rainy day thoughts on fences

approx 5-foot section of fence to the left of the gabion planter is the wobbly portion. it picks up strength again heading into the corner

Having inherited a boundary fence in the back garden, I think about it quite a bit. It’s been an insistent presence since we moved in, devoid as the space was of anything but fence, grass and bark mulch. Fences in front yards are not standard in this coastal Oregon neighborhood — though I want one in the front too, maybe a low cattle panel fence for Billie, who is irrepressibly social. Coming from LA, front and back fences are a given (unless you’re in an HOA, I suppose.) Children, pets, fast cars, security were all practical considerations for the front and back fences in LA.

The backyard fence in LA was promoted to powder-coated metal several years ago. We worked on it with the adjoining neighbor, and everyone loves it. No rotting, no painting!

But a fence alone is not enough for garden makers. We are inclined to obscure boundaries and fences to increase the sensation of being in a boundless world apart. I did this in Zone 10 and came to bitterly regret the root intrusion, excessive debris and loss of sun for the plants that needed it, like agaves.


Here in Oregon I painted the fence black and considered the job done. A “double blind” screening approach — a fence for security and privacy and then strategic planting to hide the fence — wasn’t a priority. This choice still puzzles me slightly. Neighboring houses loom over the fence from the south and east. Have my privacy requirements changed over the years? Possibly. (I do know that as an “older” woman, I don’t feel the insistent intrusion of prying eyes anymore, a huge relief.) Not knowing this climate zone well was another reason for resisting the urge to plant large, permanent stuff to hide the fence. Time and space were also considerations. I’m feeling the pressure of time and the garden definitely feels the pressure of space. And I see a lot more sky and flying geese overhead in this stripped-down approach.


For the moment, I like the austerity of the stark fence, and the boom-and-bust cycle of the garden that grows within it.

I’ve really enjoyed becoming acquainted with herbaceous plants like Pycnanthemum muticum in the Oregon garden

During the ice storm, after watching the fence uncharacteristically sway in the wind, I reflexively began to “test” the fence, like the raptors in Jurassic Park, though not to escape but for strength. Sure enough, a short stretch of the back fence has become dangerously wobbly. I grab it daily now and give it a gentle tug to check on durability vs. potential calamity. Shouldn’t we do something rather than wait for it to fall down? I asked Marty this morning. Sure, let’s sink a post when the ground dries…and in this temperate rain forest, we’re talking maybe June.

mountain mint and joe-pye weed

One of the byproducts of eliminating from consideration woody plants for concealment and structure is the freedom to focus on all the herbaceous, moisture-loving plants I couldn’t grow in zone 10. And so far these herbaceous plants seem able to withstand whatever the weather throws at them — and the weather has been so inventive the past couple years, hasn’t it?

Hesperis in spring is something I look forward to seeing again in 2024

But if that small portion of wobbly fence fails, I know that will be psychologically alarming. And dangerous for Billie. So maybe we can get a supportive post up in the coming weeks, notwithstanding very wet ground and a couple more atmospheric rivers heading this way. And I know that fence will continue to be on my mind until it either fails or is mended.

Posted in climate, design, Oregon garden | 8 Comments

ice storm aftermath

I moved most pots into the garden shed but a few with tulip bulbs took their chances outside

Some quick notes on the recent ice storm, that for us on the Oregon coast descended on Saturday, January 13. A fine icy mist encrusted everything — houses were entombed in ice, including doors, roofs and siding, a very peculiar sensation for inhabitants! Daytime temps after the event on the 13th began warming up over freezing, but nighttime temps stayed below freezing, keeping the icy status quo outside and all of us off the streets, whether by foot or car. Warming daytime temps caused ice to crash down off trees, buildings and utility wires during the day, but freezing night temps kept the roads and sidewalks unsafe for travel. Once the daytime thaw started, watching ice bombs crash down became a macabre form of entertainment (see video below). The clatter and crash of ice was a hopeful if also slightly scary sound.

I think it was on Monday, the 15th, that I took a hammer to the walkways around our house in the backyard, breaking up slabs 1/2 inch to an inch thick and throwing it on the gravel areas, a cathartic and satisfying activity! Even though nighttime temps didn’t rise above freezing until Wednesday with return of rain, with the icy paths bludgeoned we were able to walk to the garage for supplies, make sure the generator was working if needed (it wasn’t), and just generally feel in charge again. On Monday, with dry patches cropping up on still icy pavement, I slipped heavy socks over my rain boots, and we gingerly made our way outside to the school across the street to give Billie a short outing, which we continued every afternoon until the rain brought a full thaw on Wednesday. (This idea of slipping socks over shoes to improve traction kept popping up on social media, and I can definitely say that it improves chances of not falling.) Once outdoors, Billie initially seemed confused which inclined her to stand still on the icy ground — not a good idea! — but eventually got the idea to keep moving and enjoy the fresh air. In the video you can see how close the school is to our house; nevertheless, it felt like a drama-packed expedition to arrive there safely, picking our way very very carefully.

I didn’t capture any dramatic icy images of plants because I couldn’t safely step into the garden…

There was never any snow, though it was predicted for the weekend of the ice storm. The local utility worked nonstop for two days to restore power outages mostly caused by icy wires, though downed trees were a huge problem in Manzanita, where I volunteer at the Wonder Garden. The heroic utility/People’s Utility District announced a well-earned short sleep break Monday evening. We never lost power at home, but there are still sporadic power outages cropping up, with an outage announced this morning in the west end of our town. Overall, the coast had an easier time with this arctic blast than Portland, which has experienced serial ice storms and more days and nights under freezing temps, thus slower to thaw. Damage in my admittedly young garden here looks minimal, but it’s way too soon to tell. The only real obvious casualty is the gorgeous Hebe parviflora angustifolia, which probably just took a hit to its good looks and may recover, albeit at a much smaller size. Tentative reports place the cause of this dangerous and rare weather event on warming temps weakening the polar vortex plus effects from El Nino — whatever the cause, it’s another one for the history books!

Posted in climate, Occasional Daily Weather Report, Oregon garden | 8 Comments

weather report 1/13/24

Today is the day we’ve been dreading all week, when daytime temps at the Oregon coast hover around 30F and “icy rain” arrives. The week’s weather has been typically tumultuous and no undue cause for concern — just the usual rain, lots of hail, sporadic bouts of clear skies for walking Billie, more rain, all against a backdrop of daytime temps mostly in the upper 40s/low 50s and nighttime temps well above freezing. No recent frosty mornings. Very much in keeping with our recent upgrade by the USDA into zone 9a.

New Year’s Day 2024 at the beach, the glory of the Oregon coast. To push back against privatization of beach access, in 1913 Oregon beaches were cleverly deemed “public highways” and thus open to all

In early January it felt balmy enough that we were still taking Hannah and Billie to the beach.

IMG_3630 2
no walkies for Billie today in the icy rain

And then this week rumblings started of what the Arctic blast might unleash at the coast. Shifting but portentous forecasts began to coalesce into solid predictions of “icy rain” for this weekend, particularly Saturday — I had no idea what that would look or feel like. (I covered some plants for the first time, feeling very smug and practical for doing so. But I think the uncovered Phormium ‘Pink Blush’ is toast and probably much else.)

east window looks like a frosted shower door. And note the tiny icicles! Schefflera very happy to be indoors looking out at the icy world. Houses are amazingly insulated here, unlike our drafty bungalow in Long Beach, with its historically mandated single-pane windows

Several hours into the day-long event, I have some observations to offer. Icy rain appears to be a very thin mist that barely registers to the eye as rainfall. It is neither sleet nor hail. Wind is picking up by the afternoon, but overall the event isn’t too scary. But try taking a step out of the house, and you’ll face the full slip-and-fall horror of the phenomenon. Nobody, not even foolhardy kids with delusions of immortality, are braving the sidewalks. The utility wires are accumulating dangerous loads of ice, and there’s already power outages reported in Nehalem, Wheeler, Rockaway Beach, Garibaldi, Netarts and Oceanside. Marty optimistically bakes oatmeal cookies — whether they see a warm oven before the power gives up is the game now. Fluffy snow, like we had last winter, is vastly preferable to this ice sheet that’s descended.

a small room with north and east windows is easily kept warm and where I mostly hang out, hence the mess on the table. Note my hydrangea wreath, the first of several I’ve made!
Aloe ‘Tangerine,’ Long Beach garden December 18ish, 2023

A quick visit south for the holidays revealed aloes about to bloom. More to say about new plans for the southern garden, the intricacies of local weather, wrapping faucets when ice threatens, our boundless love of the pellet stove, but I’ll post this while the power holds. Take care!

Posted in Oregon garden | 7 Comments

got gratitude?


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 closer and 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!

Posted in Oregon garden | 8 Comments

clippings 10/24/23

Mopping up the earlier report on blooms in October that was abridged due to technical issues…

Erysimum ‘Winter Orchid’
Erysimum ‘Winter Orchid’ at the base of Emilia javanica ‘Irish Poet,’ an annual that seems to get better as it gets colder and wetter — we’ll see how it likes the nighttime forecasts later in the week down into the 30sF
Eryngium ravenelii planted May 2022 — not much to look at now but it did survive its first winter and flowered, so I’m thinking it has a chance to improve with age and size. Notable for being a wet-tolerant eryngo native to southern U.S. wetlands (aka Eryngium aquaticum var. ravenelii). Narrow leaves, currently about a foot in height
Eryngium yuccifolium over 3 feet in height, flawless in leaf and flower
I moved Helianthus ‘Lemon Queen’ back near the fence to give Eryngium pandanifolium a full 360-degree zone of appreciation — and the possibility of more bloom stalks next summer. Achnatherum calamagrostis might be my favorite grass. Early blooming, when it earns its name Silver Spike Grass, the blooms gracefully age with the seasons, now in October fading to a rosy tan. Miscanthus ‘Yaku Jima’ spikes in the background
Is Salvia ‘Amante’ overall as good a plant as ‘Amistad’? Hard to say. Possibly not as floriferous. Having grown my fair share of purple and blue salvias, I do love the color break.
Solanum laxum (nee jasminoides) is everything I want in a vine — low-key, always fresh-appearing, self-cleaning, lightweight, blooming in unassuming trusses, quietly turning into an October garden star as others quit the stage
Dahlia ‘AC Rosebud’ — I’ve given away the shorter, less floriferous dahlias, with ‘Camano Sitka’ also remaining. These two are robust, tall, incredibly prolific and might possibly benefit from pinching back next spring because who wants 8-foot dahlias anyway? I did bring home ‘Twyning’s After 8’ from Windcliff. (Hinkley warned me that, being a seedling, there was no telling its color. Well, it has bloomed and it’s spot on, looking like this.) These three remaining dahlias will no doubt be knocked down by upcoming predicted frosts.
Posted in Bloom Day, clippings | 10 Comments

bloom day October 2023

Can we just keep calling them asters? Aster lateriflorus var. horizontalis ‘Lady in Black’

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.

the “Prince’ is much more dense in habit, possibly more floral impact than LIB
Anisodontea and dahlias don’t know when to quit
those late-season sparklers, mums, are also very weather-resilient and really class up the fall vegetable garden
chocolate cosmos love the never-too-hot coast and have a very long season here
fall-blooming hesperantha is no flash-in-the-pan either. Their long season of Sept/Oct bloom is as much an occasion in the garden as crocosmia earlier in summer
the bog sage, Salvia uliginosa, one of the “late but great” plants for zone 8b fall

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.

the annual Kiss-Me-Over-the-Garden-Gate, Persicaria orientalis

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.

Posted in Bloom Day, Oregon garden | 7 Comments

checking in on the zone 10 garden

Under the piles of tree debris there were some exciting finds, like how well the bromeliad Alcantarea imperialis and Pyrrosia lingua get along, both tolerating extended periods of dryness in a container sitting directly under an acacia — ground zero for maximum tree litter. Cleaned up, debris pulled out by the handfuls, and the pot moved to a shady, debris-free east corner.

The Long Beach, CA zone 10 garden had a 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 evergreen Acacia baileyana ‘Purpurea’ is a nice, small-sized tree, producing good light for growing bromeliads, but the steady stream of debris year-round requires constant cleanup to avoid smothering crowns of bromeliads and succulents.
This small amount of breathing room was made possible by pulling a pincushion shrub/leucospermum, two westringias and lots of grasses. Swift, command decisions needed to be made! Grevillea on the left is ‘Poorinda Blondie,’ heavily cut back this trip. The Euphorbia cotinifolia was limbed up. In the far corner, not captured in the photo, a trevesia surprisingly flourishes, along with Doryanthes palmeri, the African Spear Lily, and a Purple Giant Crinum Lily.
trunk of trevesia, doryanthes on the left, giant crinum behind on the right

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.)

Tetrapanax has never looked this lush in fall before. Yards of the Crimson Passionflower, Passiflora vitifolia, were cut off the tetrapanax, and the Skyscraper Senecio (Curio ficoides) had surged almost pergola-high then crashed down — complete removal was needed. The big aloe is ‘Goliath,’ rooted ithrough the drainhole of a pot into the ground.
the Crimson Passionflower loves to drape over and then smother anything in its wake. Trimmed back but not removed…yet. Flowers are so lovely, as are the leaves. All the salvias behind Euphorbia ammak were removed to rescue smaller succulents.
Next to the potted ‘Goliath’ is my treasured Cussonia gamtoosensis — this seems to have survived by rooting thru the pot drainhole as well
The outlines were basically familiar. Established succulents fared well, but smaller introductions were overwhelmed by the growth of grasses, shrubs and perennials
Agave kerchovei is becoming a formidable presence. Ruby grass has seeded around, here between the smaller agave and aeoniums.
Wonderful fall performance by the slipper plant, with its fabulous lime/red bracts, Pedilanthus bracteatus
The agaves were smothered by perennials like salvias and small shrubs, many of which were intended to be trained into orbs like westringia and “golfball” pittosporum — not a long-distance project! (Three golfball pitts were trained into one large orb but westringias were removed.) Agave celsii var. albicans ‘UCB’ was uncovered after removing yards of Salvia ‘Savannah Blue.’ For now, restios work better than grasses with the succulents.
Three shaggy “golfball” pittosporum were merged into one — nice surprise to find the potted turk’s cap melocactus somewhat healthy
Salvia ‘Savannah Blue’ before removal — I’m going to try this in the Oregon garden, supposedly tolerant of zone 8 — much too vigorous among succulents but a good dry garden plant
Leucadendron ‘Jester’ in good health — alas, a large Leucadendron ‘Ebony’expired
another open area attained by removal of shrubby stuff like salvias, anisodontea. A potted Agave guiengola ‘Moto Sierra’ was moved here for more sun. The aloes here were swamped, including Aloe lukeana near the large pot containing the Skyscraper Senecio, unwatered and in full sun, an effective way to curtail its exuberant growth!
the “chainsaw” leaf margins of Agave guiengola ‘Moto Sierra’
Looks like over 2 inches of new growth on a potted Euphorbia canariensis
Through reseeding sonchus has become a permanent resident
Grevillea ‘Moonlight’ snapped a large branch. The shrub canopy was cleaned up, branches cut off the garage roof, gutters cleaned out, etc.
All the little potted cacti and succulents are probably at greater risk than those in the ground — caretakers tend to ignore them or overwater them! I was tempted to plant many of them in the ground, but with a super El Nino rainy winter forecast, ultimately opted to keep the status quo for now.
Furcraea macdougalii is trunking now, surrounded by big, weed-smothering succulents like Graptoveria ‘Fred Ives’ and Cotyledon orbiculata var. flanaganii. Spikes are Nolina nelsonii.

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.

Nolina underplanted with succulents, Agave ‘Mateo’
More of the planting in the front garden — especially gratifiying was the survival of Banksia repens, upper right above a form of Agave titanota
it was good to see the aeoniums coming back to liife in fall
One of the snappiest looking things to greet me was the Loll bench, a hotel castoff, bought from a consignment shop earlier in the year. A typical fall occurrence here, bird droppings, stained dark navy blue from the berries from the Chinese Fringe Tree, were ruining its looks, but it scrubbed up beautifully. It’s incredibly heavy but indestructible. Even second-hand it was pricy, but so worth it — made from recycled plastic.

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!

Posted in agaves, woody lilies, climate, garden visit, pots and containers, succulents | 6 Comments

late but great

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!

Selinum wallichianum definitely falls into the “Wow, you look so fresh!” category. Thistle is Cirsium rivulare ‘Trevor’s Blue’

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.

And in the “What took you so long?” category, Salvia uliginosa is just getting going in September in zone 8b

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.

Solidago ‘Fireworks’

Whereas, reliable late-blooming plants like solidago are nothing but a treat when they arrive and are never a cause for early-season worrying.

reliably fall-blooming kaffir lilies — my rummage-sale schizostylis
Bigelowia nuttallii behind the concrete tube

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…

Calamintha nepeta — if it reseeds I’ll know it’s not the sterile selection ‘Montrose White’ — I had expected this to begin blooming in early summer. Maybe it needs to settle in another year. Could be a lack of heat. Fabulously long-blooming/pollinator plant in my zone 10 garden.
unnamed salvia species from Szechuan from FBTS

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.

Salvia pulchella x involucrata

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.’

Aster lateriflorus var. horizontalis ‘Prince’ budding up with Parahebe perfoliata

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.

Calamagrostis brachytricha, Korean Feather Reed Grass

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?

Achnatherum calamagrostis, Silver Spike Grass

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.

Posted in design, journal, Oregon garden, Plant Portraits | 8 Comments

notes on the September garden

Eryngium yuccifolium

Miscanthus ‘Flamingo’

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).

Dahlia ‘Camano Sitka’ and Selinum wallichianum

But this is no act of nature. Big, tall plants have always been a preference. Still, the height and fullness of September is startling.

Other than the paths, like a tide the ground is completely covered
Linaria ‘Plummy,’ a cross between L. dalmatica and purpurea. It’s really something. Only one plant from a forgotten sowing in a stock tank was spotted this spring. Probably sown fall 2022

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.

Verbascum roripifolium. Of five plants, this one is the most well-branched. Yes, a branching, not vertical verbascum! A cloud of bloom instead of a spire.

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!

Verbena officinalis var. grandiflora ‘Bampton’

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.

and the group portrait, with a stray astrantia sneaking in. Grass is molinia.

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?)

Reblooming astrantia? ‘Star of Fire’ planted early May

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 at BBG — bananas, alstroemeria, salvia, gingers, hardy scheffleras
late summer planting at Bellevue Botanic Garden near the entrance, hardy gingers stealing the show

Near the entrance the planting was emphatic and clearly legible.

Public gardens have unique concerns — there was a fundraising art show taking place
A looser, more complex, detailed planting with a foreground sedum/hylotelephium, cynara, gaura, eucomis and lots more going on

Deeper into BBG, the planting did become looser, more free form.

Ratibida columnifera at BBG
False hemp Datisca cannabina, Bellevue Botanic Garden

This. The false hemp backlit by late afternoon sun — I’d love to see this at home in a future September garden.

Posted in garden travel, garden visit, Oregon garden, Plant Portraits | 9 Comments

shopping for phlomis at Windcliff

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?

noID phlomis with dark-leaved pittosporum at Windcliff August 26, 2023

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!

Dichroa febrifuga along the front driveway

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.

Cortaderia fulvida owning the bluff.

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.

private home of Dan Hinkley and Robert Jones

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.

distant ceramic towers by Dustin Gimbel entitled….”Phlomis”! — and I think that’s a phlomis to the right of the eucomis

The noon visit was hotter than warm. Only mid 80s, but that bluff soaks up and radiates every bit of that sunshine.

What’s so interesting about the summer focus on agapanthus is how despite all the varieties and differences in heights and variations in colors on the blue/purple spectrum, with some white, the overall effect is to unify the garden, like a scene from a South African grassland

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.

Agapanthus, eucomis, kniphofia and plumes of the dramatic New Zealand toetoe Cortaderia fulvida
A selection of Agapanthus inapertus
Wonderful clump of Acanthus sennii on the left, but then it’s all simply wonderful
Because it stood taller than me, I’m guessing that this may be Eucomis pallidiflora subsp. pole-evansii, the giant among pineapple lilies.
native madrone distant left, yellow poppy flowers look like Hunnemania fumariifolia. Every plant shown here would also grow in zone 10, though I doubt eucomis would grow as well
stunning hypericum from Nepal, possibly H. uralum. Not available currently at the nursery, but Plant World has seeds
Mathiasella bupleuroides flourishes at Windcliff, named in honor of Mildred Mathias, Director of the UCLA Botanic Garden

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.

Sinopanax formosanus, an evergreen endemic to Taiwan, aka Formosa. If my little one survives it may have to be moved!
Salvia with rusty spent blooms of an olearia in background, possibly Olearia cheesemanii
pitcher plants at the man-made pond just off the house, bluff-side
Caesalpinia gilliesii is marginally hardy so has been tucked in close to the house under the eaves, warmer and drier, where it stands the best odds over the winter
looks like Agave gentryi, maybe ‘Jaws’

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!

Distant orange flowers are Dahlia ‘Forncett’s Furnace,’ umbellifer on the right is Selinum wallichianum
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