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