leyland cypress? you have got to be kidding!


Around here, they seem to be taking up where Arborvitae left off. I managed to talk Richard out of those, but once the man makes up his mind, he is not to be deterred. Our landscape designing friend, Amy did her best to talk him out of it. After all, the very thing that recommends it as the perfect choice for monoculture hedges (perish the thought), its lightning speed growth rate, makes it a poor candidate for most landscaping situations.


Here’s another one of those hedges-in-the-making, and the component trees were half that size just a year ago. That’s what R wanted…instant gratification.


So here’s his tree, at the corner of his studio. It requires regular haircuts, but then, as I may have mentioned a time or two, R is a bit lopper-happy. He can hack away at his tree and it is pretty magnificent as a specimen…who’da thunk?

janet has a plant sale

All plant nuts know that as a garden matures it becomes necessary to divide, edit, rethink outgrown ideas about what we want our gardens to be. As a result, the rejected plant material builds up. It is one thing to kill a plant through ignorance or neglect, but quite another to outright throw it away. Most of us have showered our friends with gifts from the garden to the point where they have asked us to “Stop, already!” My friend Janet (who is also my mentor, trying to coach me towards success in selling banners & pillows) has an annual sale of the overflow, which she has potted up, attractively labeled and priced equally attractively. It is quite a lot of work, and she tried to discontinue it, but is now back by popular demand.


The sign alone tells you that good things are to be found here.


Janet is one of those gardeners who uses large swathes of lawn to set off borders packed with colorful and interesting plants. In fact, she is so successful that Hollywood came to call, filming parts of Extraordinary Measures with her yard as a backdrop. She found Brendan Frazer quite unappealing. I must say…he has only made one decent movie, Gods and Monsters, but that was enough to make me a fan for life.


An eye for found objects enlivens these borders.


Not quite sure what these were in their former life, but repurposed as garden ornaments, they rock.


Who would guess that this most elegant of compost bins is itself refuse. Leave it to Janet to find and press into use a beautiful object that someone else considered trash.


From the same source, this metal panel makes a brilliant divider/trellis. That is Romneya coulterii beyond it. I hope my new one will some day take hold like that one.


In addition to the found objects, these nearly life-size women by a local artist lounge in the lush landscape. I’m kicking myself for not asking the name of the artist, but maybe Janet will leave a comment to tell us. (yes, she did…go to comments for further enlightenment)


Many people are casting concrete leaves these days, but Janet’s have a natural look lacking in many. I have one that is the natural cement color spilling water into our small pond. I’ll take a picture to show you some day soon.


There is Janet, on the right, looking as colorful as her borders. Next time she has a sale, I will let all of you locals in on it, and my far-flung friends will just have to settle for these virtual tours.

oregon garden

Our first trip to the Oregon Garden was soon after it had opened. It was February, so not surprising that the conifer garden was the standout. Years have passed, and the garden has matured and changed hands. The Oregon Association of Nurserymen could not make a go of it. Their grand plan for showing off their wares never managed to break even, and eventually the whole thing was sold to a hotelier with a soft spot for gardens. He has kept the gardens open, and if Mothers’ Day of 2010 is any indication, the public has finally discovered them.


The little town of Silverton, gateway to the Oregon Garden, was abuzz with families seeking out brunch treats for Moms. Once a sleepy, forgotten place best known as a spot on the map near Silver Creek Falls, it has spruced up and gentrified. There were posters for wine tastings and jazz festivals and at least one white tablecloth restaurant. We wandered around a bit, but were more interested in getting our garden fix than waiting in line for fancy eggs.


This is the scene that had been haunting us since our first visit, and it did not disappoint. The circle of cedars Chamaecyparis nootkatensis strictus, interspersed with basalt columns, felt like a gathering of ancient Druids.


Here’s a close-up showing the stones. On one was a plaque crediting the ten members of the Conifer Society who had designed the conifer garden. What a job they did! At every turn is an unusual specimen, but the overall design holds together. And while the other parts of the garden were looking a little tired and unkempt, this section was as stunning as ever.


Suddenly, I am noticing quite a few Deodora Cedars being used by landscapers. I thought I was clever to include the labels in my photos, but they turn out to be unreadable. Richard’s notes are pretty unreadable too…a jumble of the Latin and common names makes his hasty scrawl a challenge to decipher. Sorry.


This was a sprawling, low-growing Korean fir called ‘Green Carpet’. The purple cones made it exceptional in my eyes.


I haven’t a clue what this one is called, but loved the red new growth on the tips.


The play of textures keeps things interesting. I just wanted to pet this one.


Hard to do justice to this Picea glauca pendula, which occupies its own raised bed in the middle of a path.


We found ourselves being drawn to the weeping forms, and this picture shows you why. The way it spills over the boulders edging the bed is pretty alluring, don’t you think?


Look at that blue sky! Do you think we will ever see such a sight again? The property is huge, with many moods and styles, but it is still the conifers that will lure us back for repeat visits. If you go, try to make time for a tour of the Frank Lloyd Wright house that is on the grounds.

please be kind to your census taker

Census takers who work in the city walk block after block knocking on doors, carrying all of the forms and manuals along with them. They sometimes feel like beasts of burden, but at least the houses follow a predictable pattern, and more often than not are right where one would expect them to be.


Not so in the country. We have the luxury of carrying our offices (the passenger seat) with us while driving down charming winding roads. Finding what we are looking for though: that can be difficult. People sell off pieces of land, houses get sandwiched in, and it seems like addresses get slapped on willy nilly, with no real master plan. Trailers or sheds get turned into living quarters, whole properties get fenced off with no way to know what is going on back there, and not everyone is thrilled to be asked a few fairly unintrusive questions, even with the promise of federal dollars being pumped into the community in direct proportion to the numbers counted by us, the always polite, unfailingly friendly government workers who dare to set foot on their sacred ground.


Don’t get me wrong. People are people, no matter where they live, and these McMansions on the hill have more than their share of folks who treat them as fortresses and us as marauding invaders out to strip them of…what? And just as many warm welcomes and offerings of ice water and a seat in the shade. I am sure that you, gentle readers, would all fall into the latter category.

I have been neglecting my dear blogging friends, and for what? Well, I am getting to see nooks and crannies in, about and beyond my own immediate neighborhood. I am also meeting, first hand, the full spectrum of humanity. At one end are those who thank me for the work I am doing, at the other are those who plaster their chained, padlocked and electrified fences with signs saying “STAY OUT OR DIE!!!”. Today, I thought I would share some of the public spaces I have encountered on my rounds.


High atop the West Hills sits a huge Mausoleum with no grave markers, but clusters of statuary and cypresses clipped into pompoms.


Here is a close-up of the topiary art. The next time I was here, the shapes had been newly shorn and were looking slightly burned, but as you can see, they bounce back quickly. They remind me of a poodle my mom had. He looked silly to me when he came back from a grooming session all pouffy, with ribbons, no less…but he behaved as if he were proud of his appearance.


At the entry point of one of the fancier neighborhoods, this knot garden is painstakingly maintained.


One apartment complex had this charming clematis-draped arbor at the entrance.


Practically next door to us is a little golf course. When I first saw this roadside planting, I thought it would become increasingly attractive as the plants sprawled and filled in. My mistake…in the last six years just enough pruning has taken place to keep it looking exactly like this.


A closer look reveals…what?…a duck, maybe?


My advice would be for them to stick to designing the golf course itself. This, I think, they got right.


Then there are the places that intend for their shrubs to be made into little cubes. The shrubs have other plans, so if there is no budget for at least monthly haircuts, forget it.

I myself am partial to a tangle of natural elements competing for space, but it sure is interesting to see others’ visions striving to supplant, or at least tame, the plants in their lives.


And no matter what a person’s or a corporation’s gardening style, it sure beats this.

tulip death


The tulip bed that was such a bust last year (its first) bade visitors a cheerful greeting this time around.


Not even Camille could top this dying act. The petals fell…there they are, strewn artfully on the ground…leaving behind a configuration arguably more interesting than the tulip in full flower. I may have to make an arrangement of these. It reminds me of an Eleanor Roosevelt quote “Beautiful young people are accidents of nature, but beautiful old people are works of art.”

the many faces of photinia


This large stand of Photinia has been allowed to realize its full potential with no intervention by mad pruners.


The emerging blossoms will soon turn the whole configuration into an earthbound cloud.


Since planting ours, this plant has entered my consciousness and I am seeing it everywhere. It obviously finds our climate friendly, growing with weedlike vigor no matter how it is tortured.


In fact, shearing to maintain a desired shape causes it to fill in with new leaf growth.


In public plantings, where constant vigilance and power trimmers are the rule, you couldn’t ask for a better plant to add some vivid color to the composition.


Gotta be careful, though. These folks were leaning toward the natural approach, but failed to take into consideration the eventual size of the shrub: Hence the carved half-tunnel to accommodate pedestrian traffic.


Which brings us to our babies planted along the roadside fence line. They will be allowed to grow as they see fit. I hope they reward our leniency with doing it fast.

Speed may not be too much to ask, judging from these few we planted along the side fence line a few years earlier. So while I will never give up the quest for the rare and exotic, the humble Photinia has won a place in my heart. How about you? Is there a plant so common that it tempts you to scoff, but so useful that you relent?

the census is your friend

Last week I went through training and did a few practice interviews as a census taker. We come around to properties that did not send in the written form by mail, for whatever reason, and conduct interviews to determine the status of the property on census day, which is April 1, 2010. The most important feature of these interviews is their confidentiality, so I will not be sharing any information of a sensitive nature. That said, the pursuit of these properties takes me into little pockets of the city I never would have dreamed existed. For instance, one neighborhood is a large, hilly complex of McMansions with perfectly groomed grounds and public spaces that have been clipped, blown and fertilized within an inch of their lives. Having canvassed that area pretty thoroughly, my maps led me down some twisty back roads, and finally down a rutted road that would have been impassable to an ordinary sedan. I was amazed when there came a spot where the trees thinned and I could see that the fancy neighborhood was only a stone’s throw away. The back woods and the exurbs existing cheek by jowl.

I am making mental notes of some of the most striking sites to revisit, camera in hand, when I am off duty. Stay tuned.