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
IMG_5279 2
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 | 8 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

a multiverse of springs

I flew back with a six-pack of lewisia — what is this plant even doing for sale in SoCal nurseries!?

Thanks for the comments regarding successfully flying commercially with plants. I do feel even more emboldened!

coastal Oregon garden late April — experience of color and form is so situational and context-driven. In Southern California in March, the shape and color of tulips is a superfluous novelty. After a winter in coastal Oregon, where they thrive, they are a revelation.

With my two little gardens, one in frost-free zone 10 and the other in zone 8b, I feel like I’m tumbling in and out of a multiverse of gardens. This was the scene in the Tillamook garden when I left for a brief trip to Southern California in late April. I’ve since cut the few remaining tulips for vases and cleared most of these pots out. This spring in the PNW is generally acknowledged as unusually cold and wet and is increasingly getting on everyone’s nerves. (Whereas, I will admit that when a couple days go by without rain, I get a little anxious, scarred by drought that I am!)

For the moment I’m indulging in plants that like moisuture, like this Potentilla lineata from Far Reaches Farms
I brought some sonchus seedlings north to play with as foliage plants for summer. Sinopanax formosanus on the left is also from Far Reaches Farms.

Forecasts for May show an increasing amount of dry days at widening intervals until June, when the rain mostly disappears for summer. Growth in the new garden is painfully slow, but little nubbins of green are starting to break ground. Locals say everything rushes into growth after Mother’s Day — and there was a noticeable uptick and surge. The splashiest plants so far for late April are geum and Euphorbia characias wulfenii — and I wished I’d planted more of the euphorbia. But there’s a chance they won’t age gracefully into summer here so some restraint is initially called for. (Cutting down the flowering stems when they’re finished will allow the new basal growth to develop and hopefully last through next winter.) Around town rhodies are in full bloom, with peonies and lilacs just getting started. Japanese maples seem to emerge fully leafed out nearly overnight.

Geum ‘Totally Tangerine’ was moved from the zone 10 garden, where it expanded in size but never bloomed, so this is my first look at its citrusy flowers. that float in profusion on slim elegant stems. Cool-season grasses like deschampsia and Euphorbia characias would be good companions.

This watching and waiting and longing for growth is kind of deliciously excruciating — since for me it’s still such a novel experience. My sympathies to the veterans! Understandably, since zone 8 can swing warmer or colder from year to year, experimentation with hardiness is irresistible. It’s a very emotional zone for hard-core gardeners, filled with drama-driven narratives of weather vagaries that don’t exist for zone 10 gardens, where the basic question of rain and the interminable lack of it relentlessly overrides and governs all other concerns.

Los Angeles garden late April.
In the left foreground, Sedum dendroideum, grown very lanky in a pot, seemed like unsightly evidence of neglect, all stems with a fritz of rosette at the tips — until I planted it in the garden last fall when I was thinning out potted plants for the caretaker’s benefit. Now I recognize the investment in years it took to make such a freaky 4-foot specimen. I wasn’t sure it would be self-supporting in the garden, but it is, and I love the height it lends.

Conversely, and no surprise, the frost-free Long Beach garden needed some severe discipline. A few plants like anisodontea, sonchus, and salvia needed to be cut back off their neighbors, but the bulk of the work was weeding out seedlings from the dry-laid bricks.


When home I do this absent-mindedly all the time. When allowed to accumulate over a couple months, it’s a real time sink — just me and a butter knife prying out nicotiana, Verbena bonariensis, argemone, sideritis, linaria…


A new addition to the vigorous self-sowing contingent, Silene fabaria ssp. domokina has left dozens of plants after its first year in the garden. I have to borrow Stellata Plants description of “a poor man’s Bukiniczia cabulica” because it perfectly describes this little charmer. The half dozen plants I’m trialing in the Oregon garden look slightly miserable, and if they survive they may behave like biennials with only leaf growth the first summer. It’s doubtful they’d survive the winter as true biennials to bloom the following year, but with this beauty, a summer of staring at these leaves is reward enough. In Long Beach they behave like annuals, flowering their first year from seed.

Salvia ‘Mesa Azure’ after it was trimmed

After staring at bare mulch and checking religiously for signs of life up north, the first hour of a return to the SoCal garden is extremely disorienting. What was I thinking? So many plants! But as I become reacquainted with the garden over a few days, I recognize the old patterns that overpacked the garden. In the coastal zone 10 climate, nothing deters a person inclined to stay outdoors and play with plants every day from doing just that. Restraint increasingly becomes an unfamiliar state of mind, and there can be…issues.

rusty-colored terrestrial bromeliad Orthophytum magalhaesii, lower left, is filling in nicely along the rock spur. A couple clumps of Stipa ichu self-sowed. Silvery Plectranthus argentatus deep in the back was showing water stress when I returned but bounced back after a deep soak. (I brought cuttings of this plectranthus up north, planted them out too early to dodge the April cold snap, but they are leafing out again so survived from the roots.) Also deep in the back but not shown, Trevesia palmata showed some burnt leaves from recent high temps in the 90s, which was really the only damage I could find.

Other than the sunburnt trevesia, everything else seemed to be thriving. I was especially relieved to find Calibanus ‘Lotusland’ gaining size and getting even more shapely as it matures. It is a cross between calibanus and beaucarnia sometimes called ‘Calicarnea’ and not easily replaced.

Euphorbia ‘Blue Wave’ is a little blowsier than I expected.
euphorbia, salvia and helichrysum
I would love to try some Berkheya purpurea in the northern garden. The kangaroo paw stems are gaining height with the blooms probably open by the time I write this (‘Tequila Sunrise’)
Leucospermum ‘Tango’ blooms still showing color. Marty especially asked if the new Euphorbia cotinifolia had leafed out yet, burgundy leaves, left background.
nice bunch of “pinecones” on the Pinecone Bromeliad, Acanthostachys strobilacea

Back in Tillamook, I spotted this beat-up shop stool in an abandoned greenhouse at the high school near where we walk Billie, and upon inquiring…ahem…was told I could have it. Billie is an inveterate plant chewer, so it’s a great solution to get small stuff beyond corgi height. Plus, it’s identical to the shop stools in the Long Beach garden….the multiverse collides!

from the Long Beach garden, clockwise, Agave lophantha ‘Quadricolor’ (Billie ate the other one), Mangave ‘Kaleidoscope,’ top right and bottom right. Seedling on bottom left is possibly from my flowering Pseudobombax ellipticum in Long Beach.
Posted in journal, pots and containers | Tagged | 5 Comments

scenes around the bay

phiotos by MB Maher

Mitch visited a couple weekends ago and took this photo of the daffs on our table. I indulged in armloads of them for the house when I chanced upon a grower a few miles south of Tillamook off highway 101. (I brake for fields of daffodils in bloom.) Multiple varieties in each bunch. The Porter Family runs the farm stand for their operation Farmer Creek Garden on the honor system, $2.50 in the mason jar per bunch.


Mitch went on a bit of a nostalgia tour during his brief visit. Netarts Bay is where it all started. We took the boys here for many August vacations as a break from the Los Angeles heat. Go figure, decades later, Duncan up and decides to move here.

Netarts Bay, Oregon

Interesting small businesses are hiding in plain sight — daffodils, dahlias…salt. Jacobsen’s Salt also makes excellent caramels — I just polished off a box.


First time in a theater since 2020! The little downtown is an easy walk from our house.

Billie and I showed Mitch one of our favorite walks

I made a quick trip to SoCal for doctor visits, squeezed in a little plant shopping, and now have some very important news to share: Yes, it is possible to fly with plants! The Internet says it is permissible but that TSA reactions may vary from airport to airport. I used a soft, mesh-sided pet carrier, so the plants were immediately visible to TSA at LAX. No tricks or subterfuge. I was prepared to abandon the plants if met with any resistance, but it was surprisingly treated as no big deal — noting the carrier, the agent said at least this puppy doesn’t bite! Once on board, the carrier slides under the seat in front of you, just as if you brought your cat with you (instead of plants). Supposedly plants in checked baggage are OK too. Game-changer! As the world continues to devolve in so many ways, mercifully there are still occasional small signs of progress. Like carry-on plants on planes.

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coastal Oregon garden report 4/13/22

We returned to Oregon March 18 and have since finished up removing the remaining sod in the backyard, an additional area approximately 8×20 feet, bounded again in landscape timbers. There is a small area of turf left on the east side of the house for Billie and picnics with Hannah. With the surge of spring grass growth, and being lawn neophytes, we were caught flat-footed and had to methodically ruminate on possible solutions (get it? ruminant, ruminate…hahaha — this is literally a cow town, after all). And it’s true, watching the neighbors tackle their lawns spurred us into action — keeping up with the Mooks, as the residents of Tillamooks call themselves. Ultimately we went with a battery-powered weed-whacker hybrid thingy on a wheeled chassis that works fine on the small amount of turf in the back and the handkerchief-sized portions in the front. Not a jot of work has been done yet to the front of the house, other than whacking the lawn back, and that may be true for some time…

The little video saves us a lot of words and vague descriptions about what is in reality a very small area. Nothing naturalistic about this layout — it mimics the pasture land surrounding the houses

It’s all very flat and vegetable gardenish. I won’t be planting much large woody stuff, trees and big shrubs. All growing surfaces have been mulched with local crushed bark, cheap and plentiful, and the back garden drains freely and is now mudproof. The weather is volatile, changeable, mercurial — one steps outside after a downpour into blinding shafts of sunlight. Planting has tentatively begun in the ground, though a couple of the stock tanks were planted in October. The rubber mulch used by former owners under playground equipment in one-fourth of the yard was ultimately bagged up and sent to the dump. Bags and bags of it. Marty handled this chore. My preference was to keep mostly everything on site, but a clean sweep seemed the best approach for materials made from used tires.

Andy Salter’s garden, Kent, England, photo by Claire Takacs

This image by Claire Takacs of Andy Salter’s garden in Kent, England, gave me some much-needed courage. This is all I want, to be surrounded by a surge of growth in spring and summer. No need for year-round interest because we most likely won’t be here for much of the winter. But I’ll definitely be making a bigger bulb order this July/August.

I could go seriously mad for potted tulips here — in these cool temps they last forever in bloom. Potted plants are tucked under the eaves of the overhang which saved them from hail damge. So much hail!
Possibly Tulipa ‘Gavota,’ a Triumph tulip
Photo taken in my neighborhood; bulbs grow like crazy here — daffs, muscari, bluebells, to the point of weediness
I brought just a few of the hardier agaves from Long Beach, CA, A. weberi ‘Arizona Star,’ A. lophantha ‘Quadricolor,’ and A. bracteosa ‘Monterrey Frost,’ and tucked them under the eaves, just a few inches out of the rain but still braving the cold, and so far they’ve been fine.
Slightly dodgier odds with Echeveria agavoides — I have tons in Long Beach so was willing to sacrifice a few in a hardiness experiment. They’re also tucked under the eaves of the pergola, coloring up in the cold temps into the 30s but not mushing out, so far.
All the eucomis were brought north from the SoCall garden — the bulbs grow well and thicken down south, but I’m guessing flowers will be much better in the north
This stock tank was planted with the Stachyurus salicifolius from Dancing Oaks in autumn, and the rest of the plants came from the Long Beach garden and nurseries a few months later. Carexes ‘Everillo’ and ‘Feather Falls,’ Corydalis flexuosa ‘Porcelain Blue,’ Dreamland series of armeria, and a runner of Anisodontea ‘Strybing Beauty’ which despite being zoned warmer has had no problem with the snow and hail so far
This stock tank was also planted in autumn, with golden cottonwood, Cassinia fulvida, which I think might be adding extra protection for Euphorbia stygiana. The diascias were found local and planted in the last week, and it was touch-and-go as to whether they’d survive the recent snow event.. The historically anomalous April snow event was not accompanied by low temperatures, which I suspect saved many of the plants
Aloe boylei was brought up from Long Beach and has the “widest leaves of the grass aloes,” hardy to zone 7b
The third stock tank was planted when we returned in March. Brought from the Long Beach garden was this Libertia chilensis, an abutilon, Salvia ‘Amante,’ Verbena bonariensis seedlings, and Metapanax delavayi. Golden deschampsia came via mail order from High Country Gardens

Lots of plants came up from the Long Beach garden, but there are a few mail orders still awaiting delivery and a bit of local shopping. I managed a trip to Hortlandia in early April and had so much fun debating what plants to buy that the camera never left its pouch.

Olearia x mollis ‘Zennorensis’ from Cistus
Senecio munroi also from Cistus
Foreground Bupleurum fruticosum, the Shrubby Hare’s Ear, was brought from the Long Beach garden
Damp-loving Iris ‘Gerald Darby’ from Secret Garden Growers. I first heard of this purply-leaved iris through Nan Ondra at Hayefield. It’s planted under the pergola downspout — I hope it likes lots of water!
Scrophularia aquatica ‘Variegata’ from Secret Garden Growers, I think
Foreground Angelica stricta ‘Purpurea’ from the Long Beach garden, golden saxifrage from Cistus, Lomandra ‘Lucky Stripe’ from Long Beach garden, planted in October
Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfenii and Phlomis anatolica ‘Lloyd’s Variety’ planted in October

I did visit a nearby independent nursery, Monkey Business 101, that centers its business around growing Monkey Puzzle Trees, Auricaria auracana. There is a large Monkey Puzzle Tree in my neighborhood, and I’ve since found out that Portland has more of these trees outside of its native Chile than anywhere else. Apparently, John Muir was a huge fan and traveled to Chile to see native stands of this relic of the ages, Chile’s national tree. The cool and rainy coastal conditions are apparently to its liking — makes me want to further explore Chilean plant lists!

Monkey Puzzle Tree loving life at Monkey Business 101
Unnamed hosta from Monkey Business 101, which had a fine general selection of plants at great prices. And I had to grow a hosta, right?
Rhododendrons are bursting into bloom around Tillamook

Bulbs and rhodies are coloring up the neighborhood, and the recent snow event hasn’t seemed to slow them down. We are very much strangers in a strange land, but working out how to make a garden seems to me to be a great way to get acquainted. More soon, AGO.

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