Category Archives: My Garden

Resurrection: My Butia and its Near Death Experience

We woke up the morning of Jan. 11th with this about ten hours after the snow began to fall. What may have been more damaging was the extended period of cold weather through much of the month. It included too many days in which our high temps did not move above freezing. With the fronds bent down so much it was easier for water to move down into the trunk and do its freeze/thaw/freeze thing. Had I been on top of it I would have put an informal tent over it to keep this area dry and protected.

Last summer was a sit, wait and worry, summer. The previous winter of ‘16-‘17 was a hard one here. Because my Butia capitata had been sailing through its previous nine winters, in this location, without damage, I assumed it would be OK this time, but it wasn’t. Our 12” snowfall weighted the fronds down splaying it open and no doubt allowing moisture, ice etc. to penetrate down into the trunk to the meristem, the critical tissue from which all growth in the plant begins. Last summer not one new frond emerged, an indicator that the meristem was damaged or killed. The good thing was that there was no sign of rot. The new ‘spear’ could not be pulled free….The same winter killed my Trachycarpus martianus darkening and shattering much of the fronds’ cell walls and structure in a way typical of many freeze damaged plants.  Its center spear, the newly emerging fronds, pulled free.  My Butia spent last summer in a kind of limbo. This last winter was much more mild. Now, finally, with the heat settling in around us, those old spears are growing again, their leaflets opening wide, while their long rachis/stems, fully extend and arch!  New spears are forming still pressed tightly against the most vertical and longest of these whose leaflets you can see below just beginning to fan open. This is slower growing than the Trachys, working on opening its third frond of the year! Typically my Trachycarpus fortuneii form 15-20 fronds in a year. I’m wondering now how this lost year of growth will effect the Butia’s trunk diameter. Because of how Palms as monocots grow, I suspect that it will result in a narrowing of its ‘waist’, with a swelling back to normal above when more normal winters prevail. Continue reading

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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

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

Echium wildpretii in Bloom

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This Canary Island native has a tougher winter climate here to endure than back home.  As an alpine growing on Tenerife, this plant is said to tolerate down to 20ºF with its characteristic dry winters…not so here.  After a relatively mild winter here in inner SE Portland the later half of February chilled down with a little snow as shown here on Feb. 22.  The official weather station at PDX recorded nine days at or below freezing in February ranging down to 23F on the 21st.  This was a fairly ‘normal’ February temperature wise for us, though with just less than 2″ of precipitation, about half of normal, which could have aided its survival.  At my location in inner SE we can record 5-6º warmer than PDX though we often move right in step,  January was milder PDX recording below freezing temperatures on only two dates, the first and second…and we were right around freezing both of those days with just under 5″ of rain for the month.  During December we were ‘blocked’ from lower temperatures that hit most of Portland.  PDX recorded 14 lows below freezing, we suffered only six getting as low as 25º on one of them.

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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’

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What to do about Bamboo?

[Please note that I wrote this in 2004 as an article in the HPSO Bulletin.  A recent FB posting has prompted me to revive/revise and repost it here.]

My first significant relationship with a bamboo,15 years ago, (this was the summer of ’89 when we moved into our current home) was a fatal one.  Phyllostachys aurea, Golden Bamboo.  I had heard all of the usual stories, yards lost, asphalt heaved and cracked, good neighbors gone bad.  Our new house confronted me with several problems, that I knew would get worse if I put them off.  It was another example of a homeowner picking the wrong plant for a screen, or failing to take the precautions to contain it.  With my limited knowledge and biases I had no doubt about what I needed to do.  I got my shovel and chased every rhizome down.  I was thorough and a good hunter, none survived. Continue reading