Thursday, May 30, 2013

A Riot of Flowers

Side pathway in my garden with bearded irises, alliums, Scilla peruviana, and California poppies

View of that area from another direction with unknown species peony in the foreground

Closer view of Scilla peruvianas and California poppies
     There is an area in my garden which comes into view soon after you enter the main garden gate.  It is accessed by a couple of pathways, including the pink pathway you see in the first picture above.  In the last few years I have completely changed the planting in this area, primarily because it used to be much shadier due to an arbor which has since been removed and due to the removal of a large native willow. 
     One of these beds contains a large Trachycarpus, and I have underplanted that tree with a lot of Scilla peruvianas which I moved from the front border to protect them from the deer.  Last year I planted a few California poppies around these scillas, thinking that they would make a good contrast to the scillas, and sure enough, they do!  I like the straight orange California poppies the best because that bright clear orange makes everything else in the garden pop.  I often hear people say that they do not like orange in the garden, but they are missing out if they do not use it.  There is nothing like orange to make other colors sing.
     One thing about California poppies is that you only have to plant one or two and let them go to seed to have mass quantities of them the following years!
     The first picture above also shows some of the bearded irises I bought from Schreiner's Iris Gardens last year.  I will have a future post with some closeups of these irises, but suffice it to say they are all wonderful.
     These pictures are a good illustration of how my planting style has changed over the years.  I used to plant in blocks of plants of one kind.  I no longer like to do that.  Instead, I like to have lots of plants that I like, but spread out and mingled with other compatible plants to make a more naturalistic look.  I want the garden to look like it just naturally sprang up, even though it did no such thing.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Stipa Gigantea

Stipa gigantea beginning to bloom behind a blue bearded iris in my front border
     I was recently reading an entry on one of the blogs I follow--Rhone Street Gardens-- about a visit to Wind Dancer Gardens, a nursery (now closed, I believe) specializing in grasses.  While I have never been to that nursery, it reminded me of my love for grasses and how my use of them in my garden has changed over time.  It used to be that I loved grasses so much that I tried to grow every one that I could get my hands on.  I went through miscanthus phases where I grew all sorts of them, then cortaderia (Pampas grass) phases, then carex phases, then New Zealand grass phases... You can get the picture.
     Anyway, over time, and for various reasons, I have cut back on the kinds of grasses I grow.  Probably the number one reason for this is that many of them--particularly the big ones-- got to be too much work.  They required much labor in cutting them back in the spring, and if they ever needed dividing, like some miscanthuses do, then God help you.  Pampas grasses were too messy looking in the winter and also too much labor.  Others seeded themselves about too much, such as Anemanthele lessoniana.  Still others I removed because they declined over time as my bamboos grew and shaded them out.  Also, since I have so many bamboos in my garden, the shape and form of most grasses is redundant.  Finally, as I got into photography I wanted more flowers, so grasses made way for more flamboyant flowering plants.
     This brings me to the present, where I am only growing a few grasses and those can be summed up with the words Stipas and Hakonechloas.  I grow three types of Stipas in my front border.   Stipa gigantea, Stipa tenuissima ( I still refer to it this way, rather than as Nassella which is its new name), and Stipa barbata.  In my fenced in garden I grow a lot of Hakonechloa and I have previously written about the Hakonechloa 'All Gold' that I grow in pots here.
     Today's post is about one of those stipas in my front border--Stipa gigantea.  This is a great plant for a sunny, dry site.  As you can see from the picture, the blooms are starting to emerge now, and they make a wonderful airy backdrop to all the flowering plants in the front border.    The basal foliage of this stipa is only about a foot tall, but the flowering spikes extend a couple of feet above that.  Over time that base will exceed a couple of feet in diameter.  Since this grass flowers relatively early for a grass in this region, it coincides with the big flowering extavaganza which occurs in this border in June.
     This grass looks pretty good all year long, but I cut it back to the ground every spring.  This neatens it up and it quickly regrows from that haircut.  By the way, I am often asked by gardeners if they can cut something back that looks bad.  My advice always is to cut it back, whatever it is, if it is ugly.  The worst that can happen is that you will kill the plant, but if it is ugly, who cares?  If it lives, you will have improved it quite a bit.
      I find seedlings here and there of this grass, but it is not a major weed like some other grasses I have grown including Stipa tenuissima.  Stipa gigantea is also quite long lived for a grass.  The one in the picture has probably been there for about 10 years.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Eryngium Blue Jackpot With Bees

Eryngium Blue Jackpot with five bees on it at once
     I have previously written about one of the best eryngiums I have grown here,  Eryngium 'Blue Jackpot".  I have a number of these in my garden and they are just now coming into bloom.  I noticed that on one of the most advanced of these flowers there were five bees at once busily harvesting whatever it is they harvest!  These eryngiums seem to be great flowers for attracting bees. 
     Another great group of plants for attracting bees, I have noticed, are the echiums.  My Echium amoenum, which I wrote about here is virtually covered with bees.
     Speaking of wildlife, for those of you who expressed concern about the baby deer in my garden which I wrote about in my last entry, at a little after 9:00 that evening, the mother came and took it away with her.  They have not been seen by me since.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Baby Deer in the Garden

Newborn baby deer sleeping in my front border
     Yesterday there was a newborn baby deer sleeping in my front border.  I was concerned about it when I didn't see its mother for a few hours,  so I called the local wildlife center, and they said that the mothers often would leave their newborns in what they considered a safe place.  They might be gone for hours at a time, and they might leave it in that area for several days, returning to it off and on.  They said to leave it undisturbed.  So we posted a sign warning people to keep away and hopefully it will be alright.
     I know that many gardeners hate the deer, but since my front border is deer resistant, and since this baby is so cute, I don't mind.  I would rather see this creature than a rose bush any day!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Dictamnus albus var. purpureus

Dictamnus albus var. purpureus blooming now in my front border with alliums

Wider view of Dictamnus in front border
     One of the great things about gardening is that you never really know everything there is to know about growing plants, even if you think you do.  Early in my gardening career I read about Dictamnus albus var. purpureus, also known as the pink burning bush, and I had briefly grown it then.  But back in the day it had not impressed me, probably because I never let it get big enough to perform well and because I hadn't put it in the right place.  Then a few years ago I was visiting Dancing Oaks Nursery, which I wrote about here, and they had one of these gas plants growing in their garden and I thought it was beautiful.  Then they told me it was drought tolerant, and I was hooked.
     So when I found some well grown plants of this in a local nursery I snapped them up and planted them in my front border.  They have done well there, without any supplemental summer water and in an area frequented by deer.  They just keep getting better from year to year.
     As you can see from the pictures, the plants have handsome foliage which stays nice looking all year long until they die down for the winter.  As I was working around them recently, I noticed that they had a wonderful citrus like odor. 
     They are commonly called burning bush because they give off essential oils which, it is said, will ignite if you hold a match to the base of the inflorescence, making a gassy noise and emitting a delicious aroma (or so says Christopher Lloyd in his book Garden Flowers). I have never tried this.
     By the way, Christopher Lloyd describes this plant as "one of the most handsome and distinctive hardy perennials in the repertory".   I would have to agree.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Giant Echium Flowers!

Self sown echiums blooming now in my garden

Closeup of flower tower
     I have previously written about some self sown echiums which are growing in my front border this year here.  As I mentioned in my last entry, I now think these are a hybrid sometimes called 'Mr. Happy' rather than Echium pininana, as I had previously thought since the flowers on pininana are generally blue or purple, rather than pink.  Also, I don't think I have ever grown a straight Echium pininana and had it flower, whereas I have gown Mr. Happy to flowering before.  However, I could be totally wrong about this. I am no expert on echium identification.  As I mentioned in my previous entry on these echiums, they are seedlings from long ago echiums, so their parentage is not at all certain.
     In any event, as you can see from the pictures these are giant spectacular flowers!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

More Front Border

Front border with alliums in bloom and eremurus getting ready to bloom

Another view of front border with variegated yucca aloifolia or gloriosa and tall echiums on the right

Nolina nelsoniis with Limnanthes douglasii underneath

Scilla peruviana with leaves nibbled by the deer and pink California poppy
     As I previously wrote about here I have been working hard in my front border.  It is a labor intensive space because it is so large and because I rely on self sowers quite a bit for its color and impact. Today's entry is another report on its progress.  As you can see by the first picture above, the alliums are now in bloom and the eremurus have sent up their bloom stalks, but the flowers have not yet opened. As the second picture shows, the big foliage mound in the center is Lobelia tupa, which is now over a foot tall.  It, of course, will not bloom until quite a bit later.  The first and second pictures also show two of my biggest restios--Rhodocoma capensis--with their sort of brownish seed heads around the edges of the pictures. The second picture also shows how big the echiums are which I blogged about here.  While I said those echiums were pininana in that blog, I now think they are, in fact, a hybrid known as Mr. Happy.
     These first two pictures also show a variegated yucca aloifolia or gloriosa, depending on who you ask.  I will have a future entry on this yucca, but suffice it to say it is no longer one of my favorite plants.
     The third picture is of my Nolina nelsoniis which I previously wrote about here.  These have been underplanted with Limnanthes douglasii, a California native annual which self sows so reliably and thickly that it might as well be a perennial. The fourth picture shows one of the few remaining Scilla peruvianas I have in this border.  If you read my previous entry on these here you might remember that I had to move them into the fenced in portion of my garden to protect them from the deer.  As you can see from the photo, the deer have munched some of their leaves, although, thankfully, have not yet eaten the flowers.  I suppose they will wait til the flowers are fully open to eat them!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Echium amoenum

Echium amoenum blooming now in my garden
     Blooming now in my garden is a great little echium which seems to be more common in nurseries than in the past, probably because it is being promoted as a Plant Select 'winner' of 2010.  Plant Select is a cooperative program of Denver Botanical Gardens and Colorado State University to seek out and distribute the best plants for the intermountain region to the high plains. I have found that most plants promoted by this organization are very hardy and drought tolerant, and that is certainly true of this echium. Indeed, it is supposed to be hardy down to zone 4.
     Looking at this picture, you might wonder how this echium differs from Echium russicum which I wrote about here.  While they seem to be very similar, the main differences that I have observed are that Echium russicum seems to have slightly taller spikes, and it does not seem to have such a bushy base.  Other than those slight differences, to the hoi polloi they look pretty much the same.  They both seem to like similar conditions--sun and well drained soil.  Echium amoenum is said to be tolerant of clay soils, but in my garden both plants perform well in similar soil conditions. Indeed, I wouldn't be surprised if these are considered to be synonyms of the same plant, although I have not yet gotten any confirmation of that fact.
     I have grown Echium amoenum for many years in my front border, and like most echiums it is not bothered by the deer.  I have forgotten where I got the first plants of this echium, but they are still alive and doing well in the front garden.  I bought 5 more of these plants last year at Swanson's nursery and the plant in the picture is one of those.  I also recently acquired more from Bay Hay, a local Bainbridge Island nursery.  This means that this plant is available from mainstream nurseries.  If your local nursery does not carry it you can always ask them if they can get it for you.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Lewisias in my sister's garden

Lewisia, probably a cotyledon hybrid, in my sister's garden

Another colored Lewisia in my sister's garden

Lewisia with Yucca linearifolia

View of entire bed in my sister's garden

Scilla peruviana about to bloom
     My sister, who lives in Salem, Oregon has a bed in her garden that is between her driveway and an alley.  When she first moved in there were two large pines in this bed.  She had them taken out and has created a very interesting rock garden in this area.  She did nothing to amend the soil here except to add some gravel on the surface.  She does not water this bed in the summer, either.
     She has planted this little rock garden with some of my favorite plants--alliums,  eremurus, and recently, Scilla peruviana.  The stars, however, at least at this time of the year, are the lewisias.  Lewisias, for those who don't know, are small plants native to the Pacific Northwest at usually high elevations. These plants, however, are not that difficult to grow provided they have sufficiently well drained soil and a fairly open situation.  They are well suited to rock gardens. The ones most commonly found in nurseries are forms of Lewisia cotyledon which is native to the Siskiyou Mountains of Southern Oregon and Northern California.  That is probably what the ones in my sister's garden are.
     As you can see from the pictures, the colors on these lewisias are clear bright jewel tones.  The flowers last a very long time.  They have been blooming as pictured for at least a month so far.
     I have grown lewisias from time to time in my garden, but I never found a good spot for them.  They always seemed to get swamped by other plants.  I recently, however, ordered several kinds from Beaver Creek Greenhouses which has an exceptionally long list of Lewisias.  They have arrived and are great looking plants.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Cypripedium hybrid 'Aki Light"

Cypripedium "Aki Light" blooming in my garden now
     I have previously written about cypripediums here.  Today, I want to focus on one of the hybrid cypripediums that is blooming now in my garden.  As I have previously mentioned, I have found the hybrids to be easier garden plants than the straight species.  This particular hybrid in the picture is called 'Aki Light' and it is a Frosch hybrid from Germany.  Frosch is one of the leading hybridizers of cypripediums and most of the hybrids on the market now come from his breeding program. 
     'Aki Light' is a cross between C. macranthos and C. pubescens.  Apparently, the flower color can vary somewhat from year to year and from plant to plant.  'Aki Light' is supposed to have large flowers for a cyp and this one certainly seems to be larger than some of my other cyp flowers.  According to what I have read online, it is supposed to have twice as large flowers as another relatively commonly available hybrid called 'Gisela', which I also have in my garden.
     Cypripediums are not cheap plants, and one of the reasons for this is that the nursery trade must grow baby cyps in flasks in laboratories--they are extremely difficult to grow from seed otherwise.  I suppose this is true of many if not all orchids.  While some orchids, such as Dactylorhizas, self sow in a garden, if one sets out to deliberately sow them, they are much more difficult.  I suppose that given the right conditions even cyps would self sow, but that happy event has not yet occurred in my garden.
     In any event, to grow cyps in large quantities, one must buy flasked seedlings from a lab, and then grow them on for several years before they are big enough to fend for themselves in a garden.  This whole process is fraught with difficulties in keeping the plants alive, and hence, the high price of cyps. 

Friday, May 10, 2013

Telopea Truncata with Mass Quantities of Flowers!

Telopea Truncata blooming in my garden now
     I have previously written about Telopea truncata, an evergreen shrub from Tasmania here and here.  This shrub has grown in my garden for upwards of 10 years, and it has never suffered from the cold.  This year it is putting on its best floral show ever--there are 12 of these great red flowers on it!  So maybe I am exaggerating when I say that this constitutes mass quantities of blossom, but that is the most that this shrub has ever had--three was the maximum number in years past.  I expect that as this plant gets older it will have more and more of these blossoms (I hope).  As I wrote before, my specimen is not particularly well shaped or beautiful, but I must admit that these flowers make up for that shortcoming.  Also, as I have previously written, these shrubs are very rare here, but this one has performed so well in my garden that I think more people should try to find them and grow them. 

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Paeonia Mascula type at Far Reaches Farm

Paeonia mascula type flower in bloom at Farm Reaches Farm
    As I mentioned yesterday, the shade garden at Far Reaches Farm is full of amazing treasures at their prime right now.  Among those are a number of species peonies, including this one.  Kelly says it is a mascula type, possibly a hybrid, which he salvaged from Leo Hitchcock's garden in Seattle in the 90's.  Leo was a botany professor at the University of Washington, and the author of Flora of the Pacific Northwest.  Kelly says that Leo had a garden in Seattle that had plantings dating from the late 40's and that it was full of horticultural treasures.  That property was sold to a developer who was going to destroy the garden, so Kelly managed to rescue some of the plants, including this one.  As a photographer, I am glad he did!
     I will have more posts about some of the species peonies later.  I have mixed feelings about them because their bloom period is so short--turn around and they will be done blooming, just about.  However, those mixed feelings evaporate every year at two times--when they first come up with their usually red snouts, and when they bloom.  This particular peony in the photo is a particularly photogenic one even if it is mainly white! Although this is a mascula type, it is not a usual mascula--those are usually pink.  I have a number of P. masculas in my garden and they self sow with abandon--to the extent that they will be on the noxious weed list before you know it!
     If you didn't already know this, if you click on the picture you can see a larger full frame version of it.  This is a good photo to do that to.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Maianthemum Oleraceum Revisited

Stalks of Maianthemum oleraceum at Far Reaches Farm
     I have previously written about Maianthemum oleraceum here.  In that post, I showed pictures of this plant in flower.  Today, I want to show you a photo I took on Saturday of this same plant growing in the shade garden at Far Reaches Farm.  As you can see, this is quite an impressive looking creature, even though it is not yet in bloom.  These bamboo like stalks which are two or three feet tall certainly grab the eye!  The plant I bought last year at Far Reaches is alive and growing in my garden, but it has only one stalk this year.  I am just waiting for it to get this big. 
     By the way, in one of his recent newsletters, Kelly mentioned that Far Reaches has many of these coming along, but they are not yet big enough to sell.  So put them on your wish list and drool! I will post more about my visit to Far Reaches tomorrow, but let me just say here that the garden there is simply amazing right now, and it is well worth the trek out there to visit.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Thamnocalamus tessallatus

Thamnocalamus tessallatus in my garden with Tetrapanax 'Steroidal Giant'
     One of the many kinds of clumping bamboo I grow in my garden is Thamnocalamus tessallatus, a tight clumper from South Africa.  This bamboo is rated hardy to zone 7 and, indeed, it has never suffered any damage from the cold in the almost 15 years it has been growing here in my garden.  For many years after I planted this bamboo I wasn't sure I liked it because in its youth it had a unkempt appearance, much like that of many teenagers I have known. However, the ugly duckling has now transformed into a swan as you can see!
     This bamboo, along with clumps of 7 other bamboos, forms a visual barrier on one side of my garden. That part of the garden is relatively close to a number of houses and so when I first began creating the garden I wanted to block those houses out with a hedge.  I originally planted Canadian hemlock, but the conditions in that part of the garden were not uniform and the hemlocks did not grow uniformly which is what you need to create a good hedge.  So I began planting bamboos which I staggered so they are not all in a straight line.  This has proved to be a great way to screen the neighbors and it has the advantage of not requiring clipping which the hedge would have.  In fact, I learned from this experience that a requirement that all plants in a row have a uniform appearance is a requirement just asking for trouble. Chances are that sooner or later one of the plants in the row will die, and then where are you?
     This picture above was created from 4 different exposures of the same shot using a technique known as HDR or High Dynamic Range photography.  This is a useful technique where, if you expose for one part of the photo, another part is either too dark or too light. By merging these 4 exposures, I was able to get all parts of the shot correctly exposed.  To do this it is recommended that you use a tripod, although I have seen HDR photos where no tripod was used. All shots, however, must be exactly, or pretty much, the same except for the exposure.  Then I use a program called Photomatix Pro to merge the shots, and then I process that merged image in Photoshop as I would any other image.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Corydalis buschii

Corydalis buschii surrounding a young Yucca linearifolia
     Blooming now in my garden is a patch of Corydalis buschii.  This is growing in the bed by the lionness sculpture.  I have previously blogged about this bed here and here.  Those entries discussed the Tropaeolum polyphyllum which is also planted in this bed, along with Scilla peruviana and some California poppies. Today, I am showcasing this nice little corydalis which blooms now and then goes out of sight later in the season when it goes dormant.
     I first got this corydalis from Janis Ruksans.  It was sent to me as these tiny, almost twig like rhizomes, which I was instructed not to let dry out.  I planted them and lo and behold, they survived and thrived.  Those plants are in another part of my garden and I believe they are still there.  These particular plants in the picture I got from Beaver Creek Greenhouses, a rock garden mail order nursery in British Columbia.  They have a great list of many rarities and I would highly recommend ordering from them.
     Corydalis buschii is touted as a woodland plant, but it is growing in almost full sun in this location and seems to do quite well.  The main problem I have with it is weeding in the patch. Since the plant dies down later in the summer, all manner of weeds try to get a foothold on top of it.  So when I do this weeding, I am always also digging out the Corydalis buschii rhizomes accidentally.  This, fortunately,  does not seem to hurt the patch and these dug up rhizomes can be replanted elsewhere in the garden. This plant comes from eastern Russia and Korea and is supposedly hardy to zone 4.
     The plant that the corydalis is growing around is a young Yucca linearifolia which I got a couple of years ago from Cistus nursery.  You can see what this yucca will look like at maturity here.

Friday, May 3, 2013


Emerging Gunnera tinctoria in the wild wetland area of my garden
     As I promised I would do a few blog entries ago, I am going to tell you about my experiences with Gunneras.  As you all probably know, the large familiar gunneras, Gunnera tinctoria and Gunnera manicata, are the kings of large leafed plants.  Well grown specimens of these plants are amazing sights to behold with stems well above human height and leaves in excess of 6 feet across.  I have grown many of them in my garden and, indeed, the one in the picture above is one of the few self sown seedlings I have found in the garden.
     Many gardeners are confused about the difference between Gunnera manicata and tinctoria.  In fact, many nurseries also seem confused and many plants appear to be mislabeled.  As I understand it, manicata is slightly less hardy than tinctoria.  The leaves of manicata are a little larger but less textured and held in more horizontal way.  Tinctoria is from Chile and is probably the better plant for our climate in the Pacific Northwest.
     In any event, both of these plants are moisture lovers which seem to do better beside streams, ponds or lakes.  The largest specimen I have seen was at Van Dusen Botanical Garden in Vancouver, BC.  There also used to be (and it is still there) a large specimen at Heronswood Garden. On a recent stroll of that garden with Dan Hinkley he told me that that plant recieved all the runoff, including fertilizer, from the nursery, and that was why it was so large.  It was also located right beside a swampy area of the garden.
     Gunneras are not necessarily shade plants.  I have seen slides in Dan's lectures of Gunneras growing in the wild in Chile in completely open conditions.  The massive gunneras at Van Dusen were also out in the open.  In fact, I have found in my own garden that gunneras do not like deep root infested shade, probably because they don't get enough moisture in competition with tree roots.
     So, the best way to grow large gunneras is in good soil without competition from tree roots, in a place where their roots can get lots of water, but their crown stays above winter wet, and then to water and fertilize them well in summer.  In our climate it is wise to cover the crowns in winter with straw or dead leaves or something to protect them from the cold.  Unprotected gunneras will sometimes be killed by cold in this climate.
     As for other species of gunneras, and I have read that there are at least 40, most of them are  apparantly not hardy.  I have acquired on 2 different occasions Gunnera killipiana, both times from sources in the San Francisco area. A picture of this gunnera may be found here. This is an attractive plant with red stems and large leaves but not as large as G. tinctoria.  Sadly both my plants succumbed to the cold the first winter I had them.
     Heronswood also carried some other gunneras including Gunnera insignis, from Costa Rica, I think.  A picture of that plant may be found here.  Sadly, it also is not hardy here.  In addition, Heronswood also offered a  hybrid of insignis and some other, more hardy gunnera, but I have also lost that plant to cold and I do not know that it is available anywhere anymore. Finally, Heronswood offered Gunnera perpensa, which is a gunnera from South Africa.  I grew this one in my garden for a few years, but it was proving to be extremely invasive in a wet area of my garden over the drainfield, so I took it out.  In my opinion it did not offer much except somewhat large leaves and that same look could be achieved by other less invasive plants such as Darmera peltata.  There are also some very small leaved gunneras which can be found here at local nurseries from time to time.  These, however, do not appeal to me--the lure of a gunnera is in the large leaves and so why in the world would I want a tiny leaved one?