firsts: franklinia alatamaha


Is there anything like the first bloom on a plant that’s been babied along? I bought this one at the fall HPSO sale in ’06. Sunset’s Western Garden Book says it will bloom in 6-7 years, so I guess it was a three-year-old when it came home with me, or I just got lucky. It resides in a big pot right by the front steps, so I can keep an eye on it. Daily visits produced the drama only another gardener would recognize as such. The one blossom swelled…slowly…from a small green bead to this golden ball, and then…


suddenly (OK, “suddenly” is maybe a stretch…meaning only that it happened when I wasn’t looking) there it was! A lightly fragrant cup cradling a shock of bright yellow stamens. Each time I looked, it was being visited by one of these anonymous little bugs: not quite bee and not quite beetle. He did have an eye for design, as his black body was striped with the exact same yellow as the stamens. And now the single flower is gone. I just went out to sniff, in the hope of describing the elusive aroma. Too late. The leaves will gradually turn to flame before they fall. My original plan was to introduce Franklinia altahama into the landscape, but life in a pot seems to suit it fine and will thwart its natural tendency to reach 20-30 feet in height.

firsts: rose-of-sharon


Have you ever been tempted by those catalogs printed on flimsy, glossy stock and offering standard and not-so-standard plant material on the cheap? We have been working on a hedgerow of mixed plantings out by the entry fence, so what the heck…it was worth a try. Six bare root Hibiscus syriacus for $3.95 plus shipping arrived in ’05. Three survive, and two bloomed for the first time in mid-September. They both produced these double, pinkish-mauvish blossoms (no promises were made about what to expect in that department). The survival rate might have something to do with being stuck out there beyond where anything gets much attention. Anyway, here’s my take on the cheap stuff. The more ordinary the plant, the better its chances (a plain old barberry is going great guns, while paw paws faded away immediately). Given the death rate, shipping costs, etc., it is probably economically more feasible to just hop on down to the nearest nursery or big box store. That is, unless a mission of mercy has some appeal. R has been babying a Ginko biloba for several years, and after the initial dieback, it is almost 10″ tall.

Reed college hell strip


This first photo gives you some idea of the conditions these plantings have to contend with…cement on all sides and a steady flow of of traffic (and the heavy pollution that implies) with full sun. Maurice Horn of Joy Creek Nursery worked with Reed to develop and oversee the plan, then worked with volunteers on the installation.


The ginkos at regular intervals were already in place, giving the design some structure from the very start. 2-3″ each of compost and crushed basalt gravel were worked into the soil, a mixture that serves to cut through clay soil and encourage deeper root systems. The plantings were watered during the first two years. Now they are watered with hoses once a year, with some supplemental when the temperatures rise into the 90’s.


As you can see, many of the new plants have reached full size.


Foliage color and texture keep things interesting year-round.


Strategically placed boulders are especially handsome with flowering plants spilling over them.


While flowers are not the main attraction, there are enough of them to brighten the design.


These asters were just coming on.


This crape myrtle was the most dramatic plant of all. I had no idea what it was (none of the plants in the strip are labeled) but HPSO always features a display of blooms contributed by members at every event, so I soon learned that it is Lagerstroemia ‘Arapaho’. I had never seen a crape myrtle with anything other than those Pepto Bismol pink flowers, and had valued it mainly for its fall color. This one is truly stunning, dressed in wine and claret.


This bottle brush shrub contributed in its own quiet way.


Pebble mosaic stepping stones allow workers into the border to perform maintenance chores.

The last time I visited was in the spring, when Ceanothus were blooming their hearts out. This time it looked as if there had been a recent work party to replenish the gravel top dressing and spruce things up.

HPSO and more HPSO

I don’t suppose there is a gardener anywhere near the Portland area that is unaware of the Hardy Plant Society of Oregon’s big plant sale this weekend. I will mention it anyway, just in case. All of the best nurseries show up with their best merchandise, so it is like an epic road trip without the road…making the $7 fee for parking seem like the bargain that it is. Whatever your stand on the fall planting issue, you won’t want to miss out, so head on over to the expo center. You can click on HPSO in my blogroll if you need to know more.

Last Saturday HPSO brought in renowned plantsman Roy Lancaster to give a presentation. His plant sense doesn’t really match up with mine, which is probably a good thing: I came away with a shorter list of plants to watch for than I might have. The man himself is a delight. Puckish and exhuberant, his imitation of insects coming in for a landing in search of pollen was worth the price of admission. His emphatic gesture of running a hand through his shock of wiry white hair caused it to stand on end…looking much like Earl’s friend in the ‘Pickles’ cartoon.

His advice to those of us waiting overlong for a magnolia to bloom: first, talk to it nicely; threaten it; if those tactics fail to produce results, make arrangements for someone to dig it out. After ten years of anticipation, he went through these steps a year at a time. Step 3 had the desired effect: the tree burst into magnificent bloom, as only a magnolia can. The next year, when his contact called to ask “You know that magnolia you wanted me to haul away?” his reply was “What magnolia?”

Many of these events take place on the beautiful campus of Reed College, which takes me past the Reed Hell Strip. I’ll tell you about that and share some pictures next time.

september bloom day

Ever notice how most of the blooming shady characters strut their stuff in white? Here is an exception:


When I bought one 4″ pot of this from Barbara Ashmun at her open garden several years ago, she warned me of its loose ways. I loved the dark chevrons on acid green leaves. Late in August it surprised me by producing long wands of teensy fiery red petals (so small, in fact, that they virtually disappear until the light catches them to produce fireworks). They do seed freely, but I love the way they fill in amongst the ferns, hostas and such:


When it threatens to overshadow something like the spike moss, it is not one of those stubborn thugs that digs in its heels and refuses to be plucked out. It used to be called Tovara virginiana, but now I think it goes by Persicaria something-or-other.

And speaking of ‘Fireworks’:


This goldenrod earns that common name.


Those darned Phygelius. First ‘Moonraker’ seduced me into yellows, now ‘Trewidden Pink’ is threatening to do the same for pinks.


Speaking of pink, the first bloom of Weigelia florida ‘Wine and Roses’ is tooo much pink, but this second time around sparse bloom on the burgundy-leaved shrub suits me fine, especially with the peony foliage just beginning to take on russet hues.


Do these ‘Northern Sea Oats’ seed heads count as blooms? They sure do add something to the pond’s edge…and to late season bouquets.


Several local bloggers have been having trouble keeping Euphorbia ‘Blackbird’ happy. This one is in a berm with filtered sun, if that helps. It really is worth repeated tries, don’t you think?


We have a problem spot on the south side where R planted a honeysuckle vine in hopes of creating a screen. I caught it at its most fetching moment, after which it started to get ratty looking.


But it does form these glowing berries.


I’ll say goodbye with fuchsia ‘Golden Gate’…a feast for the eyes as well as for the hummingbirds. Go to my blogroll and click on May Dreams Gardens if you want to get in on this Bloom Day thing.



Roy Lancaster was the featured speaker at a HPSO event yesterday. Joking around with the doorkeeper when she nearly forgot to give me a ticket stub for a door prize, “I should be about due to win something” quipped I. Browsing through books before the program, I fell upon the one pictured above. It fell into the “Must Have” category. When it came time for the drawing for door prizes, guess what? I won! And guess what the prize was? This very book. Is that poetic justice, or what?

More about the program, and about the Reed Hell Strip, which I visited on the way there, in later posts. I just had to share with you this bit of serendipity.

dragon plants

I have always had a soft spot for dragons. Years ago, I made a 10′ corduroy dragon with an 11′ wing span. My son was small at the time, so crawled down into the body cavity to stuff the tail. When someone offered to buy it, the outcry from my two children would rend the hardest heart. Where do you store a dragon? We packed it around through many moves. Sometimes there was a place to display it, sometimes not. It now resides in my son’s basement, the nearest thing to a dank cavern. I doubt it sits atop a treasure of gold and jewels.


Pinus densiflora ‘Oculus Draconis’ or ‘Dragon’s Eye’, appealed to me because of the bands of pale green on its darker green needles. It is a slow grower with a lanky profile, but I have high hopes for its golden-eyed future.


This fern, Athyrium filix-femina ‘Dre’s Dragon’ sports frayed tips on a typical frond. Nearest I can tell, the name comes from the forked tongue of the mythical character.


The name of this tree peony is ‘Chinese Dragon’. I don’t know…red color maybe?


It’s pretty clear where Poncirus trifoliata ‘Flying Dragon’ came by its moniker. If you look closely, you may be able to see the long curved thorns. This one is still a baby. When it matures, those thorns will be a full two inches long…equipping it to go up against most challengers.

None of these plants were chosen for the allusion to dragons. I simply seem to be drawn to them. It may have something to do with the fact that I was born in the year of the dragon…something I learned only recently. If you know of other “dragon” plants I have missed, please let me know. I probably must have them.

better than a tree house?


I was browsing through pictures and found this one. I have always been a sucker for tree houses. Here is the first thing that rivals an aerie for charm and romance…even better were it perched on a platform high in the cedars. I can dream, can’t I?

dish gardens

Gardening in miniature can be pretty cool. Being unable to pass by a display of succulents, be it Trader Joe’s or a high end plant boutique, I have quite a few dish gardens in the making, and a handful that have reached a point where they are worthy of sharing. Just like in the garden at large, a composition may limp along for months or even years, then suddenly come together.


I showed you this one in my last post, but it is also a good example of a planter that has finally found its plants. A friend gave it to me with a resident miniature rose…kind of like housing a diva in a yurt. A number of transients passed through, but finally these three compatible roomies settled in and took root. Sorry…I can’t tell you the names of any but the Kalanchoe. They got together before I started to be more conscientious about keeping records, as is the case for most things in this post.


I love the way these fleshy little rosettes cozy up to the rough looking character at the lower edge of the pot and then spill over the edges. When this one comes in for the winter, some judicious pruning will result in a whole new crop of starts.

The fine textured filler here is Dasyphyllum a volunteer that pops up everywhere. Everything else is from cuttings. The variegated rosettes started out with a rosy blush that I liked, but doesn’t seem to hold.


This one is just beginning to look interesting. It is also a good example of the sassy ways of plants. One of the most vigorous of these came from Home Depot, and replaced a sickly brother from a high end shop that shall remain nameless because they sell lots of really good stuff too. We live dangerously situated between Joy Creek and Cistus nurseries. Both of these have well-earned reputations for high standards, knowledgeable staff and unique plant material. If I am looking for a standout specimen and the information base to care for it, one of these places is it. Closer by is a mass-market type nursery, much maligned by horthead friends, where real bargains can be had. We have found 10′ trees for $10, priced to move and make way for new merchandise. Nobody on the staff, as far as I can tell, knows diddly-squat about plants, but their stock is the nuts and bolts; the supporting cast in the garden that hardly requires arcane knowledge.

But I digress. Let’s take a look at an “over-the-hill” example.


For about five years,I moved this garden outside for the summer, inside each autumn, and it grew in loveliness with each passing season. This summer it began to shed along the lip of the dish, and two of the companion plants all but died. Time to suck it up and perform major surgery. Whatever will I do with all that plant material for repurposing? Can’t bear to throw it away, and the winter invasion of our living space is getting out of hand.


There is a wonderful little shop called Life + Limb that specializes in these kinds of plants. They also carry appropriate planter, mediums, etc., and will pot things up on the spot. I indulged in just such treatment for this Euphorbia tirucalla. Love the way it becomes ever more Medusa-like. PS: Loree @ Danger Garden just informed me that Life + Limb has shuttered. Sure enough, when I clicked on their link, I got closing sale information. So sad. Do you suppose they were too specialized, or just a victim of today’s economy?


Do you suppose this is all just an overblown case of California Envy? Possibly brought on by a visit to The Germinatrix for the first time this morning? And yes, that is indeed a huge plant snapped in the garden of a Southern California friend…Thanks, Loree, for making me aware that I was unclear on that count.