Tag Archives: Cistus Nursery

Wednesday clippings 4/15/15 (water on the brain)

Finally, a chance to spend some time with the blog again. There’s been lots of reading to catch up on, after the guv dropped that bombshell. (Pass the almonds.*)

One of the best sources of information I’ve found was right there on my blogroll, journalist Emily Green’s Chance of Rain.
In concert with KCET, Emily is writing an amazingly detailed series bristling with helpful links and step-by-step instructions for those wondering what to do with their lawns.
Definitely read Emily’s After the Lawn series before making a call to any lawn removal company that’s eager to snap up your rebate dollars in exchange for wall-to-wall gravel.

Amidst all the finger pointing and accusations, at least we’re beginning to talk about our water situation.
Ironically, after decades of denial, we just can’t seem to shut up about it now.

This entry under the Dot Earth blog at The New York Times rounds up dozens of articles for background reading.

And here’s a great interactive map on water use across the state, city by city, courtesy of The New York Times (“How Water Cuts Could Affect Every Community in California“)

And who knew that a century-old, squatter’s rights mentality governs ground water for agricultural use? Emily Green deciphers the state’s arcane water rights here: (Whose Water Is It Anyway?)

So, yes, I’ve been reading up on the politics of the recent water restrictions. Because it’s not like we need more information on how to design dry gardens.
Reaching into my bookshelf, I can pull out Beth Chatto‘s The Dry Garden, a chronicle of the 30-year-old garden she’s made in East Anglia, England, supported on rainfall alone.
(Which if I remember correctly is, at 30 inches, at least double our 15-inch average pre-drought.)

Then there’s Bob Perry’s landmark resource Landscape Plants for California Gardens.

More recently, there’s the great California resource Reimagining the California Lawn: Water-conserving Plants, Practices, and Designs

Lambley Nursery in Australia is also planting display gardens sustained on mostly rainwater.

At home I’ve been tweaking the garden the past few years to accommodate drier conditions anyway, and our water bill is consistently below average.
Granted, smaller properties like ours will have an easier time adjusting to restrictions.
What lawn we inherited when buying the house was removed over 20 years ago. I’ve never been emotionally attached to closely cropped, bright green turf.
But both neighbors to the east, who cherish their front lawns, have been quietly irrigating them with grey water for years.

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Berkheya purpurea, brought home from Cistus last summer, is a riveting, prickly daisy out of South Africa.
One of countless examples, native and exotic, of gorgeous plants blithely indifferent to dry conditions.
The literature cites berkheya’s habitat as stream banks, so we’ll see how tough it really is.
Once established, anything tap-rooted has a big advantage.

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Hymenolepis parviflora, a dry-tolerant shrub with chartreuse umbels. Nature is a genius.
In the past few years a lot of perennial/biennial/annual umbels have passed through the garden, the toughest probably being cenolophium, melanoselinum, yet even they needed pampering.
This one, however, is the real deal. Hymenolepis is a short-lived shrub from So. Africa that will probably need to be renewed from cuttings in a few years. I’m cool with that.

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Lily ‘Black Charm.’ Fortunately lilies love container life. I find it makes better water sense to grow them in pots to provide the even moisture they crave than in the ground.
The bucket collecting water from the shower is a steady source for container plants now.

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Seeing the Desert Bird of Paradise in rampant bloom wedged into the heat-reflected, bone-dry parkways along Long Beach City College set off a county-wide search for a source.

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The City College’s Hort. Department sold all their stock at their recent plant sale, but one local nursery had a couple plants.
I replaced Salvia ‘Amistad’ with Caesalpinia gilliesii. I know Sunset is marketing this salvia as waterwise, but I’d planted mine far from the hose bib, and it was showing some stress.

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Verbascum in Dustin Gimbel‘s garden, seed collected on his recent trip to Italy. He gave me two of these wavy-leaved mulleins, possibly V. undulatum.
Verbascums are classic perennials for dry gardens.

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Water garden out, agave in. Formerly a small water garden, now a cache pot for Agave franzosinii.
Surrounded by the unstoppable globe mallow Sphaeralcea ‘Newleaze Coral,’ a hybrid developed at Hopley’s in the UK.
Planted last fall, I’ve cut back and thinned the globe mallow three times since mid winter.
It’s never stopped blooming and, because of its vigor, I purposely avoid adding water.

One last point, an important one to keep in mind.
It’s no big surprise that trees are a constituency without much representation at the water restriction negotiations table.
I vigorously applaud Emily Green’s emphasis on prioritizing irrigation for our trees.

Landscape reform is sweeping California more as an emergency response to drought and less as a considered piece of town planning. Representatives from three of the region’s largest water providers, a City of Los Angeles arborist, and a Los Angeles County botanist interviewed for this article all seemed surprised when asked if they had consulted one another about the impact on the region’s urban canopy before moving to dry out the lawns in which most of the trees are planted.” After the Lawn Part I

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*”[A]ccording to estimates by the Public Policy Institute of California, more water was used to grow almonds in 2013 than was used by all homes and businesses in San Francisco and Los Angeles put together. Even worse, most of those almonds are then exported — which means, effectively, that we are exporting water. Unless you’re the person or company making money off this deal, that’s just nuts.” – “Making Sense of Water

meeting plants in person for the first time

By now you’re probably wondering will this blog ever stop dining out on the Portland garden bloggers meetup. Just one more for now on the plants that really had my number. Which is undeniably an odd number, but the heart wants what it wants. Many times I become infatuated with plants through magazines, online catalogues, or blogs, in a process I imagine is not dissimilar to online dating. Both have in common beautiful photos, seductive descriptions, but not necessarily the whole story. When plant and gardener finally meet and a trial period of compatibility is undertaken, disappointment can ensue on both sides, but there’s always the tantalizing possibility of a lasting attachment.

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Earlier this year I finally made the acquaintance of long-time crush Crambe maritima, a European coastal plant with uncommonly beautiful leaves, thick and blue as an agave, curled and frilled at the margins. I think it was planted in my garden last fall. (Checking email records, I did purchase it last September via mail order from Oregon nursery Dancing Oaks.) Although impatient for the sea kale to thicken up, it’s exactly as I imagined it. We’re a good match, the sea kale and I, and all signs point to the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

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I thought I knew everything I needed to know about the sea kale, but I discovered in Portland an unexpected twist to this plant.

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Crambe maritima, aka the sea kale, in the Floramagoria garden in Portland, Oregon this July.
I had no idea its seedheads, like tiny white button mushrooms, would be as much of an attraction as its wavy, blue-green, cabbagey leaves.
In Willy Wonka’s garden, this would be labeled the wasabi pea plant. (By the way, the plant is edible.) This unexpectedly nubby, bubbly texture endears the sea kale to me even more.

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Crambe maritima’s pearly seedheads with pitcher plants and what looks like a gold-leaf Aechmea recurvata in bloom.

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Then there’s the equivalent of meeting an intriguing plant for the first time and not getting its phone number, so to speak.
This rusty tumbleweed’s name was given as Rumex ‘Maori,’ but I’ve had no luck finding any reference or additional information.

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Here’s a plant I’ve been stalking for some time, Asphodeline lutea. Two new ones planted this spring have withered away.

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At least I’m fairly sure this is an asphodel, again, a plant with which I have little real-world experience.

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On the tour I bumped into a plant that I purchased the first day of the tour at the nursery Cistus, Berkheya purpurea. A nice coincidence.

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Fantastic stems, leaves and, when it blooms, large lavender daisies.

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(photo of berkheya in bloom found here)

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An acacia new to me in John Kuzma’s garden, Acacia covenyi.

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The same acacia seen here with a large clump of anigozanthos that overwinters in situ in the garden with protection

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Possibly my favorite plant on the tour, Acanthus sennii. I’ve noticed I’m falling more for plants that have a chance of succeeding where I garden.
I’m no longer throwing myself at every good-looking, high-maintenance type that comes along. A sign of maturity maybe?

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Also in the Kuzma garden was this stunning velvety silver potentilla. Possibly Potentilla calabra or hippiana…or something else entirely. (P. gelida. thanks, Heather.)

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A beautiful grass, new to me, Achnatherum calamagrostis ‘Silver Spike,’ at the Grass Master’s incredible garden.

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Scott was also growing the native thistle Cirsium occidentale. I’ve already killed one but found two more locally.

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A wiry, tough cushion that caught my notice at the McMenamins Kennedy School, Bupleurum spinosum. Very cool.
The admirable evergreeen shrub, Bupleurum falcatum, was also seen on the tour, which blooms in chartreuse umbels in summer.

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Eryngium maritimum in Loree’s Danger Garden. I started seeds of this in spring. Zip germination so far.

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I’ll close with the “It” plant of the moment, one of the hardy scheffleras. This visit to Portland was my first introduction to them, and they were everywhere. S. delavayi maybe.
Beautiful, but not this zone 10 garden’s type…

back on the home front

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It’s finally happening.

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Miraculously, after a couple close calls resulting in an almost fatal wilt, Musschia wollastonii has survived and begun to hoist up that much-anticipated chartreuse candelabra of blooms.
The Madeira Giant Bellflower must be an unforgettable sight in bloom on its native cliffs of Madeira. As with Aeonium tabuliforme, the cliff face is what’s shaped that remarkable architecture. Some claim to grow musschia mainly for the leaves, but I don’t find them wildly exciting, possibly because it’s been struggling to survive here. Musschia is monocarpic, meaning it will die after blooming. Which also means I can now die happy, having seen it bloom in my garden. But what vigilance to get to this point! In spring I parked this pot right by a hose bib on the north side of the house for its daily shower.

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Also newly in bloom and slightly offbeat, Emilia javanica ‘Irish Poet,’ the Tassel Flower.
A delicacy that couldn’t compete in a waist-high, full-throttle summer garden, but it stands out fine in mine, which is in the process of undergoing accommodation to the ongoing drought.

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Emilia may be small, but it packs a big orange punch in its ‘Irish Poet,’ form, seed from Nan Ondra.
Many years ago I grew the species, which is a darker, burnt orange bordering on red. I much prefer the electrifying orange of ‘Irish Poet.’

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These pots give a sense of its scale. Last agave on the left was just brought home from the recent Orange County succulent show.

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Agave ‘Tradewinds,’ a blue-green striped potatorum selection thought to be a seedling of ‘Kissho Kan.’

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Diminutive emilia is barely visible on the lower left, unlike the fountain of Pennisetum ‘Sky Rocket’ in the distance.

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The plumes arch just where the Cussonia gamtoosensis canopy begins, a wonderful effect that’s unlikely to be duplicated next year as the cabbage tree continues to grow.
Today I watched for the first time as a sparrow landed in the baby cussonia, which to my mind makes it a real tree now.

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There’s also two big clumps of this grass fronting the lemon cypresses on the eastern boundary*

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And another clump growing amidst Gomphrena ‘Fireworks.’ Both thrive on minimal supplemental water, which keeps them in trim, upright shape.

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The front of the cussonia border, which shows how Aeonium ‘Zwartkop’ looks in its summer dormancy period here.
I can appreciate ‘Zwartkop’s’ skeletal form, as opposed to the giant ‘Cyclops,’ which was getting increasingly annoying in its off-season shabbiness, so it’s been pulled out of the garden to be grown in a container.
All the plants here are well adapted to low water use, except for a couple patrinia I foolishly included this year. Crambe maritima is doing really well, another plant I saw in several Portland gardens recently. Yucca, furcraea, gaillardia, adenanthos, coprosma, Pelargonium ‘Crocodile,’ anigozanthos, agastache, echium, Rekohu carex. A Beschorneria alba is in here somewhere too. Variegated St. Augustine grass is weaving through the legs of the aeonium and spilling onto the bricks. The iron pyramid was propping up a castor bean I recently pulled out.

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In ‘Cyclops’ place I decided to try agapanthus, something I’m as surprised to type as I was to purchase, having never brought one home before. This one is ‘Gold Strike,’ and it wasn’t easy to find. I wrongly assumed I’d have the pick of tender varieties in inky blues, even deep purples, all within a few miles’ radius of home. After all, they grow like weeds here. There must be a wonderful selection locally, right? And if not, there must be U.S. growers with extensive lists, right? Wrong on both counts. The best selection, of course, is found with UK nurseries. A couple years back I attended a lecture given by Dan Hinkley on what he’s up to at his new garden at Windcliff, and a good part of the presentation was on his new-found love of agapanthus. “How suburban!” I thought at the time, and “Dan’s going soft!” But as usual, Dan’s right. Mature stands are tolerant of drought, make a mid-summer garden look fresh again, and now I can’t wait to try them with Pennisetum ‘Sky Rocket.’ The deepest blue to be found locally is ‘Storm Cloud,’ but I’m not done searching around for other kinds with names like ‘Purple Emperor’ and ‘Night Sky.’ Still can’t believe I’m shopping around for agapanthus, though.

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A large mint bush near the ‘Cyclops’ aeonium was showing its age, so that was given the heave-ho recently too.
Prostranthera never gets older than a few years in my garden and is well known to be short-lived.
Waiting in the wings, outgrowing its pot was Eucalyptus ‘Moon Lagoon,’ which I intended on planting in the mint bush’s spot in the fall.
This is one of the mallee eucalyptus, which are more large shrubs than the towering giants Californians associate with eucalyptus.

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Never much inclined to wait, I called Jo O’Connell at Australian Native Plants Nursery, where I bought the eucalypt, to ask her opinion.
She said to absolutely go for it now, mid-summer, a woman after my own heart. And so it’s been planted.

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Speaking of suburban, how about some marigolds? (Now who’s going soft?)

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What an undeserving bad rap the bedding plants industry has given marigolds. The tall strains like this one, ‘Cinnabar’ from Derry Watkins, are so hot. If you don’t have a bias against orange, that is.

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And I don’t think there’s anything easier to grow from seed than marigolds.

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The grey shrub arching over the marigolds is Olearia virgata v. lineata ‘Dartonii,’ brought home from Far Reaches Farm a few years ago.
(“If you’ve hankered for a willow but lament your dry conditions, then weep no more.”)
It was so cool to see this shrub growing against the greenhouse at Old Germantown Gardens in Portland recently, where it was tightly clipped in a more columnar form.
The Agave attenuata is ‘Boutin’s Blue,’ formerly ‘Huntington’s Blue,’ not quite happy in full sun. In a large pot, it’s the Goldilocks of agaves and gets moved around quite a bit.

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Marigolds in the distance, the new Leucadendron ‘Ebony’ in the foreground, handling its first summer beautifully so far.
The sideritis to its right wasn’t so lucky, inexplicably collapsing a couple days ago, about a day after this photo was taken.
Every so often around mid-summer, this mysterious soil-borne wilt process takes out a plant.
I know in my absence the garden was watered really well for a change, and that might have kicked it off.
The sideritis was one of two self-sown seedlings I found this spring, so it was a gimme anyway.
I’ve already planted a couple Cirsium occidentale in its place.
(Seeing the cirsium almost in bloom in Scott’s garden in Portland was a nice moment too.)

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The Berkheya purpurea I brought home from Cistus a few weeks ago can just be seen behind the leucadendron.
The oregano-like plant is Calamintha nepeta ‘Gottlieb Friedkund.’ Fabulous plant I’ve been spreading around the garden. From Digging Dog.

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Another annual growing fast in the heat, Hibiscus trionum, seed also from Nan Ondra.

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Rudbeckia triloba is everything I want in a summer daisy, except for its moderate thirst.
There’s a chance that if it self-sows, the progeny will be better situated for drier conditions. Slim chance, but you never know. And there’ll always be gaillardia.

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Eryngium padanifolium in its second year, reliably blooming again, a great relief.

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The ‘Limelight’ Miracle of Peru seed around, and a few are always welcome.

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A potted Lotus jacobaeus has filled out well this year, much more so than when planted directly into the garden.

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Aristolochia fimbriata scoffs at any neglect I throw its way. No surprise that it was included on the sales tables at a recent succulent show. It’s that tough.

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Crassula pruinosa, also brought home from Cistus

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The crassula was tucked in at the base of Euphorbia ammak. That golden-leaved shrub thrives in pot culture, even the careless kind I practice.

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Really brightens things up. Corokia virgata ‘Sunsplash’

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Also doing really well in a container is the Shaving Brush Tree, Pseudobombax ellipticum

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And that just about takes care of mid-summer 2014.

*I keep neglecting to mention that one of the best attributes of this excellent grass is that it is sterile and therefore noninvasive, unlike Pennisetum setaceum.

Portland Pots It Up

There’s so many reasons for plants to spend some or even all of their lives in containers.
Aside from the practical reasons — fine-tuning sunlight, better drainage, more moisture, less moisture, special soil mixes, protection from chewing and digging creatures, the ability to shuttle plants indoors where a cold winter will be inhospitable and/or deadly — all these good and sensible reasons aside, containers provide strong graphic and framing opportunities that many of us find hard to resist. And it’s not like our infatuation with pots is new — the oldest pottery found in China dates back almost 20,000 years, so I’d argue that we’re just yielding to an age-old, irresistible impulse that impels us to seek out empty vessels brimming with so much potential. The gardens of Portland we toured exploited this graphic potential like nobody’s business.

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Euphorbia ammak would not survive the Portland winter were it not for the portability of the freckled chartreuse pots in Craig Quirk & Larry Neill’s Floramagoria garden designed by Laura Crockett.
A perfect example of the gorgeous joining hands with the practical. I love this soft color that blends so well with plants. (A year or so ago I found a pot with this same glaze at Rolling Greens in Culver City.)

Continue reading Portland Pots It Up

impressions of Portland gardens (in the zone of filtered sunshine)

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Since returning from touring gardens and nurseries in Portland last week, I’ve been haphazardly researching what makes the Pacific Northwest so full of great gardens and nurseries. Not expecting any definitive answer, just scrounging around for clues. Portland’s enviably soft light at 45 degrees latitude that famously attracts painters and glass artists is one clue. And to account for sheer creativity, I found assorted oddball theories, including one on the geography of personality, which shows the entire West Coast of the U.S. coming up strong in “openness,” which “reflects curiosity, intellect, and creativity at the individual level,” and registering low in neuroticism. (California comes in slightly more neurotic than Oregon and Washington, with the East Coast taking the prize for most neurotic.)

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And then there was the crackpot hucksterism of Erwin L. Weber, paid for by the Seattle Chamber of Commerce in 1924 to encourage settlement in the Pacific Northwest and woo development away from California: ““Filtered sunshine — sunshine filtered thru the clouds — and only a moderate degree of intense sunshine, as exists in the Pacific Northwest, is best for all, and vital to the development of the most energetic peoples…Intense and prolonged sunshine, as exists in the greater portion of the United States is detrimental to the highest human progress. History abounds with the annals of peoples who built up empires and civilizations under the temporary stimulus of intense sunshine. But this same intense sunshine later broke down the stamina and resistance of these peoples, thus causing the fall of their empires and the decay of their civilizations.” (In the Zone of Filtered Sunshine) In his sunshine-is-destiny theory, Mr. Weber appeared to believe it was the strong sun and not the Visigoths that brought down the Roman empire.

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Fatsia japonica ‘Spider’s Web’ was seen in quite a few of the gardens, a plant that needs to be widely available in Los Angeles.

Weeding through a lot of apocryphal stories and wacky theories is an entertaining byproduct of high-speed Internet, but it invariably leads to a condition that This American Life contributing editor Nancy Updike describes as “Modern Jackass,” which involves expounding at length on a topic about which the speaker actually knows very little. So I’ll stop with the crank theories. Because there is one indisputable, geologic source of all that splendor: the spectacularly fertile Willamette Valley, which stretches from Eugene at its southern end to Portland at its northernmost. As far as I can tell from my admittedly superficial (Modern Jackass) inquiry, this valley was scoured and tumbled by massive ice movements, then filled and refilled with water up to 50 times, when enormous silt deposits were built up, leaving an astonishing depth of loam known as the Willamette silt:

During Pleistocene time, large-volume glacial-outburst floods, which originated in western Montana, periodically flowed down the Columbia River drainage and inundated the Willamette Lowland. These floods deposited up to 250 feet of silt, sand, and gravel in the Portland Basin, and up to 130 feet of silt, known as the Willamette Silt, elsewhere in the Willamette Lowland.” — from “Influence of the Missoula Floods on Willamette Valley Ground Water.”

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Great nurseries are the keystone for supporting a vibrant garden culture, and the Portland area is blessed with dozens of wonderful nurseries, including the three we saw on the tour: Pomarius Nursery, where we had the pre-tour cocktail party, Cistus Nursery, to which I’ve made several pilgrimages in years prior to the tour, and Joy Creek Nursery, also previously visited with friends a few years ago. (The last two have mail-order catalogues, by the way.)

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Commercial dahlia growers beautifully exploit the Willamette silt. Hops grow well here, too, supporting all those microbreweries.

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About 70 miles inland from the coast, Portland can get hot in summer. It can and it did. A couple days over 90 were outright sweltering.

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But generally Portland’s climate brings warm, dry summers and chilly, damp winters.
Fluctuating warm/cold spring temperatures keep the gardeners sharp and the nurseries busy.

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An occasional colder-than-average winter can bring sad losses, but all the gardens we toured were fearless in pushing zones.

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Coddling tender plants has been turned into an art form by Portland gardeners.

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Heading into Portland from the airport, my seat mates on either side of me on the MAX were respectively (a) attending the World Domination Summit and (b) a conference on plant biology.
From the outset, I knew the next few days were going to be interesting, and the exuberant, plant-rich gardens of Portland never let up off the throttle.

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(And now a word from the 2014 Garden Bloggers Fling sponsors, who can all be found here. These sponsors and the volunteer planners make the Fling one of the best garden tours around.)

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More on Portland’s gardens to come.

something different in an alstroemeria

The Alstromeria isabellana that I brought home from Far Reaches Farm in Port Townsend, Washington, opened its first bloom in my garden in Southern California a couple days ago. Sean Hogan had pointed it out to me in a display garden at his wonderful nursery Cistus on Sauvie Island outside Portland, Oregon.


From the Pacific Bulb Society website: “A lovely species with a distribution from eastern/southern Brazil to northeastern Argentina. It has striking convergence in flower morphology with many Central/South American plants like Phaedranassa and Fuchsia elegans…Seeds planted in the fall sprouted in February. Plants go dormant in winter and return in spring.”


I’m feeling really optimistic about this one. Dancing Oaks Nursery’s description is very reassuring: “Exquisite pendulous flowers of orange, green and black on 2-3′ tall stems. Stiff narrow gray blue leaves. Slowly creates a colony.”

The emphasis on stiff leaves, medium height, and a slow-growing nature is mine, attributes I’m hoping will hold true in my zone 10 garden. My last encounter with an alstromeria, ‘The Third Harmonic,’ was a tempestuous, drama-laden affair that ended unhappily. (As unhappy as these encounters can end, as in complete eradication.) I wrote about ‘The Third Harmonic’ here and here. It’s way too soon to tell, but this A. isabellana may just be the easy-going, well-mannered alstroemeria I’ve been looking for. And who knew an alstroemeria could possess such grace, character, and that rarest of attributes often lacking in hybrids, subtlety?

bringing it home

Visiting first-rate plant nurseries necessarily involves purchasing plants, or so I’ve always believed — even if the purchaser is thousands of miles from home and has to shove the pots into an already bursting suitcase and then into the cramped overhead compartment of an airplane. Even if the nursery offers the sensible alternative of mail order. This is a long-standing, deep-seated compulsion of mine, and no trip is considered a success without some newly discovered plant settling its roots into my garden the day after I return. A gardener’s equivalent to trophy refrigerator magnets with images of the Grand Canyon or the Eiffel Tower, I suppose. During the recent visit to the Pacific Northwest, under the mistaken impression I wouldn’t be able to fly plants back into California, I fought off this compulsion and resisted many fine plants. After being repeatedly assured that it was safe/legal to fly plants home with me, I caved on the last day, at Far Reaches Farm. We had been urged everywhere we visited that we absolutely must squeeze in a trip to Port Townsend to check out Sue Milliken and Kelly Dodson’s nursery Far Reaches Farm, where rare plants abound, like this very cool, black-eyed Aster souliei in their display gardens.

Aster aff. soulieu

As luck would have it, Far Reaches Farm had stock of the fabulous Alstroemeria isabellana that Sean Hogan had pointed out to me in a display garden at his nursery Cistus earlier in the week. Meeting some plants for the first time can be like making the acquaintance of that person with whom you have an instantaneous, natural rapport, and so it was with this alstroemeria: Thick, succulent, pleated leaves and dangling, aloe-esque flowers — we were instantly best friends. It’s already throwing out a bloom stalk and, knock wood, I should have a photo in a week or so. This photo was found here, the ebay plant seller Strange Wonderful Things.


Following the timeworn, axiomatic advice “In for a penny, in for a pound,” it made sense at that point to add seven more plants into the bargain, mostly shrubby stuff like corokias and olearias but also the hardy ginger Cautleya gracilis and this ruddy form of Saxifraga stolonifera named ‘Maroon Beauty.’


The description on Far Reaches Farm’s alstroemeria plant ID tag dredged up decades-old memories of stuffing our Honda Civic with loot from Western Hills Rare Plant Nursery in Occidental, California, pots sandwiched in between an always-drooling Newfoundland, two kids, two adults, and assorted other gear:

“We got this from Maggie at Western Hills some years ago as an Alstroemeria x Bomarea hybrid called ‘Fred Meyer.’ Thanks to Martin Grantham at UC Davis, we finally have the correct name. This is a rare and surprisingly hardy species from Brazil which does great outside for us. Pink corolla with green petals and yellow throat…Average to drier. July-August. Zone 7. Sun/part sun.”

(Garden Conservancy writes about the recent change in owners of Western Hills here.) Sean Hogan, who is related to one of the new owners of Western Hills, says he has high hopes for the garden now, with much work already accomplished in clearing out the overgrowth of brambles and cataloguing the garden. What an interconnected, supportive and generous world plant nursery people inhabit.

What else did I bring home? The now unshakeable conviction that a water garden must be next on the list. The Little & Lewis garden, which is not at all a large space, seamlessly incorporates many water containers and gardens. George Little described how this water garden rimmed in baby’s tears has been in existence a mere three months, starting out life as a stock tank, which was painted on the interior a dark green to minimize the shine from the new tank, then surrounded with dry-stacked rocks filled with little pockets of soil for plants to colonize, in keeping with their naturalistic approach. And plants do colonize swiftly in the advantageous growing conditions of the Pacific Northwest! Summer-dry, Mediterranean climates like mine, whether in Southern California or Greece, the source of much of Little & Lewis’ inspiration, have long relied on water gardens to convey a sense of lushness and plenty via this most precise and controlled use of water. Their book “A Garden Gallery” also gives lots of reassuring advice on starting a water garden, as well as being a photographic journal of their celebrated first garden, which is just next-door to their current garden.

The waterlily ‘Ultraviolet’ was just beginning to bloom. We were maybe only hours too early.


(Kathy at Gardenbook has a great post on our visit to the astonishing garden of these warm, generous artists.
Anyone with even a passing interest in archaeology will immediately recognize kindred souls in George Little and David Lewis.)

Some of the best souvenirs are the memories of meeting plants I’d only read about before, like this anemonopsis at the Bellevue Botanical Garden.


Or this celmisia just about to bloom at Dunn Gardens. There wasn’t a name tag, but it couldn’t be anything but a member of the tribe of New Zealand Daisies. I don’t really have an Actor’s-Studio favorite swear word, but upon seeing a huge celmisia for the first time, an involuntary eff me escaped my lips — luckily, the docent wasn’t around.


Edited to add possible ID: Pachystegia insignis

At Linda Cochran’s renowned garden on Bainbridge Island, I discovered what a 15-year-old stand of Lobelia tupa looks like.


After years of gardening for mainly foliage effects, Linda said her interest in photography is increasingly drawing her towards flowers.


Lilies were another signature plant in bloom everywhere we visited. Regal lilies at Dunn Gardens.


Melianthus was also widely planted, seen here at Linda’s garden with potted Japanese forest grass hakonechloa.


Hostas of course were everywhere.


And brilliantly planted containers, like this one at Dunn Gardens. Acid yellow, corrugated leaves of Pelargonium ‘Golden Lemon Crispum’ against the smooth blue chalk fingers of Senecio mandraliscae. I’ve outright stolen this bit of genius, no doubt the work of curators Charles Price and Glenn Withey, and have already found the pelargonium at a local nursery. Senecio mandralsicae is too rampant here, so I’m trialing the similar but more restrained Senecio serpens.


The same pelargonium, like bolts of zig-zagging, foliar electricity, used elsewhere at Dunn Gardens.


Potted lewisia at Dunn Gardens.


More potted beauties at Dunn Gardens. No idea what these are.


Linda Cochran prefers clay pots for spiky plants, which she simply shatters when it’s time to move on to a larger pot size instead of struggling to remove the plant, risking gashes and scratches.


I also discovered that all nursery dogs are unfailingly good-natured. One of the Blue Heeler cattle dogs at Dragonfly Farms.

Dragonfly's Blue Healer

I hadn’t seen perennials grown this well since visiting England. The colors gleam and remain vibrant under overcast skies. From the display garden at Dragonfly Farms.



To everyone whose nursery and/or garden we toured, the warmest thanks for the generous gifts of your time and knowledge.

Cistus Nursery

The second installment of my recent visit to Oregon and Washington (or How I Mispronounced Botanical Latin for Six Days While Touring Gardens and Nurseries of the Pacific Northwest).
My own peculiar zonal filter can’t help but color these posts; for example, I did feel a special affinity for our next destination, Sean Hogan’s nursery Cistus on Sauvie Island, a marvelous nursery I’ve visited a couple times before and hope to visit many times again. This sign at Cistus neatly sums up the reasons why I find this nursery so horticulturally sympatico.


Our group represented gardens from zones 5 through 10. There was lots of overlap in the plants we admired, just differences in the lengths we have to go to care for some of them.



And then there was the vicarious thrill from everyone’s plant choices. The dark-leaved Daphne houtteana made the transcontinental flight back to a garden on the East Coast.
Sean feels scent is paramount in a garden and I completely agree, but I killed my last daphne years ago.


The sea hollies are a particular favorite of mine, and I’ll always remember them as one of the signature plants of this visit.
This giant at Cistus is Eryngium latifolium, which Sean said is second in size only to Erygium pandanifolium.


Wonderful against the steely blue leaves of eucalyptus and Yucca rostrata


It did lightly drizzle during our visit to Cistus, which limited photo-ops somewhat. Normally, Portland gets scant summer rain.
Even so, a skilled plantsman like Sean knows how to obtain a lush effect from climate-appropriate plant choices.
I’m wondering now if the blue leaves mid-photo aren’t Kniphofia caulescens.


Towering, shaggy bamboo


More summer-drought lushness. Genista showering golden blooms over the green flower umbels of thoroughwax, Bupleurum falcatum.
An araucaria, the Monkey Puzzle Tree, can just be glimpsed in the center of the photo.


Brody dutifully herded us along while Sean pointed out the botanical bounty of Cistus.
I do think Brody was a tad smitten with Sue, who blogs at Idyll Haven.


At this point in the trip, I was still under the delusion that flying plants back home to California was verboten.


Good thing this delusion lasted until the last day of the trip, or I would have probably thrown all my clothes away in an attempt to shove a couple Crambe maritima in the carry-on bag.


Enormous cardoons, Cynara cardunculus, legacy of a prank played on Sean by the late Christopher Lloyd, who sneakily described the gift of young plants as smallish, dainty, front-of-the-border plants.
The punchline came a year or so later: Surprise, they’re gigantic! Gotta love horticultural humor.


(More botanical tit-for-tat: Sean gifted Lloyd’s Great Dixter with its first hardy banana, Musa basjoo, which Lloyd infamously planted where the rose garden had grown for decades.
When Lloyd ripped out the rose garden to grow tropicals, the English gardening public was aghast, and many regarded the move as heretical.
Sean must have thoroughly enjoyed the ensuing controversy.)

But enough gossip and dawdling! Three more days to go…

summer 2012 road trip: Pacific Northwest

I find vacations in the Pacific Northwest have a lot in common with Chinese food; after being home for a few days, you’re hungry for another serving of Puget Sound, please. I’m sitting at a table in my garden in Southern California, staring up at a piercingly blue sky, like a child’s crayon drawing of Sky, trying to recapture the thrillingly turbulent, clouds-of-Michelangelo skies that were overhead every day of our six-day visit to the Pacific Northwest. Skies like this one off the balcony at our hotel in Silverdale, Washington, the staging place for gardens and nurseries outside Seattle and on Bainbridge Island on the second half of our trip.


A sky you don’t turn your back on or rain might sneak in to pelt your umbrella-less head. Which theoretically doesn’t happen in the PNW’s mostly summer-dry climate, but it did happen once, at the nursery Cistus on Sauvie Island, and wasn’t a big deal at all. Nursery umbrellas are always handy, even if little frogs have to be coaxed out of the folds before hoisting it overhead.


I’ve attended just a couple road trips with this group of rabid plant enthusiasts, and both those trips were on the West Coast. But any garden-rich part of the U.S. is fair game, and the Pacific Northwest was chosen this year for its wealth of incredible nurseries and gardens.

The trip was divided into two chapters, Portland and Seattle, and the itinerary looked roughly like this: Arrive Portland, Oregon, meet at airport, pile into car, then immediately head over to Loree’s house to take her up on the generous invitation to visit her garden and then lunch at the McMenamins Kennedy School. Loree’s garden, the eponymous Danger Garden well known from her blog, has already been chronicled by a couple of my trip mates, fellow bloggers Kathy at Gardenbook and Sue at Idyll Haven. (Sue gives a nice history of the garden group here.)

The clean lines of Loree’s garden geometry are the perfect counterpoise to a serious plant lust.

The next two nights we slept in a botanical garden. In comfy beds and with complementary breakfast, of course, but for the entire time we spent at the Oregon Garden Resort, the 80-acre botanical garden in which the hotel is located was at our disposal, to wander at will. A couple of what were, for me, the “signature” plants of the trip were first seen here at the OGR, like this dierama in bloom outside our rooms and then everywhere else we visited.

Dierama, or Angel’s Fishing Rod, is an African member of the iris family, to zone 7.

Also seen at OGR was another signature plant of the trip, eryngiums, which bloom spectacularly well in the PNW.


Thoroughwax, Bupleurum falcatum, an understated evergreen I’ve always admired.


And the flashy Tiger Eye Sumac, Rhus typhina, was widely seen throughout our trip


As was Leycesteria formosa (but especially in it’s golden-leaved form ‘Golden Lanterns’)


The Clematis tangutica on the arbor at the OGR was a harbinger of the PNW as Clematotopia


The next day, Thursday, started with a tour of the tissue-culture labs and display gardens of Terra Nova Nurseries. (It is a rare thing to be among travelers all uniformly excited about touring a plant tissue culture lab. I love these people!) I’m probably wildly misquoting Dan Heims, but my iPhone notes tell me Terra Nova tissue cultures 3 and a half million plants a year at this 18-acre site. One in 20,000 of those is a mutation that might be the next sensational tiarella, heuchera, echinacea, kniphofia, agastache destined for sale at your local nursery.

Aralia cordata ‘Sun King’ on the left, echinaceas and the dark flowers of Calla ‘Edge of Night’ in the background. All the plants seen in the display gardens are currently available.


Dan says the ‘Popsicle’ kniphofia series is a nonstop-flowering breakthrough



Agastache ‘Blue Boa’



Agastache ‘Summer Glow’

I was intrigued by this diminutive crocosmia coming into bloom, ‘Twilight Fairy Gold,’ which has the bronzy leaves of ‘Solfatare’


Fatsia japonica ‘Spider Web’


Persicaria ‘Brushstrokes’ and heuchera


Actaea ‘Black Negligee’ with the Japanese forest grass Hakonechloa macra ‘All Gold’


Endless permutations of echinacea, the coneflowers






Might be time to rinse the palate at this point with a grouping of cannas, sedums, and Yucca rostrata ‘Sapphire Skies’



We finished off the day with a tour of Dancing Oaks, where I apparently felt a deep need to photograph something familiar at this point, like Aloe striatula.

Aloe striatula Dancing Oak

Eucomis flourish in the PNW. This is ‘Can-Can’

Eucomis 'Can Can'

The sun unexpectedly blazed at this beautiful nursery and garden filled with eminently desirable plants. I managed to get only a couple photos before the camera battery died. One of the owners, Leonard Foltz, was amazingly generous with his time and knowledge, which we found to be the case at every garden and nursery we visited.

And that’s just the first two days. More soon.

Chasing Plants

Post-Internet I’ve noticed plant desire has turned into a thinner and weaker strain now that it’s so easily satisfied. The really big desire, the kind that used to build up unrequited for years and years, is as analog as a manual typewriter. So now when a plant proves to be unobtainable, it’s kind of thrilling to yearn like years past. Oh, to pine again! A novelty emotion, so to speak.

I first saw the particular desirable plant in question on Loree’s blog, Danger Garden, Yucca aloifolia ‘Purpurea,’ and made a mental note to make this yucca mine the next time I ran into it, which seemed inevitable. So goes plant desire in the age of the Internet. Ebay, plant swap, mail order, seeds and bulbs from all over the world — relax, somehow you and the coveted plant will be united. And I’m not complaining, mind you, just noting the difference while it’s still within memory.

Photo found here.


Yet this yucca was simply nowhere to be found. (I now know it also goes by the name Yucca aloifolia ‘Blue Boy,’ and Cistus Nursery in Portland, Oregon, carries it. See Plant Lust here.) The first time I saw it “in the leaf” was in a display garden last spring at Annie’s Annuals. I grabbed a salesperson, led her to the yucca, and tried to keep my voice from trembling when inquiring as to where in their nursery an offset of this plant would be waiting for me to take home. They didn’t carry it. But she kindly directed me to The Dry Garden in Oakland, California, the source of their specimen, helping out with map and directions. Victory was at hand, a mere 30-minute drive away!

Except The Dry Garden wasn’t currently carrying any stock of this particular yucca either. Rather disconsolately, I wandered around the nursery but perked up almost immediately, as promiscuous plant collectors are wont to do when surrounded by an extraordinary selection of plants. It was this day, in wild pursuit of that elusive yucca, that I found a plant I’d given up on ever seeing, let alone acquiring. Mathiasella bupleuroides. A dream plant, like angelica crossed with a euphorbia. The owner, Richard Ward, told me that as far as he knew, his was the only nursery in the country currently with stock of this plant since it was so touchy to propagate.

Photo from The Dry Garden.


At home the mathiasella was planted in shade under the smoke tree, but the soil proved too thin and dry, and it languished all summer. Near death, it was emergency transplanted into a shady location with deeper soil, but it seemed the wrenching relocation mid-summer might be too much. Mercifully, just a few days ago I noted new leaf growth, so a photo may be forthcoming soon, if the recent onset of high temps doesn’t do it in. (Another personal link to this plant is the amount of time I used to spend in the Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden at UCLA, except I learn from the San Marcos Growers site that although named in her honor, the plant’s discovery is not credited to her.)

The trail of the yucca once again grew cold until this August, when I visited Digging Dog Nursery in Mendocino, California. In preparation for the trip, I checked their catalogue before the visit to become familiarized with their current offerings. Yucca aloifolia ‘Purpurea’ was not listed in their catalogue, yet there it sat before me, in a flat of 4-inch pots at the nursery. I was told that they were propagating the entire flat for the upcoming San Francisco Flower & Garden show in 2012 and that it was not generally for sale to the public, but I could take one home anyway. A little more sun will hopefully bring out the purpurea in him.


Digging Dog has also been the first U.S. nursery to offer Cirsium rivulare ‘Atropurpureum,’ a thistle that’s been fluttering hearts at successive Chelsea Garden Shows of the last few years. However, Digging Dog is currently sold out. And apparently this thistle can’t be grown from seed.

Image found here.


And so it goes. But a little yearning never hurt anyone.