Appreciating what went right

I've done several posts this summer on the plants and garden areas that haven't worked out, and while I firmly believe in showing the uglier side of gardening, it's important to look at what is working, too. If you only focus on what's wrong, even a garden becomes depressing. Really, a lot of things have done very well this year and parts of the garden have been delighting me all season for one reason or another. These photos are all from September 3rd and thus a little outdated, but most of the plants shown haven't changed too much since then. I kept the photos smaller because there are so many, but I encourage you to click on the individual photos to see larger versions, especially the wider shots. They don't show so well as small photos.

Melianthus villosus surprised me this year by blooming. The flowers were fun curiosities, though not as showy or dramatic as those of its larger cousin, Melianthus major. As you can see, the Melianthus managed to reach just past the window this year. It's massive. I'm going to start having to prune it partway through summer, I think, to help contain it and hopefully avoid the end of season flop. It's starting a little in this photo, though you can't see it much. The recent rains (over 1.5" now!) have exacerbated the situation, making a big hole in the center. Perhaps some pruning next year will prevent that and keep this monster more compact. I'm amazed at how big and lush this plant has become. And this is supposed to be smaller than Melianthus major? While I originally grew it from seed, the first seedling I planted died. The plant in the photo is a cutting from one of the seedlings I gave to Cistus Nursery.

Much of the bed along the western side of the house is still awkward and needs more time to fill in, but this little section is fantastic. Euphorbia 'Ascot Rainbow' combines with Veronica (Hebe) pimeleoides 'Quicksilver' and 'Western Hills', as well as Thymus 'Fragrantissimus' and Bupleurum spinosum. Oh, and a bit of Sedum spurium in the corner, too. The colors play off of each other and show up against the house so well.

The ramp at the front of the house has had a few problems, like one heather dying, perhaps from insufficient water, but for the most part it's really filled in and looks great. Still a few holes to fill, but that will be easy now that I have a palette of plants that seems to grow well in this odd bed.

One section of the ramp. Clockwise from lower center: Geranium harveyi, Calluna vulgaris, golden Erica cultivar, Dianthus 'Frosty Fire' (which is a slug and armyworm magnet I've been meaning to remove, oops forgot), another Calluna vulgaris, and Euphorbia rigida. I plan to fill in the remaining holes with more Euphorbia rigida.

This corner of the house frustrated me for some time. It has a thick layer of very fine, decomposed bark mulch over gritty clay and gravel, and it can get quite wet in spots during winter. Seems I've found a few plants that love this hot southwest corner, including a Grevillea x gaudichaudii I never expected to survive the first winter. Behind the grevillea, Kniphofia caulescens sends up flower spikes late in August and September from the architectural blue leaves. To the left of the Kniphofia, Rosmarinus officinalis 'Foxtail' spreads in arching, textural waves. Yucca filamentosa adds more architecture, more reliably evergreen than the poker. Silver Geranium robustum volunteered in this bed from plants around the corner. It does seed around a bit. Out of frame to the left are callistemons, bronze Carex comans, and a Leptospermum namadgiensis, which handle the wetter winter spots in this bed well. Further to the left, the back slope of the ramp is covered in Arctostaphylos uva-ursi and a random Calluna vulgaris seedling which has received no supplemental water this summer and didn't flinch. No doubt the concrete of the ramp gives it a cool root space which helps.

Looking down the path along the south end of the house, with Cistus, Arctostaphylos, California fuchsias, Juncus, and Hemerocallis lilioasphodelus. In the distance, across the creek bed, Rudbeckia fulgida 'Goldsturm' and Molinia caerulea 'Variegata' glow.

Front view of the bed on the south end of the house. I have a couple Callistemon pallidus [best blue] and a Leptospermum namadgiensis in this bed as well that will eventually grow up so the Arctostaphylos silvicola 'Ghostly' in the center isn't so alone in its height.

One of the better sections of the dry creek bed border is this corner, full of Molinia caerulea 'Variegata, Rudbeckia fulgida 'Goldsturm', and Calluna vulgaris. I've started adding in some Juncus patens to help carry it through to spring after the grasses and rudbeckia are cut back in late winter.

The "rock garden" off the patio has really filled in well, too. Such a difficult, hot site with strange soil. It's been a challenge finding plants to grow here, though less so since I stopped denying just how hot it gets. Funny how that works.

Epilobium septentrionale 'Wayne's Silver' punctuates among shades of green from prostrate Leptospermum rupestre and Podocarpus lawrencei 'Blue Gem'

Molinia caerulea 'Variegata' does ok in this bed, though I noticed this year they looked a bit stressed and balding in the middle. Guess it's time to dig and divide them, and maybe water a bit more next year. Callistemon do very well in this bed, as ado dwarf conifers, provided they can take the heat. Penstemon pinifolius surprised me by not only thriving but reseeding in this bed. I thought it would hate the thick layer of organic matter over clay soil, but it seems quite happy.

Sedum forsterianum wants a bit more water than I give this bed, thus it shrivels almost to nothing in summer, but it does produce tall flower spikes that age to these brown seed heads. I like the way they look against the silver of the 'Lemon Queen' santolina. Interestingly, this bed is where my best santolina grow. They stay compact, with more foliage instead of seemingly blooming themselves to a leggy death as they've been doing in the hell garden.

I did mention handling the heat. Some of the first things planted in this bed were these 4 Abies balsamea 'Nana'. They did ok the first summer or two, when they got more water and I think we had cooler weather. The past several years, though, with less water and hotter summers, they've bleached and browned out on the south sides. Those areas then die out in winter and become open, bare patches the next spring. They're slated for replacement with more heat-tolerant evergreens, to be determined. The Citrus trifoliata 'Flying Dragon' in the middle of the firs had terrible sunburn on the bark the first year I planted it, which held it back for the first several years. This year, it starting growing decently again, having healed over enough of the scorched areas to sustain healthy growth. I'm glad it seems to be holding its own in this bed. To the right, Cedrus deodara 'Feelin' Blue' and Callistemon pityoides [Mt. Kosciusco Form] have been nothing short of excellent from day one.

Stepping back for a wider view of the rock garden as viewed from the patio, with the Hell Garden in the background.

This section of the dry creek bed still needs work to find plants that work, but a few seem to be doing well. What's missing at this point is some nice deep green evergreen foliage. It's hotter and drier than the corner with the Molinia and Rudbeckia.

The Juncus inflexus and Erica are doing quite well. Cornus sanguinea 'Midwinter Fire' stays a bit yellow through summer, but grows well enough. One has even started to spread, as you can see from the sprout at the bottom of this photo.

I planted southern Oregon native, Leucothoe davisiae in this bed as that simple green evergreen. Two have done ok this summer, but a third died for lack of water. I know I need to water these more until they get well established, but they might need more water than this area can offer even after being well established. I'm not sure.

This photo is particularly for Alison, who was wondering about ornamental grasses in my garden, since I didn't mention them in my last evaluation post. I don't have many, but one of my favorites is Stipa gigantea. The plants in the Hell Garden are still young and relatively sparse, but they did bloom enough this summer to give a preview of the effect they'll eventually produce, shimmering gold clouds waving in the breeze, especially on summer mornings around 9 or 10, when the light hits them from behind. The one in the foreground actually turned out to be a dwarf, growing just over 4 feet tall in the richest, least dry bed in the Hell Garden, whilst the others in leaner parts of this garden area are all the typical 6-7 feet tall. These are all seedlings from my original plants in the Driveway Island. Seeds are so much fun!

This bed got a thorough clean-up and reworking this summer, but one corner has been looking good, with Euphorbia cyparissias 'Fen's Ruby' carpeting the ground around Yucca gloriosa var. tristis, Iris pallida 'Argentea', Cotinus 'Grace', and Artemisia 'Powis Castle'.

Trees beginning to look like trees! Heptacodium miconioides and Acer griseum have both proven to be relatively fast growers in their respective locations.

Another ornamental grass, Miscanthus sinensis 'Morning Light' against Cotinus 'Grace'.

Dotted throughout the Hell Garden and The Park are these Dasiphora fruticosa 'Summer Dawn'. I love the pale yellow flowers. The plants in The Park have been blooming all summer, but those in the drier Hell Garden stopped early and looked rather stressed. I'll leave most of them to become more established, though I may relocate a few to The Park since they seem to like that area more.

So, if you water a Lagerstroemia, it actually grows! Now I get it. I poured the water on this 'Natchez' crapemyrtle in the latter half of summer to push it along and it rewarded me with growth. Must remember to start watering it earlier next year. It's still getting established, after all.

It even made flower buds! They are significantly more advanced now compared to this photo taken a week or two ago. I would probably have blooms already if I'd started watering sooner in summer. I'm just happy it's putting on good growth. This was a gift from a friend who had kept it in a pot for quite a long time. It takes awhile for such plants to realize they're not in a pot anymore and really sink their roots in the ground.

Calceolaria arachnoidea always delights in summer, with waves of deep purple flowers against furry grey foliage. They appear almost continuously if deadheaded and watered sufficiently, stopping only in the very hottest weather or if it gets very dry.

Polystichum munitum and Alchemilla mollis growing out from under a log, such a Pacific Northwest scene. The lady's mantle gets a bit too big when it flowers in spring, but grows back in better proportions after a trim.

Bolax gummifera has surprised me with its vigor, creating a wonderfully textural ground cover in this raised bed along with Astelia nivicola 'Red Devil' and Calceolaria arachnoidea. I do water it in summer, but the soil drains so fast it can be remarkably dry.

This bed is developing lots of wonderful vignettes, like this one with Veronica (Hebe) ochracea 'James Stirling', Erythranthe (Mimulus) cardinalis, Rhododendron pachysanthum, Osmanthus heterophyllus 'Goshiki', and just a bit of Abutilon megapotamicum. I try to pull out all of the monkey flower, because it just gets too aggressive in this bed, but there's such a massive seed bank of it that more simply appear and I inevitably fall behind. It's not always a bad thing for the weeds to get ahead of you.

Another vignette, with Bolax gummifera spreading out from under Rhododendron impeditum, with Calceolaria arachnoidea and Aquilegia foliage behind. The Calceoaria is poised to engulf the rhododendron and will have to be reduced, again. The cool weather we're having now makes it the perfect time to propagate it, though, so those pieces will go to good use.

I just love to see areas filling in, like here in the Big Leaf Bed. It's looking nice and lush, and increased weeding has allowed the ground covers to fill in better.

But don't weed these! Baby Gentiana asclepiadea! How cool!

So much great texture in this bed. Sword ferns, rhododendrons, Japanese umbrella pine, Asarum caudatum, and more!

Rhododendron faithiae was blooming all the way into the second week of September this year! The huge flowers are deliciously fragrant, though they do unfortunately start turning brown quickly. Perhaps if I had it in more shade or lived in a climate with summer rainfall they would last longer. Still worth it! I'm a little concerned though. This year, it had flower buds on nearly every branch end, but almost all the vegetative buds failed to grow. So I have few flower buds for next year. Hopefully it grows more next year.

Rhododendron roxieanum var. oreonastes is grown primarily for the foliage. Here it is in the foreground with a few off-season flowers opening and Rhododendron faithiae in the background. This is one of my favorite rhododendrons.

Blechnum chilense has done very well this year, with ample water. Rhododendron rex produced a lot of new growth, though almost all the leaves were distorted in some way. Not sure if it was the heatwaves and drought in spring or winter damage. I suspect the former.

Foliage texture and color. Elaeagnus pungens 'Maculata', Comptonia peregrina, and Tetrapanax papyrifera 'Steroidal Giant'. Who needs flowers?

More tetrapanax, with Fargesia dracocephala 'Rufa' and volunteer Juncus and Carex. These are all growing in rather heavy soil that gets very soggy in winter, though puddles only form after months of heavy rain and are short-lived.

Fargesia robusta 'Wenchuan' is a new bamboo in the garden this year and one I've very excited about. I can't wait to see it grow!

I redid much of this bed this year, adding many more plants and removing as much of the wild strawberry as possible. It's just too thuggish in this moist, rich bed. But look at that Corylopsis spicata! That tallest branch is just growth from this year, roughly 4 feet. "Vigorous" seems to be an understatement.

The Corylopsis is a seedling I found in a garden at one of my former jobs. It didn't have this wonderful chartreuse color when I weeded it out and saved it, but it's turned out to be an outstanding plant. More greener than the more yellow Corylopsis spicata 'Aurea', or maybe it's just the conditions it grows in. I love the contrast between the big, bright corylopsis leaves and the tiny, dark green Azara microphylla leaves.

The leaves on that tallest branch are huge. I know people have to ask, what with the hamster-handed orange ape currently flinging feces in the Whitehouse (sorry, it just slipped out), but I have medium-large hands. The leaves really are big. Purple stems and new leaves add to the appeal. Not that I even need flowers, but I think the older branches of this plant are forming flower buds this year and I have to admit I'm excited. This will be the first time this seedling blooms.

Sunlight hits the corylopsis leaves, with a blue-green Mahonia eurybracteata in shadow, surrounded by Carex comans. It's all about the foliage. This particular mahonia isn't fully silver, but a metallic blue-green that's attractive nonetheless.

A young Schefflera delavayi emerging from Carex comans.

Stepping back a bit to catch more of this bed. I'm so happy with it now. It was a problem I wasn't sure how to handle for a couple years, but I think I've got it working now. This photo makes things a bit blue. I was playing with the color temperature on my camera, as I haven't been satisfied with the overly-yellow look the automatic color balance tends toward.

Trachycarpus fortunei 'Wagnerianus' peaking up from below, with Disanthus cercidifolius 'Ena Nishiki' coming in from the left and chartreuse Hosta 'The Shining' in the back. I have native deer ferns, Blechnum spicant, planted under the hostas, so there will still be foliage there when the hostas die down for winter.

A young Fargesia sp. Jiuzhaigou 1 creating a thin lace of tiny green leaves, with the azara in the background.

The back side of the bed,with Acorus gramineus 'Ogon', ostrich fern, Carex comans, Hosta 'The Shining', and more.

On to another bed. Syneilesis is starting to take on autumnal tones. Remember, this was on September 3rd. Seems a little early to start turning yellow. I think this bed was a little dry this summer. At the bottom of the photo is another little Schefflera delavayi, and you can see that cursed wild strawberry covering the whole bed underneath it all. It's a nice, tough, native plant, but it's choking out the black mondo grass and other ground covers in this bed. Must make a choice to either remove the strawberry, or give up on the smaller plants in this bed and stick with things that grow taller than the strawberry. But this post is about what's going well.

This bed is starting to fill out nicely. Stachyurus praecox 'Sterling Silver' is growing like a scifi monster at a nuclear power plant. That is to say, it's growing very fast, not ugly or monstrous at all. The blue-green leaves, edged in white, glow in the shade. Mahonia x media 'Arthur Menzies' is just peaking out above it to the left and will eventually form the evergreen center weight of this bed. Rubus lineatus is popping up through everything with its textural, tropical-esque foliage. If it sends up a shoot where I don't want it, I just prune or pull it out.

Adiantum venustum and Primula veris 'Sunset Shades' are mingling into a wonderful ground cover offering both foliage texture and flowers in season.

Iris confusa has formed a glorious clump in one corner. I'm especially excited to see the Adiantum venustum starting to cover the ground underneath the iris.

Sasa hayatae is forming a nice, thick ground cover on the dry back edge of this bed. I should be a bit concerned about it growing into the richer, wetter conditions in the rest of the bed and crowding out the other ground covers, but I'll deal with that eventually. Right now I just want to enjoy watching it spread. A potted Cyathea cooperi adds lush tropical foliage and a bit more shade for the young Fargesia nitida to its left.

Another shot of Adiantum venustum mingling with Primula veris, a bit more primrose-forward than in the other photo.

Near the front of the house, along the dry creek bed, bronze Carex comans and Veronia (Parahebe) perfoliata spill out onto the gravel while various Bletilla and blue-violet Siberian iris rise above.

This is what happens when you cover Ajuga pyramidalis 'Metallica Crispa' with about 4 inches of compost. It explodes! Since this bed is also home to the faster-spreading Ajuga reptans 'Black Scallop', I'm going to move the more compact 'Metallica Crispa' to other beds to serve as edging.

The Hakonechloa bed is looking better this year. The Japanese forest grass didn't get as bleached this summer and everything in general looks more lush, at least on this half of the bed. The other half is drier and still needs work, adding more drought-tolerant plants and more compost and fertilizer, as it seems to be nitrogen deficient, too. Weird localized soil variations are fun to deal with.

But let's continue enjoying the good part of this bed. Ah, foliage. You might have noticed I have a penchant for chartreuse and blue/silver/grey foliage. I just love shades of green and playing with texture.

The family heirloom peony coloring up nicely for fall with a backing of Hakonechloa.

Oh, do I have a new favorite combination in the making? Will the Asarum caudatum and Trachelospermum asiaticum 'Ogon Nishiki' play nice as they mingle? I hope so. I love the contrast.

And there you have a glimpse of at least some of the things that have been going right this summer. As you can see from the length of this post, there was quite a bit to be happy about, and I cut this post down by at least a third of what it could have been. They are almost all in the areas of the garden that get at least partial shade and some summer water. Things grow faster with more water and generally nicer, richer conditions, so these areas have been easier to succeed in generally. I'm still figuring out the dry areas of the garden, and should supply a bit more summer water as they are still quite young. It's more of a challenge to choose plants that will succeed with minimal soil amendments or water. Many plants touted as "drought-tolerant" only tolerate the droughts of a few weeks in summer rainfall climates, not the months on end without rain that summer dry climates experience. And then, how many months are dry? And how much rain actually falls? Is this plant drought-tolerant in the 10 month drought of arid Southern California, where they may get less than 5 inches of rain in a dry year? Or is it only drought-tolerant in the 2.5 to 3 dry months of northern Washington, where they may get 30 inches of rain around Seattle and over 60 inches in the Cascade foothills? What is "drought-tolerant?" Some plants will tolerate drought in loose soil where their roots can spread wide and deep, but fail in heavier, compacted soils that limit their root growth. I hope eventually that the summer dry areas will equal or surpass the thirsty areas in beauty and interest. I think they'll get there. I just have more of a learning curve and it will take more experimentation.


  1. Very nice garden and a wonderful post. I'll be looking into some of the plants you discussed here.

  2. When I view your posts I feel as though I'm looking at a future botanic garden. You've introduced so many wonderful plants and your willingness to experiment is something I can learn from. My own experiments are far less intentional. Your photo of Veronica 'Quicksilver' in a bed has encouraged me to find a spot for mine in the garden proper rather than continuing its confinement in a pot. I'm also tempted to hunt down seeds for Calceolaria arachnoidea even if the descriptions I've read call for regular water.

    1. I've seen Quicksilver as an underplanting to Arctostaphylos in a Portland garden. It's a pretty tough one. Definitely deserves to be in the ground. I also have a couple friends in Portland growing that Calceolaria in their dry hellstrip. I know we get a lot more water than you, but maybe that shows some promise for growing in your area.

  3. Evan, this is fabulous! You are such a skilled plantsman and an engaging writer as well. I am still so jealous of your Calceolaria. I love how it has wafted through your rocky area. So pretty! I must get a snippet from you at some point. Maybe next spring at the Little Prince gathering? (!) The Iris confusa foliage is killer. I'm putting this plant on my wish list. Don't you love Bolax? It's such a stellar ground cover and looks especially lovely with your Astelia. I've been eyeing Geranium harveyi but wasn't sure of its winter hardiness here. Great post!

    1. Thank you, Grace. You're so sweet. Send me a reminder before the next Little Prince gathering and I'll make sure you get some of that Calceolaria. I wish my Iris confusa had bloomed this year ( a late frost killed the growing points of all the fans that wintered over, which are the ones that would have bloomed) but the foliage is so fantastic I don't need flowers. I'm just so surprised at how vigorous Bolax is, at least in that bed. I was expecting a glacially-slow little mound, but it is proving to be a decent small-scale ground cover! Geranium harveyi is definitely hardy. I've gotten a few seedlings before, so I'll keep an eye out for one for you!

    2. Thanks Evan. I am hoping for more Geranium palmatum seedlings to share with you.

  4. I have to admit I'm jealous of your Bolax gummifera success. I love the shots with the Mahonia eurybracteata surrounded by Carex comans and the Schefflera delavayi and Carex sexy! As are your Syneilesis, I had to cut back all of mine against the side of the garage, they just looked bad (not enough water?). They'll return next year for another try. I hope folks clicked on the photos to enlarge them, it's hard to see all the gorgeous detail in the smaller photos.

    1. I love my Bolax. I'm going to have to plant a few more bits of it in that bed, since it seems so happy there. I hope people clicked on some of those photos, too. It's just such a long post, the extra large setting seemed too big. Wish there was a setting between that and large.

  5. After reading the previous posts I was begging to worry... So glad you gather up the pictures for this wonderful post of all the success stories in the garden. Finally :-D
    Lush vignettes abound. I find Adiantum venustum mingling with Primula veris to be really fetching and uncommon, as is that of the Hosta and Palm. And the thing is, each of these will look different as the season changes. Isn't gardening awesome?!

  6. Fantastic gardens! I have several new plants on my "want" list now! I was loving the post, and the photographs, when I came across the "tiny hands" allusion, which made my day! Thanks for the giggles!


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