus 'Dark Star' is looking less perky, with a lot of yellow leaves in the interior and the green leaves looking lackluster.

Arctostaphylos 'Pacific Mist' is handling the drought with aplomb and growing well.

I have a lot of Frangula californica 'Leatherleaf' as well as a few 'Eve Case'. They were all somewhat unhealthy when I got them and have had varied success. This is one of the better ones in the Hell Garden. I'm hoping they do better next year as they continue to recover and establish.

I mentioned that bed 3 was the limit of drought-tolerance for Dasiphora fruticosa. Here is one in bed 4 that is very curled and probably would have croaked if I hadn't given the whole area some water after taking these photos.

Salvia sonomensis, on the other hand, is doing fine. I've found this plant very difficult to establish, but have managed to get two plants settled in. Hopefully they take off next year.

Garrya flavescens put on good new growth this year and should continue to improve. It's such a beautiful plant.

Ceanothus gloriosus 'Point Reyes' has had mixed success in bed 4 of the Hell Garden, presumably because I didn't water them well after planting last year from 4-inch pots. And then some got smothered in weeds. On the other hand, the ones that did tough it out are doing surprisingly well and should take off next year.

Now onto bed 5, the super dry section of the creek border. Right now it's planted mostly with Epilobium UC Hybrid and Salvia officinalis 'Berggarten', neither of which are looking remotely good enough to keep here. There are also some wisps of Stipa tenuissima clinging to life. I plan to completely replant this strip with more drought-tolerant plants, but it's difficult to select plants for because it's so narrow, only about 2 feet at the widest point and narrowing down to less than a foot at the other end.

Ceanothus gloriosus var. porrectus, possibly 'Mt. Vision' is doing well enough at one end of this narrow bed. It is a little yellow and drought-stressed, though.

Just a few more plants, beyond the Hell Garden but still in the larger summer-dry part of the garden. First up, though you can barely see its sparse frame in the first photo: Cercocarpus betuloides. This plant has amazed me with its impressive growth, putting on several feet this year.

The small leaves are attractive up close. Eventually this will form a sort of see-through small tree that will light up with feathery seedheads in late summer and fall.

Ceanothus gloriosus 'Emily Brown' has been similarly impressive, expanding to over 6 feet across from a gallon-size plant in two years.

Arbutus unedo hasn't grown as fast, but also hasn't shown any sign of drought stress. It will get more water next year to push it to faster growth.

Dasiphora fruticosa in another part of the dry garden has done very well, blooming off and on all summer. I love the ferny foliage, and I even like the bare stems in winter with their attractive slightly shredding bark and old seed heads. I can't say that about every deciduous shrub. Anyway, these look a lot better than the brown, dead annuals surrounding them.

Mahonia repens in the same area doing just fine with no water.

Likewise, Catalpa bignonioides 'Aurea' is doing fine with no water this year. In fact, it's starting to take off. This area isn't nearly as dry as the Hell Garden, though, and the big mound of soil to the south of this particular bed I think help keeps it even more moist, though it still dries out and cracks in summer.

The various Quercus mexicana seedlings in this area have been putting on good growth this year. They might start looking like small trees in a few more years.

Quercus tomentella grew well this year, after losing the previous top to some pre-existing stem damage and a bad winter. However, it's still more yellow than it should be. Some organic nitrogen feed might be in order next year.

And finally (yes, you've really reached the end), Carpenteria californica in hedgerow along the road. Despite some old leaves looking a little messy on the interior, this plant is looking good and growing well this year. I plan to add several more to the garden. I love the glossy green foliage with pale undersides, and of course the flowers, though this one is too young to bloom still. I also love that this plant can take full sun as well as light dry shade. I'll be adding a few to the oak woodland, which is still full sun until the oaks grow up, and the dry shade border which gets a few hours of morning sun and then shade.

Summer still has a ways to go, though our temperatures have finally moderated and we've gotten a couple tenths of an inch of rain. The dry season won't be over until some time in late September, though with the way things have been going, it may not end until sometime in October this year.  Though not every year will be this dry, it is becoming a trend, and gardeners in the Pacific Northwest need to consider their plant choices more carefully, unless they like watering all summer. I have lists upon lists planning changes to the garden from this fall through next spring. Lists of plants to start myself from seeds and cuttings, lists of plants to purchase, lists of what to add and remove from each individual bed. My mind is spinning with lists, even though I have them all written down.


  1. You're a tough taskmaster with your plants but I'm sure you'll settle on plants that meet your tests of them in time. If it helps any, my own Santolina, now beginning their 3rd year in the the garden, have also flopped over and currently look like hell despite the water they've received from our irrigation system. I almost yanked them last year when they did that but they responded well to a hard pruning and I'm counting on that again this year.

    1. I am terribly unfair to my plants. I hardly take care of them and then expect miracles. I expect these Santolina will recover well, but I'm just not sure it's worth keeping them when they look so bad in summer. They really should have been cut back as soon as the blooms started to fade, but I just didn't get to it in time. I've gotten kind of tired of plants with requisite, time-sensitive shearing.

  2. Excellent information and post, Evan. Many of these I grow as well, it's great to see how well they do for you with such limited water. Your Santolina look much like mine that did get some water as Kris' did, they opened up and flopped over. I deadheaded two because I couldn't stand it any longer, but am waiting to cut them all back (about 10 total) hard in late winter/early spring which is apparently the best thing to do to keep them compact and unruly. I'll let you know how it goes.

    1. Thanks, Tamara! I feel a little bad because my last 3 posts have been full of the ugly side of gardening. I feel like my next post should be a pretty one, but I make no promises. Sometimes gardening is ugly. I ended up cutting most of my santolina back because I just couldn't stand looking at them anymore. I'm going to remove quite a few. We'll see how many are left when I'm done.

    2. Never be afraid to share the ugly side of gardening, keeping it real is VERY imporant.

    3. Oh, I'm not afraid. I just feel I should balance it out a bit! lol

  3. So sorry to learn of your Erica arborea death. After I asked you about sources I did find a couple plants at Shorty’s up in Vancouver (I drove up to purchase allergy/ congestion meds which are outlawed here in Oregon thank to the meth heads) but for some reason didn’t purchase. I’ve been feeling guilty for not cutting back my Santolina yet (the flowes), I feel better seeing you haven’t either.

    1. It's a little sad, but I have 7 more in various beds throughout the garden. I'm more worried that this is the third plant I've lost in this fashion in that bed. I'm going to have to be careful with my plant selection there. Oh gosh, no. I was completely overwhelmed earlier this summer and missed so many gardening tasks like cutting back the Santolina. I'm finally starting to get things under control now.

  4. I read this post on my phone a few days ago but it's too hard to comment that way, I intended to come back and then forgot, so I'm here now. I don't know if you've ever mentioned ornamental grasses before on your blog, but you don't mention any in this post. Do you not grow any/don't like them? Many of mine are very drought tolerant. I have a very tough love attitude to certain areas of my garden, much like you. Parts of the front, which is in full western sun, get no water all summer. I'm actually planning to add more grasses this fall/winter/spring (2019).

    1. I've never been a huge fan of ornamental grasses, not to say that I don't like or grow any. I've mentioned them before on my blog, but this post was focusing on plants that received no supplemental water up to that point, and the only grasses I haven't watered at all are Stipa gigantea and tenuissima. It was a bit of an oversight not to mention them. I was more focused on the woody plants. I've actually really been enjoying the Stipa gigantea flower stalks. The Stipa tenuissima I did briefly mention as wisps clinging to life in a particularly hard spot. They're doing fine in other places, but their seeds tend to get tangled and matted, and they stick to sticky-leaved plants like Mimulus aurantiacus and Cistus ladanifer.

  5. As someone who just crams plants into any available space (undoubtedly left by something dying,) I'm truly impressed with all of the thought , trials, and editing that you do.

    1. And yet, your garden is beautifully burgeoning and mine is, well, not. The shady areas where I actually water are catching up, though!


Post a Comment

Popular Posts