on the rocks


The one-half inch ‘California Gold’ granite laid down last winter was an emotional decision made during the muddy season, and even then, though I told no one, putting down all that rock made me a little nervous. But it’s become such a huge blessing that now, nerves assuaged, I’m throwing in every other bit of rock I can find.


The gold granite is now veined through with the black river rocks I dig up every time a shovel pierces the soil, buckets and buckets of them, along with occasional bags of smaller gravel to knit the larger rocks together.

Eryngium varifolium, the Moroccan sea holly, against mix of river rock and granite

I hoped the rocked area would function as a giant French drain, and it has, as well as keeping mud from clinging to paws and shoes. And it has done that too. But another side benefit, of course, is planting into it. I just can’t stop planting into the rocks. The broad swath of rocks decreases daily into a path that must now be semi-carefully navigated. Are we not our own worst enemy as far as sticking to the plan? But the plants love this not-technically-a-rock-garden scenario.

The refinement of leaves against the rock never gets old — and when Marrubium supinum is covered in morning dew, it’s a wonder of natural design that merits a long pause on the first walk of the day
It’s just as exciting adding new plants into the rocks as into the main garden (Hebe parviflora var. angustifolia) — maybe more so!
And there’s so many plants suited for this type of planting. An alpine version of fireweed is hard to resist — Chamaenerion fleischeri from Dancing Oaks
some things never change — moth caterpillars still love Salvia argentea, but this is as good as I’ve ever been able to grow it
the stock tank nearest the garage is nearly concealed now by plantings, big boys like Rhodoma capensis and tetrapanax, which now harbor a little understory of smaller plants
Asarina procumbens
asarina sending out stems to encircle the stock tank
and weave around sempervivums

The rock is easily pulled aside to dig a hole, especially for the small size plants I’m using.


Currently there’s still plenty of walking room on the gravel….if I can just stop planting it up.

Posted in journal, Oregon garden | 5 Comments

local plant obsessions

(Edited 10/8/22 — grey shrub is Olearia moschata, thanks to the folks at Xera Plants)

late September visit to Old House Dahlias, about a 15-minute drive south on Hwy 101

On this isolated part of the Oregon coast, sourcing plants has been its own adventure. Mail order has been a huge resource, but some plants have defied any means of procurement.

on local walks I discovered a mature stand of dierama growing in an unirrigated front yard

On neighborhood walks I’ve been surveying the local plant scene for clues into what grows well here and have discovered a couple of offbeat stalwarts, one whose identity I knew from books, Euphorbia griffithii, while the other remains a mystery.

my new walking buddy — gratuitous grandma photo of my little friend’s first walk on the beach, now joining me in walks around the neighborhood

The euphorbia was notable for looking fabulous from very early spring to…well, to this moment. Same with the unknown shrub, except it’s been evergreen fabulous year-round. In both cases the plants seemed to have been deployed and forgotten, one in a neglected private garden and the other in a commercial planting, where many of the plants were dying during the dry summer. Except for my stellar, grey-leaved enigma, which I’d love to see clipped into orbs against the gravel in my back garden.

phone photo of unknown shrub which looked amazingly dapper all winter and was covered in tiny white flowers in summer. There are multiples of this shrub along the long western wall of a well-known local brewery in town, both in ground and in stock tanks. Olearia? Osmanthus of some kind?

I became fixated on these two handsome plants, convinced my garden wouldn’t be the same without them. Meandering walks became more focused to include these two destinations almost daily to check on how they held up through the seasons. Diligent attempts to contact the owner of the euphorbia, offering cash for cuttings, via door knock, notes in the mailbox, talking to neighbors, failed to produce a response. And the owner of the brewery couldn’t remember who did the landscape, so that avenue into identifying the shrub was stymied too. It reminds me of the dwarf olive ‘Little Ollie,’ but the leaves are more silver and less tapered. (Image searches suggest a possibility may be Olearia x oleifolia — all opinions welcome!)

Secret Garden Growers Colors of Fall Festival 9/24-25/22 — a really good sale with loads of plants

With the owner ignoring my overtures, I built a mail order around Euphorbia griffithii from the one source I could find, only to have the order arrive with everything but the euphorbia, which was last-minute out of stock. (This euphorbia can be invasive in the right conditions, but this neighbor’s planting seemed to be staying put, large and healthy but very few runners.)

a colorist’s dream — red stems, orange bracts in spring with lime green flowers

Last weekend, at the Secret Garden Growers Colors of Fall festival, I was thrilled to finally get my hands on Euphorbia griffithii ‘Fireglow’ — they said it is so popular that it’s difficult to keep in stock.

Canna ‘Cleopatra’ also from Secret Garden Growers sale
Kniphofia caulescens — the SGG sale had a great selection of “kniffies”
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the farm stand, single-stemmed snaps planted in July were not a waste of money. Cut back, they thickened up in August and September, and are now throwing dozens of spikes. Just starting to bloom, tiny daisies are from Aster lateriflorus var. horizontalis ‘Lady in Black’
with flower buds forming sometime in June/July

I’ve made no progress on the ID of the silver shrub. Any ideas?

Posted in Oregon garden | 7 Comments

mid-September coastal Oregon garden

Dahlia ‘AC Rosebud’ from Old House Dahlias, Tillamook, Oregon

I was actually hoping to do a Bloom Day post for the 15th, but photos wouldn’t load, etc. For the time being, this little becalmed boat of a blog seems to have righted itself and is wobbily under sail again, once again taking orders and allowing content posting from its captain. And content for now is all about the rude good health of the few dahlias I planted in the border made last fall of a berm of stripped turf where I expected not much to grow the first season as it settled — so why not plant a few dahlias?

dahlias are lots of work in zone 10b and even then success isn’t guaranteed. Here in zone 8b they grow like weeds — at least they did this year! Who knows what next year will bring?

It’s too early to confirm or refute personal theories, but leaping to conclusions has always been my favorite sport. I’m an inveterate leaper. And I have long suspected gardeners are cynically encouraged to follow their hearts and not their brains regarding plant choices, when many plants have a specific range of acceptable growing conditions outside of which there will be misery (for gardener and plant). You know, if you haven’t killed a plant three times, you’re not really trying, etc. (Go ahead, take a flier on this cloud forest denizen — it might just love Phoenix!) Admittedly, if we don’t experiment, nothing gained. Because, sure, there are always exceptions — Verbena bonariensis and Mexican feather grass seem to grow just about anywhere. And, sure, you can eke out a performance from dahlias even in hot summer climates if you have impeccable horticultural instincts and practices, but it’s not about just adding more water. Oh, no, it’s about night and daytime temps and latitude and proximity to coastal breezes and stuff that just can’t be faked. Of course, beating the odds can be an irresistible temptation, but I can’t think of a plant that I would move heaven and earth to grow — possibly because I’m a promiscuous generalist as far as plants are concerned. There are just so many interesting plants to consider.


And after wondering mid-summer at the light presence of pollinators, and after diligently preparing an elaborate banquet for them, clouds and swarms of them finally arrived fashionably late in September, especially to pillage pollen off of Helianthus ‘Lemon Queen’ and Solidago ‘Fireworks.’ Okay, then!

full sun mid-day photo with conifer-like Eupatorium capillifolium in the foreground, shape echo for the variegated Italian buckthorn. The eupatorium lost a third branch to wind.
heavy wind also knocked some branches off of the helianthus — not that you’d notice
Salvia sagittata, Clematis x stans, Euphorbia stygiana in the foreground of the berm made of discarded turf. I also planted big stuff like Rudbeckia maxima, Persicaria polymorpha, grasses Calamagrostis brachytricha and lots more, not expecting much of a showing the first season…you know the old maxim, first year you sleep, second year you creep, third year you leap? The garden is obviously unfamiliar with that maxim –there was surprisingly lots of leaping the first year here…
also in the turf berm, Pycnanthemum muticum, sanguisorba, patrinia
elsewhere in the garden, Kniphofia pauciflora throws another bloom. Penstemon ‘Cha-Cha Purple’ from Terra Nova has good rebloom, healthy leaves — I’m also growing a legacy penstemon in a similar color, ‘Raven,’ that really seems outmatched by CCP
Teucrium hircanicum from Digging Dog Nursery
Salvia uliginosa, gaura, agastache (gaura reclassified as oenothera)
Rudbeckia triloba
Pollinators haven’t acquired our decadent tastes and love it when you keep it simple — ease off the double flowers, give ’em lots of daisies, and they’ll make your garden a destination

Some of my remaining questions about this first-year garden: How long does this show go on? What does a garden collapsed by frost really look like? Will my Ricinus ‘New Zealand Purple’ reseed for next year? If I leave the dahlias in the ground, as I tentatively plan to, do they have a chance in hell of returning next year after 90-something inches or rain? And if this is the result its first year, what in heaven’s name to expect of its second year?

At least some plants are taking it slow, like Teucrium ‘Summer Sunshine’
Posted in journal, Oregon garden | 6 Comments

glistening September views

glistening Renga lilies, Arthropodium cirratum, a giftt from Kris/Late To The Garden Party

This morning’s mist was heavy enough that the downspouts gurgled. The garden embraced the moisture with its leaves and petals, in a heart-melting effect that can best be described in one word: glistening. A full rainy day is predicted for sometime mid-September. Before it all smashes down in a rainy windstorm, I took some photos this morning from every corner of the garden to document its first summer.

view from the house, standing at the back steps. Neighbor’s hedge is laurel, with a spangling of bindweed. If you stand still long enough, I’ve no doubt bindweed will start creeping around your ankles. It is the town scourge, an enemy sneakily waving white trumpet flowers — show no mercy!

This rich, water-retentive soil and cool coastal climate (zone 8b) has limitations that would be deal-breakers for many, but it is very kind to herbaceous perennials — we’ll see how many survive the long, rainy winter to return next year!

still on the steps, looking straight ahead. If you’d like an ID on a plant, leave a comment. The Anisodontea ‘Strybing Beauty’ in the left stock tank is roof-high and marginally hardy in zone 8b. I’ve been tip-pruning it all summer. I’m in the process of setting up a makeshift cold frame and may grab some cuttings.
Looking east along the overhang. There’s a 2-3 foot perimeter dog path along the fence where Billie is in the photo. I doubt I’lll plant anything closer to the fence because the neighbor’s bindweed would love to get a root-hold and high visibility is key. Keeping a mulched moat is the best defense.
another view looking east (a deceptive one because the camera flipped the perspective) showing the basic layout and the three stock tanks close to the overhang. Unless I have a radical change of mind, there will be no hiding neighboring houses, no mitigating the stark fence boundary, just a simple space to grow plants
Looking west along the overhang to the garage. This area with the melianthus was the last to be planted. The diascia in that stock tank has been in bloom since April, no lie — I should get cuttings of that as well (‘My Darling Tangerine’). Three planted in the ground are in bloom as well, but nothing like the performance in the stock tank
looking southwest at corner garden shed. Paint is needed, outdoor lights replaced, but the garden comes first, right?
view from the corner garden shed back at the house
looking west at the garage across the main planted areas — gaura, agastache, penstemon, Aster ‘The Prince,’ succisella, Deschampsia ‘Goldtau’ — like I said, for more IDs, leave me a comment
same view but grabbing more of the planting closer to the back fence. I walked along the landscape timbers that separate the two large planting areas all winter to plant — not possible now. Along with retaining the slightly elevated back berm, the timber acts as a brake to Salvia uliginosa and other large perennials, which have plenty of elbow room to move without squashing other plants
standing at the back fence looking at the house. Umbel is Selinum wallichianum. Dahlia is ‘Camano Sitka,’ incredibly tall and vigorous so I hate to quibble that the flowers are a tad too big…Distant yellow flowers are Helianthus ‘Lemon Queen,’ positively hedge-like
Japanese sunflower towers over the southeast corner

I think that covers the garden from almost every angle, so I’ll finish with some close-ups.

Helianthus ‘Lemon Queen’ — I think it’s safe to say, for instant gratification, this is a great first-year garden plant for coastal Oregon. Very late-blooming but good leaves all summer. May eventually replace it with something less vigorous…
This glistening Yucca linearifolia died in my zone 10b garden, was resuscitated and rerooted and now seems to be flourishing — so relieved!
Dahlia ‘AC Rosebud’ — Marty says he hates this dahlia but loves ‘Camano Sitka.’ Personal taste is endlessly interesting…
Helianthus argophyllus (Texas native annual known as the Japanese Sunflower) is every bit as cool as its reputation. Hated my zone 10b garden — loves rich, moist soil. Needs staking. All dahlias were staked too.
Heliopsis ‘Bleeding Hearts’ was found local and looks like an instant classic.
It blends in really well, leaves and flowers,
Southeast corner with the Japanese sunflower
Scrophularia auriculata ‘Variegata’ (or S. aquatica ‘Variegata’) has been so good all summer, steadily increasing in girth. Hummingbirds come to its tiny flowers before the salvias!
Big surprise to have Clematis stans x heracleifolia bloom its first summer. Found at Hortlandia in April — yes, I admit I’m weird when it comes to clems in not craving the big-flowered vines. C. heracleifolia also performed decently in my zone 10b garden, back in the days when it was much wetter.
glistening Rhodocoma capensis will need thinning and careful pruning as it grows into its towering shagginess. The Plectranthus argentatus in the stock tank is another plant I’d hate to be without, slightly marginal here. The slider stays open til nearly bedtime — last night a large moth flew in, giving Billie a startle, then the chase was on.
Brachyglottis monroi, a smaller version of B. greyi — the overhang extends slightly over some of the rock plantings which theoretically should provide more dryness in winter
Sonchus palmensis (uncertain to survive this winter), Crambe maritima, Cassinia x ozothamnus, couple Aloe cooperi squeezed in. Ask for any further IDs. And on the far left, just added last week, nonblooming Calluna vulgaris ‘Skyline Barcelona.’

I’ll close this out with Billie surveying her world and a potful of sempervivums and this weird mashup of orostachys and sedum called ‘Sedoro’ — so many plants! Let me know if there’s a favorite plant of yours that I’ve missed and must absolutely grow. And please take care if you’re caught in the abysmal West Coast heatwave. May fall weather be kind to all of us! More soon, AGO

Posted in journal, Oregon garden | 14 Comments

two gardens August 2022

Agave lophantha ‘Quadricolor’ Sesleria ‘Campo Azul’ Pennisetum ‘Fairy Tails’ Leucadendron ‘Jester’ and a potted Euphorbia canariensis — and lots of smaller stuff unseen, like a newly planted Encephalartos horridus that made it through some hot, dry conditions. Long Beach, CA zone 10b

From August 12 through the 19th I was in Southern California visiting family and checking on the house and garden, so I had the odd, unsettling experience of leaving one garden just hitting its stride and dropping in on one in survival mode. I knew I’d be facing a dusty, very dry garden of mostly succulents, shrubs, and grasses and possibly some wrenching losses. Fortunately, losses were minimal, and the little garden surprisingly chugged along in my absence without much assistance. (The previous houseguests, staying over a month, mentioned that they hadn’t seen anybody watering — checking with the caretaker, she had been knocked flat by Covid and was non compos mentis for a couple weeks and had been too brain-fogged to remember to let me know. The garden (and pots!) went unwatered at least three weeks, maybe more.)

August 9, 2022, first summer Persicaria polymorpha, coastal Oregon garden

That in a nutshell describes the difference between the two gardens in summer. Endurance is the goal for the zone 10 garden in summer, threatened by short and long-term water bans. Conversely, the coastal Oregon garden began to tentatively express itself in July and then really accelerated growth in August, as seen in these photos I took just before leaving for Long Beach. I happened to plant a lot of big-statured, late-season perennials, and these really began to find their footing at the end of July. I am just bowled over, because I really didn’t expect much at all the first year. There has been no rain since June, so the Oregon garden is reliant on supplemental irrigation, just like the zone 10b SoCal garden (except that rain-free condition stretches basically year-round), but the mostly soft light and benign temperatures at the Oregon coast keep growth steady. I’m convinced the extra hour of daylight is a positive factor too.

Salvia chiapensis ‘Elk Giant’

In early July I mail-ordered some salvias from Flowers By The Sea which have leapt into growth. Many are variations on salvias I’ve grown before, such as Salvia chiapensis, but this time in the form of ‘Elk Giant.’ And guaranitica again, but the pale blue form, ‘Elk Argentine Skies,’ a superior selection of AS.

Salvia guaranitica ‘Elk Argentine Skies’
Salvia sagittata

I love the deep green leaves of Salvia sagittata as much as the cobalt blue flowers on delicate stems and wanted to see how it performed in zone 8b. I suspected it would be much happier, and so far that seems to be the case. Winter of course will be the challenge, whatever it brings.

Salvia patens ‘Chilcombe’

Salvia patens hasn’t been a success in the zone 10b garden, so I wanted to specifically trial it in Oregon, a lilac-colored form called ‘Chilcombe.’ Love.

Salvia pulchella x involucrata backed by Lepechinia hastata, dug up from the zone 10 garden, where it withered away every summer in the unwatered gravel garden then returned next spring…to wither away again. Maybe there will be flowers in zone 8b?

Salvia pulchella x involucrata was also included in the order, because involucratas have never liked zone 10 much either. The leaves on all of the salvias are lush and healthy, and only the involucrata has yet to set buds or flower, still developing a luscious dome of crinkly, apple-green leaves and red stems.

Salvia ‘Amante’ and Verbena bonariensis were moved from the southern garden to the northern garden
Kniphofia of the ‘Popsicle’ series dug up and moved north, cool-season grass Deschampsia ‘Goldtau,’ gaura, Geum ‘Totally Tangerine’ reblooming
I’ll be really surprised if Agastache ‘Blue Boa’ survives the upcoming rainy winter, but you never know til you try
Eucomis and sesleria
Kniphofia thompsonii var. snowdenii backed by the arrow-shaped leaves of Salvia sagittata and Euphorbia stygiana on the right, moved out of the stock tank into the garden
Ricinus ‘New Zealand Purple’ with Sanguisorba ‘Red Thunder’ — ‘New Zealand Purple’ has been reseeding in the zone 10 garden for years, becoming subsequently more and more washed out, so this strong color of plants grown by Cistus knocks my socks off. Habit of growth is different too, much more bushy. In zone 10 it grows lanky, immediately leaping into flower and seed, forfeiting strong leaf growth
seeds of dark bachelor buttons were thrown on the garden in late spring — I had a hunch that plants would flower long here at the coast, and that’s been borne out this first summer. There are still sweet peas to cut, at the same time as dahlias!
dahlias exploded in growth in July
newly planted grasses surprised with blooms their first season, like Achnatherum calamagrostis
Toad lily was gifted from a garden tour. I had seen drifts of tricyrtis at Battery Park in NYC and have crushed on them ever since.
Golden oregano and Verbena ‘Homestead Purple,’ found local. There’s multiple clumps of this oregano and verbena throughout the garden
Steering mostly clear of annuals except this scaveola found local that I couldn’t resist — might be ‘Scalora Glitzy.’ With Asarina procumbens on the right
Verbena bonariensis in one of the stock tanks, seedlings brought from zone 10b, as was Plectranthus argentatus. Tetrapanax is planted in the ground at the base of the stock tank
Mostly grown for its silvery, furry leaves, I let Potentilla lineata keep its flowers for the bees that throng to it
the deep alluvial soil is pitted with small river rocks that I continually dig up and throw onto the gravel portion of the garden. Sod was stripped and the first landscape timbers laid in fall 2021
Manihot is a treasure for its ability to make a very dry garden look lush in August.

Meanwhile, back in zone 10b last week….getting house and garden ready for new houseguests, I so enjoyed getting reacquainted with the plants. Fingers crossed, I may have found someone who will sweep up the debris from the trees off the patios and walkways, which is the bulk of the work that needs doing when we’re away.

would have been crushing to lose my variegated ponytail palm
Cussonia gamtoosensis has made some nice growth this summer

Since I’ve been culling out the most water-intensive potted plants over the past year, somehow everything managed to hang on. Most of the work in the garden was removing dead leaves, trimming back the rambunctious passionflower, cutting back spring/summer herbaceous stuff, leaving the succulents to carry the torch. Incredibly tough, beautiful plants. And another dry spell is ahead for the garden, this time imposed by our water district while they work on pipe repairs.

Sesleria blooming in both gardens in August, zones 8b and 10b. ‘Campo Azul’ — great size and year-round presentability and compatibility with medium-size succulents
a very dry corner that worried me, with Doryanthes palmeri, Trevesia palmata and the giant, dark-leaved crinum, all in good shape. The Acacia baileyana ‘Purpurea’ in this end of the garden wicks away moisture (and clogs the succulents with massive amounts of debris)
leaf of Trevesia palmata
Crithmum maritimum found its way up through the succulents
Alternanthera ‘Purple Knight’
Agave salmiana var. ferox ‘Variegata’
Agave kerchovei

So there you have a look at two very different gardens in August, one that was in the 90s all last week and one that’s in the 70s this week. One at a latitude of roughly 33 degrees, the other at a latitude of roughly 45 degrees. One that is undergoing record drought, the other having just experienced record rainfall. More soon!

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coastal PNW gardens late July

Driving north on Highway 101 now is a very different experience than just a few weeks ago. The roadside attractions are no longer mauve foxgloves, which seemed to go on forever, but now mauve fireweed, Chamerion angustifolium (formerly Epilobium angustifolium), with big splashes of fiery red crocosmia, sheet-white Shasta daisies, and blue and purple hydrangeas.

In full bloom at the coast, Luther Burbank’s decade-plus work, the Shasta Daisy, originated with the humble ox-eye daisy, which is still featured in meadow plantings at gardens like Great Dixter. A British wildflower, Leucanthemum vulgare, accompanied the Pilgrims and naturalized in Burbank’s home state of Massachusetts. From meadow daisy to a quadruple hybrid, it is now a big, overbearing composite, a gift to public gardens and those large enough to accommodate it. Its appearance midsummer to me announces:
I give you the Summer Daisywhere’s your picnic basket?
Crocosmias in the Kuestner garden

And seeming to coincide with the blooming of Shasta Daisies, my formerly quiet drive past shallow, calm bays has been overtaken by Vacationland, typified by countless cars with roof-racked canoes, campers haulng small boats, massive RVs pulling cars. I kinda love seeing this outpouring of allegiance to summer at the seaside even if does slow traffic down a bit. The allure of the ocean, tangy sea air, and coastal ice cream joints is primal and timeless, and it stirs happy memories for me to see it work its magic on visitors. I often head north to volunteer at the Wonder Garden in Manzanita, which I did on Saturday, but Sunday was to visit the garden of Mark and Linda Kuestner, through the HPSO open gardens program. Mark also volunteers at the Wonder Garden.

callistemon (possibly ‘Esther’), Euphorbia stygiana, Lobelia tupa, nepeta, achillea in the Wonder Garden in July
Continuing with my self-guided studies in comparative horticulture on the Oregon coast, I note that Anigozanthos flavidus overwinters in Manzanita’s zone 9a. The Wonder Garden’s fall plant sale features plants grown in the garden — not sure if the anigozanthos will be included though.

Gardens like the Kuestners’ and the Wonder Garden have been a huge help in my informal comparative horticultural studies. I’m joking when I say “studies,” but I have been asking a lot of questions. Fortunately, plant and garden people love talking about their passion. I had seen the Kuestner garden in June, when everything was delayed by a cold, rainy spring — what a difference a month makes! But what I was really interested in seeing in June were the structural plantings in the Kuestner garden, pittosporum, manzanita, grevilleas, fremontodendron, drimys, eucryphia, and so many others that I wished I’d written down. But July in the Kuestner garden is a celebration of flowers, not an easy thing to accomplish with sandy soil, deer, summer drought, and a shortish growing season. Even with the rainless summer, and despite the slow spring, once they’re up and growing, dahlias’ love of the coast make it all look effortless.

lilies, alliums, and Dahlia ‘Forncett’s Furnace’ which I originally mistook for tithonia, also grown by the garden owners, Mark and Linda Kuestner. This dahlia is said to originate from Nori and Sandra Pope’s garden at Hadspen House, England, brought to the U.S. by Dan Hinkley. I’m absolutely no expert on growing dahlias but have observed that single dahlias might be better suited to cool coastal conditions. The big, congested doubles take forever to open in the garden, which is conversely a wonderful attribute in a vase
Dahlia ‘Forncett’s Furnace, Kuestner garden
Another single dahlia in the Kuestner garden
In my garden, Dahlia ‘Elks Lips on Fire’ from Old House Dahlias, a complex, intense raspberry, that was offered as a replacement. Although zone 8b, Tillamook is slightly warmer in summer than Manzanita. Unlike the deep alluvial soil in Tillamook, Manzanita’s is sandy. The recent PNW heat wave hasn’t pushed temperatures up much at the coast.
Another replacement from Old House Dahlias, ‘Camano Sitka,’ my garden
Dahlia ‘Hollyhill Bewitched,’ my garden
Tigridias in the Kuestner garden
Lobelia tupa in the Kuestner garden
Annual poppies in bloom in July! Kuestner garden.
Papaver commutatum, Kuestner garden
Fabiana imbricata post-bloom, Kuestner garden.
tigridia, alliums, and aquilegia foliage in the Kuestner garden
calluna, hebe, alchemilla, daylilies, and a young Sambucus ‘Lemony Lace’ at the Wonder Garden
the Moon Carrot, Seseli gummiferum, 3 years to bloom in the Wonder Garden. I’m hoping mine speeds up the process!
Trough in the Kuestner garden, with variegated Agave schidigera and Monardella macrantha

I hope your local weather is being reasonably kind to you and your garden. Take care! More soon, AGO.

Posted in garden visit, journal, Oregon garden, Plant Portraits, pots and containers | 6 Comments

the curvilinear Courtney garden, Banks, Oregon

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View from the driveway, level with the house, where paths lead down through the sloping property into the garden. The descending grades are easy to traverse. All surfaces are rock mulch. No lawn grass was retained. Other than mature trees, Mary’s gorgeous planting is incredibly just a few years old.
one of the earliest garden buildings on the property, at the driveway entrance, looking from the garden. One of Harlan’s sculptures on the right.
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area of the garden closest to the driveway entrance

Before starting a tour of the Courtney garden in Banks, Oregon, USDA zone 8b, it’s only fitting to first visit the “engine room,” the workshop of Harlan Courtney that fabricates the idiosyncratic hardscape of Mary and Harlan’s garden. The house and garden are situated on a hilltop of 5 acres in Banks, Oregon. The unpaved access road off the highway eventually leads to the driveway and front door of the house. The garden is on the sloped ground to the back of the house, a strolling garden accessed by carefully graded paths and terraces. Some of the flatter acreage is leased to a local farmer for grass crops, but the majority is under intense use by Harlan and Mary for their home, a new home addition in progress, the garden and workshop. Harlan has lived on the property since the ’80s, but most of the garden work was started around 2015. After marrying and moving in, Mary’s love of gardens jumpstarted the frenetic pace, which accelerated after 2020 into a “pandemic project.” Through the HPSO Open Gardens program, on the weekend of July 16 and 17, their unique collaboration of plants and hardscape was open to members to tour, entitled “Hilltop Artistic Gardens.”

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Posted in garden travel, garden visit, Oregon garden | 6 Comments

the summer I planted pale yellow snapdragons


A farm stand was selling six-packs for $3 of these pale snapdragons, bordering on chartreuse. All wonky and swaying, not ramrod straight. Never having grown snaps before, I’m unclear if a lack of basal growth is normal or just a result of the grower pushing the plants into producing a single, very tall flower. And since I’m still on a planting bender, any flower that reminds me of my mom’s lemon meringue pie just has to come home with me.


I was at the farm stand to pick up some deschampsia I had seen earlier and initially passed up. These cool-season grasses are an early presence in the garden, unlike many of the warm-season grasses I planted, just now filling out. The local plant offerings are not extensive, but I check things out frequently, assuming that there’s some hard-won local wisdom behind what they do sell.

‘Rocket Yellow’

The snapdragons are a summer fling slipped in among young, permanent plantings of phlomis, callistemon, melianthus, Choisya ‘Aztec Pearl’ — heck, unless the snaps thicken up after these blooms are done, it will be a very short summer fling of mere weeks. The orangey-gold echinaceas were picked up local too.


Another local find planted a couple months ago, Milium effusum ‘Aureum’ loves it wet and leafs out early, handling full sun fine here at the coast. I’m so glad I planted the milium, aka Bowles’ golden grass, in a pot to move around the garden to judge what doesn’t like being in proximity to shimmering chartreuse (turns out, nothing.). The Angelica stricta ‘Purpurea’ just behind is a fabulous plant up here even out of bloom, with those big winged leaves soaring out sideways and gently hovering on dark stems over the surrounding plants.


But it’s very difficult to capture its grace and the dimensionality it lends.


This hybrid, summer-blooming anemone showed up locally too, ‘Dainty Swan.’ Love the dark sepals. I had no idea the hybridizers were working on such a thing and assumed there were spring-blooming anemones and fall-blooming anemones, end of story. Fooling around with various species produced summer-blooming anemones in the ‘Swan’ series — good leaves on this one and dark stems too.


This little corner of planting with the dierama, angelica and anemone is one of my favorite views for the moment.


Bamboo hoops in the distance are for the few dahlias planted from tubers in May. I wasn’t sure I’d plant this back bed at all this year, which is where a lot of the stripped-off turf was piled for a berm effect. (The back bed is retained by two landscape timbers stacked, just visible above.) Would the decaying turf cause excessive settling? Dahlias seemed like a good temporary solution.

labeled ‘AC Rosebud,’ planted the tuber in early May, from Old House Dahlias
Persicaria polymorpha

But of course I couldn’t resist plunging in and planting the back bed too. Sanguisorbas, patrinia, grasses, Rudbeckia maxima…I’d say the lion’s share of the plants have arrived via mail order, plus a couple trips to Portland nurseries and then the local finds.

castor bean and sanguisorbas

Will the snapdragons turn out to be nothing more than two weeks’ worth of garden staging, a dozen cut flowers for $6? Possibly. And there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that either. The only downside is I’ll be constantly hungry for lemon meringue pie while they’re in bloom…

Posted in journal, Oregon garden, Plant Portraits, pots and containers | 7 Comments

bloom day 7/22; dierama drama


I admit that there’s a bit of a grudge match component to plant trials in the Oregon coastal garden. There are countless plants I foolishly trialed in my dry zone 10 garden that hated the lack of winter dormancy, and that’s on me, but some seemed like naturals. Dierama, for instance. Because it’s from South Africa, and is always described as good in hot, exposed gravel gardens, I assumed it would love my zone 10 garden, if kept moist enough early on, like so many other plants from South Africa (agapanthus, leucadendron and so on). I should have paid more attention to the climates of the gardens in which it flourished, mostly a reliably rainy zone 8. Repeated attempts, repeated failures disabused me of the notion that the wandflower could dance in the breezes of coastal zone 10.

is it just me, or does the dierama look like a victory flag?!

When Dancing Oaks Nursery had a dark seedling strain for sale in January, I planted the well-established corms in the Oregon garden with the understanding that this irid with the finicky reputation would, in the best case scenario, be slow to establish. Best not to get too excited. In the face of all that fatalism, early signs were surprisingly encouraging — it held on to its leaves all winter, and they increased in size under extremely heavy rain and occasional light snow. And then, in its first year in the ground, the head-exploding event happened this July…blooms! And let me just say that this very windy coastal garden is happy to accommodate anything that dances on a breeze.

Another grudge rematch with the clary sage, supposedly an easy reseeder that refused that assignment in zone 10.
Salvia argentea is another plant that seemed to be a natural for zone 10 but never settled down. New flush of blooms on the lewisia
common, easy Lychnis coronaria, a shoo-in for summer garden in dry zone 10? Not so fast. This very old, sterile, double variety was rediscovered and named ‘Gardeners’ World’ — and I never saw a bloom in zone 10, although the plants grew lustily for a few years. After a record wet winter and spring, it bloomed its first summer in the coastal zone 8 garden.
New flush of blooms on Geum ‘Totally Tangerine’
Malva sylvestris ‘Zebrina’ – saw this last fall blooming its head off in a container in downtown Tillamook, so had to try it. (The same malva in the same container is in full bloom again now.). The malvaceae love it up here, lavatera, sidalcea.
the annual linaria left its straggly ways behind in zone 10. Self-sowing amongst Echeveria agavoides, here it is the exact opposite of straggly. Other plants like Verbena bonariensis behave differently too, building up strong, twiggy architecture before flowers. In zone 10 flowers seem to rush about their business, rapidly going to seed.
so uniform! so bushy! so not straggly!
Salvia ‘Amante’ and abutilon overflowing a stock tank.
Silene fabaria ssp. domokina — another entry for the garden of insignificant flowers. But what a charmer. Slender branched stems to 18 inches dangling fringed parachutes
Diascia, Omphalodes linifolia, Arctostaphylos ‘Sunset’ in an overstuffed stock tank

I’m running a day late for the bloom day festival hosted by May Dreams Gardens the 15th of every month, so will finish before walking you through every last detail, the kind I moon over every morning, coffee in hand. I hope you have interesting things to look at in the garden every day as well. The little Oregon garden has finally reached that stage, something I seriously doubted in May. Happy July!

Billie sends her best too!
Posted in Bloom Day, journal, Oregon garden, Plant Portraits | 8 Comments

herbaceous stuff

Flower bud on Centaurea macrocephala

I admit I’m enthralled by the range of herbaceous plants that can be grown here on the Oregon coast, zone 8b. I should be putting my energies into building up evergreen and woody structure, but for the moment, aside from a few shrubs, I’m mostly playing with perennials, annuals, bulbs, and even biennials. I had some old seed packets of hesperis and dark sweet williams that I brought north and threw on the garden in early June, when it was still rainy. The germination was surprisingly good. I’m still seeing hesperis and sweet williams in bloom around town in July, so the hope is they will have early leaf presence and then continue to bloom spring into early summer in this cool climate, before the summer stuff gets going. I don’t want to shade out the back garden, and there are plenty of other trees and shrubs in town as far as providing habitat opportunities. (The neighbor to the east has large trees, and the neighbor to the south grows an epic 10-foot high evergreen hedge — maybe laurel? — but our backyard was all turf, no trees or shrubs.) Free-draining berms are in mind for the front garden, where hopefully some arctostaphylos will be happy. In the meantime, it’s the incredible range of herbaceous stuff that I’ve been exploring in the back garden. Transformational, dynamic, ephemeral, but not necessarily quicker to establish than shrubs. It takes a few years for many perennials to show their best. And when impatience is regularly tamped down, the exceptions to the rule that arise are even more thrilling, like a dierama that is getting ready to flower in its first year — who knew? — and a small Sanguisorba ‘Red Thunder’ is already throwing some crimson thimbles.

This is some of the random stuff that’s caught my eye so far this early summer — all photos are from gardens I’ve visited or local plantings.

Centaurea macrocephala opening into yellow, Sweet Sultan-type flowers. Reminds me in size and girth of Lobelia tupa. And similar leaf color but wavier leaves.
Madia elegans, Showy Tarweed — need to find seed for this next year

Showy tarweed reaches heights atypical of our native wildflowers, often standing more than 5-feet high, towering above the dried-out kin of earlier seasons. This late season bloomer also has the fantastically amazing ability to set deep tap roots that allow it to prosper in the latest, hottest days of summer, even in heavy clay soils, months after the last rainfall. Occurring from southern Washington throughout California, showy tarweed wraps up its short, dazzling lifecycle with small, sunflower-like seeds that attract goldfinches and other songbirds. This is an easy to grow garden plant, and one that more people should get up early to take notice of. ” Northwest Meadowscapes

tritelia/brodiaea, a summer-blooming bulb
Love this sedum’s radial growth pattern. I think it is Sedum sieboldii, the October daphne
calluna, helianthemum, yarrow and Calif poppies in the Wonder Garden, Manzanita, OR, a great mix of trees, shrubs and perennials
calluna, helianthemum, cuphea, and an evening primrose/oenethera
Erysimum ‘Apricot Twist’ and Parahebe perfoliata, Wonder Garden
Erigeron glaucus ‘Cape Sebastian’
Cistus ‘Jenkyn Place’ — I always prefer the white to pink-flowered cistus. I trialed a lot of varieties of cistus in zone 10 as well but tapered off as the Australian and South African shrubs took their spots in the garden
yes, this is the land of lilies…
and clematis
The martagon lilies are invaluable for blooming in shady gardens
Martagon lilies with bergenia and ferns — the shrub looks like a choisya
A fabulous, long-blooming foxglove, Digitalis x ‘Honey Trumpet’ I need to find. (Killed this in SoCal zone 10!)
eremurus, foxtail lily
The dark-leaved Clematis recta in I believe Mary DeNoyer’s garden in early June, draping over an osmanthus — another visitor’s jacket photobombing the shot
shade is the springboard for some amazing textural plantings — I’m hopeless at identifying the incredible range of shade plants used in gardens here. But I do know that’s a podophyllum in the center. I think most of the shade photos were taken in the DeNoyer garden.
and this may be a podophyllum as well. The big leaves for shade are darmera, podophyllum, arisaemas, rodgersias…
I like setting off unusual hostas in pots
an incredibly happy pyrrosia maybe? Ferns are way out of my wheelhouse for the moment
guessing asplenium
variegated solomon’s seal

Hope you’re finding beautiful things to look at this summer. I find it one of the strongest antidotes to the crazier-than-ever news cycle. More soon.

Posted in journal, Oregon garden, Plant Portraits | 9 Comments