Saturday, June 30, 2012

Eryngium 'Big Blue'

Closeup of Eryngium 'Big Blue'

Eryngium ' Big Blue'
     Last year I decided I needed to plant more Eryngium alpinums in my front border, but I searched in vain to find them.  One person I called was Nils Sundquist who owns Sundquist Nursery on the Kitsap Penninsula, not too far from us.  Nils sells many of his plants wholesale to the local nurseries and they are all well grown and in at least gallon containers.  I knew that if he had what I wanted, he would probably have a large quantity of them and they would be good plants. 
     When I asked Nils about Eryngium alpinum he said he used to carry it but it wasn't as good a 'doer' as other eryngiums, so he no longer had it.   It is true that E. alpinum is a little more finicky than some eryngiums, but in my opinion it is well worth putting up with that for the beauty of the flower.  He said, however, that he had a relatively new eryngium called 'Big Blue' which originated from Blooms of Bressingham, a well known perennial nursery from the UK which had an increasing presence here in the US.  He recommended it and so I purchased 10 or 15 of them and planted them throughout my front border. 
     Since last summer was when they were planted, they didn't do much last year, but this year they are just coming into their peak of bloom and you can see the result in the pictures posted above.  These were planted in full sun, with no supplemental water in the summer, even when they were just getting established and they all survived and did well.
     I would have to rate 'Big Blue' as my number 3 favorite eryngium, after alpinum and Blue Jackpot (both of which were discussed in an earlier post).  I think it is a better plant than Sapphire Blue (which I discussed in yesterday's blog), although that is a close question.  Big Blue has slightly larger flowers than Sapphire Blue, although the difference is slight, and Sapphire Blue's flowers are slightly more soft, but again that is a very slight difference.  The foliage on Big Blue is a significant improvement over Sapphire Blue, however.  Sapphire Blue's foliage is rather nondescript and messy; Big Blue has neat foliage with white markings on it.
     While the flowers on Big Blue are not as good as those of  E. alpinum, the way they are held on the plant and the mass quantities of them that the plant produces do make a striking component in a perennial border.  Also, I would surmise that Big Blue is an easier plant to grow and that it does better in the crowded conditions of a border than does alpinum, so I would have to give a thumbs up to Big Blue.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Eryngium 'Sapphire Blue'

Eryngium 'Sapphire Blue'

Closeup of Eryngium 'Sapphire Blue'

Calllistemon viridiflorus
     I have previously posted about my favorite eryngiums--Eryngium 'Blue Jackpot' and Eryngium alpinum.  I like those the best because their flowers are the biggest and most spectacular of the eryngiums.  Two others which are almost as good are Eryngium 'Sapphire Blue', which I am blogging about today, and Eryngium 'Big Blue' which I will have a post on tomorrow. 
     I got Eryngium 'Sapphire Blue' at least 10 years ago and have been growing it in my front border ever since.  Like all the eryngiums I have ever grown (and I think I have grown all of them at one time or another), it is drought tolerant and deer resistant.  Sapphire Blue has also proved to be an easy plant to grow and very tolerant of being crowded by other plants.  This is a little different than Eryngium alpinum which is somewhat more finicky.  The flowers are not a big as those of alpinum, but they do have more of the soft ruff, although not to the same extent, which I like so much in alpinum.  As you will see tomorrow, Big Blue does not have this same softness. 
     I have Sapphire Blue growing by and in the skirts of Callistemon viridiflorus, an Australian shrub which is the plant in the third picture above.  This shrub is a rather ungainly one, but it has proven absolutely hardy here which cannot be said of all the callistemons that I have grown.  I am showing it here so that you can see that Eryngium 'Sapphire Blue' and Callistemon viridiflorus make a good combination since they bloom at the same time, and they are both drought tolerant and deer resistant.
     Eryngium 'Sapphire Blue' is fairly commonly found in retail nurseries, and failing that it is available at many mail order nurseries.  For example, I notice that it is listed in the catalogue for Digging Dog.

Thursday, June 28, 2012


Unnamed Alstroemeria in my garden

Closeup of Alstroemeria
     One of the brightest spots in my garden now is an unnamed alstroemeria I got as a freebie from Beaver Creek Greenhouse 4 or 5 years ago.  These flowers are so bright an orange red that they practically glow.  I believe it was labeled as a Ligtu hybrid, but I could be wrong about that.  In any event, it was a seedling and not a clone.  When I got the plant, it had only about 2 leaves on it and it was tiny, so I didn't spend a lot of time trying to find the perfect location for it.  I just plopped it in where I had a spot.  At first it didn't seem to do much, but last year it just took off. 
     It was probably a mistake not to spend some time considering its location because alstroemerias are notoriously hard to remove once they are established.  However, I was lucky with this one since I think its location is great.  But that was not planned by me--it just happened.
     Last year was the first year that this plant bloomed so spectacularly and it bloomed for a very long time.  I let it go to seed and this year I have lots of little seedlings in the garden.  I am saving some of those because I want more of this elsewhere in the garden.  I don't know if the flowers of the seedlings will be the same color, but it will be interesting to see what they do. 
     I am liking alstroemerias more and more now that I have seen this one.  Previously I have grown the variegated Alstroemeria psittacina which has white and green variegated leaves and red and green flowers.  It is a durable plant once established, but it has never been especially showy like the alstroemeria pictured above.  I have also grown florists' alstroemerias and yellow alstroemerias but none of those greatly impressed me like this one.  Indeed, the yellow alstroemeria  proved to be a rampant weed in my prior garden.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Papaver 'Drama Queen'

Papaver hybidum 'Drama Queen'
     Right now my garden is full of poppies.  All of them are self sown and they are all probably forms of Papaver somniferum, but in the Annie's Annuals catalogue they are listed as Papaver hybridum, so that is the name I will use from now on.  Anyway, I have them in all colors and forms--single, partially double, and full pom-poms.   They have been growing in my garden almost from its inception and, if you have ever grown these, you know that if you let them go to seed you will have them ever after.  Occasionally I will see a particularly good form in a nursery and so I will buy plants and let those go to seed.  You only need one plant to go to seed to get vast quantities the next year.
     My favorite so far has been the one in the picture which Annie's Annuals calls 'Drama Queen', a very apt name.  I have tried to isolate this to one area, because these poppies interbreed and unless you isolate a particular strain, what you get the next year will not look precisely like what you had the year before.  Anyway, the isolation has pretty much been successful so I have had these come true for about 5 years.
      For those new to these flowers, this kind of poppy is an annual, unlike Papaver orientale which I showcased in an earlier blog entry.  You can buy seeds for this kind of poppy, but I have found that the easiest way to get them established in a garden is to buy a few plants and let them go to seed.  When you notice the seedlings coming up which they do pretty much all year round in our climate, it is best to thin them so there is at least 6 inches to a foot between plants.  If they grow any closer together, the plants will be stunted and the flowers not as large.
     I like 'Drama Queen' primarily because I want to photograph it and it makes a dramatic picture.  For the one posted above I took 6 different shots with a relatively shallow depth of field, focusing on different parts of the flower for each shot, but making sure that all parts of the flower were in focus in at least one of those shots.  Sometimes this technique requires more that 6 shots, but that was all that was necessary here.  Then, I took those 6 shots into Photoshop, each one as a different layer in a single image and used the photomerge command.  This is a process whereby Photoshop combines the different images such that the whole flower is in focus.  I like this technique because it allows me to have a shot where the whole flower is in focus, but the background is blurred.  It is much harder to achieve that effect with a single shot.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012


Front Border of My Garden

Spring Valley Hybrids

Eremurus Roford and Moneymaker
     Eremurus, sometimes called Foxtail Lilies (although they are not lilies), are showstoppers when they are in bloom.  I have a lot of them in my front border and they are at their peak right now.  I love them so much that the background picture for this blog is of them, too.  There is also a good picture of them that I posted in yesterday's blog on Dancing Oaks Nursery.  The three pictures above were taken this morning in my garden. 
     The first picture is a wide shot covering much of  my front border which is out by the street and is not fenced, so it is accessible to the deer.  You can see that if you pick the right plants there is a lot that can be grown that is not palatable to the deer, including eremurus.  I have grown these in this bed for almost 15 years, and the deer never touch them.  The eremurus in that shot are mostly a hybrid I once got from a dutch company called 'Roford'.  It is a light pink with some orange tinge in the center. It has proven to be a good grower--very tall and relatively long lasting for an eremurus.
     There is also a large yellow eremurus I grow in the same part of the garden called 'Moneymaker'. The flowers of 'Moneymaker' seem to be wider than those of 'Roford' and even taller.  In the bottom picture you can see 'Roford' in front of 'Moneymaker' and, although you can't see 'Moneymaker' that clearly, it is indeed taller than 'Roford'.  Both of these flowers tower well over my head, however.  I would estimate them to be 7 or 8 feet tall.  The second picture is of  what are called the Spring Valley hybrids, coming originally from a grower in Idaho.  These seem to be slightly behind the other ones I have in my garden and they also seem to have narrower flowers than the other ones.  They are touted as being more vigorous than other eremurus, but I have not observed that to be true.  All eremurus that I have grown have been vigorous, provided they are planted in the right spot and provided that they have been given enough time to establish themselves.
     This brings us to how to grow eremurus.  These plants are from central Asia.  Apparently they are native to places like Afghanistan.  They grow out in the open in fairly harsh climates.  I have found that the key to getting them to do well is to grow them in an open, well-drained position.  They do not do well crowded with other plants such as would be the case in the middle of a full herbaceous border.  In my front border they each have their own spot and the only plants that might get close to them are self sown poppies.  The soil should be well-drained.  My front border is slightly mounded, so that makes the drainage good.  The soil in my front border is also fairly good and I have read that eremurus like good soil, but considering where they are from I am not sure this is necessary. 
     I never water my front border and it getts quite dry here in the summer.  Again, that seems to suit eremurus.  Once they have finished blooming, the plant pretty much goes dormant, so watering it in that stage in its life would not be beneficial. 
     When you order eremurus from a bulb supplier, such as Brent and Becky's Bulbs or McClure and Zimmerman, you will receive a star fish shaped root with a center growing point. This root should not be allowed to get too dessicated, although I have had very dry looking ones eventually do well.  You should plant it fairly close to the surface, with the roots spread out, not down.  As I said, give them their own space.  Don't try to interplant with other things.  I have found that it takes several years for eremurus to settle in and start blooming.  For example, the Spring Valley hybrids in the picture have been there for at least 5 years, but this is the first year that they will really make a good show. 
     Once eremurus are in place, they should be left undisturbed for many years.  I have read that they only need dividing every 15 years although I have no personal knowledge of that fact.  I have divided eremurus before and they are easy to divide once they are dug up, but it takes them so long to settle in and flower well after that that I don't like to do it very often.  However, division is certainly an easy way to acquire mass quantities of this wonderful plant.
     All of the eremurus in the pictures are hybrids.  It is possible to find and grow the straight species, but not all of them are very showy and the hybrids are so great that I wouldn't bother to seek out the species. 

Monday, June 25, 2012

Dancing Oaks Nursery

     Although I said on my last post that I was going river rafting, our trip got canceled due to bad weather.  You would never know it is summer here in the Pacific Northwest.  So, since I was down in the Willamette Valley anyway, I decided to visit Dancing Oaks Nursery.   Dancing Oaks is a wonderful nursery way out in the country, west of Monmouth, Oregon.  To get there you have to drive through the lovely countryside of the Willamette Valley, which is so different from the much more forested land on Bainbridge Island and the Kitsap Penninsula where I live.  It has a much lighter, more open feel to it which I like quite a bit.  We are rather light deprived here on Bainbridge Island.
     Anyway, I have known the owners of Dancing Oaks for quite some time, and have visited their nursery many times.  The display garden there has grown and expanded a lot from the time that I first saw it.  Now it can best be described as an exuberant explosion of color and plants.  I would highly recommend that you visit it if you can.
     Among the plants I purchased at Dancing Oaks were some very nice looking Eryngium alpinums, which I posted about earlier and which are very hard to find.  The selection of plants available at Dancing Oaks is an interesting mix of rarities, many of them from South Africa, and more commonly used perennials, trees and shrubs.  The people at Dancing Oaks have a very good sense for what will look good and thrive in a garden in the Pacific Northwest, whether it is a rarity or a more common plant.  They are the ones who originally alerted me to some of my favorite plants, including Scilla peruviana and Ranunculus baurii. 
     Directions to the nursery are found on their website, along with the hours of operation and mail order plants. The link is here.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Gone River Rafting

John Day River Overlook
     I have been posting an item every day since I started this blog, but I am leaving tomorrow for a river rafting trip on the John Day River in central Oregon.  There is no internet on the river, nor phone reception for that matter.  So there will be no blog until I get back next Wednesday.  The picture above is one I took 2 years ago when we did the same trip.  It is beautiful country.  If you view this picture very large you can see our tents and our rafts at the shore. 

Maianthemum Oleraceum

Maianthemum oleraceum flower closeup

Maianthemum oleraceum flower with foliage

     As I said in my earlier post on Nomocharis, I would be telling you about some of the plants I got at Far Reaches Farm recently.  Today, I am going to focus on one of those plants, Maianthemum oleraceum.  This is a cousin to our native false solomon seal-- what used to be known as Smilacina racemosa, but is now called Maianthemum racemosa.  I have had this native in my garden for a long time.  It is virtually indestructible, but I am not greatly enamored of it because it has white and not very showy flowers.  As I said yesterday, I don't really care for white flowers. And I think the plant looks weedy.
     So, until I saw this maianthemum growing in the shade house at Far Reaches, when some one said "False Solomon's Seal" to me I said "meh".  This one had me at purple flowers.   So imagine a false solomon's seal on steroids--the plant at Far Reaches is big, maybe 4 feet tall and wider than that, and hanging off it a various intervals are these gorgeous flowers.  Of course, I had to have it and Hurray! they had it available.  Kelly, however, tells me that they have very few for sale now, but have lots of little seedlings coming on.  So now a litlle baby Maianthemum oleraceum lives in my garden.
     I planted this in a spot by my circular wall near a clump of Fargesia robusta. I gave it a lot of room to grow because this will eventually get large, although Kelly says that it is slow to do so.   I do not expect it to be particularly finicky, since its cousin is such an easy plant.  It is supposed to be a shade plant, although I also expect that the edges of woodland would suit it better than deep dark shade.
     When I looked this plant up on the internet, I mostly found pictures of white flowers.  Apparently, this species, which is found in Sikkim down through Tibet and China nearly to Vietnam, has a flower color range from white to deep purplish red.   Wouldn't a deep purplish red one also be fabulous?
     This is a plant that is very rare in commerce now.  I looked it up on the RHS Plant Finder and the purple flowered form is not listed this year.  For those who don't know, the RHS Plantfinder is a list of the plants available for sale in the UK and the nurseries where they can be found. If a plant is not listed there, or only listed in a few places, you can be sure it is rare.  The listings in the plantfinder are good evidence of why the UK is considered a horticultural mecca. 

Wednesday, June 20, 2012


Dactylorhizas along with Aciphylla aurea
Self sown dactylorhiza
     Dactylorhizas are hardy terrestrial orchids native to Europe and the UK.  When I was about 8 years old, our family, which was living in Lebanon at the time, took a trip to Turkey. While I have no independent recollection of this, my father took home movies on the trip and one of the scenes is of my sister posing in a field of dactylorhizas.  In the movie there were dactylorhizas as far as the eye could see.  It was quite a sight, but I didn't realize how cool it was until I started growing these wonderful plants. 
     Of the hardy orchids I have grown, these have done the best and seem to be the easiest to cultivate.  I have had them in my garden for more than 15 years and they have been fruitful and multiplied.  I think I originally got some from Kelly Dodson who now has Far Reaches Farm which I mentioned in my entry on Nomocharis.  Anyway,  I got a clone from him that he calls Bressingham Bonus, and it has been a very good grower and multiplier.  I have given away more of this plant than I can remember, so hopefully all sorts of gardens in the area now have it growing.  Bressingham Bonus has the deep magenta flowers that I love, and it doubles in size every year.  I periodically divide these plants which is how I have ended up with so many.
     I have also gotten a number of dactylorhizas from other sources over the years.  Heronswood had many good clones and I have all of those in my garden now.  One of those is pictured in the top photo above.  I do not know its name, but it differs slightly from Bressingham Bonus in that the leaves are more spotted and the flowers bloom slightly later.  It is also not quite so large a plant and not quite as fast a multiplier.  Another one that I got from Heronswood, while it does not have the spotted leaves which everyone likes in dactylorhizas, is quite tall, 2 or 3 feet and has a very large and deeply colored flower.  Perhaps the most special one from Heronswood is one that has very heavily spotted leaves.  In fact, the most coveted Dactylorhizas are ones where the leaves are so spotted that they look dark.  I once saw one like this in a private garden near here, and Paul Christian once had this listed in their catalogue.  If I ever see it again, I will snap it up. 
     While dactylorhizas are supposed to be hard to grow from seed, they self sow with abandon.  I have them coming up in my lawn and in the beds where they have been planted.  For some reason, about half of these self sown seedlings have white flowers.  To me this is a disappointment, because I am not a fan of white flowers. No white garden for me!  The single flower in the second photo above is a self sown seedling which placed itself in the skirts of a Japanese maple. What a fortuitous placement! 
     Some of the self sown seedlings also have very spotted leaves and I am hoping to get one that is completely dark one day. I often walk around my lawn looking closely to see if I can find one that has heavy spotting on the leaves.  Dactylorhizas probably do so well in the lawn because it is constantly moist, and they are native to wet meadows.  In the garden, the best place to grow them is in light shade or open shade in good, moist soil.  They do not do well in dark shade or in tree root infested areas.  That said, I have had them self sow in the most unlikely places in the garden.  Here in the Pacific Northwest they can take a lot of sun provided the soil is sufficiently moist.
     Dactylorhiza clumps should be divided every 4 or 5 years.  Otherwise, the roots will get too congested and they will decline.  I was just reading an interesting entry on dactylorhiaza in Ian Young's Bulb Log on the Scottish Rock Garden Society's website where he states that in the wild dactylorhizas don't clump up much, because in the long term the clumpers would not suvive because of the crowding of the roots.  If you have not yet discovered Ian Young's Bulb Log, you are in for a treat.
     I have seen advice on the internet to divide your dactylorhizas in July after they have flowered.  I have never done this because I like to let them go to seed.  If you are a neat freak and deadhead your dactylorhizas you will not get self sown seedlings.  That should go without saying.  Instead, I divide them in the spring when I  first see their snouts poking above the ground.  This timing has been just fine, judging by how well my plants have done. 

Tuesday, June 19, 2012


Aciphylla glaucescens in flower

Aciphylla glaucescens
     There are a few New Zealand native plants that I am obsessed with and Aciphyllas are probably number one on that list.  I think I like them because they are spiky and their shape and color just please me every time I look at a well grown speciman.  These are plants from open, alpine areas in New Zealand, and surpisingly, they are members of the carrot family. They are mostly wicked plants, however. They are very sharp and weeding around them can be a health hazard. There are supposedly some which are not so sharp, but I have not grown those.
     The one pictured above is my favorite, so far. It is A. glaucescens, so called because of the blueness of its foliage. Other good ones that I have grown are A. aurea, which has sort of orangey foliage, A. scott-thompsonii which is the largest species and has somewhat bluish foliage, A. horrida, which looked a lot like glaucescens when I grew it,  A monroi which is a small species with sort of brownish orangish foliage,  A. simplex, another small species also with brownish orangish foliage , and A. colensoi with more greenish foliage. I lust after A. dieffenbachii which has foliage that looks less spiky than other aciphyllas.
     There are two main problems with growing aciphyllas. The first is they are very hard to come by.  I am not aware of any nursery in the U.S. that is growing them right now. I did get some plants of A. simplex from Beaver Creek Greenhouses a few months ago. This is a rock garden specialist nursery in British Columbia. I have also gotten other aciphyllas from them in the past.  Sometimes Cistus Nursery carries aciphyllas but the last time I was there they did not have any available. It is worth checking with them if you want one, however.
     Aciphylla seed is available from New Zealand Tree, Jelitto, Rare Palm Seeds, and Chiltern.  I have ordered seed from all those sources in the past and have found them satisfactory. Growing aciphyllas from seed requires patience. First, the seed must be cold stratified.  New Zealand Tree recommends a 30 day cold period. One way to accomplish this is to sow the seed in small pots in a sandy mixture (not the usual peat based mixture that is sold as seed starting mix).  This can be made by adding one part sand, one part grit and 2 parts potting mix to make a seed mix. The seed should then be sowed on top of the soil which has been lightly tamped down and then covered lightly with grit. Chicken grit works for this purpose. Then it should be lightly watered in, placed in a baggy and put in the refrigerator (not the freezer) for 30 days. After that the pot can be taken outside, the baggy taken off and the waiting begins. Do not let the pot dry out while you are waiting.  Sometimes it takes quite a while for germination to begin. I have read that it could take several years, although I have found that if germination does not occur within a few months it probably never will occur.  When the aciphyllas come up they look a lot like grass so don't mistake them for grass and throw them out.
     The second difficulty with growing aciphyllas is that they are tricky to grow. They seem to be subject to dying for no discernible reason. It may be that they are particularly susceptible to soil born fungi.  I have heard it suggested that anti fungus potions be applied to the seedlings to protect against this although I have not tried it.  Last year I had three beautiful plants of Aciphylla glaucescens growing in the bed by my lioness sculpture. Then, almost overnight they all collapsed and died for no reason that I could detect.  I had a similar thing happen to a large specimen of A. scott-thompsonii that I had grown from seed and that had been in my garden for 6 or 7 years.  It was heart breaking.  The one plant of A. glaucescens that I have in my garden right now, pictured above is in a bed that is almost half sand.  I think that the lioness bed where death to aciphyllas occurred last year was too rich and not well drained enough.
     After growing these plants for many years I conclude that the best way to grow them is in the open, in full sun, in a well drained but moist location.  A fairly sandy soil seems to suit them.  These are not drought tolerant plants, however, despite their similarity to yuccas and agaves in appearance. I am pretty sure I lost aciphyllas for lack of water in the year I did not care for or water my garden. I would not crowd them with other plants and I would not allow other plants to grow over them.
     While all this seems like a lot of trouble for such a wicked plant, I still love them and just ordered a lot of seed.  Hope springs eternal!

Monday, June 18, 2012


Nomocharis aperta

Nomocharis Digital Painting
       Last Thursday I spent the day in horticultural heaven, aka, Far Reaches Farm in Port Townsend.   After the demise of Heronswood, we here in Washington are fortunate that a nursery like this exists to satisfy our plant lust.  I will be writing future posts about some of the plants I got there, but suffice it to say, I scored some treasures, and Kelly and Sue, the owners, told us about lots more mouthwatering goodies they have in the pipeline.  Today, however, I want to focus on Nomocharis.
     Nomocharis is a lily relative from China, Tibet and Burma.  The plants that Far Reaches have are seedlings from their collections in China.  I have previously tried growing this bulb on several occasions, but was unsuccessful in getting it to return to the garden after one year.   However, a couple of years ago I bought one of Far Reaches' Nomocharis apertas which they had grown from their own collected seed, and I have had good luck with that plant. It is now blooming in my garden which means that it has survived for 3 or 4 years in the garden.  I just saw a magnificent plant of it blooming in Far Reaches' own shade garden. There it had multiple stems and multiple flowers in a clump.  The key to growing it well seems to be to plant it in good soil (at Far Reaches they use a lot of manure in their shade garden) and give it plenty of moisture.  Don't plant it in dry, root infested shade and don't plant it in deep shade.  The one in my garden is growing in what could be described as half day sun and it has done well there.
     The pictures above are both of Nomocharis aperta.  The second image is a digital painting I did in Photoshop based on one flower.  By the wonder of Photoshop I was able to create a plethora of Nomocharis, which is what I call the image. A plethora of Nomocharis is a much to be desired state.  Kind of like nirvana.
     I also got a plant of Nomocharis pardanthina at Far Reaches.  While I have not seen this one in bloom yet, the pictures of it that I find on the internet are gorgeous.  For example, see the Pacific Bulb Society's blurb on Nomocharis here.
     Nomacharis is a rare bulb and if you find one in a nursery, snap it up.  Far Reaches is the only place I know of to get it here.  It is also sometimes listed by Paul Christian Bulbs, a rare bulb dealer in the UK that will ship to the U.S.  It is not on their current list that is posted online, however.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Cussonia paniculata

Scene of south patio with Cussonia paniculata on the left

Cussonia paniculata
     I first saw this plant at the fabulous garden that Roger Raiche used to have in the Berkeley hills.  For those who don't know, Roger Raiche is a plant geek extraordinaire who has a business and website called Planet Horticulture in California.  This plant is commonly called the mountain cabbage tree and it hails from South Africa (of course!--it seems like most great plants hail from there).  It is a member of the araliaceae family which contains more than its fair share of cool plants, including the aralias, tetrapanax, Scheffleras, and various plants whose names end in panax.
     The plant in the two pictures is one I got from Dig Nursery on Vashon Island, a ferry ride away from Bainbridge Island.  Dig is a wonderful nursery and if you are ever in the area, be sure and give them a visit.  Dig had acquired this cussonia from San Marcos Growers in Southern California. I believe that this particular plant is the one known as Cussonia paniculata ssp. sinuata, and it is different from the regular Cussonia paniculata in that the leaves are more cut.  I got this one in a 5 gal. container and it was only about a foot high.  What you see in the picture is the result of at least 5 or 6 years of growth.
     I had acquired 3 other identical cussonias from Dig at the same time and they were also equally as large, but they had not branched like this one. They grew straight up and looked like something from The Cat and The Hat with a tall straight stem and a cabbage looking canopy on the top. I believe this one branched because something damaged its growing point at some time, thereby causing the branching.  I find the branched specimen much more attractive than the non-branched one.  The fact that my cussonia branched when the growing point was damaged leads me to believe that if one wanted a cussonia to branch, cutting it off at the level that one wanted to induce the branching might do the trick.  While I have not actually tried this, I am constantly urging my friends to do it to their Dr. Seuss looking cussonias. Thus far they have declined.
     Sadly, I lost this specimen one winter when its pot broke.  I gave away my other big cussonias because I got tired of hauling them in and out of my sunroom every year.  I have now acquired some baby cusssonias from Annie's Annuals.  They look like they are the straight species of Cussonia paniculata and not ssp. sinuata.  I also recently acquired one that is ssp. sinuata from Cistus Nursery
     I have found that these plants do best in full sun in our climate. Ones that are grown in shade or part shade here don't look that good--they are not full like the ones in the picture but are lanky and sickly looking. These plants also appreciate water and fertilizer in the summer. They do not have any particular dislikes about fertilizer.  They need to be taken inside in the winter.  I can tell you positively that they are not hardy here.  In winter, they can be stored pretty much dry, although it is possible to keep them in full growth by watering them and giving them light. Since I tend to ignore my indoor plants, it is fortunate that you can get away with not watering them at all in the winter.  They may drop all their foliage, but once they are brought back out and watered and given light they will start back into growth.
     If I lived in a climate where you could plant these in the ground outside, I would probably have a forest of them.  What are all those people in Southern California thinking if they haven't planted a cussonia in their garden yet?

Saturday, June 16, 2012


Rhodocoma capensis

Restio tetraphyllus

Scene of south patio with Cannomois virgata in a pot
     Restios have been an obsession of mine since I first discovered them some 15 years ago upon reading Ken Druse's book 'The Collector's Garden'. There was a photo in that book of Marcia Donahue's famous garden in Berkeley, California and it featured Elegia capensis, one of the restios. At that time I didn't even know there was such a thing as a restio, but I was immediately smitten. So, of course, I was on the hunt to find restios to grow for myself. Today it is not as difficult as it once was to find them, but in those days hardly anyone was growing them and the only place to get them was in California. No mail order nurseries carried them and no local nurseries grew them.
     The first restio I ever got was from a great nursery in Oakland called The Dry Garden. If you are ever in the San Fransisco area be sure and visit this nursery. I have been there 3 or 4 times and have always found wonderful treasures. Anyway, in those early years, The Dry Garden not only carried Elegia capensis, but a number of other different restios. None of them had labels on them, and I was greatly impressed when Richard Ward, the proprietor of the nursery was able to correctly label them even though, to my eye, they all looked alike.
     For those new to restios, they are grass or reed like plants, mostly from South Africa, although Restio tetraphyllus, pictured above, is from Australia. They are evergreen and create great textural presence in the garden. However, being from warmer climates than ours, their hardiness has been an issue. I have grown at least 10 different ones, including Restio tetraphyllus, Elegia capensis, Chondropetalum tectorum, Thamnorchortus insignis, Rhodocoma capensis, Rhodocoma gigantea, Ischyrolepis subverticillata,  Cannomois virgata, and Rhodocoma arida. 
     Based on my experience, the best one for our climate is Rhodocoma capensis, seen in the first picture above. I have grown this in several places in my front border for probably 10 years and it has proved hardy. It has never suffered from the cold in that period. It has proved to be both drought tolerant (after it has established itself--it needs summer water the first year after planting) and deer resistant. It looks good all year round.  This plant will eventually get quite large. The ones in my garden are at least 6 feet tall and almost as much in diameter. I have seen others buy these plants and plant them in small places or mass them like some grasses are massed. Both of those things are a mistake. These are big plants and they look best in my opinion as specimen plants.  If they are massed, one misses seeing the shape of the plant and the individual stems which are interesting in their own right. 
     Rhodocoma gigantea has also survived long term in my garden. It is not as large a plant as R. capensis,  but otherwise looks somewhat similar. The one in my garden is only about 2 feet tall and as wide but I have seen these grown in pots and they were much taller, so maybe the location I have it planted in is hindering its growth.
     All the other restios listed above succumbed to the cold one year or another.  They do make good pot plants, however, bearing in mind that they get quite large and so require a large pot, and moving large pots inside for winter protection can be a chore.  Also, for restios to look good in pots, they need a fair amount of water and they need to be fertilized with a low phosphorous fertilizer. High phosphorous fertilizers will make them yellow and look bad.
    Restios require full sun.  Otherwise they do not seem to be very particular about soil. They are from areas of South Africa called the fynbos which are characterised by low fertility of soil and open conditions. Apparently many restios grow in areas where there might be seeps or streams, so they do not mind moisture. In fact, I have noticed that they put on new growth here when we have a lot of moisture.  A sure way to kill them in a pot is the put them in a greenhouse and forget to water them.
     The restio that plant geeks most lust after is Cannomois virgata, the one seen in a pot in the third picture above. Does the fact that I grew it in a pot make me a plant geek? You decide! This one has recently had a change of name and might be called Cannomis grandis now. Whatever.  The one that I like the best is Ischyrolepis subverticillata. I once spent a summer trying to learn how to pronounce it. Anyway, I ended up just calling it the puppy dog restio because it was so pettable--the foliage looked like green fur.
     Restios are grown by some local wholesalers, including Xera Plants and Steamboat Island NurseryCistus Nursery also has them, sometimes in large containers. They can also be grown from seed. The best seed seed sources for them are Silverhill Seeds in South Africa, and Seedhunt, a great seed source run by Ginny Hunt near Watsonville, California.  Seed of restios germinates after a fire, so scientists have developed what's called smoke packets, to use to mimic the effects of a fire. The good thing about restio seed from Seedhunt is that they supply you with the smoke packets when you buy seed from them.  Restios will germinate without the smoke packets, but they germinate in much greater numbers with the smoke.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Eryngium "Blue Jackpot"

Eryngium 'Blue Jackpot"

Eryngium alpinum
     There are many Eryngiums on the market, but most of them have disappointingly small and unimpressive flowers. Not so for Eryngium 'Blue jackpot'. This is a plant that I found last year at Swanson's Nursery in Seattle while I was looking for Eryngium alpinum.   It seemed to me very much like Eryngium alpinum so I bought it. Last year the blooms were not very impressive, but that is to be expected because it takes several years for a plant like this to settle in and reach its full glory.  This year the blooms are much larger.  The picture at the top is of one of those blossoms.
     I was hoping to find more plants of this and I was gratified to find it at a local nursery in Poulsbo, a little town near us.  So, of course, I bought almost all they had. The fact that 2 different local nurseries had "Blue Jackpot" means it must be relatively available, particularly if you request your local nursery to find it for you.  I have not seen it yet on any mail order lists. Darwin Plants lists it in their catalogue, however.  Darwin is a wholesaler, selling to nurseries.
     I have looked on the internet, trying to find the story behind 'Blue Jackpot', but I did not find much information. Most of the Darwin plants come from Holland, so my speculation is that this plant is somehow derived from Eryngium alpinum and was perhaps bred for the cut flower trade. Indeed, these eryngium flowers make good cut flowers, lasting a long time and drying well
     The reason I was looking for Eryngium alpinum is because I have a plant, the flowers of which you see in the second picture, of this that I got from Heronswood well over 10 years ago and it has been growing in my front border ever since. The flowers are absolutely gorgeous and whenever it blooms I say to myself that I need more of that plant. Yet Eyngium alpinum is very difficult to find. The only place I have seen it listed is on the Dancing Oaks website.
     Eryngium alpinum (and 'Blue Jackpot') should be grown in full sun in well drained soil.  As I mentioned, I have grown alpinum in my front border where it is very near the trunk of a Eucalyptus and it receives no water in the summer.  I would also not crowd your Eryngium alpinums--give them their own space. I have tried to grow them from seed, but have had no luck. Fortunately, they are easy from root cuttings.  This year when I moved a couple of these plants, I cut off some 2 inch pieces of root and stuck them in the ground, and lo and behold, new plants of eryngium came up! How cool is that?

Thursday, June 14, 2012


Garden Path With Delphiniums

Delphinium 'Morning Lights'

Delphinium Closeup
      As I mentioned in my post yesterday, the delphiniums I am currently growing in my garden are all from the New Millenium series from Dowdeswell's Delphiniums in New Zealand.  The Dowdeswell's have been breeding delphiniums and their plants are supposed to be superior to the Pacific Giant strain which is the more commonly sold delphinium here in nurseries.  I have not done any side by side trials, so I cannot personally attest to this fact, but I do like the New Millenium delphiniums--I like their colors, I like how they have nice sturdy stems which seem to stand up to the elements better than other delphiniums I have grown, and I like the long flower bloom period that they seem to have.
     If you go to  Dowdewell's Delphiniums you will find very spectacular pictures of all their seed strains.  In the first picture above, I have both 'Blue Lace' which is almost a sky blue and 'Morning Lights', which is blue with mauve undertones.  I have recently purchased plants of 'Dusky Maidens',  'Royal Aspirations', and 'Sweethearts' from Annie's Annuals which carries the New Millenium line.  Both 'Dusky Maidens' and 'Sweethearts' are pinkish rather than the more common blue for delphiniums.  I also have 'Pagan Purples' in another part of my garden, but it is in a location that is becoming shaded, so I am going to have to move it. I have found that delphiniums do much better here if they are in full sun, so that they do not become elongated and fall over in an attempt to lean into sun.
     I once swore that I would not grow any more plants that required staking, but i relented when it came to delphiniums.  These are truly the queens of the garden and they do well in the climate of the Pacific Northwest. They are worth the trouble that you have to go to in order to grow them well.  This year I staked them with some very unobtrusive dark green stakes. I placed the stakes at intervals of about a foot around the plants and tied string to all the stakes, forming a circle around the plants.  I did this at two levels on the stakes. It is important to to stake these plants before they fall over--they cannot be resurrected once they fall. I stake them when they are about 3 feet tall.
     Delphiniums also need protection from slugs, particularly when they are first coming up. As I have mentioned previously in posts, I use Sluggo which works very well and is supposedly non toxic to pets and animals.
     Delphiniums like good rich soil and moist, but not waterlogged conditions. They are not especially drought tolerant, but I have found that they don't really need lots of extra water in our climate, either.  It is best not to water them from overhead while they are in bloom, however, as this may cause them to fall over.
     As I mentioned above, they are available from Annies Annuals and I have also found them from time to time in local nurseries. They are also very easy to grow from seed and you can get seed packets inexpensively straight from Dowdeswell's in New Zealand. I  have ordered seed from them in the past and I have been very happy with my experience.  Do not be afraid to order seed from them simply because they are out of the country.
     The third image I have posted above is a closeup of a delphinium flowerette which I have played around with in Photoshop. I am an avid Photoshop user and I will have a post in the future to talk about photography and Photoshop.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Welcome To My Garden

Front Gate Looking Out

Front Gate Looking In
     The main part of my garden is completely enclosed by fences and walls.  There is a metal gate at the front which is the equivalent of a front door, although there are several other gates out of the garden, too. The gate was made when all the hard surfaces of the garden were constructed, about 20 years ago, by a local iron worker. Above the gate is a little roof such as is found in Japanese gardens, but that roof is now completely covered in vines and cannot really be seen.
     The first shot above is of the gate looking from inside the garden to the outside. In that shot you can see the vines growing on the roof of the gate. These are what I call the clash of the titans.  One of these is Vitis coignetiae, a grape relative which is grown for its large beautiful leaves which turn crimson in the fall. The other titan is a form of the golden hops called 'Sunshine'.  This is not the usual golden hops. It is one I got many years ago from Nichols Garden Nursery in Salem, Oregon where a lot of hops are grown and it is a cultivar that is actually used for hops production. I think 'Sunshine' is a better plant than the usual Humulus lupulus 'Aurea' in that the leaves seem to be larger and they do not scorch in the sun as much. Both of these are very vigorous vines, capable of covering vast areas, and I am constantly having to cut them back so that they do not swamp their neighbors.
     I once had another titan here in addition to these--Clematis montana-- but it bit the dust when a neat freak garden helper decided to "tidy" it up. That, among other reasons, is why I don't have any garden helpers now. That same garden helper also weeded out all my Dactylorhiza seedlings which were growing in the pathways, but that is another story for when I do a post on dactylorhizas.
     The delphinium in the top picture is one of the New Millenium delphiniums from New Zealand. I will be having a post on these in the future, but suffice it to say that they are better than the Pacific Giant strains.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Ranunculus Baurii

Ranunculus baurii
    The ranunculus family has lots of stars in it--Ranunculus lyalii, the New Zealand native commonly called the Mt. Cook lily (although it is not a lily) being perhaps the brightest star of all.  Most who try to grow it fail, however,  and I will have a future entry about my experience with it. It's cousin, Ranunculus baurii, which hails from South Africa is a little easier to grow and just about as showy.
     This plant, which I originally heard about and got from the guys at Dancing Oaks Nursery, is grown mainly for its great foliage which is evident from the picture. The flowers are small yellow ranunculus type flowers, not that much different from the common weed ranunculus flowers, although they are held high over the leaves. You can see the stem for the flowers cutting across the upper right of the picture, although I did not include the actual flower in the picture.  The leaves, then, are the thing with this plant and unlike many plants with large round green leaves like this, these are not much bothered by slugs and they remain good looking the whole season.
     The Dancing Oaks guys, who have traveled a lot to South Africa, told me that they had seen this growing in its native haunts at relatively high elevations and in fairly moist conditions. This meant that the plant is fairly hardy, for a South African plant, but that it does require relatively moist conditions. I have now grown this plant for over 10 years in various places in my garden and I can attest to the fact that it does not do well over the long run if it gets too dry. While my garden has fairly moist conditions throughout, this plant suffered in the one year I was not able to care for my garden or do any watering. It survived after that year only in the moistest spots I had it.
     The plant you see in the picture is a self sown seedling which placed itself in the bed by my lioness sculpture right under the skirts of a small palm.  It has done well in that spot probably because the palm protects it from the cold, yet that is a bed with fairly moist soil. I have also grown this plant in full sun, but moist conditions where it has done well and I have grown it in the shade where it also did well until it got too dry there.
     I have seen on the internet what looks like forms of this with much more prominent veining on the leaves than my plants have, such as here and here. The one in the latter picture seems to be a form called MacOwan. I have not seen it for sale anywhere, but I certainly would like to get my hands on it.
     Although I originally got this plant from Dancing Oaks, they do not list it now.  Perhaps they have it at their nursery, but not as a mail order plant.  Fortunately, Ranunculus baurii is not hard from seed.  I have had it do some mild self seeding in the garden and have grown it from my own collected seed.  Seed is available from Silverhill Seeds, a South African seed specialist.  I have ordered seed from them and it is of good quality.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Planting Scheme With Tropaeolum Pollyphyllum

Tropaeolum polyphyllum and Scilla peruviana

Tropaeolum polyphyllum snaking through Scilla peruviana

Pink California Poppy

Larger view of bed by lioness sculpture
     Today's post is somewhat a continuation of yesterday. I am going to explain the planting scheme I have going in the bed where my main planting of Tropaeolum polyphyllum lives.  This is a relatively small (for my garden, that is) bed by the lioness sculpture in the garden. This is a bronze sculpture by Georgia Gerber, an artist who lives on Whidbey Island, another island in Puget Sound near us. I will have a post in the future to talk more about this sculpture.
     As I explained in my previous post on Scilla peruviana, I had to move all my bulbs which had been in my front border into the fenced in part of the garden to protect them from the deer.  One place I put some of them was in this border by the sculpture. I made this move earlier this year, so these bulbs are not yet fully established in this bed.  However, there is enough bloom going on that you can get the picture as illustrated in the first and second pictures above. As I anticipated, the scilla blooms at the same time as the tropaeolum and the colors of the two make a nice contrast. This is also a good combo because the foliage of the tropaeolum is bluish and fine, while the foliage of the scilla is broad and green. Furthermore, the habit of the tropaeolum is to come up all over the place and snake around,  so hopefully it will do this around all the scillas in that bed.
     When I moved the scillas from their prior location, there were some pink California poppies that came with them from that location.  This was purely by accident, but it was a fortuitous accident, because it gave me the idea that these would also look good in this bed. So I planted some additional poppies in the bed--just enough to get them started because they will self sow in this location and I will probably have to weed most of them out, leaving a few strategically placed.
     So, although this bed has not yet completely filled in you can get the idea--hopefully next year this should be a riot of color--the blue of the scilla, the yellow of the tropaeolum and the pink of the poppies. This makes a good combination because all these plants like the same conditions, all of them are about the same height, they bloom at the same time,  and the colors are all clear jewel tones.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Tropaeolum Polyphyllum

Tropaeolum polyphyllum closeup

Tropaeolum polyphyllum sprawling

     As I mentioned that I would in my post on Scilla peruviana, I am going to tell you about a great, but little grown plant-- Tropaeolum polyphyllum. This is a relative of the commonly grown nasturtium.  It hails from high elevation areas of Chile and is perfectly hardy and grows well in our climate. As you can see from the above photos, it is a sprawling plant with blue-green foliage and yellow to orangeish flowers.  I have it planted by the lioness sculpture in my garden which is an open position that is pretty much full sun, although it does receive some passing shade during the day.
     I have grown this in several places in my garden but the current location seems to suit it best. Based on my experience, I can tell you that it should be planted in open sunny conditions. The soil should be well drained.  It is said that it likes scree and is often planted in rock gardens, but it does not require this; only that the soil be well drained. I would not plant it in an herbaceous border where it would be swamped by other plants.
     This plant is not easy to come by and the reason for that is probably not that it is difficult to grow, because it is not, but because its tubers (this is a tuberous plant) dive so deeply in the soil that they are very difficult to dig up. I have read that they can go down at least three feet. I can attest to the difficulty of digging them up because I have one of these that I want to move. It has been in its location for about 10 years and I simply cannot locate the tubers when I dig for them.  If I want to propagate this by the easy version--of digging up tubers--that is not really available. Thus, I would have to grow it from seed or buy another plant.  I have recently decided to try this in a pot, thereby ensuring that I can find the tubers when i want more plants.
     Once this plant is established and likes its position, it spreads out, coming up in many different places. I saw it at Dan Hinckley's garden recently where it is planted near a concrete paver patio and it is coming up between the pavers! While this could be a nuisance for a lesser plant, this one is so choice that I wouldn't mind it if it did that in my garden.
    I have gotten this plant in the past from Gossler Farms Nursery, but they do not currently list it. Perhaps they are trying to work up their stock.  I have also purchased plants of this from Beaver Creek Greenhouse, a rock garden nursery in British Columbia which does mail order. They currently have it on their list. I would highly recommend both nurseries. As for growing this from seed, it can be done, but I have not been greatly successful so far, although I have only tried it once or twice. A good place to get seeds that hail from Chile is Chile Flora. While I have not gotten seed from them, I have friends who have and they have been satisfied.

Saturday, June 9, 2012


Podophyllum Pleianthum Short Form

Podophyllum Pleianthum Flower

Podophyllum "Kaleidescope"

Podophyllum Delavayi

Podphyllum Pleianthum Large Form
     Some of my favorite shade plants are the podophyllums.  I remember when I first saw these growing in the display garden at Heronswood--They were enough to make us stop in our tracks and say "Whoa!  What is that?"  At that time they were just being made available to gardeners here and one basically had to get down on bended knee and beg the nurserymen who had them to sell you one. If they deemed you worthy they would, otherwise you just had to wait.
     How times have changed! Now they are relatively easily available, and they grow so well in my garden that the next thing you know they will be on the noxious weed list. All of the above shown podophyllums like the same conditions and all are equally easy to grow, so the main consideration in choosing one is the leaf shape and coloration and the ultimate size of the plant. The first picture above, that of Podophyllum pleianthum short form, is one I got from Heronswood many years ago. It is only a foot to a foot and a half tall and the leaves are very shiny.  I like it quite a bit because it is a nice and neat plant.  The Podophyllum pleianthum large form was also from Heronswood, and it may have been labeled as a Podophyllum cross or just as a large form, I don't remember which.  In any event, it is about 3 or 4 feet tall and the leaves are one to two feet across. The leaves on this one are matte and not shiny like the short form.  Podophyllum delavayi is my favorite of the lot-- each seedling has slightly different markings on the leaves.  Kaleidescope is a clone that was introduced and named by Terra Nova Nurseries, a large tissue culture and wholesale nursery in Canby, Oregon. Because it is a Terra Nova plant, many nurseries carry it.
     All these podophyllums are shade plants and they all appreciate rich moist soil, but the great thing is that they can grow quite well, thank you very much, even if those conditions are not exactly met.  I have grown them in basically full sun and they have done just fine; I have grown them in the darkest shade and they have done just fine; and I have grown them near the base of our native willow which was a very dry location and they did just fine.  Indeed, I have them all over my garden in varying conditions and they all do well.
     These plants' natural growing habit is to form colonies over time. This is evident from the pictures I have posted. Some of them are taking over large areas of the garden, although they do it in a polite way, unlike some invasive plants like petasites.  I once tried to dig up the colony of the Large Form pictured above. You can see that I did not succeed.  Apparently, podphyllum will grow from root cuttings, so if you try to dig one up and leave any roots behind, new plants will grow from those roots.
     These plants have also self sowed in the garden, albeit in a restrained way. They grow easily from the seed which is contained in fruit like capsules.  If these are left on the ground all winter and then squashed open to reveal the seed, and those seeds then pressed into the soil, you will soon have baby podophyllums.
     Podophyllums are available from Far Reaches FarmCistus Nursery, and Keeping It Green Nursery.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Fargesia robusta

Fargesia Robusta behind Lioness Sculpture

Fargesia Robusta and Camperdown Elm
     I grow a lot of bamboo in my garden--it creates evergreen structure, privacy, and a sense of the exotic.  I have probably grown 15 or 20 different kinds and I have to say that the best of the lot is Fargesia robusta.  This is a clumping banboo, not a runner, and it is a tight clumber. That means that although it widens every year, it does not send out long running underground shoots like some bamboos do. However, as you can see from the photos, it is not a plant for a tiny space. The clump eventually gets fairly large.  The two clumps which I have in the garden have been there for about 10 years and I planted them from 1 gal. containers.
     The reasons I like this bamboo so much are because (1) the culms stand straight up and do not lean over like a fountain as some fargesias and other bamboos do; (2) the height is about perfect for most gardens--some bamboos get so tall that they create a lot of shade in the garden--this one is tall enough to screen the neighbors, but not so tall that it creates too much shade; (3) the culms grow so close together that this plant creates basically a solid screen at lower levels unlike some bamboos, particularly the runners; (4) the pattern of white and green on the culms is beautiful;  (5) this plant looks good all winter--it has never suffered damage from the cold as some clumping bamboos do; and (6) the overall shape of the plant is beautiful--I have never pruned or thinned the plants in the pictures.
     I originally got this bamboo from Jackie Heinricher of Boo-Shoot Gardens.  Boo-Shoot Gardens is a wholesale bamboo nursery near Anacortes, Washington which is responsible for the introduction of a large number of clumping bamboos to the general public. Before the advent of Boo-Shoot, you could only get clumpers like this one from tiny specialist nurseries, usually run by aging hippies, and they generally cost a fortune for a small plant.  Boo-Shoot succeeded in tissue culturing bamboos, which is a form of propagation whereby certain cells of a plant are induced to create a new plant in the laboratory. This method can produce thousands of new plants in short order. I would recommend going to Boo-Shoot's website and checking them out.
     There are now several forms of Fargesia robusta on the market. The ones shown in the pictures are what I believe is called Fargesia robusta "Green Screen" or "Campbell". It is available from  Bamboo Gardens, a bamboo specialist nursery in Oregon.