Category Archives: Horticulture

On Choosing Salvias for My Garden

Salvia confertiflora in the San Francisco Botanical Garden, October

I can’t get Jimi Blake’s HuntingBrook Garden out of my head…that’s a good thing, though a little odd since I’ve never been there. The images and ideas, the energy that both Jimi and his sister, June, who gardens nearby, projected at the NPA Study Weekend was infectious and inspiring. Their gardens are both beautiful and, obviously, central to each of their lives. They are dynamic, like the minds of each of them, endlessly creative and curious…botanical dabblers of the highest order. Apparently, their gardens don’t stand still.  No plant or bed is ‘safe’ from revision, in part or from wholesale revision.  I have no pictures, their’s, however were gorgeous and seductive. I have to rely on the few they have posted to their websites. Please, go to them.  (Jimi’s HuntingBrook Garden.)

Of the two, Jimi spoke first, his topic, Salvias, those that he’s found to be worthy of a place in his garden.  With such a relatively large garden he can ‘trial’ many plants, and, if you’re like Jimi, evaluate them in terms of both aesthetics and performance.  He loves Salvia…there are nearly 1,000 species and who knows how many hybrids and selections!  He grows many from seed, others he’s rooted from cuttings, like minded Salvia-philes gift him with treasures and Jimi works them into his beds, artfully.  You won’t see any sterile lab like rows, he trials them in mixed borders and beds.  In Seattle he presented his ‘winners’, 33 different species, hybrids and selections.  The list is comprised primarily of plants ‘durable’ enough for his conditions with long bloom periods…with a few exceptions, late bloomers, and those of short duration…need not apply. Continue reading

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On Being a Defacto Pteridophile (fern lover)

This is the NW corner of my garden where I’ve tried many of my ferns. Palms, the fence, our bamboo and steel pagoda and a large Mahonia x media provide more shade than most of the garden ‘enjoys’.  Some of the ‘squirrel tails’ of my Sanguisorba hakusanensis hangs in the foreground.

How many different species and cultivars of a particular plant group do you ‘need’ to grow before you can be said to have a serious problem? I am not an ‘Agave-holic’! Isn’t a statement like this, one of the surest signs of such an affliction? I know other people who grow a lot more of these! What does it mean when you persist in growing a group of plants in spite of the fact that many of them die? And what constitutes too many? It can’t be a set number. If a group comprises comparatively few plants when compared to Orchids say, a group of over 20,000 species, growing a 100 plants might seem obsessive, while in the Orchid world it may not be. My name is Lance and I grow ferns…in a garden that suggests I should grow something else.

The one healthy frond left on my ‘rescued’ Woodwordia unigemmata.  This single leaf is almost 3′ long.

While at the NWPA’s Seattle Study Weekend, I noticed a couple of ferns in particular that I have in my own garden, only growing much better, apparently vigorous and ‘carefree’, including Woodwardia unigemmata and a couple of different forms of Asplenium. One of the first things I did on my return home was to dig my own Woodwardia unigemmata. freeing it from the thirsty roots of my neighbors Kwanzan Cherry. I did the same for a Dryopteris wallachiana which had also been struggling with too little water, only it was under my own large Parrotia persica and Actinidia kolomikta.

Asplenium scolopendrium ‘Furcatum’ happy near the gate growing with Asarum splendens. Aspidistra, more Acorus and an Astrantia also grow in this bed, but other genera, whose names start with a letter other than ‘A’ also abide in it.

Asplenium scolopendrium ‘Furcatum, the Fork Crested Hart’s Tongue Fern, pfeeew, whaat a name!,  is another very nice form of a beautiful species.  I saw various forms of this at the study weekend, all of them looking vibrant and neat.  The first of these I’d bought several years ago was the straight species and was devastated by root weevils notching its leaves.  With that exception, it has grown well for me. Continue reading

On the Demise of my Ensete ventricosum ‘Maurelii’ (Red Abyssinian Banana

And how did your Red Banana, Ensete, do?  Mine didn’t make it having left it planted outside until after Christmas. In my part of SE, December was mild, until the 26th or so, with lows just below freezing a few times. Then we were out of town a few days and it dropped into the mid- and upper 20’s. I had thought it was okay for awhile, as it pushed out a leaf while sequestered in the basement where I had belatedly moved it, but that is all that it was able to do.  It’s meristem, at the base of the plant, was damaged. I did the finger test at the top of what I had left in place of the pseudostem, about 4′ of it, and the core, through which new growth should have been pushing was mushy and smelled of rot. I cut it down with my machete in a series of cuts, illustrated here, and you can see the soft brown center surrounded by what appears to be healthy tissue. It was still able to push out a few white new roots over its winter storage. Apparently, the meristem is less cold hardy than the rest of the plant. If you could smell it you’d smell strong rot!!! After 12 + years I have found this plant’s limit! The last pic shows its dismembered carcass, reminiscent of the Tibetan Sky burial ritual, to dry away its stink before I dump it in the bin!

IMG_0519A few days later….This was the business end of my Ensete, Red Abyssinian Banana. You can clearly see that the starch storing rhizome, modified stem tissue, 12″ in diameter, is crisp, white and healthy!  I’ve split it down the center, top to bottom, through the meristem. The meristem, the site of cell division and the initiation of all top growth, is black, dead and rotting.  Each leaf begins here.  As new leaves form at the center, the older leaves ‘migrate’ outward forming the tightly packed ‘pseudo-stem’.  This plant, my plant, was unable to initiate any new leaves and with last year’s leaf blades removed, was dead on its ’feet’.  The rot would have continued to spread from the center out.  New root growth is also compromised.  It shares this growth pattern with other monocots much like bulbs.  In others, like the woody Palms, the maturing layers of tissue around their meristems, provides some buffering from cold as they caliper up.  Obviously Ensete are very limited in their ability to do this!

See my other posts on growing this plant.
Winterization
Planting out your ‘winterized’ banana
My initial winter assessment
A more in depth look at the growth of Monoctos as a group

Podophyllum and the Sometime Quixotic Life of Plants in My Garden

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Podophyllum x ‘Spotty Dotty’ emerging this Spring.  Remember that these leaves aren’t small.  When they open to their mature size, at about 18″ across,  they’ll absolutely dwarf the vari-colored leaves of your Pelargoniums.

People will often ask me how I grow something, generally when its something they’ve killed, when our conditions, exposure etc, seem pretty close. I’ll shrug, because I may not have done anything special for my plants beyond, hopefully siting them appropriately. Then, there are all of the plants I’ve killed, sometimes repeatedly, that others seem to have success with while doing little more than ‘dropping’ them in the dirt.

I have a bit of a thing for the members of the Podophyllum…and almost everyone I know, who grows them, does so more successfully.  I do have a very ‘happy’ clump of P. pleianthum, and I’ve grown it in Park beds very successfully downtown, but until now I’ve had very little success with any of the others.  Most have lead short, tragic lives….P. delavayi…dead; an unnamed P. delavayi hybrid…dead; P. versipelle…dead; P. x ‘Kaleidoscope’…dead; P.(Sinopodophyllum) hexandrum…dead; P. x ‘Spotty Dotty’…dead; even P. peltatum...dead.  Some of these I’ve killed more than once.  These are usually relatively costly plants to acquire and their loss is more than emotional.  Sometimes I’ve grown them on in their pots for a year before I’ve thrown them into my garden to their deaths.  I’ve lost several other plants from the Barberry family as well, having consistent success only with the shrub forming species and Epimedium spp..  I’ve lost both NW species of Vancouveria as well as Achlys triphylla, one of my favorite ground covers, all of which I’ve grown successfully when I worked in Parks. These shouldn’t be hard.  I’ve grown quite a few different Epimedium spp. and varieties at home and several in Parks, all of which have been consistent and dependable performers.  For a long time, my failures with Podophyllum and assorted woodlanders,  was an embarrassment.  I couldn’t figure out why I kept losing them.  I have a hard time with many Himalayan plants in my garden and a lot of woodlanders in general, I think because it may just get too soggy over the winter.  They’ve taught me to shrug when they fail to emerge in spring.

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A cluster of flowers on Epimedium x ‘Lilifee’

Continue reading

Dividing Iris x pacifica and the Species of I. californicae

 

Tis the season…. it’s Fall, the rains have begun and the species pacific coast Irises’ roots are growing. This is the time to divide. I dug about half of a clump leaving the remainder undisturbed. I cleaned the soil away from the other portion wiggling, teasing, pulling, even cutting a few of the rhizomes, to separate them out into nice size starts.  Continue reading

Argyle Winery: A Look at a Landscape in Dundee as an Example for Those on the Trail to Xeric Design and Sustainability

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This strip planting dominated by a Carex and a taller, 7′ or better, spine of the feathery Rhodocoma capensis from South Africa, rated at zn 8b. Mine, in my home garden, survived two nights down to 15ºF this last January with very little damage.

I don’t usually do this, write about a particular landscape with which I have no history, so this is a bit of  a departure for me.  I’ve know Sean Hogan for quite a few years, consider him a friend and a highly influential mentor of sorts.  His encyclopedic knowledge of plants, his boundless enthusiasm, has been infectious and inspirational over much of my career as a horticulturist while I was working for Portland Parks and Recreation.  I’ve benefited from the existence of his nursery and his commitment to horticulture picking his brain for plant and design suggestions as I attempted to broaden my own repertoire. Continue reading

My ‘Droughted’ Weedy Lawn: What do I do With it Now?

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This little stucco house, in the Woodstock neighborhood, is one of Julie’s favorites. It sits on a little rise clothed in an unbroken sea of Juniperus sabina Tamariscifolia (?) punctuated with several Italian Cypress. This landscape has been here for decades and appears to be completely weed free. It’s xeric with enough density to choke out weedy interlopers.  By not adding supplemental water many of our more common weeds are discouraged. Even if you wanted to apply a pre-emergent herbicide I don’t know if it could get to the soil. There is no way for anyone to enter this to remove volunteer Blackberries, Clematis, Canada Thistle or anything else for that matter. Junipers are strongly allelopathic containing chemicals in their shed foliage that build up in the organic layer on the soil surface discouraging successful weed germination.  Many other plants including our West coast Manzanita are allelopathic as well and can be used similarly.  Generally, allelopathic plants require several years to build up an effective layer of weed controlling old leaves to be effective, so our efforts will be necessary for some time.  At minimum don’t remove this layer of old and decaying leaves!  Junipers are also highly competitive in terms of their roots for water and nutrients.  Do I recommend this landscape…not necessarily, as it provides little ‘useful’ space offering little more than a very ‘defensible’ border, though it does have its attraction.   It provides shelter for some birds and critters, including rats, unfortunately, and fruit to those interested, while posing a minimal weed/seeding hazard to other landscapes.  It is a very simple landscape.

We can do much better than we have been doing with our landscapes…we have to!  It is incumbent upon each of us to grow our landscapes well, whatever they are, whatever they demand of us.  Our inability or unwillingness to do this is symptomatic of a society today that doesn’t  place priority and value on life, first!  (If you are reading this, you probably aren’t part of this ‘we’.)  The fact that we don’t have the time, resources or interest is indicative of how far out of balance our own lives are.  This isn’t a new phenomenon.  I don’t mean to shame or blame anyone here.  Modern societies have long been out of step.  We place a premium on our personal freedom, the idea that we have moved beyond nature, that technology will do for us whatever we need.  Nature will keep ‘chugging’ on without us so that we can devote ourselves to our more personal goals…and so ‘nature’ has been left largely on its own as if what we do will have no significant or damaging effects…but that isn’t really the way it is.  So, what do we do about that dead weedy lawn out front? Continue reading