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 closerand 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!
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 renter/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!
Some of the feelings about my late summer/fall garden this year can be broken down into two categories: 1) What took you so long? and 2) Wow, you look so fresh!
I’ve been both irritated by tardiness and appreciative of late-summer beauty, and that’s because there are straightforward, reliable fall bloomers like selinum in my garden, but there are also cases where it’s possible more time is needed to settle into a reliable rhythm/performance. And there are undoubtedly instances where the garden is straddling a zone which the plant is hesitant to commit to.
The worst timing anxiety is when it’s weather-driven. Some winters knock plants back hard and mess with normal growth cycles, and then predicting what a plant will do is just a crap shoot.
Whereas, reliable late-blooming plants like solidago are nothing but a treat when they arrive and are never a cause for early-season worrying.
And then there are the plants you’ve never grown before and don’t know what to expect. Nuttall’s rayless-goldenrod is either in bloom midsummer or late summer, depending on who you read. Obviously more toward late summer/fall here…this year. Sometimes it takes plants a few years to settle into a predictable cycle…that is, unless winter throws them a curveball. And I think it’s safe to say we can expect a lot of curveballs ahead…
One plant that was causing a fair amount of anxiety is an unnamed salvia with a glowing recommendation from the now-closed nursery Flowers By The Sea. For them in Northern California, it blooms all summer. That was therefore my expectation, too, so having it open flowers in September felt like a fail.
Intricately marked flowers, growth habit similar to the clary sage. For a small garden, initially I felt it wasn’t pulling its weight. But…I’ve been won over. It doesn’t have monster star power, but it is a fresh if subtle sight for September.
Great leaves, tall and branching to 3-4 feet, lots of flowering stems. And I have to say another factor in its favor is that, with FBTS going out of business, it’s unlikely to be easily available commercially again. FBTS says it doesn’t set viable seed.
And then there’s the exasperating category: Will they or won’t they bloom before the first frost? The genus salvia is filled with such borderline quandaries. This is the second year for a cross of Salvia involucrata with pulchella by Martin Grantham of the San Francisco Botanical Garden (née Strybing). It didn’t bloom before first frost last year, but I took a cutting (and will need to do so again this year). The leaves are bright green and fresh, and that alone is a rare sight in September. I’m not saying I wouldn’t welcome flowers but am not holding my breath. It seems fairly settled that the best chance for flowers from an involucrata selection in zone 8b appears to be with Salvia ‘Boutin.’
Another virtue of renowned late arrivals is how they hold it together all summer. The lateriflorus asters like ‘Prince’ and ‘Lady in Black have had a strong presence since early summer.
Late but beautiful, my only problem with Calamagrostis brachytricha is I can’t see it. Reputed to grow to a height of 4 feet, mine are maybe at 2 feet. (The photo above is from a dwindling clump that was dug out of the garden and repotted to fatten up again.). The clump in the garden has plenty of room, has made good size and is nearing full bloom — and at another 2 feet in height it would be a gorgeous asset to the late garden. At its current size, planted in the back tier of my stadium seating layout, it’s invisible, screened by Lobelia tupa and solidago. Maybe the small size is an immaturity issue?
I can give the Calamagrostis brachytricha another year to see if that improves their height, or move them to the front garden, where they can be appreciated at whatever height they attain. A worthy replacement for them is the Silver Spike Grass, Achnatherum calamagrostis (aka Stipa calamagrostis) — silver fading to tan, it’s been fabulous all summer long.
September is a big month in this garden…the equivalent of a king’s tide (the highest full-moon tide that temporarily erases local beaches).
But this is no act of nature. Big, tall plants have always been a preference. Still, the height and fullness of September is startling.
Even so there are some low-key incidents, like this quiet corner that is one of my favorites to visit at the moment. I’ve shown a couple of these plants before but not as a group portrait, and that’s how they really shine. The constituent plants are so thinly built that I’ll need to show closeups.
Unlike Joe-Pye weed and miscanthus and the dahlias and helianthus that read from a distance, each of these plants is so fizzy and ethereal that a group portrait is like a Seurat painting without the people and parasols. The three are a verbascum, a linaria, and a verbena, all started from seed this year. It’s sheer happenstance that they are all blooming together in a small protected area that seemed a safe bet for cosseting new baby plants. Apart from the linaria, multiples of these same plants are dotted throughout the garden, but they’ve reached their best potential in this little patch. Reseeding of any or all would be most welcome!
And other than reseeding, it’s uncertain whether any of these plants will return next year, just as there will never be precisely this version of a September garden again.
A very absorbing, quiet corner in person, but as a photo it’s not very compelling with the delicate spatial relationships rendered flat. (Don’t you want to settle a potted agave in the midst of the planting?)
Good public gardens are full of examples of planting that is easily legible by a general audience. Some strong planting was seen at the Bellevue Botanic Garden we visited recently in late August.
Near the entrance the planting was emphatic and clearly legible.
Deeper into BBG, the planting did become looser, more free form.
This. The false hemp backlit by late afternoon sun — I’d love to see this at home in a future September garden.
“What looks good when the garden is just starting to stir in April? In my garden, in one word, phlomis. Unscathed, fully clothed, holding it together all winter. I didn’t expect phlomis could deal with this much rain, hail and snow, but see for yourself.” I wrote that in April this year, and I haven’t changed my mind yet about phlomis, especially now that I’ve seen not only how they handle all that winter rain, but the summer dry season too. I counted maybe three spots where phlomis would be an improvement over the current residents: A large clump of the big-leaved, non-flowering lamb’s ears could be halved, Lychnis coronaria struggling in the dry soil under the neighbor’s overhanging fruit tree could be moved, and a Japanese holly fern Cyrtomium falcatum in too much sun needed more shade. Time to go shopping! But where? What nursery has a great phlomis list?
Turns out that the owners of Windcliff appreciate phlomis’ many virtues too. (If you need an introduction to Windcliff, Dan Hinkley and Robert Jones, start here.) Scanning their offerings under Plants To Go, I earmarked Phlomis x margaritae and Phlomis ‘Le Sud’ (the latter sourced from Oliver Filippi’s nursery in the South of France), but there were so many other tempting kinds too. The trick is that Windcliff does not offer mail order; plants must be picked up on site, after e-mail arrangements are made for an appointment. Maps declared this to be a four and half hour trip. Hey, that’s a quick jaunt!
But…Friday afternoon Seattle/Tacoma traffic was awful. Accidents, delays, sluggish progress up the 5 north made it closer to 6 hours. Not a day trip! Good thing we opted for an overnight in the town of Edmonds, where you catch the car ferry for a half-hour ride across Puget Sound to Kingston on the Kitsap Peninsula. Windcliff/Indianola is maybe 10 minutes away from Kingston. (Heronswood is approximately 7 miles away from Indianola.)
Finally out of the damn car, settling in for cervezas and Mexican food in the walkable town of Edmonds Friday night, with a Billie-friendly room booked, at that point the trip took on a glow it never lost. Our appointment was set for Saturday at 12 noon.
Detailed instructions from Robert take you from Indianola to the Windcliff gate, where he meets you with advice to see the garden before shopping the nursery and to take photos of any plants about which you have questions. Dan and Robert were both manning the nursery sales table. A few cars were at the gate when we arrived, but very few people are admitted in at one time (I believe maximum is five per two-hour visit — it’s all on the website). I had the garden entirely to myself — Marty and Billie stayed in the car.
Pretty much any month is a safe bet for visiting Windcliff, though Dan says he doesn’t have as much going on in winter as he’d like. The last two winters have been especially brutal. The zone 8b garden sits on a bluff overlooking the Puget Sound, where the ferry system still thrives — which thrilled Marty, an alumnus of the Catalina Island ferry boats. Drainage at Windcliff is excellent, and the name is no empty poetic turn of phrase. Previous owners named it Windcliff for a reason, and the name was kept by Dan Hinkley and Robert Jones. The fierce winds off the Sound keep the crowns of plants dry all winter…which isn’t as rainy as you’d assume for the PNW. Annual rainfall is under 30 inches.
The noon visit was hotter than warm. Only mid 80s, but that bluff soaks up and radiates every bit of that sunshine.
Famous for Dan’s own collections of rare araliaceae, the hardy scheffleras, and all the plants ending in the suffix “panax,” nevertheless Windcliff in summer is brilliant with agapanthus. Dan says Agapanthus praecox was on the property when they bought it, along with the huge expanse of sunny, south-facing lawn which is now the bluff garden. Intrigued by the possibilities suggested by that original surviving agapanthus, the plant list has now grown to over 50 varieties of agapanthus on offer, many of them Windcliff-bred exclusives.
Agapanthus at Windcliff are given center-stage treatment, rather than sidelined in narrow utilitarian plantings as they are in Southern Calif. Fully appreciated, they strut and swagger like I’ve never seen them do in zone 10.
Gardens can be many things, calming, dreamy, an attempt at an imposition of order that either attracts or repels. Windcliff is an incredibly stimulating garden to visit, and I confess to a partiality for beautiful gardens that provoke discovery and wonder. Windcliff is a meandering, closely planted garden, almost as if Dan is recreating the experience of discovery he felt when first becoming acquainted with many of these plants in the wild.
All the phlomis I coveted were available and made the trip home, including an additional highly recommended Phlomis ‘Whirling Dervish.’ Disappointingly, the last pot of Dahlia ‘Forncett’s Furnace’ was snapped up by a shopper ahead of me. Dan brought this bright orange single dahlia back from Hadspen House during Nori and Sandra Pope’s tenure, and it’s not easily found elsewhere. One of the hardiest acacias also made the trip home, Acacia pravissima, and a few other odds and ends. I spent Sunday settling the plants into the garden, and now rain has been forecast for the coming week…bliss!
This little Salvia greggii pushing out a few blooms this week is emblematic of how small, well-timed interventions can mean a lot, especially in small gardens. The salvia was getting swamped in a stock tank and it became a case of move it or lose it. So it was transplanted into the gravel in front of the tank maybe a month ago and trimmed back a bit. And that’s how I was gifted with this translucent performance this morning. I’m very curious how salvias like these greggii/microphylla will perform here. I’m hoping til frost, of course. Just a few can make such a difference in late summer. Also growing ‘Nachtvlinder,’ ‘Mesa Azure,’ which wintered over, and ‘Amethyst Lips‘ — ‘Oriental Dove.’
The annual Madia elegans is sprawling its 5-foot stems in all directions, over the melianthus and aralia. I say sprawl away, because every day there’s a new association to appreciate by virtue of its clever insinuations into surrounding plants.
Crocosmia grows like mad in coastal Oregon. For the most part, they appear to be the dark red ‘Lucifer.’ I skip a lot of easy-going plants I’m seeing locally but made an exception for crocosmia. Nice leaves, nice timing of bloom in mid to late summer. For a homework assignment, I dare you, go ahead and choose a crocosmia. It’ll make you crazy, there are so many cultivars, and to the uninitiated (me) the differences seem slight. I defaulted back to an old cultivar ‘Solfatarre’ I have grown in zone 10. Surprised me by blooming after an early summer planting.
Second summer for Heliopsis ‘Bleeding Hearts.’ Kind of a thin performance? I like it fine. Sure, helenium has masses more flowers, but that comes with masses of leaves. Heliopsis serenely floats over its neighbors, slim footprint, good manners, not too pushy.
The next photos are from the southeast corner of the garden, that has to contend with the neighboring tree roots just over the fence. Here all the fizzy, floating things congregate, coming into full bloom in August. In addition to the heliopsis, there’s gaura, Scabiosa ochraleuca, Succisella inflexa, Rudbeckia triloba, agastache.
A pale mass of froth and foam, static in photo, but a dynamic little corner that draws me in every morning. Dechampsia ‘Goldtau’ has been good here since spring, now casting a gold net through the planting.
A lackluster photo of some plants that deserve better. The grey leaves belong to mountain mint, Pycnanthemum muticum, backed by Joe-Pye weed. Apparently I have the same taste in plants as insects do. I love the buxomy, plush grey mounds of mountain mint and planted it for these attributes, not knowing of its renown for attracting pollinators. Now I know!
Apart from red clover, I’ve never seen another plant bristling with so much buzzy activity.
Since I arrived in coastal Oregon, I’ve been determined to find a use for the easily obtained oyster shells that form large mounds/middens along the coast. Huge amounts are consumed from the local bays. Without equipment to crush the shells for pathways, my bags of oyster shells lay idle over winter in the vegetable garden. A mail-order gabion was the answer, topped with a former bridge light shade gifted from a blogger meet-up last fall. I’m beginning to feel like a local now! More August Bloom Day stories at May Dreams Gardens.
Some recent small changes at home. This stock tank held that incredibly generous friend to bees, Anisodontea ‘Strybing Beauty,’ that I brought up from the zone 10 garden. In its second season here, the unexpected girth and height now completely blocked my view of the garden when sitting under the pergola. And in a small garden, every viewing vantage point matters, and most particularly in July.
The anisodontea lives on in the garden via a couple more cuttings now of blooming size. Immediate replacements for the stock tank were found of a less obstructive nature. Tall and slim Aristea major and low-growing rosette Beschorneria septentrionalis were in pots plunged in the garden, and I think their chances for surviving winter are possibly improved now that they’re planted in the stock tank, slightly sheltered under the overhang, than in the unheated garden shed. The zone 9 anisodontea flourished in this spot, so hopefully these zone 8 plants will find it to their liking as well. Fingers crossed they make it through winter without becoming too hideous.
And a few more new things on view recently.
And then after all the work was done and plants settled in, we had some light but steady rainfall, the first real rain since May. I sat under the pergola to enjoy the show of unexpected rainfall through my new, unobstructed view of the garden.
I’ll close with a couple recent newspaper articles, one about the town-shaking experience of a blooming agave in Georgia. A reminder that many plants familiar to me are a rare and wondrous sight elsewhere.
“Jackie Flournoy was leaving her home in Luthersville, Ga., one morning, when she spotted a strange-looking stalk poking out of one of her plants on her front lawn. She had never seen anything like it before.” This recent article in the Washington Post “After 36 years, her plant suddenly grew a towering 25-foot stalk” initially had me shaking my head at such persistent naivete about plants in the era of search engines. And then I came around after reading the comments to a new appreciation of the power of plants to inspire and renew wonder. (If the link is paywell-protected, you can search with the title of the article. Luthersville, Georgia is USDA zone 8a, but nevertheless agaves apparently are a rare sight there.)
Another article, this one from the Los Angeles Times, “‘All the neighbors know who she is’: How one woman built a flower farm across eight yards” brought me back decades ago to when I tried the same thing — in a community garden, a nearby neighbor’s backyard, and at my mother-in-law’s front yard. When I brought fresh horse manure in at my MIL’s to amend the soil for cut flowers, the arrangement turned somewhat dicey…So much fun for very little money providing cut flowers to restaurants. I love reading stories like this of how people somehow make it work.
The clumps of leaves on these two foxgloves were impossible to tell apart in winter, but in bloom Digitalis parviflora and Digitalis ferruginea are very distinctive. Apart from very different coloration, D. parviflora is the first to bloom, and D. ferruginea is the taller of the two.
In this coastal Oregon zone 8b garden, July brings the first dahlias, more lilies, and…(add intro to Beethoven’s 5th)…dierama.
The first dahlia to bloom by a couple weeks, ‘AC Rosebud,’ is over 7 feet tall and towers over the back fence — the only way to get a decent photo is to cut the flowers for a vase. All dahlias were planted May 2022 and no new dahlias were added for this summer.
Sown in spring, about a dozen Lychnis viscaria ‘Blue Angel’ were planted in the garden and in pots. Weak and spindly as small plants, I had low expectations but July turned things around. They are similar in growth habit to corn cockle, agrostemma, but maybe a foot in height.
Another annual, this one very tall, Madia elegans was brought in as plants with hopes for resowing. I saw this “tarweed” in bloom last summer, had no luck with seeds, but grabbed a couple plants this spring, very unimpressive in their nursery pots but I knew their potential: grey-green, slightly furry leaves, fringed petals, dark center, tall graceful habit, a beautiful Oregon/West Coast native. It can be grown hard or in luxurious conditions like here, where it will soar up to 5 feet. A couple stalks did break off during a very windy June but it recovered and branched out.
And now I get to set the record straight and correct a misidentification. I thought I was digging up Angelica stricta ‘Purpurea’ from the Long Beach zone 10 garden in autumn 2021 to transport to the Oregon garden. Prior to this post, I’ve referred to photos of this plant as an angelica. It is not. I’ve puzzled over the enormous height and lack of purple color to the umbels but assumed seed variation. Browsing a catalogue the other day, I found photos of Peucedanum verticillare — boing! Instant recognition — this is the plant! And I was growing it in the Long Beach garden in October 2020, so must have dug this one up instead of the angelica, which I also grew down south (see post here). If that’s not weirdly confusing enough, this spring I planted a Peucedanum ostruthium at the base of this plant when I thought it was angelica…
And lastly, I’m not impulse-buying many shrubs, but the colors on this podocarpus reminded me so much of the coloring of the leucadendrons in my zone 10 garden that I couldn’t say no. To zone 7b, it appears to be trademarked and heavily marketed. (Some of the photos may show as links only, not sure why, but clicking will bring up the image.)