I’ve been religiously checking the Hardy Plant Society of Oregon’s Open Gardens schedule to see what lines up with my own schedule for the approximate 2-hour drive from the coast over the Coast Range to Portland. And there were a couple other factors besides scheduling to consider too: Discerning from the descriptions which gardens would have the most to say to a complete neophyte PNW gardener like me, and not too rainy of a day, please. The weekend before last, everything aligned for go.
I count it as very good luck that it was Mr. Thomas Vetter’s 20-plus-year-old garden that was my first HPSO Open Gardens experience. Deeply plant-focused, it’s just the primer I needed to better understand plants that thrive here and ways to combine them. Mr. Vetter studied landscape design but ended up working outside his field — that knowledge and bottled-up enthusiasm permeates his remarkable garden. It’s that rare garden that manages to articulate both profusion and expert control, in studied, calibrated layers you have to crane your neck up from ground to sky to follow.
The house is screened from the street by a deep border masterfully built up with shrubs and trees, deciduous and evergreen, as well as climbers and herbaceous plants. And the property is not particularly deep but long and narrow, so this allocation of space might at first seem idiosyncratic — it halves the planting space around the house and eliminates the traditional short walk from the street directly to the front door, requiring one to enter the property via the driveway and walk along a path to the front door. Yet it is the exploitation of the planting opportunities afforded by this privacy screen and paths that makes this garden so enthralling.
Mr. Vetter has been opening his garden for decades — why had I not heard of it before? Turns out it has been covered by blogs like Danger Garden and Dirt Therapy, and featured in Fine Gardening. From the viewpoint of someone managing a dry, frost-free zone 10 garden, I imagine articles on this garden were mostly incomprehensible to me. A garden like this can only be understood when you’re ready. Now, having spent a few months in the PNW, I at least have a slightly better grasp of the regional issues involved, the challenges and opportunities. The challenges this year included a very late and cold, rainy spring.
I took an embarrassing number of photos, so it’s best I end this visit with a manageable amount of the basic layout. The Vetter garden will possibly be open at various days throughout the summer, so become a member and check the HPSO schedule here. It’s an incredible resource that fosters the education of gardeners at all skill levels.
It seems at least every house has a specimen rhododendron…or two. Japanese maples and Pieris japonica abound as well. And since the rhodies are just about bloomed out, I grabbed a few photos before the party is over and reduced to petal confetti on the lawn. For weather junkies like gardeners and dog walkers, dry walks are possible by checking the hourly forecasts. It’s a rare day that rains all day long. And it’s a very long day — twilight hits around 9 p.m.!
Lots of horticultural classics like peonies, iris, and lupins are having a moment too.
The blue-flowered shrubby ground cover is another plant with ubiquitous status: Lithodora diffusa.
And lucky you, for this photo walk, no need for mudboots!
In this notoriously rainy slice of the Oregon coast, 2022 rainfall has exceeded all expectations and delivered above average inches fall, winter, and spring. And how! And like a starving person led to a banquet, I’m probably the only one in town who isn’t bored, irritated, or disgusted with it yet. But coming from the land of mega-droughts, rain to me is still a miracle, a resounding Yes! from the universe. I haven’t yet tired of the sound of it, whether it drums softly or blows in hard and slanted, whether it comes in dollops of big drops or a fine mist. July is forecast to be dry, so I admit I’m savoring these last few days of rain. And weirder still, at the same time, I miss my dry garden plants and SoCal garden. But on some primal survival level, an abundance of water just feels so reassuring, so…life-affirming. If entertaining two diametrically opposed opinions indicates intelligence, what do two diametrically opposed emotions indicate, (other than paralyzing ambivalence?)
But near-constant rain and cool temperatures do not encourage growth in a young garden. I am told there will be a tremendous surge when the rain abates and the soil has a chance to dry out and warm. Yet even with the delay in growth, already I have experienced new horticultural wonders like the Sicilian Honey Garlic. And, damn, it’s a beauty!
A dormant salvage habit I brought with me north has been re-awakened now that I found a welder in town willing to sell me some scraps. Simple daisies seemed appropriate for a pipe lettered with the words “Viet Nam.”
There’s a strong possibility this very finicky senecio may find conditions suitable on the Oregon coast. Silver leaves almost always denote a need for hot, dry conditions — except when they don’t, like in this senecio’s case, coming as it does from the cool environs of the Falkland Islands.
Intermittent photo contributor MB Maher is off to Turkey — some of us make it a habit to travel frequently; for others (raises hand), it’s a rare event. With the PNW continuing to unspool cool, rainy days in May, all of a sudden, it doesn’t seem quite so untimely to plan a little getaway. Most of my life has been spent in dry, sunny SoCal, so similar conditions aren’t what first come to mind when contemplating the perfect getaway. But it all depends on context, doesn’t it, and how cold or warm you’ve felt day after day, or how claustrophobic or crowded, how lonely or windswept. When we first saved up a bit to travel, it was walkable cities I wanted to explore, the contextual point of departure being, well…Los Angeles! And if it rained on our rambles, no problem — off season was always cheaper, the streets evocatively empty. But I completely understand the allure of a warm beach (even if they give me the fidgets after a few hours), and these photos of a trip by Mitch last December to Baja California, the town of Todos Santos, might be just what you’re looking for. I seriously doubt the beaches and bars would be this empty now, though — in the family tradition, he visited in the off season, when the staff-to-guest ratio was almost comically luxurious…
Some quick research on Istanbul gardens brings up images of mostly European/Moorish formality. If you know of anything interesting, drop me a note and we’ll see if we can’t direct Mitch in that direction. Meanwhile, for my perfect getaway, I’m researching Lisbon, Portugal…
Thanks for the comments regarding successfully flying commercially with plants. I do feel even more emboldened!
With my two little gardens, one in frost-free zone 10 and the other in zone 8b, I feel like I’m tumbling in and out of a multiverse of gardens. This was the scene in the Tillamook garden when I left for a brief trip to Southern California in late April. I’ve since cut the few remaining tulips for vases and cleared most of these pots out. This spring in the PNW is generally acknowledged as unusually cold and wet and is increasingly getting on everyone’s nerves. (Whereas, I will admit that when a couple days go by without rain, I get a little anxious, scarred by drought that I am!)
Forecasts for May show an increasing amount of dry days at widening intervals until June, when the rain mostly disappears for summer. Growth in the new garden is painfully slow, but little nubbins of green are starting to break ground. Locals say everything rushes into growth after Mother’s Day — and there was a noticeable uptick and surge. The splashiest plants so far for late April are geum and Euphorbia characias wulfenii — and I wished I’d planted more of the euphorbia. But there’s a chance they won’t age gracefully into summer here so some restraint is initially called for. (Cutting down the flowering stems when they’re finished will allow the new basal growth to develop and hopefully last through next winter.) Around town rhodies are in full bloom, with peonies and lilacs just getting started. Japanese maples seem to emerge fully leafed out nearly overnight.
This watching and waiting and longing for growth is kind of deliciously excruciating — since for me it’s still such a novel experience. My sympathies to the veterans! Understandably, since zone 8 can swing warmer or colder from year to year, experimentation with hardiness is irresistible. It’s a very emotional zone for hard-core gardeners, filled with drama-driven narratives of weather vagaries that don’t exist for zone 10 gardens, where the basic question of rain and the interminable lack of it relentlessly overrides and governs all other concerns.
Conversely, and no surprise, the frost-free Long Beach garden needed some severe discipline. A few plants like anisodontea, sonchus, and salvia needed to be cut back off their neighbors, but the bulk of the work was weeding out seedlings from the dry-laid bricks.
When home I do this absent-mindedly all the time. When allowed to accumulate over a couple months, it’s a real time sink — just me and a butter knife prying out nicotiana, Verbena bonariensis, argemone, sideritis, linaria…
A new addition to the vigorous self-sowing contingent, Silene fabaria ssp. domokina has left dozens of plants after its first year in the garden. I have to borrow Stellata Plants description of “a poor man’s Bukiniczia cabulica” because it perfectly describes this little charmer. The half dozen plants I’m trialing in the Oregon garden look slightly miserable, and if they survive they may behave like biennials with only leaf growth the first summer. It’s doubtful they’d survive the winter as true biennials to bloom the following year, but with this beauty, a summer of staring at these leaves is reward enough. In Long Beach they behave like annuals, flowering their first year from seed.
After staring at bare mulch and checking religiously for signs of life up north, the first hour of a return to the SoCal garden is extremely disorienting. What was I thinking? So many plants! But as I become reacquainted with the garden over a few days, I recognize the old patterns that overpacked the garden. In the coastal zone 10 climate, nothing deters a person inclined to stay outdoors and play with plants every day from doing just that. Restraint increasingly becomes an unfamiliar state of mind, and there can be…issues.
Other than the sunburnt trevesia, everything else seemed to be thriving. I was especially relieved to find Calibanus ‘Lotusland’ gaining size and getting even more shapely as it matures. It is a cross between calibanus and beaucarnia sometimes called ‘Calicarnea’ and not easily replaced.
Back in Tillamook, I spotted this beat-up shop stool in an abandoned greenhouse at the high school near where we walk Billie, and upon inquiring…ahem…was told I could have it. Billie is an inveterate plant chewer, so it’s a great solution to get small stuff beyond corgi height. Plus, it’s identical to the shop stools in the Long Beach garden….the multiverse collides!
Mitch visited a couple weekends ago and took this photo of the daffs on our table. I indulged in armloads of them for the house when I chanced upon a grower a few miles south of Tillamook off highway 101. (I brake for fields of daffodils in bloom.) Multiple varieties in each bunch. The Porter Family runs the farm stand for their operation Farmer Creek Garden on the honor system, $2.50 in the mason jar per bunch.
Mitch went on a bit of a nostalgia tour during his brief visit. Netarts Bay is where it all started. We took the boys here for many August vacations as a break from the Los Angeles heat. Go figure, decades later, Duncan up and decides to move here.
Interesting small businesses are hiding in plain sight — daffodils, dahlias…salt. Jacobsen’s Salt also makes excellent caramels — I just polished off a box.
First time in a theater since 2020! The little downtown is an easy walk from our house.
I made a quick trip to SoCal for doctor visits, squeezed in a little plant shopping, and now have some very important news to share: Yes, it is possible to fly with plants! The Internet says it is permissible but that TSA reactions may vary from airport to airport. I used a soft, mesh-sided pet carrier, so the plants were immediately visible to TSA at LAX. No tricks or subterfuge. I was prepared to abandon the plants if met with any resistance, but it was surprisingly treated as no big deal — noting the carrier, the agent said at least this puppy doesn’t bite! Once on board, the carrier slides under the seat in front of you, just as if you brought your cat with you (instead of plants). Supposedly plants in checked baggage are OK too. Game-changer! As the world continues to devolve in so many ways, mercifully there are still occasional small signs of progress. Like carry-on plants on planes.
We returned to Oregon March 18 and have since finished up removing the remaining sod in the backyard, an additional area approximately 8×20 feet, bounded again in landscape timbers. There is a small area of turf left on the east side of the house for Billie and picnics with Hannah. With the surge of spring grass growth, and being lawn neophytes, we were caught flat-footed and had to methodically ruminate on possible solutions (get it? ruminant, ruminate…hahaha — this is literally a cow town, after all). And it’s true, watching the neighbors tackle their lawns spurred us into action — keeping up with the Mooks, as the residents of Tillamooks call themselves. Ultimately we went with a battery-powered weed-whacker hybrid thingy on a wheeled chassis that works fine on the small amount of turf in the back and the handkerchief-sized portions in the front. Not a jot of work has been done yet to the front of the house, other than whacking the lawn back, and that may be true for some time…
It’s all very flat and vegetable gardenish. I won’t be planting much large woody stuff, trees and big shrubs. All growing surfaces have been mulched with local crushed bark, cheap and plentiful, and the back garden drains freely and is now mudproof. The weather is volatile, changeable, mercurial — one steps outside after a downpour into blinding shafts of sunlight. Planting has tentatively begun in the ground, though a couple of the stock tanks were planted in October. The rubber mulch used by former owners under playground equipment in one-fourth of the yard was ultimately bagged up and sent to the dump. Bags and bags of it. Marty handled this chore. My preference was to keep mostly everything on site, but a clean sweep seemed the best approach for materials made from used tires.
This image by Claire Takacs of Andy Salter’s garden in Kent, England, gave me some much-needed courage. This is all I want, to be surrounded by a surge of growth in spring and summer. No need for year-round interest because we most likely won’t be here for much of the winter. But I’ll definitely be making a bigger bulb order this July/August.
Lots of plants came up from the Long Beach garden, but there are a few mail orders still awaiting delivery and a bit of local shopping. I managed a trip to Hortlandia in early April and had so much fun debating what plants to buy that the camera never left its pouch.
I did visit a nearby independent nursery, Monkey Business 101, that centers its business around growing Monkey Puzzle Trees, Auricaria auracana. There is a large Monkey Puzzle Tree in my neighborhood, and I’ve since found out that Portland has more of these trees outside of its native Chile than anywhere else. Apparently, John Muir was a huge fan and traveled to Chile to see native stands of this relic of the ages, Chile’s national tree. The cool and rainy coastal conditions are apparently to its liking — makes me want to further explore Chilean plant lists!
Bulbs and rhodies are coloring up the neighborhood, and the recent snow event hasn’t seemed to slow them down. We are very much strangers in a strange land, but working out how to make a garden seems to me to be a great way to get acquainted. More soon, AGO.
To save some repetitive photos, the aloes are mostly over, the grevilleas, passiflora, and anisodontea continue, and now these shaggy brutes are making their blooming appearance this week, the tree dandelions, Sonchus palmensis. This is a plant with a big presence when its chrome yellow discs flare into bloom like a klieg light.
Salvia ‘Savannah Blue’ was clipped hard, so is dense and bushy and just about to bloom, and there’s three of them massed around that brown jar. I’ll miss seeing that but am trying a few cuttings up north. Teucrium betonicum and Geranium maderense ‘Alba’ will be in bloom next week (edited to add photo from 3/17 at end of post.) There’s no telling if the Giant Fennel will bloom this year, or ever, but it’s pushing out a wedding dress’ worth of lacy leaves. The kangaroo paws will be up late April/May.
And the Salvia greggii hybrids are spilling more and more flowers. ‘Mesa Azure’ has a particularly uniform habit of growth, hardy to zone 7.
Salvia x jamensis ‘Nachtvlinder’ has exceptional depth of coloring and velvety petals, but its habit slightly sprawls despite regular clipping and cutbacks. Could be the crowded conditions at fault, not the plant.
Gerberas flower so strongly here in zone 10 with just a little attentive irrigation. The Garvinea series is hardy to zone 7
Another plant purchased locally for the Oregon garden, that I ended up planting here in Long Beach, Halimium x pauanum would struggle in the rich, moist soil up north. It has better odds with the hot, dry SoCal garden.
And for some unknown but very irritating reason, I can’t get the link to work to May Dreams Gardens, Carol J. Michel’s host site for all Bloomday reports.
We’re heading back up north the end of this week with a car full of stuff I’ve dug up from the Long Beach garden, the dog, the cat — what a caravan! I hope you find good things to read and see and keep you busy. More soon. Affectionately, AGO
Another atmospheric river is hitting the Oregon coast, but here in coastal Long Beach we’re climbing into the 80’sF. The plants that bloom off and on throughout the winter, like Passiflora vitifolia, know what to do with that warmth. I was trimming back straggly growth on this vine, which sounds fairly straighforward. But vines are tricky and complicated, and it can be difficult to trace what’s actually being cut. One misplaced snip, and before you know it yards of healthy vine have been severed. If this passiflora were a dainty thing, I’d be more angry with myself. But seeing as I’ve already had to cut an exploratory shoot out of the acacia tree quite a distance away, getting heavy handed with the pruners is not much cause for remorse.
I’ve been simplifying and streamlining the Long Beach garden, resolving not to add any more plants or containers. And that’s holding true with some minor exceptions, like that enormous pot of Lomandra ‘Lucky Stripe’ on the far right. It was a discounted plant I intended to bring back to the Oregon garden to pair with the one already planted there, but changed my mind when I saw how it transformed this area. (If you’re game for more info on the subject than seems reasonable, possible or necessary, it’s provided at the end of this post.)
I’ve planted countless Lophomyrtus x ralphii here in Long Beach and none of them have “stuck.” Maybe a little too dry, a little too crowded. I grabbed a couple ‘Red Dragon’ to trial in the Oregon zone 8b garden, where they’re very borderline (to 20F), but lost my nerve at the prospect of potentially sacrificing both of these gorgeous New Zealander shrubs, and split the difference by keeping one in Long Beach. And that’s the last of any new planting in Long Beach, I swear!
Monocarpic Agave vilmoriniana ‘Stained Glass’ is making plans to leave this earth, sending forth an end-of-the-line bloom stalk which will hopefully become studded with lots of bulbils for new plants. I’m not expecting most of them to be variegated but hoping for just a few with this coloring…
In determining what Long Beach plants might potentially be candidates for the Oregon garden, I’ve run into the limits of memory — which astelia is this? A handy search of this blog tells me it’s Astelia banksii (20-25F). A small piece of it is being rooted for a northern trial, possibly container only so it can be protected in winter.
As promised, more reading on the pot of Lomandra ‘Lucky Stripe,’ the long and short of it:
Seen on T-shirts and protest signs around the world, now multimedia artist Patrick Martinez has worked Greek poet Dinos Christianopoulos’ words to electrifying effect in neon (which comes from the Greek word for “new”). A sign of and for the times, right?