mid-May 2024 Oregon Coast

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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.

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asphodels in bloom in a cloud of Omphalodes linifolia
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last photo of asphodels this year, I promise!
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Helianthemum ‘Henfield Brilliant’ and Euphotbia ‘Copton Ash,’ a replacement for ‘Dean’s Hybrid’ that melted away
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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.
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center, clump of Sanguiisorba ‘Red Thunder’ making size, cirsium and dianthus on the right. Background in bloom left to right is euphorbia, erysimum, geum
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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
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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
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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!
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Polemonium ‘Golden Feathers’ found local early spring — looks promising!
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Allium karataviense has wonderfully thick, pleated leaves
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buds just forming
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tetrapanax, hesperis, rhodocoma, Darmera peltata in stock tank lower left
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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
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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.
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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
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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

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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late April on a misty Sunday, standing on the railroad tie looking back at the house
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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.

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

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Posted in Bulbs, journal, Oregon garden | 8 Comments

Rosy Rhodocoma capensis

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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!

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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

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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.

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

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What I Like About Tulips

  • Tulips are light catchers.
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  • Tulips are intensely architectural
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  • Tulips are agents of transformation, something true of all bulbs.
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  • 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.
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  • 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.
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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.

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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.

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

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

Annual Manzanita Plant Sale April 21, 2024, 11 am – 1 pm

Not to add unnecessary drama to an already exciting event on the Oregon Coast, but judging by last year, the plants do leave the sales tables fast…very fast! Come early for the best selection! Support the greatest little garden on the North Oregon Coast and talk manzanitas and other cool plants with Wonder Garden experts.

Posted in plant sales | 5 Comments

new to me; Fritillaria persica and others

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Last spring a local nursery had planted whiskey barrels with Fritillaria persica. Which jarred me into the realization that I could too, that fritillaries were a green light on the Oregon coast.

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This March it is such a kick to see the Persian lily in bloom, even if it’s only the one (they’re expensive). Planted in a 20-gallon galvanized bin also holding a still dormant Salvia ‘Amante’, I can now affirm that its reputation for distinctive beauty was not exaggerated or a trick of photography. Liberated from books and magazines to become a tangible thing in my garden this spring, it’s one of those tiny watershed moments in a gardener’s life. This gardener’s life anyway.

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‘Miner’s Merlot’ euphorbia, also new to me, hits similar color notes. But unlike the fritillary, I know euphorbias fairly well and can mentally place them in a context that I just can’t for the fritillary. One is familiar, the other exotic. Technically, both are exotic, with ‘Miner’s Merlot’ a form of Euphorbia x martinii, a naturally occurring hybrid native to France, and the fritillary native to southern Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and other Middle Eastern countries. But “exotic” does not only denote geography, it can mean a bracing unfamiliarity that stirs the imagination, as in this fritillary reminds me of an exotic treasure Marco Polo would have brought to dazzle the court of Kublai Khan.

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Euphorbia ‘Miner’s Merlot’
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Rumex sanguineus, the “bloody dock” or red-veined sorrel

Continuing the color theme somewhat, the bloody dock has unexpectedly had great presence all winter. I’ve read of but never grown this edible ornamental before — but who could forget a common name like “bloody dock”? Nice to put a name to a face. Loves moisture so is thriving here.

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Lunaria ‘Corfu Blue’

And there’s lots of what might be considered mundane that is new to me too, like the biennial lunaria, or money plant, famous for its translucent seedpods. Lunaria is out early, willing to cover cold ground, taking space away from weeds. (Weeds are prodigious here, with bright green bindweed seedlings emerging daily, something to tackle with the first cup of coffee.) ‘Corfu Blue’ is said to possibly be perennial. Along with ‘Corfu Blue,’ I’ve also sown the purple-leaved Lunaria ‘Chedglow.’ If all goes well, this year should bring my first encounter with those storied seedpods apart from admiring them in the dried flower stall at the Los Angeles Flower Market.

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Lunaria annua ‘Chedglow’

What looks like straw in the above photo is a combination of grasses I’ve been cutting back since February. Early grasses like deschampsia were cut back first, as new growth at the base appeared. Just recently I’ve cut back the other grasses including miscanthus, so beautiful all winter, a favorite winter presence along with eryngiums and Digitalis ferruginea.

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“straw” comes from chopped remains of last summer’s grasses. Still feels like a magic trick to me, that a summer garden can rise up again

Deciduous grasses have been easier to deal with than evergreen grasses like sesleria, which need trimming, raking and grooming instead of a one-time buzzcut. I generally avoided cutting back perennials like penstemon and salvia until new basal growth was visible. Anecdotally, survival chances seem enhanced when the old top growth is left over winter, and hearing the garden rattled by birds seeking food and cover is another winter pleasure. So cutting back the garden for spring has been an ongoing activity depending on the plant, not a one-and-done event, and there’s still a few things to cut back. But the garden has definitely left its tall beige winter phase and entered the green stubble phase, which thankfully is short-lived.

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Carex ‘Everillo’ and the first to bloom Geum ‘Totally Tangerine’

The various carex have been flawless all winter, including a carex lookalike grass from New Zealand, Chionochloa rubra, which I’d argue is more strawberry blonde than rubra. Very slow growing, with a long period of belonging to the exasperating club of “Is it alive or dead?” Now that it’s larger, other colors are emerging, greens and gold, and it’s taking on some personality.

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Chionochloa rubra from New Zealand aka Red Tussock Grass

I’m glad I stuck with the Red Tussock Grass, moving it to a more prominent position where its form can best be appreciated — a spot that always seems to be in the gravel intended for the broad walkway…

Posted in Bulbs, journal, Oregon garden | 8 Comments

March mixes it up

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Morina longifolia

The month of March, fittingly named for the god of war, here at the coast is a pitched battle between winter and spring. Winter battles for supremacy lobbing hail, snow, and night-time freezing temperatures, but it’s a dead-ender’s ploy. Spring confidently retaliates with brilliant blue skies and blinding sunshine. And then, unless it rains, which it hasn’t the past few days, we plummet into the 20sF again overnight. It’s a dizzying mix, a month that alternately snarls and beguiles. The brief appearance of snow came not in softly parachuting flakes rimmed in poetic sparkle, but in goofy wet blobs that melted on impact, leaving no trace. But unlike rain or hail, snow, even this wet snow, falls so soundlessly that it creates a different kind of thrill as it makes its descent in charged silence. The hail dumps precipitously in noisy buckets, and this is what’s piling up in roadside drifts, hail not snow. Billie particularly despises hail, which always provokes barking jags. But typical of her species, she can’t help attempting to catch and eat falling snow.

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Morina longifolia in flower last July

Some more plant portraits this morning:

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Arctostaphylos ‘Sunset’
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Euphorbia x martinii
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the cardoon
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house leeks

Some blog housekeeping that might provide some diverting reading in March. A hack at one point knocked out content mid-posts, and occasionally I stumble on the problems and restore what I can. Restored posts include Western Hills, Worldwide Exotics Nursery and San Marcos Celebrates 40 Years, links provided. Those posts and other longish ones can be found at the header under “Long Form.” Now to get Billie out for a walk while blue skies and sunshine are winning!

Posted in blog, climate, Oregon garden | 7 Comments

orange in the garden

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!

Posted in clippings | 6 Comments

studies in scarlet

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!

absolutely inedible (ricinus!)
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Posted in cut flowers | 4 Comments

Oregon Coast garden in February

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.

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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.

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one of the Windcliff phlomis, P. ‘La Sud’ surrounded by evergreen Morina longifolia and sisyrinchium
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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.)

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A tarp was thrown over this container of Echeveria agavoides tucked under a metal utility cart up against the house
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A few of the aristea’s leaves did brown, but not many

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.

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The hebe in the foreground is ‘New Zealand Gold.’ Astelia chathamica looks none the worse for wear in its pipe.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.)

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The tetrapanax had already lost its leaves pre-ice storm, some of which I piled on dahlias and Canna ‘Cleopatra’ for extra protection
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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.

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Not much seems to faze Euphorbia characias, a very welcome sight in early February
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I don’t know how euphorbias do it — maybe the milky sap acts as antifreeze?
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Phormium ‘Pink Blush’ splayed out under the ice but seems to have recovered
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incredibly hardy little shrublets, sweetly scented, Erysimum ‘Winter Orchid’
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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.

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Melianthus was stripped of all leaves except at the tips
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the unprotected baby Metapanax delavayi seems fine
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as does the Sinopanax formosanus sited under a shop stool to protect from paws and feet. The surrounding stock tanks may have helped protect it from the blasts from the east
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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.

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Tender perennial Senecio candicans a little beat up but still pushing out new leaves
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A few big Cerinthe major purpurascens seedlings were blackened, with smaller seedlings like the above unscathed.
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bedraggled but still blooming. I saw a bee on the flowers today.

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.

Posted in climate, Oregon garden | 8 Comments