Monday, July 25, 2016

Native Plants

Balsamroot and lupines at Columbia Hills State Park
Flower tapestry including castillejas and penstemons at Johnston Ridge, Mt. St. Helens
Flower field at Johnston Ridge, Mt. St. Helens
Flower field at Crater Lake
Phlox, lupines, and balsamroot at Columbia Hills State Park
Penstemons and castillejas at Crater Lake
Lewisia rediviva in my garden
Flower tapestry at Johnston Ridge, Mt. St. Helens
Calochortus on the John Day River, Oregon
Close Up of Calochortus on the John Day River
Castillejas, balsamroot and delphiniums at Rowena near The Dalles, Oregon
Lupines and Balsamroot at Rowena
Dichelostemma Pink Diamond in my garden
Lupines and balsamroot at Rowena
Mimulus lewisii at Crater Lake
Mimulus lewisii close up
Pacific Coast Iris Hybrid in my garden
Penstemon barretiae at Derby Canyon Natives in Peshatin, Washington
Penstemon rupicola in my garden

     I am growing more and more native plants in my new garden.  For those people who have known me for a long time, this is something new, since I have, in the past, been a champion of exotic plants from all over the world.  And I still like those exotic plants, and I still have many of them in my new garden.  But in my travels around the western United States, I have discovered that there is a wealth of beauty in our native plants, and that many of these plants are hard to come by in the nursery trade.  To me, that represents a new challenge in gardening!
     When I refer to native plants, I generally mean plants which are native to the western United States.  If a plant is native to Washington and Oregon, so much the better, but I don't want to limit myself to just those places in my search for beautiful, garden worthy plants.  I know there are some who think we should put blinders on and look only at plants which have historically grown on the little patch of land which is our garden, but I think that approach is not only boring, but it ignores all the great, beautiful plants which might thrive on our little patch.  I am limiting myself right now mainly to those plants which are native to the western United States simply because I am looking for drought tolerant plants, and this is the area which has those kinds of plants.  But if I find a plant from the Great Plains, for example, which will thrive and be beautiful in my new garden, I will also want that plant.
     In future blog posts I will talk about some of these plants and my experiences in growing them.  Some of the ones I am particularly enamored of presently include penstemons, particularly the shrubby ones, castillejas which I have already written about here,  lewisias,  various bulbs including calochortus and dichelostemma, Lomatium columbianum, astragalus, oxytropsis, Pacific Coast Iris, opuntias, and balsamroot.

Friday, July 22, 2016


Close Up of Dierama flowers

Backlit dieramas in my garden

     In my old garden I tried unsuccessfully a number of times to grow dieramas.  I didn't succeed with them there until I created a bed by adding 10 yards of sandy loam to a sunny bed right outside the front door.  This was a bed that didn't get any supplemental water in the summer, and the sandy loam was indeed very sandy.  I planted a Dierama pulcherimum there which I had purchased at Dancing Oaks.  This was in a 4 inch band pot, yet one year after planting it, it had bulked up in a gratifying manner and had even flowered.  In the past when I had planted dieramas they had sulked until they finally died.  So I can only conclude that they didn't much care for my compost rich, moist beds in the rest of my old garden.
     I believe it was in the third year that I had this plant from Dancing Oaks that I dug it up and divided it into 5 or 6 sections to move to my new garden.  Dieramas grow from what look like corms, and they are very easy to divide.  In any event, the plants you see in the pictures above are those divisions.  I planted them in a mass in my new garden, not out of any design principle, but merely to get them in the ground.  It was my intention to spread them out more after I had finished preparing the garden soil in my new garden.  As you can see, I have not gotten around to doing that, and I may never get around to it.  These plants, which were small divisions when planted, have bulked up nicely.  This is the third year they have been in this new garden.
     A little googling will reveal that there are many different species of dieramas, as this article on the Pacific Bulb Society's website explains.  Dierama pulcherimum is a southern African species, as are most of the dieramas.  Although the one I have is pastel pink, there are darker pink, and, indeed, almost purple forms of this plant.  I might, in the future, acquire a darker pink one, but I am not sure I like the darkest forms because they do not show up as well in the garden.  Many people do covet those dark forms, however.  I have noticed recently some very interesting dieramas at Far Reaches Farm, including a number in their display garden.  I might just have to acquire some of those.
     Dieramas are usually evergreen, with a grass like foliage base.  In a harsh winter this foliage base may appear pretty beat up and brown, and it is perfectly ok to cut it back just like you would cut back a grass.  This is best done in the spring, just as new growth is starting in.  This past winter was so mild that the foliage looked good and I did not have to cut it back.
     From a design perspective, dieramas should be placed where their dangling flowers can best be appreciated.  That I why I thought it would be better to place them throughout the garden, so they would act as accent plants, and their form could be appreciated.  However, I have now concluded that they do not look bad in a mass, even though I never would have thought so before.  I have planted each one about a foot and a half to two feet from their neighbors.  In between I have planted some Anchusa azurea.  This is a plant which blooms before the dieramas, and which is cut back after bloom, so by the time the dieramas bloom, the anchusa is just a neat rosette at ground level.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016


     I am growing more native plants in my new garden, and I will be having a blog post on that subject in the future.  One of these is calochortus, which is a bulb native to much of the western United States. There are approximately 70 species of these, according to Wikipedia, although very few of them are available for sale anywhere.  You can, however, buy a few types of bulbs of these from the big bulb suppliers.  That is what I did last fall--I ordered a color mix of calochortus venustus (I think) from Brent and Becky's Bulbs, but I must confess that I didn't get around to planting them until February of this year.  That late planting did not seem to faze them, and the pictures above are all of those bulbs.  By the way, these bulbs can be had for not too much money so it is mystery to me why more people do not grow them. 
     I planted these in the little bed in front of my house.  That bed is mounded and has fairly sandy soil.  It is in full sun.  These are the sorts of conditions that calochortus like.  In the places they grow in the west, they would be dry in the summer, although I am pretty sure that a little sprinkler action will not kill them.  You certainly would not want them to be completely soaking wet all summer after they have gone dormant, though.  I grew some of these in the front border of my old garden for many years, in an area that received no supplemental water in the summer, and they did quite well there.
     I recently acquired some Calochortus tolmiei from Seven Oaks Native Nursery in Albany, Oregon.  Seven Oaks is a wholesale nursery which grows many unusual native plants.  In addition to tolmiei they grow other calochortus, and I am sure I will be acquiring some of those others in the future.  Another good source for calochortus is Telos Rare Bulbs.  I will probably be ordering some from her in the future.  I would recommend her blog post on calochortus.
     Calochortus can be seen growing wild in many part of the west.  I belong to two Facebook groups, one for California wildflowers, and the other for Oregon wildflowers, and both of these groups have constant postings of beautiful pictures of calochortus.  These bulbs come in many different forms and colors and I am constantly amazed at their variety.  Even though there are these many forms and species of calochortus, there does not seem to be much seed being collected, nor much growing of these plants commercially except for what I have mentioned above.  I would hope that gardeners in the west would realize how great these natives are and attempt to grow them. 
     Calochortus have sort of long skinny foliage and stems, so they grow very easily through other plants or among grasses.  That is the way they grow in the wild.   They mingle very easily with other plants in the garden, particularly those that enjoy similar conditions. 

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Dry Garden

Scene from the driest part of my new garden

     I thought I was fairly well acquainted with plants that tolerated our dry summers here in the Pacific Northwest because in my old garden I had a large front border which I never watered.  I have found, however, that there are dry gardens and there are dry gardens.  The dry garden area that I used to have in my old garden was in a garden that existed over a fairly non draining clay sort of soil.  It actually got fairly wet in the wintertime, particularly a foot or so down.  Furthermore, the soil had been improved by me over a period of 20 years by the addition of compost,  so the soil retained some moisture well into the dry summer period.  In contrast,  in my new garden the soil seems to be a sort of sandy glacial till.  It is not the sort of sticky clay that was present in my old garden. 
     While the soil conditions seem to vary in my new garden, so that some areas are wetter than others,  in one part of the garden it is quite dry.  This part also does not receive any water from the sprinkler system, it is in full sun, and it is the most mounded area in the garden.  All these factors combine to make it very dry in the middle of summer here.  Last year I planted some Melianthus major and some Lobelia tupa in this area, since in my experience these were great, drought tolerant plants.  I learned, however, that they are not that drought tolerant.  While they are still alive, they are clearly suffering and stunted from lack of water.  Elsewhere in my garden where I have these same plants, they are doing quite well, but not in this dry area.  So I have resolved to remove them, and to concentrate on even more drought tolerant plants in this area.
     The picture above shows a portion of this area and it illustrates the sorts of plants I am putting here.  In the picture is a Yucca rostrata, one of the plants that I am relying on in much of my garden to provide evergreen structure to the garden.  As you can see, this plant does very well in our climate.  My main problem with it is that I have to search out specimens of the right size, and they are sometimes hard to find.  In other words, I don't want to pay for very large plants, but I don't want tiny ones either.  Five gallon specimens are just right.
     I am also planting lots of hardy opuntias in this area.  I have gotten a number of these from both Cistus Nursery,  and from Geoscape Desert Nursery, a mail order nursery in Idaho.  These should also provide some structure in this area. 
     In the picture you can also see some other plants that have shown they will do well here.  In the background you can see Monardella macrantha 'Marian Sampson' which I blogged about recently. In the foreground is Allium 'August Confection', a plant I got from Far Reaches last year.  This seems to be performing very well in this very dry location, and it blooms and provides interest at a time of year when many other plants are past their prime.  There is also an Eriogonum latifolium in the picture.  This is a seedling of a plant I got last year from Annie's Annuals.  None of the original plants I acquired last year are still alive, but I am hoping that this seedling will survive, based on the theory that sometimes seedlings survive better than their parents which were planted into the garden from a pot. I am also trying other eriogonums here, and some penstemons,  including Penstemon barrettiae, Penstemon newberryi, and Penstemon azureous.
     I have also planted lots of bulbs in this area, including Scilla peruviana, Dichelostemma Pink Diamnond, Calochortus tolmiei, and Allium Globemaster.  If you count Lewisia rediviva as a bulb, I have also planted lots of those here.  There are also some self sown Stipa tenuissima (or Nassella tenuissima, as I believe it is now called) here along with some self sown annuals, including various Phacelias.  I am hoping Phacelia campanulata will self sow here eventually.  All in all, I am looking forward to seeing how this part of my garden develops, because its dryness affords me a place to play with plants that I did not have as much success with in my old garden.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Restios In My New Garden

View of the long bed in my new garden
One of the Rhodocoma capensis plants in my new garden

     As I explained in a previous post, there is almost no shade in my new garden, and I am trying not to plant too many trees or shrubs.  This, however, leaves the problem of what to do for winter interest in the garden.  One of my solutions for this problem has been to plant lots of my go to restio, Rhodocoma capensis.  This restio, in my opinion, is the best one for our climate here on the Olympic Peninsula.  As I explained in a previous blog entry on the subject of restios, this one performed very well for over 10 years in my old garden, never suffering any winter damage.  So, one of my first plantings in the new garden consisted of 5 plants of Rhodocoma capensis, planted at intervals in the long bed which is on the south side of my house.  The pictures you see above are of these plants.  This is now their third year in the garden, so you see they are doing very well. 
     Since them, I have planted more of these, all around the garden.  From a design standpoint, I think it helps a garden to look like one cohesive whole if there is repetition of key plants.  These plants are good for this purpose because they are evergreen, and hence provide year round interest.  Furthermore, while they can get tall (6 feet or more), they have an airy, transparent look which makes them seem less oppressive than, say, various columnar shrubs and conifers which are often used for a similar purpose in a garden.  Indeed, at one point I contemplated using columnar conifers as exclamation points in this border, but I have now come around to the realization that these restios will serve that same purpose while being a little more graceful.
     I have also concluded that it is important not to plant any shrubs adjacent to the restios, because I want to be able to see the restios rising up out of the surrounding foliage.  Planting anything too tall and opaque around them would destroy the view of them that I want to see.  After all, their graceful shape and texture is one of the things I like about them.

Sunday, July 3, 2016


Castilleja integra in my garden

Castilleja miniata with Penstemon Red Rocks in my garden

Castilleja hispida in my garden

Castillejas at Johnston Ridge, Mt. St. Helens

Castillejas in a moist alpine meadow at Todd Lake in the central Cascades, Oregon

     If you do any hiking at all in the Pacific Northwest you have probably seen castillejas, known by their common name of Paintbrush.  I have seen them growing in virtually all habitats, from forests on the Oregon coast to blasted hot, well drained areas in the eastern parts of Oregon and Washington.  And until recently, I had thought they were too difficult to grow in a garden setting.  This notion that they are difficult garden plants probably stems from the fact that they are partially parasitic on the roots of other plants.  More precisely, they are hemiparasitic, meaning their roots tap into the roots of nearby plants to obtain nutrition from them.  Furthermore, experts have described them as nearly impossible to cultivate in the garden and difficult to grow from seed.  These notions, as we shall see, are erroneous.
     I first discovered that castillejas are, indeed, available in the nursery trade when I happened to see them on the list of available plants at Sunscapes Rare Plant Nursery, a mail order nursery in Colorado specializing in rare plants suitable for that climate. So last year I got three plants of Casilleja integra from them, and planted them near Stipa capillata in my garden. Two of them survived, and one of those is what you see in the first image above. Castilleja integra is native to the inland southwest in Pinyon and juniper forests.  It is native to Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and Texas.  The plant in the picture above is on a sloped area in my garden, so it is well drained, which I assume is something that Castilleja integra would require.
     Also, last year I visited a native plant nursery in Gig Harbor, Washington--Woodbrook Native Plant Nursery--and lo, and behold, they had Castilleja miniata available, so I purchased three of these and planted them by a Stipa gigantea and Pentemon Red Rocks.  This is seen in the second picture above. These did exceedingly well there.  One of them even bloomed last year, and that same plant has been blooming again this year.  It started its bloom in April, and still seems to be going strong. As it turns out, Castilleja miniata is one of the more common castillejas here in the Pacific Northwest, and it is probably more tolerant of moist conditions than some of the other castillejas.  Indeed, it appears that many castillejas enjoy moist conditions.  For example, the castillejas growing by Todd Lake, seen in the last picture above, were growing in a very marshy meadow.
     I also acquired some Castilleja hispidas last year from Dancing Oaks Nursery.  I planted these in a much drier part of my garden, thinking that was what they wanted.  As it turns out, I was wrong! I think it got too dry for them, particularly as they were first getting established.  Anyway, only one of them survived, but that one is now blooming.  Castilleja hispida is also a Pacific Northwest native. The third picture above is of a Castilleja hispida in my garden, planted near some penstemons.
     Not too long ago I also received some Castilleja chromosa from Sunscapes.  These were tiny plants, but at least two of them are still alive in the garden.  Only time will tell if they survive and thrive.
     Finally, earlier this year I managed to find the list of available plants put out by Seven Oaks Native  Nursery, a wholesale native plant nursery in the Willamette Valley of Oregon.  They listed both Castilleja miniata and hispida in mass quantities!  So I made a trip down and bought mass quantities, and planted them in my garden.  They seem to be doing well, and I hope that next year I will have a show to rival that found in some of the areas in the wild where castillejas abound.
     After growing these plants for a little over a year now, I can convey the following bits of wisdom.  First, they need a fair amount of moisture to get established.  I have killed a few by letting them get too dry.  Second, while not particularly picky about host plants, I don't think you can go wrong planting them near grasses or penstemons.  I have also heard that eriogonums and salvias are good host plants.  From what I have read about suitable host plants, the most important point is to make sure the host likes similar conditions to those preferred by the castilleja. Duh! Finally, while they should be planted close to the host, they shouldn't be completely shaded out by the host.
     I have found two very good articles on growing castillejas in old issues of the North American Rock Garden Society Quarterly, Vol. 63, No. 2,  and Vol. 65, No. 3.  These are available as free downloads if you go the the NARGS website.  One of these articles tells how to best grow them from seed, and I plan to try that this fall and winter.  There are many tantalizing castillejas to be found in various seed lists, There is even a pink flowered castilleja native to the Olympics which I want to try.  There are also some annual castillejas which I am going to try.  Hopefully my garden will soon be overflowing with castillejas, much to the hummingbirds' delight.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Monardella macrantha 'Marian Sampson'

     Monardella macrantha 'Mavis Sampson' is one of my new favorite plants.  I got three of these last year from Far Reaches, and all of them did well, although the one shown in the picture did the best.  This one is planted in probably the driest and sunniest part of my garden.  It is on a very slight slope and the sprinkler system does not reach it.  Last summer I did water it every once in a while because I wanted it to establish well, and I have found that even drought tolerant plants do better with some watering, especially when they are first getting established.  The other two plants of this are on more of a slope in an area of the garden that the sprinkler system does reach, and it's an area that receives a little bit more shade (although it would still be considered full sun).  Both of those plants, while doing well, are not as big as this one.  Although you can't really tell the size of this plant from the picture, I would say it is about two feet across.
     As you can see from the picture, this monardella is fairly flat to the ground, and that makes it somewhat of a challenge in deciding where to put it in the garden. Obviously, it would not do in a regular herbaceous type border, nor would it do in any spot where it would be in danger of being swamped by its neighbors. However, it would do nicely in a rock garden, or in a bed populated by taller solitary plants, like opuntias or yuccas.  I have also seen it successfully grown in containers.  There is a good example of this at Far Reaches.
     This plant is a California native which has proven to be so hardy that it was a Plant Select selection in 2014.  Plant Select, for those who don't know is a joint project between Colorado State University and the Denver Botanical Garden.  Its mission is to find and recommend plants suitable for growing in that area. I have found that almost all Plant Select plants do quite well in my garden, even though it is considerably wetter and milder than the climate that its plants are aimed at. On their website Plant Select calls this plant Hummingbird Trumpet Mint, which gives a clue as to its appeal to hummingbirds.These wonderful blooms, by the way, last all summer.
     In googling this plant, I came across an article in Pacific Horticulture magazine, found here, which sets forth the history of this plant in great detail.  This was a Pacific Plant Promotion plant, offered in the year 2000 by Pacific Horticulture magazine.  I was on the board of that magazine at the time (I think) and I remember voting in favor of the Pacific Plant Promotion program, but I did not, at the time, fully appreciate this particular plant.  So apparently it has taken it this many years, and the efforts of Plant Select to really get this great plant out into mainstream horticulture.