Friday, January 28, 2011

Winter Fire

Parrotia Persica bud 1
Parrotia persica (Persian Ironwood)
The Persian Ironwood trees we planted last fall (fall of 2009) are about to bloom. I didn't expect them to bloom yet for a couple more years, especially as stressed as they were this summer, but hey, I'm not complaining :-)

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

My Eyes Turn to the Back Yard

backyard header
The time has come...I've been putting it off and putting it off. The backyard is in need of love. Honestly, can you even call it a backyard right now? It's a pile of dirt and weeds. Before we moved in, we had the tiny garage that sat in the area. It was leaning badly and in addition to being ugly, was an insurance risk, so we had it removed as part of our closing. The ground it sat on is, as you can imagine, not the greatest! The area in question is relatively small by Portland standards...and positively TINY by all other standards...around 10' x 30'.
As you can see in the images to the left, the area is fairly small, very narrow, and is tightly sandwiched between 3 house. The proximity of the other houses creates areas of deep shade along the south and east portion of the space. The rest actually gets almost full sun, making it pretty much my only full-sun space on the property.

The soil is awful and contains a lot of the sod from the rest of the yard. I must admit, I am wholly to blame for the weeds that FLOURISHED back there. The tiny pokeweed that popped up 2 summers ago grew into a miniature forest this summer. I finally chopped down all the remaining stalks this past weekend and disposed of them.

I worked all winter to come up with some sort of plan, a jumping-off point. I've made revisions, started over, and actually gave up for a while. The space has proven to be trickier to deal with than I'd anticipated. The long, narrow space and variable light conditions are really tricky to resolve.

Below you can see the current plan. It's actually flipped, so the top is south, it's just how I think of the space :-) We would really like to do the hardscape portion first, as most designers will recommend. The main factors are funds and skill...namely a lack of both!

We are leaning toward standard red brick, hopefully something used or aged...I always like the look of the aged brick, versus the new-looking brick. Neither of us has ever laid down a path or patio before, so it's going to be a bit of a learning experience.

I am considering putting a small fence along our neighbor's drieway to create a tiny bit of privacy in the "sitting area". I'm thinking maybe a few posts with cable running through them covered with a grapevine or some other climber.


As far as the pavers go, I'm actually thinking it might be more realistic to plant things this year and follow-up with the hardscape next year or the year after. Hopefully by then, we'll have saved up a bit of $$$ and will have a better idea of what we really want.

Honestly, I'm not looking forward to digging up the's such a mess back there. There is heavy clay and concrete debris from where the old garage was, lots of sod from previous gardening projects, and lots of sand filling in the huge hole where the oil tank was. I'm thinking we might rent a rototiller...or even "GASP" hire someone to till it for us. I's crazy...I've never paid someone to do something I could (technically) do myself.

Anyway...that's the boring for the good stuff...the plants!!! Below is the large version of the plan, showing all the plants. I actually bought all of the Agastaches last fall in a fit of passion (and probably a sale) at High Country Garden's website. At the time, I was intending on doing our parking strips before the back yard, and figured they'd be perfect for a hot, dry spot that might not get as much irrigation as the rest of the garden. After realizing the backyard was more of a priority, I started on plans for it. Since the Agastache are already purchased, everything else was chosen around them. Nothing else is truly set in stone, and I've been exploring many different varieties of plants. I also realize I likely won't be able to afford to plant everything all at once, so will probably plant a bunch of annuals from seed to fill in the gap, I'm guessing things like Cosmos, Gomphrena and Nasturtium.


So there it future plans all summed up in one little drawing...what do you think? Do you have any you see any obvious problems? I'm pretty excited to get started, but totally overwhelmed by it all. I know once the ground is tilled up and it comes to planting, I'll be in the's the getting there that worries me ;-)

Friday, January 21, 2011

A Year in the Life - Crocosmia 'Orangeade'

Crocosmia 'Orangeade'
Before I moved to Portland, I had never seen a Crocosmia, except on TV and in gardening books. At first, it seemed the only variety I ever saw was the bright red 'Lucifer'. Not being a big fan of bright red, I sort of wrote off all Crocosmias for a while. The more I explored other gardens around our neighborhood, however, the more varieties I discovered. There were lots of red ones, true, but there were also sunny yellows and glowing oranges, along with many combinations thereof. I suddenly had the feeling that somewhere out there, there might be a Crocosmia for me! As it turned out, I got this one, 'Orangeade' at Joy Creek of my favorite nurseries and home to many plants I've adopted over the past year or so :-) I like to think of 'Orangeade' as 'Lucifer's younger, hotter, funnier cousin :-)

In my garden, this Crocosmia seems to emerge at about the same time as other perennials...late February to early March. You can't miss the foliage, as it looks much like Iris foliage (to which it is related), but is slightly pleated.

Around the middle of July, 'Orangeade' starts to send up its little wands of flower spikes. this is actually my favorite stage in the plants growth. I love the little serpentine spikes, which reflex a bit, looking like little cobras. They are also vibrantly colored, as you can see above, with purple, orange and yellow.

'Orangeade' seems to begin flowering during the latter part of July. Although I often shy away from such brighly-colored flowers, I couldn't resist these. The interiors of the blossoms are more yellowish, but the reverse is a warm orange, giving the flowers a delicious multi-toned effect.

IMG_6091 This was the first full season for this plant (planted the previous autumn) and I was amazed at how much bigger it was from the previous season...I hadn't expected it to settle in so quickly! At first, there seemed to be perhaps a dozen or so flowering stems, but each few days, another one seemed to pop up and I'd estimate there were at least 30 or so flowering stems total...I can hardly imagine what this coming year will result in!

I particularly like how it's warm orangey color echos the Helenium 'Mardi Gras', growing at the north end of the bed and the Agastache 'Rupestris' that are scattered around the bed. I always try to repeat similar colors in the garden, even if it's with different types of really helps to pull your eye through the garden.

I also enjoy how this Crocosmia, along with the Agastache and Helenium sort of usher in a new season in the garden. The pinks and purple tones of spring and early summer give way to warmer colors...the oranges, reds and yellows.

At the height of their flower, 'Orangeade' literally stops people in their tracks. It's one of the few flowers that people will actually inquire about if I happen to be out in the garden doing chores. I even see people stop to admire it while walking their of the benefits of having such a short front yard...I can see exactly what's going on right from my office window! Of course, for each person who compliments it, an equal amount warn me about Crocosmia's propensity to colonize aggressively.

I really appreciate how well 'Orangeade' works will its neighbors, even blues...which I worried slightly about, the orange is so bright! Also, its bloom season overlaps nicely with Rudbeckia triloba (another neighbor). The play of the orange and bright yellow is wonderful and really is a harbinger or the autumnal hues which are starting to dominate in the garden.

In any case, 'Orangeade' typically tapers off its bloom toward the end of August, and is done by mid-September, at which time the neighboring Rudbeckia is a veritable cloud of tiny yellow blooms. I do need to find something hardy to cover it's bare little ankles, however :-)

Crocosmia are happily well-mannered enough to be self-cleaning, all the flowers drop off on their own after blooming. After the last of the blooms has faded, you are left with the ripening seed heads, which continue to provide a delightful architectural element to the garden. As you can see in the picture above, the curving, wavy wands of seed heads give a wonderful, textural quality.

So there you have it, Crocosmia 'Orangeade'. A hardy perennial related to the Iris, but growing from corms instead of rhizomes. Hardy to about zone 5 (unless I'm mistaken). In my garden, it seems to get between 2' - 2 1/2' tall. I've found this one to be extremely vigorous, floriferous and resistant to pests and disease. Give them a won't be disappointed! What about you have a favorite Crocosmia, do you even like you have horror stories of them rampaging through your garden?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

O, The Wormwood and the Gall

Artemisia 'Powis Castle' in summer

Artemisia, once referred to as wormwood, is a varied family of mostly silver-leaved herbs, many of which are great garden plants. Growing up, my mother adored 'Silver Mound', unfortunately for her, so did our cats. Without fail, ever summer as they reached the peak of their beauty, our cats would have a slumber party on them, smashing them flat and ruining their look for the rest of the season. Sharing the same silvery-green color, but much, much larger, is 'Powis Castle'. Its size seems to vary, depending on its growing conditions, in my garden, it gets 2-3' tall, and spreads to at least 6'.


Here it is last fall, as you can see, it looks pretty healthy and has a good spread. However, if you look at the upper portion, above the crown, you can see all the bare stems. As fall wore on, it became worse and worse, after the 2nd frost this winter, it seemed to lose almost all its foliage and collapsed.


Yikes, as you can see from the above photo, taken 1-17-2011, it looks a bit sad. Ryan Miller, of gnomiscience, and I have been having a conversation about what is the best time and procedure for pruning this puppy. From what I've gathered, the best time to prune is in early spring, just before, or as it starts growing.


You want to cut back any dead and broken stems, but leave plenty of buds (like the above), as the plant will apparently not sprout from the woodier portions of it's stem. I'm thinking February will be a good time to try it out, as its still a bit early (depsite some signs of growth). Wish me you have any experience with 'Powis Castle'? What do you do when it needs pruning?

Ryan Miller and I have each been claiming that OUR 'Powis Castle' is definitely the ugliest at the moment...what do you think...whose is worse?!? Please, don't worry about hurting our feelings :-) Here's his post on the subject.

My Artemisia

The Moldy Octopus
Ryan's Artemisia

Monday, January 17, 2011

Winter Interest Part II : SNOW!

Frozen Claws

In a follow-up to last weeks post about Winter Interest in my garden, I decided to do a related post today about the unique winter interest that only snow can provide! We haven't gotten any significant snowfall in PDX this year (and except for one brief showfall, a measly 2" or so last winter) none for the past 2 years. In 2008, however, we got an enormous amount of snow for Portland...something like 8". Needless to say, I ran all over the city, snapping pics!

Winter's Ribs



Bamboo Bokeh





Of course, Winter interest isn't limited to the garden!



St. Johns Snow Study #3


Friday, January 14, 2011

Winter Interest in the Absence of Snow

Carex, unknown name
Ah, the inevitable post on the "evergreen" topic, Winter Interest. I will admit, I have mixed feelings about it. I love the idea of it, and when I see other people do it, it seems so easy, effortless, logical. Then I look at my garden. Soggy, gray, blah. I don't understand, I have grasses, seedheads, some evergreen plants. Yet every day when I walk home, i see my sad little patch of dirt...more bare ground than anything right now. Enough of that! Time to focus on what is great about the garden now. All that's needed is a sunny day and I can venture out and appreciate the subtle details that ARE beautiful. Take the above...a little Carex I planted this spring and promptly lost the tag, so I can't for the life of me remember what kind it is. I love it's warm, muted colors, especially now. My favorite part about this sedge, however, is how the ends curl and corkscrew around themselves. So simple, so charming.

Eupatorium rugosum (Chocolate Joe Pye Weed)
Above, we see an old favorite, 'Chocolate' Joe Pye Weed, backlit by the morning sun. I love how ephemeral and delicate the seeds are now, and the wiry graceful and delicate. In five minutes, however, the light has changed and the effect is gone.

Sedum 'Autumn Joy' and Verbena rigida
A perennial favorite, 'Autumn Joy' Sedum continues to look good all year. The stems and flower heads will remain standing until I cut them down. They offer so much wonderful color and structure to the winter garden. Their burnt umber seed heads and flat form are such a great contrast to everything else. The Verbena is particularly lovely when backlit, highlighting all the little hairs on the stems and seeds.

Rudbeckia triloba
One of my favorite perennials, this one is one of the anchors of my winter interest plants. It's bulk is gone, but the small black seed heads remain. From a distance, they almost appear to hover, and on sunny days, their warm orange-brown tones are especially welcome. As seen above, they also contrast well with the bleached white stems of the Russian Sage.

Miscanthus 'Malepartus'
The grasses are invaluable in the winter garden. Miscanthus 'Malepartus', shown above, really reminds me of corn stalks during winter, with it's bleached blonde leaves and stalk-like stems. Not only is it lovely to look at, particularly the frothy, wispy seed heads, but it makes wonderful rustling sounds in the wind.

Calamagrostis 'Overdam'
Although I though I was getting the taller 'Karl Foerster' when I bought this (reminder, don't just grab things at the nursery thinking you know what they are...check the label!). I actually think now that this shorter variety is more in scale with its location. It's one of my favorite grasses in the garden right now for its winter interest. It keeps its strictly upright habit all winter long, and it's lovely seed heads are stunning when backlit.

Muhlenbergia capillaris and Aster 'Purple Prince'
Even after the lovely pink color of the Muhly Grass has faded to a blondish-buff color, it remains lovely, due to it's light, effervescent quality. It catches even the slightest bit of here in the early morning (the only sun this part of the garden gets in winter). Seen here with the blackened stems of Aster 'Purple Prince'. I actually really love plants whose frames turn black in the winter, they look so striking and graphic against softer forms and colors. Muhly grass also has the distinction of being the only grass in my garden that is evergreen.

Eupatorium 'Gateway'
Here is the big brother to 'Chocolate' Joe Pye. Even in death, Joe Pye is an imposing specimen. It's strong, rigid stems will remain standing all winter. They are a dark, brown-black and stand out strongly and graphicly. Their seedheads are now light and skeletal, imparting such a different look compared to other times during the year.

Eupatorium 'Gateway'
Here are the stems and leaves, I think even the curving, drying leaves are beautiful. I love their sinuous, almost seductive, shape and the way light plays off all the ridges and folds.

Pennisetum grass in winter
Pennisetum 'Moudry'
This grass is somewhat differen from my other Pennisetum in that it's bottle-brush seed heads don't last through the winter. They shatter early in winter, yet their foliage remains. I love it's fountain-like form and how it's once broad blades are reduced to mere whiskers, a diaphenous curtain.

Monarda 'Jacob Cline'Seed Head
The papery, rounded seed heads of Monarda are lovely in winter. Unfortunately, due to a large Powdery Mildew outbreak this summer, I cut most of my Monarda to the ground and disposed of all the cuttings. 'Jacob Cline', however, was one Monarda not affected, so he remains, lone sentinel along the foundation.

Monarda 'Jacob Cline' foliage
You have to love Monarda, if for nothing else, then for their sheer tenacity. Most of them maintain a small amount of basal foliage all winter long, just biding their time until spring. Here, one stem from last year still clings to life, refusing to give in. I love how the foliage turns all different shades of red, pink, purple.

Here are a few other interesting seed heads from the garden:

Helenium 'Mardi Gras'

Echinops bannaticus

Monday, January 10, 2011

A Year in the Life - Lilium 'Black Beauty'

Lilium 'Black Beauty'

There I was, at the Yard Garden & Patio Show last spring. Anyone who has been to one of those shows knows how overwhelming they can be. Tons of people, tons of products. I made it over to a small booth for the Lily Pad Bulb Farm, where they had baskets of lily bulbs as big as my fist. I picked up one of the giant bulbs, labeled 'Black Beauty'. The photo on its label showed a blossom like something from a dream, deep raspberry-red flowers with a white margin and darker red speckling. Most inportantly, it had those lovely, recurved petals, what I'd later learn was referred to as a "Turk's Cap Lily". I bought 3 of those giant bulbs, giddy with the idea of having my own lilies.

'Black Beauty' was created by Dr. Leslie Woodriff around 50 years ago, a cross of Lilium henryi and Lilium speciosum, and is officially classified as and Orienpet lily (cross between and Oriental and a Trumpet). Apparently it was the first of its kind, and seen as a huge step in breeding.

Extremely hardy and long-lived, mature plants can top 7' tall and will reproduce to form large colonies if they are happy. I'm not sure of their hardiness, but from looking online, they seem to be hardy to at least zone 4. Like most lilies, they like deep, rich, moist, well-drained soil. They also prefer to have their tops in the sun, but their feet kept cool.

Always make sure your bulbs are nice and firm without any trace of mold. Keep them stored in a cool, dry place. I believe they can be planted any time the soil isn't frozen. I planted these 6" deep in late February or early March, as soon as I could after purchasing them. Now comes the hardest part, the waiting. I can be a bit neurotic, and will have to admit, I checked the spot where I had planted them every morning, looking for any sign of activity.


Here is a photo taken April 7, right as the first lily is emerging (about a month after planting). In areas prone to late frosts, I would definitely cover the buds with some leaves should frost threaten. In general, they are not bothered by pests, but slugs would happily feed on the new shoots. I constantly apply slug bait around the lilies for the first month or so, especially after a heavy rain.


Believe it or not, this picture was taken after only another week or so, on May 16. As you can see by all the lovely white pellets, I was still scattering slug bait at this taking chances!


Here are the same plants on May 4, about 2 weeks later. As you can see, by the time they reached this size, I had stopped with the slug bait. Yes, that's a lovely garden hose in the background :-) I believe just after this pic was taken I decided to plant a Sanguisorbia in the middle of these three lilies, to cover the bare ground and give a little more interest...lily flowers are lovely, but their bare knees could use a little covering-up. The "naked ankles" syndrom is exacerbated by the fact that my garden is on a slope and they were right at the top of that slope.

Aha...the buds appear! While most lilies seem to bloom in late spring/early summer, 'Black Beauty' has the distinction of being one of the last lilies to bloom, right around August. Sure enough, during the last week of July, the buds started to elongate, ripe with the promise of blooms to come! I believe 'Black Beauty' topped out around 4' this year in the garden, and despite their large load of blooms, none of the stems required staking, which surprised me a bit. Also, right about this time, as the lilies were days from blooming, I had several stems of my Monarda 'Raspberry Wine' "harvested" by strangers during the night. I was glad I had decided to plant the lilies further up the hill, away from the sidewalk, where they may have also have been a tempting target.

This seem to be the time of year that liles (at least the ones I've had in the past) can use a bit more water. I've had other lilies drop their buds if they get too stressed during a heat wave, especially if the soil gets too dry. I try to keep the plants consistently moist (but not wet) during the entire growing season. I also mulch them fairly heavily to keep the soil cool.

And here we have it! These first few blooms are the most precious, they open slowly at first, 1 here, 2 there...then suddenly the whole plant seems covered in shimmering blooms. I didn't keep good count, but it seems each plant produced between 10-15 blooms and the bloom period started during the last week of July and lasted about a month, which seemed quite impressive for only 3 bulbs planted that spring.

I'll admit, I generally prefer plants that produce a multitude of smaller, simpler flowers...but lilies may be the one exception. There is something so regal and exotic about them...I can't quite describe it.

If 'Black Beauty' has one shortcoming, it's that it does not possess much (if any) fragrance. This may actually be a benefit for those can't stand the smell of lilies. My old roommate said the smell of lilies reminded her too much of funerals. Well, lucky for me, the scent holds no funereal recollections. I love that spicy-sweet perfume. In any case, while some claim 'Black Beauty' is "lightly frangrant", I could detect no fragrance at all...pity.



Here is a full-on view of the garden, warts and all! 'Black Beauty' is circled on the left hand side. Pretty much that entire 1/3 of the garden was planted this spring, so was still a little empty this year. Hopefully things will fill out this coming year and all the gaps and bare ground will be covered.


And here we have 'Black Beauty' this autumn, just before a hard free stripped the stems of their leaves. I can't remember if other lilies I've had turn such a lovely shad of yellow in the was definitely a nice surprise!

So there you have it, Lilium 'Black Beauty', a lily I can heartily recommend for its easiness to grow, toughness and stunning beauty. I'm hoping my 3 bulbs are happy in their spot and come back this year, and that they multiply to create a nice colony. I've already got visions of 7' tall stalks with 50 blooms each dancing in my head :-) Do any of you grow lilies...if so, what are your faves, your disappointments?