It’s February. How about another color study, this time in orange? Color theory has orange as vital, energetic, happy, but on this cold windy day I’m appreciating its warmth. I’ve promised Billie a walk but am procrastinating heading out into the wind and instead have been rubbing my hands together over digital embers of orange. Included are calceolaria, iris, lots of aloes, glaucium, poppies, ranunculus, isoplexis, kniphofia of course, gerbera, lilies, tithonia, arctotis, leucospermum, fritillaria, ornithogalum, oil drums, senecio, eschscholzia, leonotis, canna (so think of matching name to photo as a kind of game). For the Oregon garden, I’m counting the days til sowing seeds six weeks before the last frost, a moving and slippery target, especially if snow does a reprise of 2023 and makes an appearance in late April again. Daydreaming orange is great for steadying the when-to-sow-stuff nerves and impatiently waiting for plants and seeds to arrive on the porch. Stay warm!
For this February 14th holiday that takes a circuitous route from honoring a 3rd century martyr to exchanging tiny messages on candy hearts to ask: who do you love? And not a red rose in the bunch, just some photos I stumbled on in a disused photo hosting site to mix some red into a rainy Wednesday. Happy Valentine’s Day!
I apologize up front for the contrasty results of my point-and-shoot on this brilliantly sunny morning, but it will be too dark for photos within the hour under these temperamental skies. (This is as far as the working collaboration with my camera goes in difficult light conditions. I was very gratified to learn that Patti Smith once confessed she had no idea what she was doing with a camera either.). But I think the general sense of how the garden coped with the ice storm is conveyed, and that’s good enough for my own recordkeeping. To wit, in the photo below, everything in this stock tank seems fine: Arctostaphylos ‘Sunset’ (still holding onto and opening flowers), restio Chondropetalum tectorum, and golden blur in the background Cassinia leptophylla. Shrub in the ground to the right is Hebe ‘Western Hills.’ Clockwise from the hebe is Eryngium agavifolium, with bottom center an asphodel bought local, mostly likely A. lutea. I thought the freeze would cull out the zillions of Omphalodes linifolia seedlings, but no, they all still appear to be there, needing thinning by me.
I haven’t planted much that can’t take a zone 8 winter unprotected, but saturated soil combined with the unusual ice conditions had me worried not so much about plant losses, but ugliness issues. And on that score, it could’ve been worse. The only outright death was a Lavandula ‘Goodwin Creek Gray,’ nothing to cry about.
My small-sized Yucca rostrata are fine, even the distant one under the planter which was moved in the fall. At the planter’s base is an Arctostaphylos ‘Pajaro’ planted in 2023 retaining good color and no die-off. (And in the bowl of the planter, surprisingly a small Echeveria agavoides survived! Reputedly hardy to 14F, and we did not achieve that low here.)
The most detailed protections were made for this beschorneria and the strappy aristea. The prospect of waiting for them to outgrow severely blemished leaves was incentive enough to build a cardboard tent, which worked well. The leaves are mostly pristine.
The hebe in the foreground is ‘New Zealand Gold.’ Astelia chathamica looks none the worse for wear in its pipe.
Phlomis monocephala grows up against the concrete patio, slightly under the overhang, and seems to have come through the ice fine, as have all the phlomis. Silvery shrub is Cassinia x ozothamnus.
Also protected in this area was the sideritis, with an overturned bucket. I lost all top growth in the April 2023 snowstorm and was hoping to hang on to this growth, if possible. Looks good so far.
Just forward of the sideritis, hardiness of Calluna ‘Skyline Barcelona’ was not really in doubt, but it still surprises me that it looks this fresh after the ice ordeal.
Looking east between stock tanks and the garden. Rhodocoma capensis’ icy performance was interesting to observe but thankfully not damaging. (The third stock tank unseen behind the restio holds mostly winter dormant plants.)
The garden-side planting in front of the middle stock tank (with the beschorneria). No losses in the ground here. Rosette is Kniphofia hirsuta, to zone 6.
After the ice storm, Euphorbia stygiana is probably as shabby as I’ve seen it in two winters, but alive. Many of the branches were bent, but I’ve left them to die in place to protect the new growth at the base. Confoundedly, they aren’t dying at all but greening up. 70F last Monday and the bent stems still did not wilt but remained firm. I checked this same euphorbia at the Wonder Garden in Manzanita a couple days ago and it’s in much worse shape, probably from stronger winds, even though it’s technically a warmer spot.
Hebe parviflora angustifolia is sited just in front of the shop stool, and the east winds knocked it back hard. A lush, willowy evergreen, 3X2′ is now a thready mix of green and brown. Apart from losing a lot of leaves, no real damage is visible.
Anisodontea, the Two-Face Shrub. The east side was blackened, and for several days the patio was strewn with fallen black leaves resembling slimy spinach. New growth has already started. The west side of the shrub showed little damage and has started flowering again.
Having inherited a boundary fence in the back garden, I think about it quite a bit. It’s been an insistent presence since we moved in, devoid as the space was of anything but fence, grass and bark mulch. Fences in front yards are not standard in this coastal Oregon neighborhood — though I want one in the front too, maybe a low cattle panel fence for Billie, who is irrepressibly social. Coming from LA, front and back fences are a given (unless you’re in an HOA, I suppose.) Children, pets, fast cars, security were all practical considerations for the front and back fences in LA.
But a fence alone is not enough for garden makers. We are inclined to obscure boundaries and fences to increase the sensation of being in a boundless world apart. I did this in Zone 10 and came to bitterly regret the root intrusion, excessive debris and loss of sun for the plants that needed it, like agaves.
Here in Oregon I painted the fence black and considered the job done. A “double blind” screening approach — a fence for security and privacy and then strategic planting to hide the fence — wasn’t a priority. This choice still puzzles me slightly. Neighboring houses loom over the fence from the south and east. Have my privacy requirements changed over the years? Possibly. (I do know that as an “older” woman, I don’t feel the insistent intrusion of prying eyes anymore, a huge relief.) Not knowing this climate zone well was another reason for resisting the urge to plant large, permanent stuff to hide the fence. Time and space were also considerations. I’m feeling the pressure of time and the garden definitely feels the pressure of space. And I see a lot more sky and flying geese overhead in this stripped-down approach.
For the moment, I like the austerity of the stark fence, and the boom-and-bust cycle of the garden that grows within it.
During the ice storm, after watching the fence uncharacteristically sway in the wind, I reflexively began to “test” the fence, like the raptors in Jurassic Park, though not to escape but for strength. Sure enough, a short stretch of the back fence has become dangerously wobbly. I grab it daily now and give it a gentle tug to check on durability vs. potential calamity. Shouldn’t we do something rather than wait for it to fall down? I asked Marty this morning. Sure, let’s sink a post when the ground dries…and in this temperate rain forest, we’re talking maybe June.
One of the byproducts of eliminating from consideration woody plants for concealment and structure is the freedom to focus on all the herbaceous, moisture-loving plants I couldn’t grow in zone 10. And so far these herbaceous plants seem able to withstand whatever the weather throws at them — and the weather has been so inventive the past couple years, hasn’t it?
But if that small portion of wobbly fence fails, I know that will be psychologically alarming. And dangerous for Billie. So maybe we can get a supportive post up in the coming weeks, notwithstanding very wet ground and a couple more atmospheric rivers heading this way. And I know that fence will continue to be on my mind until it either fails or is mended.
Some quick notes on the recent ice storm, that for us on the Oregon coast descended on Saturday, January 13. A fine icy mist encrusted everything — houses were entombed in ice, including doors, roofs and siding, a very peculiar sensation for inhabitants! Daytime temps after the event on the 13th began warming up over freezing, but nighttime temps stayed below freezing, keeping the icy status quo outside and all of us off the streets, whether by foot or car. Warming daytime temps caused ice to crash down off trees, buildings and utility wires during the day, but freezing night temps kept the roads and sidewalks unsafe for travel. Once the daytime thaw started, watching ice bombs crash down became a macabre form of entertainment (see video below). The clatter and crash of ice was a hopeful if also slightly scary sound.
I think it was on Monday, the 15th, that I took a hammer to the walkways around our house in the backyard, breaking up slabs 1/2 inch to an inch thick and throwing it on the gravel areas, a cathartic and satisfying activity! Even though nighttime temps didn’t rise above freezing until Wednesday with return of rain, with the icy paths bludgeoned we were able to walk to the garage for supplies, make sure the generator was working if needed (it wasn’t), and just generally feel in charge again. On Monday, with dry patches cropping up on still icy pavement, I slipped heavy socks over my rain boots, and we gingerly made our way outside to the school across the street to give Billie a short outing, which we continued every afternoon until the rain brought a full thaw on Wednesday. (This idea of slipping socks over shoes to improve traction kept popping up on social media, and I can definitely say that it improves chances of not falling.) Once outdoors, Billie initially seemed confused which inclined her to stand still on the icy ground — not a good idea! — but eventually got the idea to keep moving and enjoy the fresh air. In the video you can see how close the school is to our house; nevertheless, it felt like a drama-packed expedition to arrive there safely, picking our way very very carefully.
There was never any snow, though it was predicted for the weekend of the ice storm. The local utility worked nonstop for two days to restore power outages mostly caused by icy wires, though downed trees were a huge problem in Manzanita, where I volunteer at the Wonder Garden. The heroic utility/People’s Utility District announced a well-earned short sleep break Monday evening. We never lost power at home, but there are still sporadic power outages cropping up, with an outage announced this morning in the west end of our town. Overall, the coast had an easier time with this arctic blast than Portland, which has experienced serial ice storms and more days and nights under freezing temps, thus slower to thaw. Damage in my admittedly young garden here looks minimal, but it’s way too soon to tell. The only real obvious casualty is the gorgeous Hebe parviflora angustifolia, which probably just took a hit to its good looks and may recover, albeit at a much smaller size. Tentative reports place the cause of this dangerous and rare weather event on warming temps weakening the polar vortex plus effects from El Nino — whatever the cause, it’s another one for the history books!
Today is the day we’ve been dreading all week, when daytime temps at the Oregon coast hover around 30F and “icy rain” arrives. The week’s weather has been typically tumultuous and no undue cause for concern — just the usual rain, lots of hail, sporadic bouts of clear skies for walking Billie, more rain, all against a backdrop of daytime temps mostly in the upper 40s/low 50s and nighttime temps well above freezing. No recent frosty mornings. Very much in keeping with our recent upgrade by the USDA into zone 9a.
In early January it felt balmy enough that we were still taking Hannah and Billie to the beach.
And then this week rumblings started of what the Arctic blast might unleash at the coast. Shifting but portentous forecasts began to coalesce into solid predictions of “icy rain” for this weekend, particularly Saturday — I had no idea what that would look or feel like. (I covered some plants for the first time, feeling very smug and practical for doing so. But I think the uncovered Phormium ‘Pink Blush’ is toast and probably much else.)
Several hours into the day-long event, I have some observations to offer. Icy rain appears to be a very thin mist that barely registers to the eye as rainfall. It is neither sleet nor hail. Wind is picking up by the afternoon, but overall the event isn’t too scary. But try taking a step out of the house, and you’ll face the full slip-and-fall horror of the phenomenon. Nobody, not even foolhardy kids with delusions of immortality, are braving the sidewalks. The utility wires are accumulating dangerous loads of ice, and there’s already power outages reported in Nehalem, Wheeler, Rockaway Beach, Garibaldi, Netarts and Oceanside. Marty optimistically bakes oatmeal cookies — whether they see a warm oven before the power gives up is the game now. Fluffy snow, like we had last winter, is vastly preferable to this ice sheet that’s descended.
A quick visit south for the holidays revealed aloes about to bloom. More to say about new plans for the southern garden, the intricacies of local weather, wrapping faucets when ice threatens, our boundless love of the pellet stove, but I’ll post this while the power holds. Take care!
Making a garden for myself seems to be a function now of my autonomic nervous system, like breathing and a beating heart. It is a big comfort to know that wherever I go, I’m fairly sure I can make a little garden, at least while strength holds out.
All that time spent thinking of, reading about, and making gardens? I’m feeling gratitude for that lived experience that enables me to make a garden that traps light, catches wind, color and contrast, even if the only other appreciative visitors are birds and insects.
I may not be able to draw raindrops captured by seedheads or beading up on smooth leaves, but I can plant that — and know how and what to plant, thanks to all the generous garden writing I’ve read, the welcoming gardens I’ve visited.
I know what will glisten every morning after an overnight rain.
The fact that the most exuberant, knowledgeable gardens have to be sought out, and are not to be found around every corner, instead of finding that depressing, I see it now as proof of the value and rarity of this specific knowledge base and skillset. Gardeners know how to make something out of soil, water and light that acts as an enticingly sexy advertisement for the natural world. Gardens defiantly say look closer and take care. In the face of rampant cruelty and stupidity, it may not be enough but it’s not nothing either.
I am beyond grateful for the years spent learning how to make a garden. I can bake bread, I can make a garden — what else could you want or need?
To all the garden makers, salut! Indulge yourself with gratitude for all you’ve studied and accomplished. To all those who share what they know, plants or otherwise, thank you, I’ve learned loads. Have a wonderful holiday!
Mopping up the earlier report on blooms in October that was abridged due to technical issues…
I’ve been talking up all summer the two Aster lateriflorus var. horizontalis varieties in my garden (‘Prince’ and ‘Lady in Black’). Rich dark leaves early in the season suspended on a light framework that doesn’t overwhelm neighbors. I’m not saying the Sept/October blooms are incidental, but they are an additionally winning, late-season virtue of an all-around, very good plant. Wind and rain do not beat these plants down. Right now I wish I had room for a much larger planting of them — so good with grasses.
If I had to choose, my preference would be ‘Lady in Black’ for its open, arching habit of growth. Spittle bugs were all over early spring growth, so I cut quite a bit off to rid the plant of the pests — not sure if they’re damaging but they are disgusting! Even with that spring cutback it makes sizeable growth up to blooming size of approx 4 feet.
Special mention to those plants whose images refused to upload: The wallflowers manage to handle the 4-month dry season as well as the cold, rainy rest of the year (Erysimum ‘Winter Orchid’); Emilia javanica, an annual with tall stems topped with small, brilliant, orange thistle brushes, nice with Pennisetum villosum, both gracefully handling a rainy October; and Parahebe catarractae, a flawless little foreground shrub, evergreen, covered in tiny white flowers now, as it has been on and off all summer.
And last but not least, the tall annual Persicaria orientalis in the vegetable garden leaning on the bean trellis. Lettuce, beans, peas, and zucchini have been stellar this summer on the coast.
More Bloom Day reports for October can be found here.
The Long Beach, CA zone 10 garden had a caretaker in residence for almost a year while we’ve been on the Oregon coast. I think they may have been watering the containers before decamping in July, but I’m not really sure how much consistent water the garden itself got after the 2023 winter rains, which were fortunately epic. Neighbors say this was an exceptionally cool summer here, with no temps over 100. And August brought unexpected, significant rainfall for this summer-dry climate. Overall, I’m trying to find a caretaking pattern that can be duplicated again, but maybe I just caught a lucky break because the garden has, in the main, survived very well without me.
The back garden greeted me with wall-to-wall growth — the drought-breaking rains worked their magic. By late September the soil was bone dry again, but the garden party raged on anyway, with roots settled and deep. Exuberant growth overwhelmed many of the smaller succulents. Fall is the best time for this kind of cleanup, allowing the newly exposed succulents to acclimate to the changing light before next year’s summer sun. (I did some spot cleanup in July, and the newly exposed cycad Encephalartos horridus and an agave were burnt and disfigured but may recover.)
In the front garden, there wasn’t much to do other than water it in well and cut off several old palm fronds from the triangle palm, Dypsis decaryi.
I’ve been walking neighborhoods in LA the past couple weeks and noting the same problems in my garden on a broader scale. Everywhere the dry-tolerant plantings have outgrown their allotted space and impinge on sidewalks, houses. You can easily distinguish those interested in controlling the growth (very few!) from those overwhelmed by the responsibility. The city is lush and overgrown, but the birds are cacophonous, the sheets of blue plumbago and scarlet bougainvillea breath-taking. Plants in LA are both out of control and enchanting. Gardens here need constant, year-round vigilance to keep up with the effects of a year-round, frost-free climate — a very different kind of garden-making!