Thursday, January 30, 2014

This is why gardeners are never bored...

cheyenne sky blades at sunset
For todays post...let's take a trip into the not-so-distant past...last September, to be precise.

north border from east  1890
When we first moved to our house in SE Portland, I started digging up the lawn about a month after we moved in. One of our neighbors noticed, and one day, showed up on our front steps with a plant in his hands...a gift! It was a nice little Variegated Willow...a plant I have to admit I probably wouldn't have picked out myself (that's it in the background of this photo).

Sunny Midday Garden  2100
It was a nice enough plant...but I just couldn't find a good spot for it...I must have moved it at least 3 times in as many years. It was too big for my garden...and just didn't fit in. Every time I walked by, I would hunger for that space it was taking up!

Dug up
In any case, this spring, as I posted previously, I planted some grasses (Panicum 'Cheyenne Sky') in the area adjacent to the Willow.

Planted Below
It was odd...but suddenly, since it was newly-planted and at the forefront of my mind, I started pondering that whole section of the garden once again.

Planted above
Seeing the grasses...and imagining them as they mind swam with possibilities, which I hinted at here.

Sunset Panicum Daucus
As spring turned to summer, I began to realize just how much I love this area now, with its grasses...I spent a lot of sunsets the last rays of sun caught the Panicum.

And I finally admitted to myself what I've known all the while. The Willow had to go. I wanted to expand this new micro-meadow and really exploit the sunset in this area (which the Willow, unfortunately, blocked).

new grass planting  3556
Happily, another gardener and blogger (Jenni at Rainy Day Gardener) said she'd take the Willow...which was a huge was a lovely plant...and just because it wasn't working in my garden didn't mean it had to die!

new grass planting  3557
Another trip to my beloved Wind Dancer and I had several more Panicum 'Cheyenne Sky' to fill in the area.

different cheyenne skies
It's funny to see how different the coloring is..on the right are the Panicums that I planted in the spring...on the left, the newly-planted ones...they have a much yellower tone, don't they!

grasses where willow was
In the background, I planted a few Pennisetum macrourum I had purchased in the spring and was growing in a container (which they had rapidly outgrown...those puppies are vigorous)!

october willowless corner
Thie Pennisetum is one of my favorite plants for catching light...and this clump echos another clump of the same grass in the facing parking's a thing ;-)

Cheyenne Sky at dusk
I also randomly planted some Agastache 'Black Adder' that had been struggling in the parking strips and some Sanguisorbia 'Tanna' I had bought on impulse. It's too early to say exactly how it will mature...but I spent the rest of the summer/fall intensely enjoying the show!

cheyenne sky sunset
Our grill is right next to this planting, so I spend almost every evening out here, waiting for whatever I'm grilling...and just enjoying the view.

dewy pennisetum hameln  3557
Even as sparse as it is right now...I have to say this planting feels much more at home in my garden than the willow ever did.

side garden from west  3559
Also, unlike the Willow, which was fairly static during the growing season...

north border from west  3666
...grasses, of course, are constantly changing, marking the seasons...

glowing north border
...and they celebrate the weather like nothing else!

side yard
I think this new planting made a huge (positive) impact on this area of the garden...not only did it open up the garden spatially, but it let light into an area that had become a bit dreary.

cheyenne sky v
Light, movement, color, texture.

sunny october sunrise
I have to say, I shouldn't have waited as long as I did to make the change!

Panicum cheyenne sky leaves
Then again, I wouldn't have appreciated it as much if I hadn't come to it in such a roundabout way (is there any other way in my garden...apparently not)!

north border with cat
As the first rains fell and fall gave way to winter...I was still in love with this area.

dewy north border h
And still am today.

leaf caught in cheyenne sky
I think this was the last of my big (ok, big for me) garden projects this past year...and now I look forward to this season as spring is just around the corner. Have you ever taken the "long route" to a solution in your own garden?

PS - I've gotten a few emails recently from people who were unable to leave comments...please let me know if you are having problems as well...and so sorry for the inconvenience!

UPDATE: It appears that one possible solution (especially if you are using Chrome, which recently released an update) is a plugin conflict..especially one called "Ghostery". Toggling plugins off and on may fix the problem

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Specifically, Seed Heads

Seedhead Header
Today's post could very well have been tacked onto last weeks post...but it was already so long, I decided it could be a follow-up of sorts. Even as a kid I was kind of fascinated by the gone-over remains of flowers...their spare, gothic beauty...and, of course, the fact that they contained next years crop. Growing up, my parents had a huge yard, and we were poor, so I planted almost everything from seed...which made gathering seeds each fall a big part of my gardening year. Luckily, I loved never felt like work...especially when I realized that a single seed head contained as many seeds (if not more) than the packets I had bought that spring.

These days, I have a tiny garden and barely grow anything from seed (what would I do with all the extra plants)!?! However, I still love seed heads...and in winter they provide enormous interest in the garden.

Selinum seed head
This is the same plant as's fascinating to watch seed heads deteriorate over the winter.

rudbeckia triloba seed head
Those of you who grow this Rudbeckia (R. triloba) know how important it is to leave the stems standing over winter...

Bent and broken
...not only is their warm, chocolate color beautiful, but you rely on them spreading seeds for future generations of plants. Rudbeckia triloba isn't exactly biennial, but it's definitely short-lived...and without new seedlings, it would soon disappear from my garden.

astrantia seed heads
Another plant with a propensity for re-seeding is the beloved Astrantia.

The remains you see aren't actually the flowers at all, but like Eryngiums and Euphorbias...these are the showy, papery bracts...don't you love how they catch the light!

Monarda Purple Rooster Seed Head
I love the seed heads of Monarda...they are so architectural...almost like a beehive with all those abutting cells.

Achnatherum calamagrostis winter
I adore this grass, Achnatherum calamagrostis...the feathery plumes at this time of year remind me a bit of a feather boa...maybe worn by Las Vegas showgirl in another life.

monarda seed headsv
These blobby Monarda 'Purple Rooster' seed heads reveal the best use of seed heads...dark silhouettes against a lighter background.

Allium seed heads
While quite a few Allium seed heads have deteriorated by now, those of Allium nigrum are especially durable.

schizachryium blue heaven
While a far cry from their fluffy autumnal show, these downy tufts on Schiazachyrium 'Blue Heaven' still catch the light nicely, don't you think?

schizachryium blaze
As do the curlicue blooms of Schizachryium 'Blaze'

echinacea seedhead
Of course, one of the best plants for dramatic winter seed heads is the invaluable Echinacea purpurea.

deschampsia scrim 2
They are even more striking when immersed in a frothy scrim of Deschampsia.

origanum seed heads 2
Again, I will probably pay for leaving these standing...but how could I cut down these Origanum seed heads...look at how they catch the light!

Veronicastrum have some of the best winter structure of any plant...sadly, mine are now flattened after a family of raccoons (seriously...FIVE raccoons) rampaged through the garden a few weeks ago.

vernonia seed heads
Vernonia seed heads always take me by surprise...not only are they delightfully fluffy...but they have a slight mauve tint to them!

I know I've shown pics very similar to this before...but I can't help myself...this has been, perhaps, my favorite winter vignette this year. Agastache 'Purple Haze' hat's off to you.

Eutrochium seedheads
I'll never cease to be amazed at how such a large, swarthy plant as Eutrochium is reduced to such delicate beauty after a few months of winter.

agastache and deschampsia
After 'Puprle Haze', Agastache 'Golden Jubilee' has just about the best winter structure of any of the Agastaches. It's stiff, rigid framework is a wonderful contrast to the ephemeral Deschampsia.

They are also a dymanic partner with the strong, but gently-arching lines of Muhlenbergia rigens.

Agastache Golden Jubilee Seed head
Such a versatile plant!

Monarda seedhead
The diminutive Monarda bradburiana might be my new go-to plant for edging where I need it. Tough, beautiful and long-lasting.

Panicum Northwind Seed Heads
Another plant whose taken on a much more diaphanous appearance during winter is Panicum 'Northwind'...which has become one of my favorite plants over this past year.

seed head sculpture
Guiltily...this isn't really a seed head at's a metal sculpture.

vertical echinacea and Deschampsia
So what do you think...have I convinced you about the beauty of seed heads? If not, there's also the fact that they are a valuable food source for birds! What's your go-to plant for fabulous seed heads???

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

50 Shades of Brown

brown copy
Even though our winters here in Portland are short and mild, we do have a month or two of down time in our gardens. For the first few years in my garden, I struggled with winter interest...often thinking it more euphemism than reality, to be honest. I'd go to garden shows for inspiration and come up empty. I'd walk around our neighborhood, trying to find ideas. Those gardens, while definitely green and tidy, weren't exactly interesting. Like all aspects of gardening, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Winter Interest is different for all of us!

Over the past 10-15 years, as I've read garden magazines and books, I've been intensely drawn to the work of Oudolf, Kingsbury and Stuart-Smith. I love how their gardens embrace each season, even winter, with something new. They focus on plants that are always in flux...marking the change of seasons and celebrating each in kind. Gradually, I've edited my garden, adding more grasses and plants with good structure during winter. Gradually, I've begun to enjoy my garden in winter more and more...a bit at a time.

leaf in panicum
While there is still much work to do (isn't there always), I've found myself totally in love with my garden this winter...really for the first time. Winter strips our gardens down to their barest elements. Almost contrarily, it's a season of great contrast, yet also astounding subtlety. I know my partner, Norm, bemoans the brown state of our garden (indeed, it stands in stark contrast to most yards in our neighborhood...ok, most yard in Portland), but I think there is great beauty in accepting winter and it's subtle charms. Honestly, I've found you just have to let yourself enjoy winter for what it is...gardens, like life, can be messy at times.

A tapestry of brown, beige and biscuit!

Stripped of bright colors, the seed heads of Echinacea have a stark, graphic quality...

...especially when paired with a lighter scrim of spent Deschampsia blooms.

Fluffy cream seed heads agains a sienna backdrop.

panicum and agastache
Dried, curving talons of Panicum claw at the hay-colored spires of Agastache.

Of course, even the weather plays a part...both deepening and softening the range of hues.

A shot of deep red is added by the stems of Schizachyrium...

shizachyrium blue heaven vh
...adding a warm patch of flame to the somber composition. While the Parrotia in the background hasn't bloomed in the past few years, I've really started to appreciate how it holds onto its leaves for such a long time...they are the most wonderful color right now.

miscanthus purparascens
Perhaps more than any time of the year, light, all the more precious for it's scarcity during these short days, is maximized with glistening seed heads.

rudbeckia and deschampsia
More contrast of light and dark, hard and soft.

From the tawny blonde tresses of the Pennisetum in front, followed by strawberry-blushed cream and finally burnished gold...a symphony of colors and structure. Or, if you ask Norm...and giant, weedy mess.

persicaria lance corporal
Speaking of structure, while I'm terribly fond of Persicarias, most of them offer very little, collapsing into mush after a hard frost. Luckily, 'Lance Corporal' has wonderful structure and color...being the most wonderful, warm umber color all winter.

More texture, more browns...buff, ecru and even a hint of sienna.

calamagrostis brachytricha
A flash of light reveals glistening gold!

A warmer section of the garden reveals rust and mahogany.

For me, the most effective winter combos are those that pair a strong, dark element with a background of much lighter here with the dark, sinuous spires of Agastache 'Purple Haze' and Panicum 'Northwind'. Happily, the bright blooms of Calamagrostis brachytricha in the foreground adds even more depth.

Texture, so important at all times, is perhaps most valuable now. With color reduced to a smaller palette, texture is all the more noticeable.

origanum v
While I've been warned that leaving them standing will result in a glut of unwanted seedlings this spring, I couldn't bear to cut down the beautiful pewter seed heads of this Golden Oregano...I find it so graceful and demure in front of the warm fountain of gold provided by Anementhale lessoniana.

achnatherum calamagrostis h
Achnatherum calamagrostis is so very graceful for such a long time...I adore it's layered, fountain-like form.

While these Andropogon stems stood pround and upright all winter...Norm accidentally snapped them all off last week while taking out the garbage...sigh.

Sunny Weekend
So, I guess my point, other than that winter can be awesome if we let it, is that Winter Interest isn't one set of rules or's whatever you actually find INTERESTING during winter! What about you...where do you look for winter interest...grasses, evergreens, flowering shrubs? Or do you look to hardscaping...I'd love to know!