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

full sun near the coast

Stipa gigantea illuminated at the Hoffman Wonder Garden late June, Manzanita, Oregon, with Kniphofia thomsonii. My Giant Feather Grass is a couple years away from making a spectacle like this.

Democracy is a garden that must be carefully tended, said one of our 21st century presidents. (Care to guess which one? Hint: his spouse famously broke with protocol and planted a vegetable garden near the White House. Ah, what innocent times, when defying norms meant planting vegetables!)

Tetrapanax papyrifer and Rhodocoma capensis seem safe bets in the ground in full sun, both planted last autumn

And now, thanks to obstructive, dysfunctional politics, gardens need to be even more carefully tended — extreme weather events push all our gardens (and farms) out of the well-studied, predictable norms that filled farmers almanacs and governed their care for decades. Observe and adapt — we are all Keynesian gardeners now. (“When the facts change, I change my mind – what do you do, sir?”)

traditionally for the shade, Calceolaria ‘Kentish Hero’ happy in fullish sun in coastal zone 8b

One of the mysteries I’m trying to pierce here in the new garden at the Oregon coast is the strength of the coastal sun. Days go by without evidence of it (fine by me), and I’m told many half-shade lovers will flourish in full sun here. And since all I have is full sun at the moment, that’s where I planted Darmera peltata. And it was fine until temperatures meteorically spiked to 96F over a couple days and crisped those lush leaves. High heat, even short-lived, always seems to get the last (demonic) laugh. But with the soil still saturated, overall the heat mostly had a salutary effect. Most of the moonstruck garden dealt with the high temps as though lightly slapped in the face, to snap out of it, it’s summer!

Anisodontea ‘Strybing Beauty’ and annual Orlaya grandiflora reacting to the slap of warmer temperatures, both brought north from the zone 10 garden, where the anisodontea blooms through the winter and the self-sown orlaya will have been finished months ago
seeds of Papaver setigerum hitched a ride north from the zone 10 garden too — these would have been finished blooming months ago in zone 10
abutilon thriving in full sun
not surprisingly, plantings in the stock tanks have put on much faster growth than those in the ground this cool spring/early summer
sideritis in a container is far ahead of those seedlings brought north and planted in the ground. Heavy garden soil is obviously a factor, but the garden seedlings haven’t died yet, just much slower to start growth
Angelica stricta ‘Purpurea’ on the left is flourishing in the ground. I wasn’t sure the tap-rooted angelica would appreciate being dug up and transported north, so its vigor is a nice surprise. Teucrium fruticans ‘Azureum’ shares the container with sideritis

Delicate-looking Scrophularia aquatica ‘Variegata’ sailed through the heat wave unsinged. (I attempted to grow this in the zone 10 garden way back in 2013.). This is one of those foliage plants that often gets dinged by catalogues with the descriptor “insignificant flowers.” Never fear, my garden is a safe haven for the clan of plants with insignificant flowers! I love the line the flowering stems of the variegated water figwort draw upward. Planted in early April, purchased at Hortlandia. I always plant immediately after purchase, so I know it was in the ground early April. Slothful in most other ways, I can’t abide purchased plants intended for the garden to be idling in pots — a habit developed in zone 10, when forgetting to water a potted plant for half a day could spell its end.

Another candidate for the garden of insignificant flowers from Cassinia leptophylla fulvida
Pots have been invaluable for shifting unhappy plants into gentler light, like this Fuchsia magellanica ‘Aurea’ that was sweating it out in the garden in full sun
some new plants just get on with it, like Kniphofia pauciflora, barely leafed out but gamely throwing a few flowers anyway
More entries for the garden of insignificant flowers — Tanacetum niveum, unperturbed by sun or the lack of it, floats clouds of little daisies over silver, ferny leaves, and I am a fan. Dug up from the zone 10 garden. With Eryngium ‘Big Blue’ behind
Singed leaves of Hydrangea ‘Dark Angel’

Along with rhodies and Japanese maples and Shasta daisies, hydrangeas are a thing here. They do really well — there are farms of them. As the keeper of the garden with insignificant flowers, I didn’t feel pressed to include hydrangeas — until this dark-leaved one showed up at the farmer’s market. Not keeping current with all things hydrangea, I did not know hybridizers were turning their attention to the leaves. And before the heat wave hit, these dark leaves were really something. In any case, it’s always good to keep some trade bait around..

Posted in climate, journal, Oregon garden, pots and containers | 6 Comments

from Angelino Heights to Turkey and back again

Mitch is safely back home from recent travels, with photos of Turkey from the new Leica camera that turned out to be problematic in that it needed a learning curve longer than a few days. Before departure, he took these test photos of his neighborhood with the Leica in roughly late May/early June and sent them with some notes to a friend. Angelino Heights is one of the oldest neighborhood in Los Angeles, and where Mitch ecstatically calls home in between travels. This hilly, historic neighborhood has views of downtown LA and is within walking distance of Echo Park. (Some of the best Al Pastor tacos I’ve ever had can be found here on Sunset, from a stand that sets up after 5 p.m. most every night. Lines are long but move fast.) The reference to living “termite free” refers to the construction of older homes, like his and ours in Long Beach, that defy termite depredations. New fences and decks are chewed up in short order, but the early 20th century bungalows made of tight, old-growth redwood foil the little cellulose-chewing bastards.


I’ve been walking our neighborhood thoughtfully with this new camera to prep for Istanbul street shooting. The camera is beastly difficult to operate, and I can’t get our neighborhood to look good. These are two separate problems. After the commercial districts of downtown and the shotgun shacks of Bunker Hill, Angelino Heights is the oldest neighborhood in Los Angeles — mansions from 1880 at the top of the hill and 1905 by the time you get to our street. We live termite free in tinderboxes of old-growth redwood and tight-grained mahogany. Detailed façades still enjoy fish scales, turned-wood spindles, deep-set sleeping porches, geometric carvings that reference the heavens, or sometimes all of the above at once.


It is explicitly a beautiful place to walk and live. And yet photographically I can’t bring the elements together in the frame. This is because I have already lived here too long. A younger Mitchell, breathless with discovery, could have wrapped these visual anachronisms into a pool of magic hour butter light and made a worthwhile expression (saccharine as it may have been). This beginner’s mind is somewhat lost here at home, but it is the mode we hope will overtake us on foreign streets, bathed in an evening light that tastes of kaymak rather than butter. Or maybe something spicier and not as fat.

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Without the arduous air travel, but still condensing time and space, now we’re leaving Los Angeles for spring wildflowers in Turkey.


Scrolling thru the hundreds of photos taken, skipping splendid mosques and nonrepresentational art, animals and plants are always my touchstones when traveling


And coming full circle, from the bougainvillea of Angelino Heights to the bougainvillea of Turkey and back again. I’ll have to ask Mitch if he plans on keeping the Leica.

Posted in MB Maher, Occasional Daily Photo | 5 Comments

a visit to the Vetter garden

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.

along the driveway, which has been commandeered for more gardenable space, pots front in-ground plantings

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 front door to the house just visible beyond the border flanking the street, with grasses, spirea and berberis

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.

every plant visible and balanced in proportionate layers is Vetter’s signature style. Here maples, evergreen Lonicera nitida and sedums build up to the borrowed views from neighborhood evergreens.
The red obelisk in the previous street-side photo seen from the house-side, with fatsia, podophyllum, maples, spirea, Impatiens omeiana. Certain plants like the deciduous golden spirea are repeated over and over, I’m guessing partly due to its climate suitability, early spring presence and long season of interest.
The dense, intricately planted privacy border along the street — yes, it was raining!

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.

Thomas says Solanum ‘Glasnevin’ has been struggling to find its footing to bloom this cool spring
street-side border, deciduous berberis and Tiger Eye Sumac with a golden conifer lower left
still street-side, with spirea, phlomis, conifer
streetside, spirea again, euphorbia, persicaria
leaving the streetside planting and turning up the driveway. Neighbor’s blooming dogwood in the distance
Despite the lush planting, the driveway still manages to function as a driveway and utility space. Note the pots of lilies getting ready to bloom
view of ceanothus in bloom in the border along the driveway, which screens the neighboring property
Yucca rostrata and hypertufa containers on the driveway
The driveway appears to get the most sun
The path from the driveway leading to the front door
so many plants to admire slows your progress along the paths — fortunately, I was the only guest in the garden when I visited
at the front door
looking from roughly the front door area back toward the driveway. White-flowered tree is a styrax, I believe
from the driveway, pathways meander around the house, under two arbors, ultimately leading to a small grassy area
looking back at the same arbor
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Tracing the canopy skyward. Relatively narrow conifers planted densely to me are a hallmark of one kind of PNW style
Along the paths — I’m told that dark-leaved liigularia is impossible to grow without some kind of slug control
Remarkably, there is no visible ground after a very late, cold spring — with snow in early April! Quite a sight after staring at mulch with tiny green nubbins in my new garden all winter and spring
golden comfrey
Hardscape paths around the house lead to this area, which Thomas said is a favorite of photographers

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.


Posted in design, garden visit, Oregon garden, pots and containers | 5 Comments

walking the neighborhood 6/12/22

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.

Evergreen Lithodora diffusa is a ground cover of choice in the neighborhood
With Lysimachia nummularia and some ancient CMU I’ve been coveting.
there’s always a few sempervivums tucked into rock retaining walls
conifers with Japanese Maple — I’m researching a few dwarf conifers for the front garden, partly inspired by Sara Malone’s garden in Petaluma, California.
The vigor of cut-leaf sumac Rhus typhina seems even more alarming than tetrapanax. (Note the baby sumacs lining the walkway — yikes!) And it’s late to leaf out and early to bed in fall, so I’ll probably say no, but I did seriously consider it
Corylopsis? Laburnum? I often have no idea what I’m looking at.
Anchusa? The leaves appeared very early in spring when much else was still dormant
It might look like forget-me-nots, but it’s a big, coarse plant with rough leaves
You might not be able to ripen a tomato, but artichokes flourish here
Even with all the rain, the fields are still being worked
lupins seem to love the heavy soil and cool, wet spring
The rain does take a toll on the posture of the Oriental poppies — flopsville!
Papaver somniferum escaping under the fence
Iris sibirica?
Maybe a biennial like hesperis? And there’s a clematis camouflaged near the porch of similar color
unmistakably acanthus! Note the trachycarpus palm down the street
Acanthus mollis
Linaria purpurea is a miserable thing in my zone 10 garden, whereas here it verges on weedy status

And lucky you, for this photo walk, no need for mudboots!

Posted in driveby gardens | 9 Comments

a rainy spring/early summer

Eryngium x zabelii ‘Big Blue’ putting out some very marbled, spiny growth

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?)

my first garden encounter with Sicilian Honey Garlic Nectaroscordum siculum

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!

And like I’ve said before, the geums are invaluable for filling out and blooming early even in a cool, wet spring, when so many other plants are waiting for more warmth. Because it’s such a great plant, you’d think ‘Totally Tangerine’ is in danger of becoming as ubiquitous as Geranium ‘Rozanne.’ — not that I’ve seen it much local.
osteospermum — what a surprise to find that this overwinters here. Big patches are in bloom in spring

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.”

The bottomless trough was a steal at $5. Without really planning to, I’ve started to plant around the stock tanks into the rocks. I’ve noticed the rocks act as a sun trap, as does the reflected light off the stock tanks.
Crambe maritima was a shoo-in candidate for the new garden
Textural study Bigelowia nutalli in the foreground, Eryngium ‘Charleston Blues’ behind. I’ve indulged a long-simmering eryngium habit here
And the shadier, patio side of the stock tanks are getting planted up too, here with Cyrtomium falcatum, the Japanese Holly Fern
And another moisture lover, Filipendula ‘Red Parasols.’
Everything in the stock tanks is growing really well. A plant that made the move north, Metapanax delavayi, is showing new growth — so glad it survived! From the Guizho and Yunnan provinces of China, the climate here is much more to its liking than Southern California
Arctostaphylos ‘Sunset’ is thriving in a stock tank. I’m not sure about planting arctos in the ground here yet. A berm is probably the right idea, and I’m thinking of going in that direction with the front garden, which will have woodier plants. Omphalodes llinifolia was a seedling from the Long Beach garden.
Euphorbia ‘Dean’s Hybrid’
Oregon Sunshine Eriophyllum lanatum has silvery, artemisia-like leaves
Senecio candidans

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.

We’ll see what June brings!

Posted in climate, journal, Oregon garden | 7 Comments

planning the perfect getaway


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…

Posted in inspire me, MB Maher | 4 Comments