long summer days

9 p.m. looking west at Eryngium agavifolium, asphodels simultaneously with blooms and seedheads, a fun look, Hebe ‘Western Hills’ lower right. The long dusks are a cool respite for the garden, for all of us.
this photo was brightened a bit, but not much

After three years, these long summer days still amaze me. These photos were taken at 9 p.m. last night! On the 4th fireworks were useless until well after 10 p.m. — but that didn’t stop the neighbors. Loud booms are effective day or night. My neighbor reported one small brushfire at the coast that was quickly put out. What price fun, huh? Temps did top 90F Friday, into the low 80sF yesterday, and that’s the end of our portion of this extended heat wave. Nothing compared to the continuing ordeal faced by those living further inland. I’m very grateful for everything this administration has done to engage with carbon emissions, an effort that will always get my vote no matter who is on the ticket. If only minority rule aka the electoral college had not prevented us from getting a jump on heat-trapping gases in 2000…

Digitalis parviflora with Miscanthus ‘Flamingo,’ left, one of the last miscanthus in the back garden. I can easily understand how Miscanthus giganteus is used in biofuel production. Unsure if Digitalis ferruginea will bloom later, the rosettes are still small. Digitalis parviflora seems to be the more reliable of the rusty summer-blooming floxgloves

[Sidebar: On the subject of necessary regulations, I will add one observation to the ongoing discussion of the divergent voting habits of rural vs. urban voters. It’s a personal theory, one of many! Rural industries (“blue collar”) — here it’s farming, fishing, logging — compared to most “white collar” jobs are necessarily carefully regulated in ways that are immediately and personally impactful. For example, when the local small fisherman temporarily can’t clam, crab, or harvest oysters due to high microbial activity, it is an undoubted hardship to bear. Health of consumers is of paramount concern, so oversight agencies don’t mess around. Public health issues can’t be left to the honor system. (And resource management left to vested interests can result in no resources to manage at all. The last sea otter, a keystone species, was killed in Oregon in 1907 out of an estimated population of a million pre-fur trade.) But for small rural towns, and this is an international problem, in addition to an aging population, loss of tax base revenue, “big box” monopolies (on-line and brick-and-mortar), I do think the regulation issue is prime for exploiting and inflaming by outside economic interests that operate at a much larger scale than the small town sole proprietor — hence, the recent unfortunate Supremes decision gutting authority of regulatory agencies, the beginning of the long-sought dismantling of the so-called “administrative state.” Yes, there will always be examples of regulatory overreach to rally indignation, but my vote will always go for prioritizing clean water, air, and safe food. As far as struggling rural towns, my fever dream is the rise of remote work allows these beautiful places to repopulate and emptying urban office buildings become converted to housing,…]

Lots of descriptions of Sanguisorba ‘Red Thunder’ caution to stake if your garden is windy. (Raises hand.). Couple windy afternoons literally knocked this big burnet sideways, so some of the heavier branches were pruned to lighten the weight. Makes amazing cut flowers!

Seguing to slug control (ha!)…this morning I decided to throw down some snail bait pellets. Beer traps were effective primarily if I carried the mollusks to the traps and dropped them in the Guinness bath. (And Marty strenuously objected to use of Guinness as pest control.) The dahlias were “Chelsea-chopped” in early summer, and the slugs and snails also did their part in restricting growth, so buds are now forming on leafless stems. For next year, even though dahlias overwinter in the ground here, I may lift the dahlias and grow them in pots to protect young growth.

mostly, no mollusk control needed

But it is surprising how many plants escape the mollusks’ notice. Dahlias and joe-pye weed have been the primary targets. Annuals like zinnias and cosmos too, but not calendula. I’ve been hesitant to use snail bait, even though the pellets are proclaimed to be “pet and wildlife safe” — I guess it’s a matter of trusting the labeling. Let me know if you’ ve heard otherwise.

Hang in there, cooler days are coming.

Posted in journal, Oregon garden | 3 Comments

Three years in a zone 8 garden (toddler phase)

As Metapanax delavayi in the center fills in, many of the surrounding herbaceous plants needed relocation. Tetrapanax towers over the patio roof now, changing light patterns under its canopy and running at the root into the gravel. Stipa gigantea has an enormous footprint but is indispensable. Extreme right, a glimpse of 5’x5′ Persicaria polymorpha . Its shrub-like enormity will most likely have to be thinned out next spring. For now branches are pruned to allow sunlight on neighboring plants.

I broke my shovel yesterday, the trusty decades’ old one I brought up north. There’s a metaphor there somewhere. It’s seen a lot of action, especially this spring/early summer. The back garden has left behind that deliciously expectant phase, like being pregnant really, and entered the sobering reality of caring for a rambunctious toddler. Margaret Roach’s excellent article on the High Line was a reassuring and timely read for me. (“Change is the only constant.”). My 3-year-old garden now requires many of the same maneuvers, interventions, and relocations to settle land disputes and preserve air and sun rights as the 15-year-old High Line — on a vastly different scale, of course (and without having to contend with only 16 inches of soil!)

Things are tight! Persicaria polymorpha does not run at the root but it’s still a beast, a beautiful one

The dreamy phase of contemplating a future garden has had a hard stop this third summer, where harsh judgments must be meted out — which plant is the more valuable and which needs to move elsewhere. Even after three years some plants are still getting settled, while others have doubled or tripled their footprint (Sucissella inflexa, a pale knautia-like bobblehead, I’m looking at you!). It’s engrossing and fascinating to watch the maturation process, but admittedly unnerving to be flung out of the design department and moved to a management position. I have nothing but respect for the 10 full-time gardeners managing the hard work of maintaining the High Line’s complex plantings.

astilbe has been one of those slow to establish
Euphorbia griffithii will want more ground, but I’m willing to work with it

What’s really centered me again and reinvoked that dreamy, expectant state of mind is starting lots of annuals and biennials from seed. Many of the annuals like cosmos, castor bean and amaranthus are getting popped into newly vacant soil as permanent plants are thinned. I’m more than willing to perform the daily triage an overplanted garden requires, but I’m a born nurturer and love the caretaking of young plants. I need to take care of plant babies!


And my preference for big bodacious plants only exacerbates the challenges of managing a quickly maturing garden. For now, I wouldn’t want to part with any of them. The big shapes that dominate the border closest to the back fence include, left to right, a 5×5 Euphorbia stygiana, Persicaria polymorpha (both not pictured), Sanguisorba ‘Red Thunder,’ and Selinum wallichianum, center in above photo. Its ferny leaves are great cut — discovered after trying to relieve some pressure and congestion off nearby plants. Huge umbels in late summer. The Silver Spike grass, Achnatherum calamagrostis, has started to bloom, and the garden finally feels like summer because of it. Deschampsia started to bloom this week too. Most of the miscanthus have been moved to the front garden, as has Festuca ‘Glowsticks.’

for now new purchases are limited to small stature stuff like clove-scented Dianthus ‘Key Lime Pie’
doesn’t get any easier than a bowl of semps
Digitalis parviflora — right at its feet two Kniphofia pauciflora were dug up and relocated to the front garden. A great little kniphofia that deserves the best home possible
Solanum laxum, Iris ‘Gerald Darby’ — not all of the garden is threatened by imbalance. Some things are just right. Malva ‘Zebrinus’ and Darmera peltata in the stock tank
Zebrina Mallow in the stock tank with Corokia ‘Sunsplash’

For those who’ve been having trouble commenting, deep apologies. Again, management is not my favorite task, and that applies to the blog as well, which barely limps along. Thank you for your patience! Enjoy the long holiday weekend — temps in the 90sF expected here for Friday…

Posted in journal, Oregon garden | 6 Comments

June 13, 2024, Oregon Coast

Oregon Sunshine, Eriophyllum lanatum, lights up June

Even without much heat, it feels as though we’ve reached that turning point when spring finally retreats and summer growth gains the upper hand, if only by virtue of sheer day length. It’s light out til 9:30 p.m. now!

short path looking toward the fence. Gabion with oyster shells is a great critter habitat…especially for snails!
corgi-sized access paths are shrinking under summer growth. ‘Silver Swan’ euphorbia against the fence was wind-pruned recently, all blooming branches splaying out were cut back
anisodontea stumps just visible near the post

In a couple instances the garden has reversed course and thinned somewhat, a case of wind pruning. We’ve had some recent sessions of ferocious wind, the latest yesterday afternoon. Incredibly, most plants can take the beating, but there’s been lots of pruning and some removal. On a previous occasion a week or so ago, the anisodontea planted behind the stock tank was completely knocked to the ground (patio). Initially planted in the stock tank, a root migrated out, so the original plant was removed from the stock tank, with the opportunistic root left to flourish, and did it ever! It’s been a remarkable plant capable of blooming all year, even withstanding ice storms! Even though it blocked my view of the garden from the patio, I left it alone. When the wind did the job for me, it was a relief. Besides having a full view of the garden from the patio restored, the beschorneria and other stock tank plants are much better for it.

Anisodontea cutting near the fence, where it won’t block the view!
nice to see old friends again like the variegated figword Scrophularia aquatica
Argentina lineata is back, but with a new name. I bought it as Potentilla lineata
new to the garden, planted August 2023, Penstemon ‘Dark Towers’ is approx 4 feet, self-supporting in some heavy wind, and unbothered by slugs. Without even seeing it in flower, it’s earned its keep
June expands!
Gillenia trifoliata is effortlessly beautiful and fresh — aka bowman’s root. There’s a story there somewhere with that common name that I’ve yet to learn.
Digtialis ‘Illumination’ something or other (a cross with digitalis and Canary Islander isoplexis) — very sturdy but severe wind did knock a couple stalks down that were saved for a vase
like the Illumination digitalis, this aster is another plant “engineered” to bloom longer. ‘Dainty Swan’ didn’t bloom til mid-July last summer, but as the plant makes size it seems capable of blooming earlier, “as advertised”
The sweet williams are as good as alliums for height and rich color
lots of alliums have been planted too
pale bloom of Allium karataviense on a very short stalk rising out of leaves as impressive as the flower
‘Guinea Gold’ was in bloom June 15, 2023, too, so its timing is consistent
Alstroemeria ‘Third Harmonic’ took a while to settle in but seems on its way now — orange and burgundy seem to be a theme with me lol
Phytollaca ‘Silberstein’ seems poised for a good summer of growth too. Very slow to establish, and the slugs are all over new growth
Eryngium ‘Big Blue’ did great the first year, dwindled the second year, and after being moved out of the border and into the gravel, with more light and better air flow, it seems to be back on track
In the front garden Cistus ‘Jenkyn Place’ basks in sun all day with extra heat radiating off the sidewalk causing that unique resiny scent’s release. There should be a cistus-scented candle.

The cosmos and zinnias I sowed in April are finally making good size. Not much top growth yet but root growth is strong. I sowed a ridiculous amount and nurtured every single seed that germinated — good thing too, because the slugs and snails demand their tribute, and the attrition has been significant.

with growth this slow, pinching back to encourage branching is psychologically very hard to do…you gotta do it anyway and have faith summer sun is coming!

The cosmos will be grown in pots because there isn’t any bare sunny ground available in the garden, and dozens of plants have been donated to a community garden. I’ve never had to watch frost dates when sowing seeds before, so this has been a very engrossing endeavor, just trying to raise some simple summer annuals. Hopefully, there will be more photos to come…

Posted in journal, Oregon garden | 10 Comments

a couple promising zone 10 dry garden plants

Centaurea ragusina and Salvia ‘Savannah Blue’ by Native Sons — in my experience, ultimate size is at least double suggested on their website

Domino’s garden in Los Angeles is slowly taking shape, with everyone pitching in to keep it weeded, mulched, and watered while new plants settle in. (We have availed ourselves of mulch from Griffith Park’s generous compost facility, carload after carload, even despite the numerous tree seedlings it includes. Can’t argue with free.)


A couple plants I gambled on have really impressed me. Salvia ‘Savannah Blue’ seemed full of promise in my Long Beach garden but didn’t really get a fair trial, squeezed in among agaves and succulents which it quickly overran. The soil had been serially enriched over the years with compost, and I suspect life might have been a little too easy for this South African hybrid salvia. In Domino’s garden the soil is simply awful, unamended clay, only approachable for planting after a rain, and mercifully there was lots of that last winter to get the garden started. Already I can see the salvia growing much more densely. Reputedly hardy to zone 8, I did try this salvia in Oregon, but fall planting was not a success. It melted away in the rainy winter. But its overall vigor would suggest a spring planting might be successful, if only as a summer annual or protected in a container, and I’m hoping a couple cuttings root to allow for some more experimentation on the rainy Oregon coast.


In Domino’s garden, luxuriating in full sun but somewhat constrained by unamended soil, I feel that this is a fairer trial than I could give this salvia in my crowded Long Beach garden. Finely cut, leathery, scented pelargonium-like leaves, small violet-blue flowers on slim tapers, it’s really shown what it can do here. Healthy, weed-smothering growth. I anticipate this will need a cutback like, say, Salvia leucantha in late winter/spring. It really is unlike any other salvia I’ve grown, with a remarkably good leaf tailor made for a hot dry garden. Along with its small shrubby habit, it strikes me as very worthy of attention, and I’m excited to track how it performs in Domino’s new garden.


But what’s that silver plant? My thoughts exactly when I found it unlabeled at a local nursery. Lacy like the typical dusty miller but with very thick, succulent-like leaves. The subsequent yellow thistle flowers indicate Centaurea ragusina, the Silver Knapweed, endemic to Croatia. Possibly hardy to zone 7, I grabbed a cutting to try in the Oregon garden — in a well-drained container, of course. It’s been around a while, described by Linnaeus in 1753 and mentioned as worthy by William Robinson in the late 1800s, but it seems to have been superseded in the trade by other centaureas/dusty millers. So far it’s kept a compact profile, not a sprawler. A couple friends have grown it and have only nice things to say about this centaurea, apart from it being hard to find.


Personally, I’m a fan of the lemony yellow thistle flowers, in bud or bloom, but do realize that some may prefer to cut them off to showcase its form and leaves — but then you’d be left with a Victorian bedding plant, right? That’s so 19th century…


I do think if you get the chance, that either of these are worth trialing for a zone 8-10 garden on the dry and sunny side. (The centaurea is hardier than the salvia, down to 0° F.)

Posted in Plant Portraits | 7 Comments

Moir Garden, a Hawaiian succulent garden


My one-year-old granddaughter Domino is already a seasoned traveler. She obtained a passport not long after birth and had it stamped for Tunisia by three months. Her parents are committed vagabonds, so her budding wanderlust is no surprise. Recently Domino visited Poipu, Kauai, where her mama introduced her to her own beloved childhood vacation destination in a quiet agricultural region that was the site of the first major Hawaiian sugar plantation in 1835.


At this former sugar plantation, where Domino’s papa Mitch says the “shutters and louvre doors are all still teak and smell of deep tropical wood oil,” a 35-acre botanical garden envelops the vacation bungalows. Created by Alexandra Moir in the 1930s, when the sugar plantation her husband managed was still thriving before the decline of the industry in the 1990s, the garden surprises visitors by featuring not lush tropical plants but cacti and succulents. Say what? Yes, it’s true, there are dry microclimates in the Hawaiian Islands, and Alexandra wisely recognized that the usual tropical palette of plants would not thrive in Poipu, which averages 28″ of rainfall annually (USDA zone 11). This private garden was opened to the public in 1954.

Mitch says “There are easier warmer beaches to visit, and more modern resorts with more plentiful staff. But the time travel of vintage teak and old-Hawaiian lawns tugging at the roots of 60-foot monkeypod trees is harder and harder to find.” 

There is very little information on the making of this garden, though in its heyday in the ’30s and ’40s it was considered one of the ten best succulent gardens in the world. I found a brief mention of Alexandra’s brother-in-law bringing plants back from travels abroad but no other details on the making of the garden. You’ll have to enjoy the photos narration-free. And if you’re ever in Kauai, you now have a succulent garden destination. Admission is free. Aloes, agaves, cactus, euphorbias, all the usual succulent garden suspects in an otherworldy setting among lava rock, bromeliads, and willwill trees (Erythrina sandwicensis).

Moir Garden aka Pa’u a Laka, or “skirt of laka,” named after the Hawaiian goddess of hula

(all photos by MB Maher.)

Posted in garden travel, MB Maher, succulents | 3 Comments

wet and cool in a temperate rain forest

slow and tricky from seed, I grabbed a few locally grown plants to see how they perform here

I get it, most local people I talk to are ready for sunnier days. This day has flushed sunny, rainy, and sunny again several times, all before noon. The 90″ of rain that makes this temperate rain forest possible, a treasure that is the largest of its kind in the world, generally is hard on people and industry — but easy on plants. Some plants. It is a huge pleasure to watch suitable plants exult in this unique climate, like subpolar Papaver nudicale. Common Iceland poppies, not an easy thing to grow in SoCal unless you get the narrow winter/spring timing just right, are easy to make happy here, and to my eye are as glorious as any meconopsis.

more rainy poppy porn

Of course, there are many plants that are tricky if not impossible to make happy with a cool, wet spring and shortish summer growing season. (I’m taking a big chance on zinnias from seed this year.) Tomato plants are filling the big box store shelves, and the lust for attaining a home crop is palpable as shoppers intently peruse varieties among the aisles — that’s an iffy proposition depending on the variety chosen and your microclimate, but to me that’s what the local farmers’ markets are for.

a young Acacia pravissima made it through a tough winter without damage

And trial-and-error experiments in planting can result in some beautiful, if potentially short-term winners depending on what winter has up its sleeve any given year. Both Acacia pravissima and Acacia cultriformis made it through this last tough winter. I brought borderline A. cultriformis up north from Los Angeles. Acacia pravissima was bought local and is generally accepted to be one of the hardiest acacias for coastal PNW. If trialing plants is your thing, a wet zone 8-9 affords lots of opportunities. (The War Boy Nux in Fury Road sums up a spirited attitude that can be adapted to making gardens here…or anywhere for that matter: “I live, I die, I live again!“)

dwarf version of Brachyglottis greyi

While I love trialing plants that enjoy the wet conditions, plants that prefer the dry side are my weakness (old habits die hard), and many are surprising me by flourishing — the dry, rainless summer improves the odds, but still it’s incredible to think of the amount of water these plants are enduring in winter.

Phlomis x margaritae — I worried phlomis would hate all this rain but so far they’re thriving
same concerns with Marrubium incanum, which reputedly prefers dryish gardens
With grey leaves but seemingly tolerant of a wet winter, Oregon Sunshine, Eriophyllum lanatum, is vigorous but not scarily so, unlike infiltrators Euphorbia cyparissias and hesperantha
so exciting to find formerly single-rosette plants doubling or even tripling in size in spring, like this Eryngium agavifolium

The garden seems to be filling in much faster than previous Mays, as plants like melianthus establish bigger root systems. No-shows this May include veronicastrum, which is a disappointment, but I have some dark castor bean seedlings that need a spot.

less grassy?

I’ve always been pro-bunch grasses and initially packed the garden with seslerias, miscanthus, deschampsia, anemanthele, calamagrostis among many kinds — and as other plants filled in, many of the grasses have since been thinned or moved to the front garden. The overly vigorous Kaffir Lily was moved out of the back garden entirely and left to settle scores with Spanish bluebells in a narrow strip against the front fence. There’s been lots of plant shuffling going on since February.


I assumed the Sicilian Honey Garlic would be weedy, but that’s not the case at all, disappointedly so — just two clumps bloomed this spring.

lunaria seedpods already forming
IMG_9170 2
Selinum wallichianum settling in and loving life
as is the figwort Scrophularia aquatica ‘Variegata’
Kniphofia pauciflora has been reliably returning in May
Digitalis parviflora

Clumps of Digitalis parviflora increased in size while Digitalis ferruginea diminished. However…Digitalis ferruginea seems to be a prolific reseeder. I’ve potted up what I’m assuming are its progeny found at the base of clumps and weeded out lots more. Identifying reseeders here has been a learning curve. In my zone 10 garden the cast of reseeders became easily identifiable over 30 years, but here it’s still a guessing game.

thick clutches of dierama seedlings had to be weeded from this end of the garden

One of the biggest surprises as far as reseeders has been dierama. A plant that once seemed unattainable and ungrowable reseeds here as thick as grass. And its identity is not in doubt, since I collected seeds and sowed them in a tray — with excellent germination results. I needn’t have bothered with collecting seeds in fall with the garden full of seedlings this spring. It still feels a little strange to weed them out…


The mother clump of dierama to the right of the box above has already had to be thinned drastically off neighboring plants, so one fast-growing clump is more than enough, and I’ve already got three. In particular, I won’t be sacrificing things like Olearia x mollis ‘Zennorensis’ in the foreground to the expansionary designs of dierama! Nice problem to have, though…

Posted in climate, Oregon garden | 9 Comments

mid-May 2024 Oregon Coast

photos below pick out a couple things happening in the above overview

Morning is always my favorite time in the garden, with the plants softly exhaling into the warming air while the sun slowly traces its way through tree canopies and clouds. The surrounding town is quiet while I study the garden as it ushers in another day of surging spring growth, and I love that juxtaposition. Now that May has typically brought ferocious afternoon winds, mornings are savored even more. It is a riveting time in the garden checking out what’s formed shape and gathered strength seemingly overnight, some things familiar and others entirely new. Here’s a quick sketch of the back garden mid-May.

asphodels in bloom in a cloud of Omphalodes linifolia
last photo of asphodels this year, I promise!
Helianthemum ‘Henfield Brilliant’ and Euphotbia ‘Copton Ash,’ a replacement for ‘Dean’s Hybrid’ that melted away
Penstemon ‘Dark Towers’ seems to be the next-gen ‘Husker’s Red,’ bigger in leaf. First spring in the garden, so haven’t seen it in flower yet.
center, clump of Sanguiisorba ‘Red Thunder’ making size, cirsium and dianthus on the right. Background in bloom left to right is euphorbia, erysimum, geum
Dianthus barbatus ‘Oeschberg’ was planted a couple years back, more as a filler while the garden grew in, but I’m finding its early dark-leaved presence invaluable, and several clumps are threaded throughout the garden. All these early spring plants from seed — dianthus, hesperis, lunaria — have been incredibly enjoyable, a big change from staring at bare ground in the garden’s early days a few springs ago
Milium effusum ‘Aureum’ is also good in early spring, and I’ve been spreading it around open ground that’s waiting for stuff like melianthus to fully leaf out
Cerinthe major purpurascens — I could never make much sense of this plant in zone 10, where it was an irritating sprawler with pinched leaves on the gaunt side that looked nothing like the seed packet photos. In the Oregon garden, one plant that was gifted from a Portland blogger reseeded copiously, but only a handful survived winter so it’s not really a pest. Seeing their lush, upright performance in May, now I get why honeywort is a thing!
Polemonium ‘Golden Feathers’ found local early spring — looks promising!
Allium karataviense has wonderfully thick, pleated leaves
buds just forming
tetrapanax, hesperis, rhodocoma, Darmera peltata in stock tank lower left
Stipa gigantea brings that golden summery haze to the garden so early in the season and is invaluable for it. A few days ago the gravel path was impassable — both the stipa and rhodocoma had to be thinned quite a bit, to neither’s apparent detriment nor loss of good looks
digitalis/digiplexis from the ‘Illumination’ series — overwintered outside, with an overturned bucket easing conditions during the January ice storm. I had forgotten all about this former “it” plant, an expensive annual in zone 10, but took another chance when it turned up at a local nursery last fall. Really surprised it’s come through the winter, a challenging one. On the right is gillenia.
Kniphofia hirsuta showed great stamina over winter and is a gorgeous spring presence as it elongates from its winter rosette. Haven’t seen a bloom yet
I brought up north from zone 10 fat bulbs of eucomis, which all squished out and rotted over winter — but look at the unexpected offsets! So maybe big bulbs are more susceptible to winter wet/cold?

There’s a few more rainy days forecast for May, and then we won’t see much rain again until…October (sob!), but at least the winds will be dying down as the temperature gradient adjusts. I’ve been nursing flats and flats of seedlings for a cutting garden that needs to be a lot bigger than what’s available to me to accommodate 40-plus zinnias, scabiosa, cosmos, sunflowers, and more. Floret Farms launched their own seed strains this year, and if I can bring just a few of their zinnias to flower it will be so worth it to see what they’ve dreamed up (‘Dawn Creek,’ ‘Alpenglow‘!) May is such a deliriously fresh month in the garden — I hope it brings you lots to look at!

Posted in cut flowers, journal, Oregon garden | 10 Comments

more camas, please

Camassia leichtlinii, coveted food of Native Americans. Lewis and Clark were served camas in 1805 by the Nez Perce, along with buffalo and salmon. Clark wrote detailed descriptions of the plant, along with the stomach discomfort he experienced after that meal. Clark may not have asked for seconds, but I say more camas, please!

This last Sunday of April has been misty and rainy, the same conditions since mid-week. Until the rains returned last Wednesday, I personally felt we had gone too long without rain (almost a week). But I know the farmers were becoming nervous about getting a second cut of grass done and felt pushed off schedule by the still-soggy ground, so they welcomed the dry spell to get some field work done. Funny how the neighborhood follows the farmers’ grass-cutting schedule, with small lawns appearing neatly mown seemingly overnight. We took the hint and pushed a mower over the tiny patch of shaggy grass at the front of the house. I’ve been slowly planting up the front north-facing garden, using divisions and castoffs from the back garden, where all my primary attention has been directed. Nothing much to show in the front garden yet, but we are working on a fence for Billie, Hannah and Domino, who just started walking around her first birthday.

strong, tall stems, not bothered by snails so far. Unruly leaves in background belong to Eryngium pandanifolium

Planting anything for the first time is always fraught with misgivings. Yet the five bulbs of Camassia leichtlini planted last fall seemed to know exactly what to do. They are after all native to western North America and thrive in moist meadows, and a moist meadow pretty much describes my back garden for eight months of the year. When the flowers began to open last week, I realized my only mistake was not planting more. I called around Portland nurseries to check if any potted bulbs were available, found a source, and took a rainy drive east to bring home two more bulbs planted in gallons. (This fall I will be ordering more bulbs, the easiest and most affordable way to go.)

The camassias are planted up against the railroad tie that divides the two longest borders, which is where I stood to get the photos. In summer this railroad tie is completely engulfed by the plants. The two adjoining borders comprise a planting area roughly 12’X20′

The only uncertainty remaining is how the dying foliage interacts with expanding spring and summer growth of surrounding plants. Judging by last summer, there’s no question the dying foliage will be concealed, the only question being will the leaves get enough sun for the health of the bulb.

late April on a misty Sunday, standing on the railroad tie looking back at the house
my first asphodel

What else is stirring? Asphodels! Asphodeline lutea. Out of three clumps, all different sources, one is in bloom, another clump showing three buds. The only unsuccessful clump was mail-ordered, ‘Italian Gold.’ The latter’s leaves have died off and one flower spike withered before bloom. The thriving clumps were both grown locally. Makes sense to me.

my local rummage sale asphodel
I might need more asphodels too…
another moist meadow lover, Cirsium rivulare ‘Trevor’s Blue Wonder,’ in the border behind the camassias
but cirsium is not the only strong color in April –check out Lunaria annua ‘Chedglow’…
compared to more subdued Lunaria ‘Corfu Blue’
OTOH Cassinia x ozothamnus is a subtle shrub doing its subtle spring flowering thing. Must get some cuttings started.
Euphorbia stygiana, E. characias, and near the fence ‘Silver Swan’

The euphorbias continue to be a dominant presence in April as they have been all year. I can’t imagine spring without them…or more camassias!

Posted in Bulbs, journal, Oregon garden | 9 Comments

Rosy Rhodocoma capensis


I’m not sure when the rhodocoma started blushing pink. In fact, before this morning I didn’t even know to expect such a phenomenon, but trusted resources have this to say: San Marcos Growers: “Upright growing clump forming (tussock) grass-like plant to 6 feet tall with arching reed-like stems bearing congested tight whorls of branchlets with fine foliage. In spring appear the flowers which, for female plants, are a deep pink, while male flowers are pale yellow-green.”

We have a girl!


Also from San Marcos Growers: “The name for the genus comes from the Greek words ‘rhodo’, meaning “rose” or “red”, and ‘kome’ meaning “hair” in reference to terminal clusters of the reddish inflorescence.” Baked into the name, my rosy-haired Cape Restio!

Posted in Oregon garden, Plant Portraits | 8 Comments

my own private tulipomania

crazy town, right?

There’s a lot of the traditional horticultural canon that can be grown well here at the moist Oregon Coast in zone 8b/9a that I’m skipping so far– hellebores, roses, rhododendrons, hydrangeas, hostas, maples, Oriental poppies, peonies, clematis to name a few. So you could say I’m not a true traditionalist. And yet I fall hard for tulips, one of the most common spring bulbs, culprits in the most garish displays, hawked from the cheapest wholesalers. Why is that? (Doesn’t everybody interrogate their garden choices?) I even grew a few pots of tulips in zone 10, when the bulbs had to be refrigerated before potting and then kept diligently watered if the winter was dry. Here in wet zone 8bish the bulbs are potted up in fall and placed out in the rain. Done.


So out of all the worthy genera in the horticultural hall of fame, I fall for tulips. Why?


What I Like About Tulips

  • Tulips are light catchers.
  • Tulips are intensely architectural
  • Tulips are agents of transformation, something true of all bulbs.
  • Tulips are ephemeral. (Let’s hope the hybridizers never meddle with this sacred trait, which would drain all meaning from the experience.). They are the horticultural equivalent of a one-night stand, a spring bacchanal. No commitment required. An extravagant exclamation point after a long, rainy winter.
  • Tulips are one of the few overly hybridized genera that I’m on board with. They are fantastical creatures to begin with, so it’s nearly impossible to take things too far.

We were away for 12 days or so, just when the tulips in pots were coloring up. It was entertaining enough to order them, pot them, wait and watch for them to nose up, elongate and form that iconic shape. I consoled myself, if the blooms were done by the time we returned, no big deal. Sometimes the process is as satisfying as the result. But that practiced philosophical shrug was unnecessary. Cool, rainy weather prevailed to slow the blooms down just enough until our return.

Fritillaria persica ‘Green Dreams’

I like tulips in pots, a concentrated, intense dose of the life force to light the match that ignites the garden in spring. I doubt I would plant them in the ground as part of a spring landscape even if I had the space. They would be completely out of character in my little garden, which is more textural, even bordering on austere. These fritillaries, on the other hand, I would totally plant in the garden for spring, if they weren’t so expensive and apparently unreliable as far as repeat bloom.

I did check on the fritillaries I saw last year, and there are no flowers this year, just leaves, which apparently is common with this fritillary, so not a reliable repeat performance.

Just a half dozen or so pots, but it’s my own private tulipomania.

Posted in Bulbs, Oregon garden, pots and containers | 5 Comments