wet and cool in a temperate rain forest

slow and tricky from seed, I grabbed a few locally grown plants to see how they perform here

I get it, most local people I talk to are ready for sunnier days. This day has flushed sunny, rainy, and sunny again several times, all before noon. The 90″ of rain that makes this temperate rain forest possible, a treasure that is the largest of its kind in the world, generally is hard on people and industry — but easy on plants. Some plants. It is a huge pleasure to watch suitable plants exult in this unique climate, like subpolar Papaver nudicale. Common Iceland poppies, not an easy thing to grow in SoCal unless you get the narrow winter/spring timing just right, are easy to make happy here, and to my eye are as glorious as any meconopsis.

more rainy poppy porn

Of course, there are many plants that are tricky if not impossible to make happy with a cool, wet spring and shortish summer growing season. (I’m taking a big chance on zinnias from seed this year.) Tomato plants are filling the big box store shelves, and the lust for attaining a home crop is palpable as shoppers intently peruse varieties among the aisles — that’s an iffy proposition depending on the variety chosen and your microclimate, but to me that’s what the local farmers’ markets are for.

a young Acacia pravissima made it through a tough winter without damage

And trial-and-error experiments in planting can result in some beautiful, if potentially short-term winners depending on what winter has up its sleeve any given year. Both Acacia pravissima and Acacia cultriformis made it through this last tough winter. I brought borderline A. cultriformis up north from Los Angeles. Acacia pravissima was bought local and is generally accepted to be one of the hardiest acacias for coastal PNW. If trialing plants is your thing, a wet zone 8-9 affords lots of opportunities. (The War Boy Nux in Fury Road sums up a spirited attitude that can be adapted to making gardens here…or anywhere for that matter: “I live, I die, I live again!“)

dwarf version of Brachyglottis greyi

While I love trialing plants that enjoy the wet conditions, plants that prefer the dry side are my weakness (old habits die hard), and many are surprising me by flourishing — the dry, rainless summer improves the odds, but still it’s incredible to think of the amount of water these plants are enduring in winter.

Phlomis x margaritae — I worried phlomis would hate all this rain but so far they’re thriving
same concerns with Marrubium incanum, which reputedly prefers dryish gardens
With grey leaves but seemingly tolerant of a wet winter, Oregon Sunshine, Eriophyllum lanatum, is vigorous but not scarily so, unlike infiltrators Euphorbia cyparissias and hesperantha
so exciting to find formerly single-rosette plants doubling or even tripling in size in spring, like this Eryngium agavifolium

The garden seems to be filling in much faster than previous Mays, as plants like melianthus establish bigger root systems. No-shows this May include veronicastrum, which is a disappointment, but I have some dark castor bean seedlings that need a spot.

less grassy?

I’ve always been pro-bunch grasses and initially packed the garden with seslerias, miscanthus, deschampsia, anemanthele, calamagrostis among many kinds — and as other plants filled in, many of the grasses have since been thinned or moved to the front garden. The overly vigorous Kaffir Lily was moved out of the back garden entirely and left to settle scores with Spanish bluebells in a narrow strip against the front fence. There’s been lots of plant shuffling going on since February.


I assumed the Sicilian Honey Garlic would be weedy, but that’s not the case at all, disappointedly so — just two clumps bloomed this spring.

lunaria seedpods already forming
IMG_9170 2
Selinum wallichianum settling in and loving life
as is the figwort Scrophularia aquatica ‘Variegata’
Kniphofia pauciflora has been reliably returning in May
Digitalis parviflora

Clumps of Digitalis parviflora increased in size while Digitalis ferruginea diminished. However…Digitalis ferruginea seems to be a prolific reseeder. I’ve potted up what I’m assuming are its progeny found at the base of clumps and weeded out lots more. Identifying reseeders here has been a learning curve. In my zone 10 garden the cast of reseeders became easily identifiable over 30 years, but here it’s still a guessing game.

thick clutches of dierama seedlings had to be weeded from this end of the garden

One of the biggest surprises as far as reseeders has been dierama. A plant that once seemed unattainable and ungrowable reseeds here as thick as grass. And its identity is not in doubt, since I collected seeds and sowed them in a tray — with excellent germination results. I needn’t have bothered with collecting seeds in fall with the garden full of seedlings this spring. It still feels a little strange to weed them out…


The mother clump of dierama to the right of the box above has already had to be thinned drastically off neighboring plants, so one fast-growing clump is more than enough, and I’ve already got three. In particular, I won’t be sacrificing things like Olearia x mollis ‘Zennorensis’ in the foreground to the expansionary designs of dierama! Nice problem to have, though…

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9 Responses to wet and cool in a temperate rain forest

  1. Kris P says:

    I think it’s easier to cope with seemingly relentless rain when you’ve previously lived with never-ending drought (or at least the constant threat of that). Even with the losses here and there, I’m sure you’re enjoying what seems to be an ongoing experiment in what will grow in a very different climate than the one you knew. You’ve always been one to push the boundaries of the conditions you have to work with and I won’t be the least surprised if you succeed as well with that in zone 8 as you did on zone 10. I love that Eryngium agavifolium even without flowers.

  2. I can’t quite wrap my head around the fact your acacias lived through the winter, nor can I imagine dierama that happy. Good for you! I’ve had only one Eryngium agavifolium survive the purge in my garden that comes with their age. They turn into ragged clumps over time and loose that lovely spiky rosette form, then it’s time to pull them (except for that one aforementioned plant that says a nice manageable pair). I did buy three new 1-gallon plants from Xera this spring, so I’m enjoying them in their solitary form yet again.

  3. Denise says:

    @Kris, all that time in a drought definitely conditioned me to appreciate rain. My zone 10 garden has had some setbacks, mostly due to neglect, so it will need lots of work when I get the chance, and I’m looking forward to it!
    @Loree, I’m just reporting what I’m observing! I can’t figure it out either because neither were protected in the ice storm. What a sad fate is ahead for that eryngo! Like you I’ll probably bring in new plants periodically.

  4. Elaine says:

    It’s surprising how many drought tolerant plants enjoy more moisture. Kind of like a spa treatment I guess. Love all the colour in your garden. Very jealous of the geums as they really seem to thrive there. We are having an incredibly wet and cool Spring here so everything is quite delayed however, the bulbs are glorious.

  5. Denise says:

    Elaine, there’s been a surprisingly wide tolerance to rain so far with DT plants…except for manzanita. Planted in a stock tank with free-draining soil mix or in the gravel area they’ve done fine, but ‘Ghostly’ succumbed in unamended soil in the front garden. A berm would’ve have helped. As far as the geums, all that color comes from ‘Totally Tangerine.” I’ve tried several kinds and none hold a candle to TT.

  6. tracy says:

    Dang, the rainy poppy is breathtaking! I can’t believe that acacia made it through that harsh winter, did it have any protection nearby?

  7. Denise says:

    Tracy, Acacia pravissima is about 3-4 feet from the fence, so that’s some protection I suppose. Acacia cultriformis in the front garden was less protected, though the neighbor’s 8′ arborvitae are maybe 12 feet to the east and they might have provided some wind protection, but otherwise the little acacia was fairly exposed. Aren’t poppies the best?! I’ve got a couple orange breadseed poppies just opening now too…

  8. Jerry says:

    I love my Phlomis. Hands down one of the top performing perennials in my garden even with abundant winter rain. The only drawback are the hairs, which are an irritant whilst pruning. I’ve not had luck with Eryngium agavifolium (slowly dies out). As you point out, Sicilian honey garlic is definitely not a prolific reseeder, although I assumed it would be. I’ve got a bunch of species Narcissus, though, that are starting to reseed so much that their progeny look like a little mini lawn in the rock garden.

  9. hb says:

    You never know until you try.

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