a week in plants, continued

I so rarely document thoroughly, before and after, that I thought for once I’d push back a little against those slacker tendencies.
This small project is an easy place to start. In the last post, there were four ‘Cousin Itt’ acacias added under the fringe tree, and that was theoretically the end of it.
Where we left off, I was going to leave space open to sweep in the leaves and not plant bromeliads because it’ll be messy with the tree litter, etc., etc. I am so full of shit, it still astounds me.
No way can I leave something half-planted like that. In for a penny, in for a pound, always.
So this morning the burning question was: What other dry shade-tolerant stuff do I have lying around?

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There’s this huge potted Lomandra ‘Breeze’ that can be sawed into two big clumps. Rough treatment, but I seriously doubt one can mistreat a lomandra. We’ll see.
A potted Asparagus retrofractus to billow between the two lomandras, all kind of hitting the same shade of bright green so the mix of plants isn’t too patchwork.
A few bromeliads for big crazy colorful rosettes, tree litter be damned. As shallow growers, it’s easy to change your mind with bromeliads.
I’ll probably remove them before they get buried in leaves over winter.

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Still too bare for my taste, but if the acacias like it here they can get over 4 feet across.

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This no ID rhipsalis seems to be growing in an upright clump, so it gets to be the fifth “acacia.” Very root-infested soil in this spot.

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A ringer for the acacia, right?

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Lost the name of the foreground bromeliad I’ve had for years.

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Neoregelia ‘Dr. Oesser Big Spots’ was brought home this weekend from the sale/show at Rainforest Flora in Torrance.

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Neoregelia ‘Martin’

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One of the many gorgeous bromeliads at the weekend show that didn’t come home with me, Aechmea ‘Samurai.’
If only I’d had this planting scheme before the sale. Overplanning has never been my strong suit. It’s always been spontaneity or bust.

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I tucked a potted variegated monstera, also from Rainforest Flora, behind the asparagus against the fence, but there may be too much slanting afternoon sun for it.
If the sun isn’t too strong, I’m going to check into espaliering it against the fence.

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Fatsia japonica ‘Spider’s Web’ marks the new planting for wayward paws that have been used to digging here and kicking up leaves.
I’ll keep you posted on the fate of this little acacia experiment.

Fatsia japonica ‘Spider’s Web’

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Love it or hate it, Fatsia ‘Spider’s Web’ can now be found locally in Southern California. Roger’s Gardens in Corona del Mar is carrying it in affordable one-gallons. Fatsias grow like weeds here in dry shade, so when Southern California bloggers first saw this fatsia in Portland, Oregon gardens at the 2014 blogger meetup, we were, well, a bit indignant. By all rights, fancy cultivars of Fatsia japonica should be readily available at our local nurseries too. Pathetically, it’s taken two years. Let’s step it up, local nurseries! I’ve been told that the succulent craze is hitting nurseries in their pocketbooks, because succulents aren’t killed off as easily as spring/summer bedding, failures which usually bring lots of repeat customers. Succulents endure and don’t require seasonal replanting either, hence less nursery visits. One way for nurseries to stand out is by offering slightly off-the-beaten track plants. Nurseries that source specialty plants like this fatsia will always get my loyalty.

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About that variegation. We once hired a painter (hi David!) who used to clean his brushes by whipping them around centrifugally, covering pots and plants in nearest proximity with a stippled whitewash. This plant reminds me of that painter David, and how quickly he was hustled off the job after that whirling dervish brush-cleaning trick. Or maybe the variegation reminds you of a bad case of spider mites. I like how it brightens shady corners and reminds me of heated discussions over controversial variegation with plant friends.

(The Garden Bloggers Fling for 2016 is meeting in Minneapolis July 14-17, 2016.)

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.