new garden update

about the soil: “The Tillamook Series consists of very deep, moderately well drained soils formed in mixed alluvium on stream terraces. Slopes are 0 to 15 percent. The mean annual precipitation is about 90 inches and the mean annual temperature is about 50 degrees F.” (Tillamook soil series)

The two box balls originally flanked the front porch. Planted too close to the steps, they were deforming into asymmetrical shapes. I like them better here in the backyard, trimmed into orbs. The rock area is roughly 8×24 feet, not a considerable size yet it took 2400 pounds of rock to cover and could use some more! The growing areas will be roughly the same size, 8×24 feet, with additional growing space provided by the three stock tanks.

Work has been slow and wet but steady, with the emphasis on making level, mud-free surfaces. Other than grass, there was nothing else growing in the south-facing backyard, and rather than fight the stark rectilinearity enforced by the fence and the house, we chose to roll with it, marking out the growing areas with landscape timbers — as opposed to, say, making curves with that hard plastic edging (yuck!). The backyard is roughly 1200 square feet. I never thought I’d be excited to have the first coffee of the day outdoors in 30-40F weather, but it is surprising how comfortable it can be when bundled up in a warm robe, tucked in dry against the house under the overhang, watching the fences steam in the morning air — or outlined in snow as they were on December 26.

Billie’s first snow late December 2021
A panel of grass at the east fence will most likely be left for Billie. In the gravel is a young Yucca rostrata, one of two brought from Long Beach, along with a Yucca linearifolia

Sourcing materials in this small coastal town has been challenging. The mixed size rock is a little larger than I’d like, but getting rid of the lumpy wet grass in exchange for a level, dry, non-slippery surface has been a godsend. The big box store in Salem agreed to deliver it on pallets of 40-pound bags without charge, which sealed the deal. No weed cloth was laid down, so we’ll see what weed issues come up in spring. All the removed sod and soil was saved to berm up planting areas, because this rich, earthworm-dense alluvial soil is a treasure not to be wasted.

newly planted Phlomis anatolica ‘Lloyd’s Variety’ from Dancing Oaks Nursery

Although the intent was to keep a good bit of the back garden open for dogs and the occasional outdoor fire in the copper bowl I brought with me, I couldn’t resist putting down a few stock tanks on the gravel for more plants. The gravel area gets the most sun.

All the plants in this stock tank were brought with me from Long Beach except for the Euphorbia stygiana, found at Dancing Oaks. Cassinia fulvens is on either side of the euphorbia. Chondropetalum is mid tank, and at the far end is Arctostaphylos ‘Sunset’

The garden got a big boost from a string of dry days a week ago today. Not necessarily from any work I put in, though I did do some more planting, but by an inspirational road trip about 60 miles southeast to Dancing Oaks Nursery and another short road trip to the nearby coastal town of Manzanita, where I found a garden showcasing many of the plants I’ve either contemplated growing or have already planted. I’ve been itching to get to Portland but don’t yet feel up to the challenge of tackling the notorious two-lane highway 6 through the Coast Range in slick and/or icy conditions. We’re starting another string of dry days possibly until next Thursday, when we’ll be heading south again to Long Beach for a brief time.

one of the growing houses at Dancing Oaks Nursery near Monmouth, Oregon
Romeo, one of two greyhounds who worked tirelessly as the welcoming committee
Tree dandelion! Sonchus palmensis has started to reseed in my zone 10 garden

From reading PNW blogs and nursery catalogues, I came armed with a shopping list: Solidago ‘Fireworks,’ Eriophyllum lanatum, Stachyurus salicifolia, Lobelia tupa (which doesn’t like my zone 10 garden). Impulse buys included dierama and Euphorbia stygiana (both failed in zone 10), Phlomis anatolica ‘Lloyd’s Variety,’ Watsonia pillansii and Eupatorium caplillifolium. Jody bore up cheerfully under my barrage of questions and whipsaw changes in attention as I wandered the grounds with her, escorted by rambunctious greyhounds Romeo and Heidi. Not having visited a nursery since leaving Long Beach, I’m sure I was more than a handful as a customer. Jody remained serenely unflustered and had lots of good advice and plant recommendations. The nursery will be open to the public again without reservations in March.

tall sentinels of driftwood strung with lights are dotted throughout the garden — an appropriately regional vertical element that doubles as lighting for evening strolls

The next day was also predicted to be dry, so I headed north up 101 about 25 miles to Manzanita. All the little coastal towns between Tillamook and Manzanita on Highway 101 each have unique characteristics but one overriding feature in common: 101 runs straight through their main downtowns. Manzanita is the rare exception, requiring a turnoff from 101 to enter the town, and that short separation from the highway gives the town a cloistered, pedestrian-friendly vibe. On foot I noticed this sign just as you enter the main drag.

Euphorbia stygiana, cistus and Feijoa sellowiana

On the corner lot next to the library someone had created a strolling garden filed with plants on raised berms that I’ve either contemplated growing or have already planted in my little garden. Hebes, cistus, arctostaphylos, restios, Eucalyptus pauciflora, carex, Stipa gigantea, Fabiana imbricata — all given botanical garden-quality plant labels. Generous sitting areas, paths surfaced in small black rock. After staring at the same handful of species on walks in my neighborhood for months, I was flabbergasted by the unexpected plant choices in this fascinating public garden. It looked like an outpost of Cistus Nursery or Xera Plants, and later research confirmed that many of the plants were sourced from these Portland nurseries. But by who?


The town of Manzanita is a warmer zone 9a than mine on the Tillamook Bay, which is zone 8b. Yet I note our temps show identical highs and lows for the snowy week of December 27 through January 1 — the plant palette should be nearly interchangeable.

Arctostaphylos auriculata ‘Diablo’s Blush’

The streetside bed holding the Wonder Garden sign is filled with manzanitas. (Trialing many of these native shrubs inspired a garden talk by the Program Lead entitled “How to Kill A Manzanita and other Dark Tales from the Wonder Garden.”)

Arctostaphylos x media ‘Xera’s Pacific’
Arctostaphylos ‘Big Sur’ in particular was having a lovely flush of bloom
Arctostaphylos ‘Sunset’ — I planted this arcto from a gallon size in one of my stock tanks, though I’ve heard reports that they doh’t appreciate container life
Two nice specimens of Parahebe perfoliata in this bed
Fabiana imbricata has an ozothamnus-like quality
Silvery shrub in foreground is Lavandula ‘Silver Anouk’ — an immense variety of plants are grown in the Wonder Garden, including pittosporum, callistemon, the Chilean myrtle Luma apiculata, coprosma, grasses, sedges, and I noticed labels for dormant perennials like veronicastrum interspersed as well
Shrub on far left looked like an acacia, maybe A. cultriformis, the knife-leaf wattle. The root was exposed and it seemed slightly off balance. The watsonia on the right is an angusta hybrid
Billie waiting near the clay towers of the Kathleen Ryan Memorial

Reading the signage and following up at home with some quick research, I learned the garden is properly named The Hoffman Wonder Garden. Started in 2014, it is attached to the Hoffman Center for the Arts directly across the street, a “place for artists, writers, horticultural enthusiasts and creators of all kinds.” And its Program Lead is none other than Ketzel Levine, former broadcast journalist for NPR and renowned plants and garden enthusiast. I found some local information about the Wonder Garden here:

““We are creating a small botanic garden that is showcasing all of the different plants from around the world that thrive on the northwest coast,” Levine said. “All of our plants are labeled with beautiful arboretum-quality labels. We give weekly talks and walks through the garden and we are constantly raising money, and people have been responsive. During COVID, the garden has become the No. 1 gathering place for people who wanted to get together with masks.” — Pulling Back the Curtain on Manzanita’s Wonder Garden

View across the street of Hoffman Center for the Arts
the tall restio is Elegia capensis
Hebe buchanii ‘Fenwickii’ — some of the hebes make nice santolina-like orbs but will be much longer lasting than lavender cotton
Hebe cupressoides ‘Boughton Dome’
Hebe ‘Western Hills’ — having just planted a 4″ pot of this in the new garden, I was stoked to find a mature specimen here. The name alone was reason enough to order it from Joy Creek Nursery, knowing that it’s been admired and passed and propagated from hand to hand from the legendary Western Hills Nursery near Occidental, California. The eucalyptus is E. pauciflora aka the Snow Gum
Calluna vulgaris ‘Wickwar Flame’ — I do see a lot of Scottish heather, some in full bloom now, on my neighborhood walks
After touring Wonder Garden I walked Billie down to the beach at the end of town for a romp. One of the perks of Oregon beaches is that they all welcome dogs, unlike SoCal beaches. Watching dogs enjoy this liberty never gets old.

A rare plant nursery off the highway up a 2-mile track, a small public garden, and the blogs of my colleagues have all shone a bright light on the way forward in making a small garden here on this stunning part of the Oregon Coast. That you all continue to share what you know and discover is an incredible blessing — I’d be lost without you! Starting a little garden is as essential to me as getting the house furnished — probably more so! More soon. Affectionately, AGO

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6 Responses to new garden update

  1. hb says:

    Beaches welcoming dogs, and 90 inches of rain per year are mind-boggling to this life-long SoCal resident. You already seem to be making the best of both, as well as seeking and finding pockets of hortiphilia do exist on that stunning stretch of Oregon coast. Enjoy, and please continue to share your gardening adventures, as time permits.

  2. Kris P says:

    Cold as it may be up that way, I’m sure you’re having a great time sorting out possibilities for your new backyard garden. The backyard garden I had in our former townhouse had fewer than your 12oo square feet and I crammed a LOT into that so I can imagine how this new garden may evolve for you 😉 The Wonder Garden was a great find to provide guidance and I envy you the trip to Dancing Oaks. Billie looks suitably adorable, especially with her head sprinkled with snow. I noticed that you used the word “dogs” (plural) when describing the purposes of the backyard space – is Billie going to get a sibling?

  3. Elaine says:

    Sounds like you are going great guns to get your new garden going. I have heard about the multitude of great nurseries in Oregon. So much fun to be able to choose different plant material then from your California garden. Enjoy the process.

  4. Cynthia Hoover says:

    Wow, you have made tremendous progress in under a couple months. It will be interesting to see what thrives with so much rainfall, that’s somewhat similar to what my area gets per year, but much heavier clay soils. Love all the best plants from PNW you are incorporating. You are having a blast. — Cindy

  5. Yay! I’ve been hoping for an update. I’m so glad you found that garden in Manzanita. I’ve heard a lot about it, but never been myself. Looks like you’re making great headway, especially considering the time of year it is.

    So all the focus has (understandably) been on the back garden. What is it like out front? Will you have room to work your magic out there and inspire your neighbors to think a little differently?

  6. Denise says:

    @hb, it also boggles the mind of this life-long SoCal resident! Experiencing one of five mediterranean climate regions globally to now one of seven temperate rain forests has been a study in contrasts to say the least!
    @Kris, thanks for the encouragement re size of gardens. It is a blessing to have any outdoor space these days! As far as more dogs, I keep all options open — this morning we met a mini-blue heeler/corgi mix that was an appealing bundle of sturdy energy. For now Billie will just have the cat Banksy to keep in line 😉
    @Elaine, there are some great nurseries up here — I can’t wait to visit more in spring. As always, thanks for your kind words.
    @Cindy, I am on pins and needles waiting to see what likes these conditions! I know hydrangeas are widely planted, and there are supposedly some nice species hydrangeas around somewhere to choose from…
    @Loree, the front garden faces north and stays very wet (and frosted). Like all the other front gardens it’s grassed. I’m not sure how soon I’ll feel comfortable doing something different. (Just the other day Marty was asked who he voted for…) but Billie and baby Hannah are winning over neighbors so maybe I’ll feel up to tackling it. I bet ferns would love the front yard!

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