Thursday, May 31, 2012

Telpoea Truncata Redux

     You may recall, if you read my post on Telopea truncata, that I concluded that I wasn't sure that it was worth it to grow this shrub because it was an ungainly, ungraceful plant. I now take that back. While it is true that my plant meets that description, I was just at Dan Hinkley's garden and he showed me the Telopea truncata that I had given him a few years ago. The picture posted above is of that plant, and it looks like a nice full shrub that would really look dynamite with a bunch of red telopea blossoms all over it.  He has grown this for several years and has not pruned it, yet it is still nicely branched and compact. It has not bloomed yet, but I am sure it will eventually. It is not as old as the one in my garden. He also reports that it did not suffer in the cold we had in November of 2010 when so many things died from an early freeze where the temperatures got down below 10 degrees (Fahrenheit). Although my experience has been that Telopea truncata does not bloom particularly early in its career, the same can be said about many rhododendrons and I do not hear people knocking them for that reason. Therefore, I now would recommend Telopea truncata as a good plant for the Pacific Northwest, if you can find it. See my discussion in my previous post for how to do that.

Garden Sight Lines

     My garden is big enough and fortunate enough to have a number of different sight lines in it.  This is the view from the patio which is on the south side of my house. The tree with the large leaves which is the focal point of this sight line is Magnolia macrophylla, the bigleaf magnolia. Many people are surprised when I tell them that this is a magnolia because they are only familiar with Magnolia grandiflora, which is an evergreen tree. M. macrophylla is deciduous and has some of the largest leaves of any tree native to temperate climates. It also has large white flowers on it, but I wouldn't grow it for that reason. On my tree the flowers are usually so high up and so few and far between that they don't make much of a statement. No, the reason to grow this tree is because of its enormous leaves. I personally planted this tree about 18 years ago, and it has grown very nicely in this location. It is not too close to other trees so it has not grown in a lopsided manner, which I have seen it do in other locations. Also it gets enough light that it has not grown in a too stretched out a way which I have also seen it do in other locations.
     The red flower cutting across the upper left hand corner of the photo is that of Beschorneria dekosteriana. This is a plant I got a long time ago and have grown in a large pot ever since. I will be having a future post about Beschornerias, but suffice it to say that they make great evergreen and hardy pot plants in our climate. This one blooms reliably every year and is a magnet for hummingbirds.
     The grey leaves in the left of the picture are those of the weeping willow leafed pear, Pyrus salicifolia 'Pendula'. This is an ornamental pear, although it does, in fact, produce tiny small hard pears. I have had visitors to the garden argue with me and try to tell me that it is a willow and not a pear! It is one strange willow that produces pears. Those are the kind of visitors that one wants to have an eject button for--if they say something like that, they immediately get booted from the garden. I will also have a future post on this small tree.
     The big shiny leaves of the plant in the lower right hand corner of the picture are those of Myosotidium hortensia, the Chatham Island forget-me-not. This is one of my favorite plants and I will also have a future post on this.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Scilla peruviana

     One of my favorite bulbs, Scilla peruviana, is blooming now in the garden. Despite its name, this bulb is not from Peru or anywhere in South America, but in fact is from southern Spain and other parts of the Mediterranean region. If you are used to other scillas, the flowers of this bulb have much more of a presence. As you can see from the first image above, the overall effect is of a quite large flower, and I have seen these sold in pots at my grocery store as temporary house plants, they are so spectacular.
     Being from the Mediterranean, these bulbs are well adapted to hot and dry summers. I originally had them planted in my front border which is never watered in the summer and they did quite well there for a number of years. They even self sowed. In that spot, which, by the way, was in full sun, they would send their leaves up very early in the year--January in most years. Then they would bloom in early June and after that basically go dormant for the rest of the summer. The second shot above is from that front border area where they were planted.
     This happy state of affairs came to an end however because the deer discovered them. First, the deer would just nibble the leaves when they came up early in the year. The plants would then grow new leaves and would flower despite this treatment. Then, finally, the deer discovered the flowers and one year I had a magnificent stand of flowers about to reach their prime when they were all eaten in one night. So I had to move them into the main part of my garden which is fenced to keep the deer out.
     Scilla peruviana would look good with other low lying flowers which bloom at the same time. I grew them with California poppies, and Gladiolus communis ssp. Byzantinus. I am now growing them in one section of my garden where I have Tropaeolum polyphyllum. This tropaeolum, which I will have a subsequent post about, has clear yellow flowers and stays fairly low to the ground, so I am hoping for a dynamite combo of the two.
     Scilla peruviana, while not often found in nurseries, are available from good bulb suppliers. I have bought them from

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Bearded Iris

     A few years ago a neighbor gave me a bunch of blue bearded iris. The picture at the top is one of those. I planted them in my front border unenthusiastically, thinking (a) that they were not the sort of plant that I would use, plant snob that I am, and (b) that they would not mingle well with the other plants in that border.  Was I ever wrong! In the border they have proven to fit right in and they are tough plants that do well with no water in the summer and they are deer resistant to boot. The only caveat is that they have to be divided periodically to perform well, but that, of course, will yield me more plants.
     The picture below is not from my garden, but from the display garden at Schreiner's Iris Nursery near Salem, Oregon. My sister lives in Salem, so I visit there quite often, and this nursery is well worth the visit at this time of the year. The display garden is full of those kinds of plants such as lupines, delphiniums, and alliums, which I love, and of course bearded iris. This picture shows how great the color orange is in the garden to make pinks and blues pop. It used to be that garden books on color were horrified by the use of orange in the garden and were particularly put off by orange combined with pinks. How quaint that seems! To me bright colors are one of the joys of life. Anyway, I intend to order lots of orange bearded iris from Schreiner's so that I, too, can have a riot of color in my front border. Shreiner's Iris Nursery can be found at

Monday, May 28, 2012

Echium russicum

     One of the plants blooming in my garden now and which I appreciate more and more, is Echium russicum.  This plant, with its pinkish reddish echium style blossoms, about 2 feet tall, has grown in my deer resistant, drought tolerant front border for 8 or 10 years. Plants in that part of my garden must know how to fend for themselves. They are never watered, and we can go for almost 3 months without any significant rain here in the summertime. I have seen as many as 10 deer grazing in that part of garden at once. So if a plant makes it over the long haul under those circumstances, you know it is one tough mother of a plant.
     Although I have read on the internet that Echium russicum is a biennial, that has not been the case for my plants. The one you see here is a division of my original plant, planted many years ago. I have not found a lot of self sown seedlings of this echium, although that may be because the seedlings are hard to distinguish from normal weeds and get weeded out.  Echiums in general tend to seed about. I have found that this echium does multiply in a fairly controllable way by underground spreading roots with the result that new plants pop up close to the mother plant.  These new plants can be dug up and transplanted to other parts of the garden.
     This echium is not too big-- the flowers you see in the picture are not more than 2 feet tall and the base part of the plant stays low to the ground and does not get very wide. So it is good for the front of a border or a gravel garden where there are not a lot of big billowy plants around.  Hot and dry is good.
     While echium russicum is not commonly found at nurseries, it is available now from one of my favorite mail order nurseries-- Annies Annuals. I highly recommend ordering from them. They send well grown plants promptly and their packaging is the best in the business.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Down the Garden Path

     I am always being told that I should post more pictures of the garden as a whole, instead of individual flower pictures.  I must confess that I like whole garden pictures better than individual flower ones myself. Unfortunately in my own garden this is easier said than done, because it requires that everything in the frame be neat and in good order. Recently, I have managed to accomplish this, at least in some areas of the garden, so I have posted a whole garden shot. I should note that I have no help in the garden, so if I do not make it neat, it does not get neat.
     The palm in the center of the shot is Trachycarpus fortunei, which I planted about 18 years ago from a 5 gallon container. It had no trunk at the time. You can see that it is in flower now.  The tree on the right is one of my favorites--Aralia elata aureomarginata. The yellow foliage in the upper left is a yellow hops vine which is incredibly invasive. Be warned if you plant it that it can take over vast expanses of territory.
     This is a section of the garden that has changed quite a bit in recent years. There used to be a huge arbor on the left hand side of the path, but we got rid of it after it rotted and collapsed. Its removal created a nice southern exposure sunny border where there used to be shade because of the arbor. Now there are delphiniums, lilies, lupines, and poppies there. I used to have a large area of phygelius under the palm. If you plant phygelius in the ground you will eventually have a large area of it. It likes to spread out. I removed it all several years ago which was a major undertaking, and I am still removing bits and pieces of it. Now I have Scilla peruviana, lilies, poppies, and delphiniums in its place. Are you beginning to see a pattern here?  I like lilies, delphiniums, and poppies and of course, aspire to having mass quantities of them all.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Telopea Truncata

     One of the joys of gardening is the search for, and the finally obtaining, of a coveted plant. For a long time, one of the plants on my most wanted list was Telopea truncata. This is an evergreen shrub native to Tasmania. Its sister species, Telopea speciosissima has a spectacular flower which is the floral emblem of New South Wales. Unfortunately for us here in the Pacific Northwest, it is not hardy here. I know because I have tried to grow it and killed it several times.
     The flower of Telopea truncata, while not as spectacular as that of speciosissima, is pretty good, however, as is evident from the picture above. And, Telopea truncata is hardy here. So, of course, I wanted it. But where to find it? Patience is the name of the game in finding coveted plants. Occasionally, a nursery in southern California which specializes in Australian plants (naturally, given their name), offers plants of Telopea truncata. They will do mail order.  I just checked their website and the plant is currently backordered. Sometimes The Desert Northwest,, a nursery in Sequim, Washington, has offered Telopea truncata, as well as Telopea oreades, which is very similar. I don't see either on their list right now, but they may have plants which are not listed. It never hurts to ask.
     Finding no plants available anywhere, the next best option is to grow them from seed. I have done this and getting them to germinate is not all that difficult. I have ordered seed from Wildseed Tasmania and have had good luck with it. The main problem is keeping them alive after they have germinated, since they are prone to die for reasons I don't know. My advice on this is to germinate a large number of them, watch them closely and hope some make it. Also, do not fertilize them with high nitrogen or high phosphorus fertilizers. Telopea is in the protea family, and such plants do not like high nitrogen or phosphorus fertilizers.
     As for growing Telopea truncata after you have acquired it, they like fairly moist soils and a fair amount of sun. Apparently they come from areas of Tasmania that are quite moist, so hot and dry is not their preferred habitat. I have had my plant in a moist (but not waterlogged), yet sunny part of my garden for about 10 years and it has grown from a tiny plant to a shrub over 6 feet tall. It has 2 blossoms on it this year and it bloomed once before this with only one blossom. So do not expect overnight gratification if you grow it.
     Now that I have grown this plant for a while, I have to say that I am not sure it is worth the trouble I went to to get it and grow it. It is an ungainly shrub which does not have a particularly graceful presence in the garden.  Perhaps it would have a better shape if I pruned it, which I haven't done. In its favor is the fact that it is evergreen and it has sailed through all the cold weather our climate has to offer in the last 10 years with no problem. Also, the flowers are quite nice, especially for lovers of red flowers, which I am.  But you have to ask yourself are 3 flowers in 10 years on an ungainly looking shrub worth it? Note: I have revised my opinion on this--see my post Telopea Truncata Redux,

Friday, May 25, 2012


     I have grown this plant in my front border for 7 or 8 years. It sat there all that time, a mound of these strappy green leaves which always looked the same. A week ago, after I got home from a long trip I noticed something different about it. What was that giant whitish thing coming out of the top of the plant?  Could it be that it was going to bloom?  It is hard to tell from the picture, but this is a gigantic bloom stalk. The plant itself, without the bloom, is massive, being about 5 or 6 feet tall and as much around. The bloom stalk is several inches in diameter.
     For those dying to know what plant this is, it is Nolina "La Sibirica". I have loved nolinas ever since I discovered they were absolutely hardy in our climate. I grow 2 species in my front border--this one and Nolina nelsonii. They made it through our cold spell the winter before last, which killed so many plants in so many gardens here, without a whimper. I have grown them from very small plants into quite large ones and they have never complained. They grow in my front border which is never watered and which is the home range of a herd of deer. They are a year round evergreen presence.
     One question which I and others have is whether the plant will die after blooming. That would be a bummer.  According to information found on the internet, nolinas , unlike agaves, are not supposed to die after blooming. However, my sister grew this plant, and it bloomed and then died, so we shall see.
     For those wishing to try gowing nolinas, they are not easily found. You can get them from Cistus Nursery on Sauvie Island, near Portland, from Yucca Do, which is a mail order nursery in Texas, and from Plant Delights Nursery, which is a mail order nursery in North Carolina.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Himalayan Blue Poppies

     One of the first plants I became enamored of when I started gardening was the Himalayan blue poppy,  also known as meconopsis.  After growing these for more than 25 years I have concluded that my favorite is the one known as Meconopsis x sheldonii 'Lingholm". The picture posted above is of Lingholm.  This cultivar is a seed strain based on a good blue form of a cross between meconopsis betonicifolia and meconopsis grandis.  I have grown both betonicifolia and grandis, but I like Lingholm better because the flowers are generally the clear sky blue that makes meconopsis so great, while often the straight species will have mauves or darker blues in them. Also it seems to me that the flowers of Lingholm are larger and carried on taller stems. These differences may be slight, however, so if you can only find the species, they are good plants, too.
     Many people complain that they have trouble growing meconopsis or that the plants do not last from year to year. I have sometimes have had plants disappear on me, while others have lived a very long time.  I think that the trick to getting them to stick around is first and foremost to grow them in the conditions they like.  That is, to grow them in the same conditions that trilliums and cyprepridiums thrive in--moist, good soil, not too shady, not waterlogged, not hot and baking. Half day sun is good. They should not have to compete with greedy tree roots. Also, since meconopsis are beloved by slugs, use slug bait (I use Sluggo which is supposed to be non toxic to wildlife and pets).  I have read that some people advise removing the flowers from the plant the first year you grow it to promote longevity. I have never done this so don't know if it works or not. However, I can say that last year I planted 6 seedling plants of Lingholm from 4" containers in the garden and they all made it through the year, came up this spring and are blooming now.
     Meconopsis do well in the Pacific Northwest and perhaps the northeast. I was also told yesterday by a meconopsis expert that the best place to grow them is in Alaska. Who knew? I guess there has to be some recompense for living there!  If you live anyplace else in the US do not even try to grow them.
     Meconopsis are easily available from good nurseries in our area. If you can't find them in your nursery, you can always ask them to order some for you since wholesalers in the Pacific Northwest grow them. Lingholm is available as a Gold Nugget seed from Jelitto, which means that Jelitto has pretreated the seeds to make them easily germinate. I have bought seed from Jelitto and would recommend them. They are supposed to be relatively easy to grow from seed and I have even had them self sow in the garden.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012


     My philosophy of gardening can best be summed up with the phrase "mass quantities". If I like a plant, I want mass quantities of it. This year for the first time I am approaching having mass quantities of cypriprediums. For those who don't know,  cyps (as we in the know call them), are hardy orchids commonly called Lady's Slippers. I have tried and killed many cyps in my gardening career, and before I got the hang of them, they mostly amounted to incredibly expensive annuals. For those who have never bought a cyp, expect to pay 50 to 100 dollars per plant.
     Cyps are billed as shade plants, but I have found here on Bainbridge Island in the dark and gloomy climate we have that full sun generally equals shade in any other climate. So when I planted these orchids in the shadiest part of my garden they didn't thrive. It was only after I moved them to parts of the garden that got at least half a day of sun did they begin to do well.  My garden generally has very moist soil and I have added so much compost to it over the years that the soil is very good throughout the garden. I do not think cyps would do well in hot baking dry soils.  The other thing I have found about cyps is that they do not like competition from hungry tree roots.
     I only really began to have good luck with these plants when I ordered some from This is a mail order nursery which specializes in cyps. They send divisions of their garden grown plants and I have found that their plants are large and vigorous. This is in contrast to cyps which I have gotten from other nurseries which are pot grown and take much longer to establish in the garden. Also, the plants from Hillside Nursery are generally less expensive (although still not cheap) than those from other nurseries.
     Another factor in success with cyps is to grow hybrids rather than straight species. I have killed more Cypripredium reginae plants than I care to admit, yet I have had great success with cyps which are a cross between reginae and other species. The picture above is of Cyp. "Aki Pastel", a cross between c.macranthos and c. pubescens. Although I do have some straight species in the garden, they simply do not perform as well as the hybrids.
     Last year for the first time I divided a cyp and it felt like I was creating gold! I intend to do the same this coming year. The one I hope to divide has at least 9 flowering stems this year which should translate into 9 cyps when I divide it. Is that great or what!