Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Not that we're counting

Last week Loree inventoried her mahonia collection. Mahonia is my favorite genus of plants (I wouldn’t kick most of Berberidaceae out of bed) so I was very excited. As I read on I realized that Loree probably has more mahonia than me and how could that be? I love mahonia so much that I made up a hashtag to mock one of our friends who doesn’t care for it (#graceiswrongaboutmahonia). Let’s take a look at what I have.

The first mahonia I ever bought was ‘Dan Hinkley.’ It grew slowly, it was leggy . . . I moved it twice and then ultimately composted it. I am now trying it again in the front garden but if it doesn’t perform well it will get the green bin.

The next one I purchased was Mahonia x media ‘Arthur Menzies.’ I grow this in full south-facing sun in lean soil with not a lot of supplemental water. As a result it’s shorter and chonkier than it would be normally. Arthur is my earliest Chinese hybrid to bloom, starting in November and lasting through February. It’s a bright shining beacon in winter. Sadly, because it’s grown in so much sun, it drops far more leaves . . . right into my agaves. For that reason I think I may remove it soon and replace it with a palm tree (my second favorite group of plants). But it’s still a good one.

I have Mahonia nervosa smattered everywhere throughout my garden because it spreads by runners and it takes almost any conditions. I have it in my front rain garden where it gets cooked in the summer and in the driest, deepest shade. It has fabulous winter color and needs almost no care. No notes.

Mahonia nervosa var. mendocinoensis. I got this from Xera, who promises it could be 9 feet tall if I keep it happy. This one is native so I can be smug at dinner parties.

Kate Bryant introduced me to Mahonia x media ‘Winter Sun.’ It apparently has a bluer cast when grown in deep shade. This one has stayed on the petite side for me.

Good old 'Charity.' This one is probably leggy because I grow it too lean, too dry, and too shady. Literally every one I’ve seen growing looks better than mine.

Mahonia x media 'Underway.' Maybe my favorite of the Chinese crosses? It grows tall and narrow, it’s very tidy and has berries that ripen unequally. Like I like my men.

Mahonia confusa 'Narihira'. This has been smashed multiple times by gigantic fallen branches off of our neighbors’ doug fir. We’ll forgive it for looking a little worse for the wear, it should grow out of it.

Mahonia gracilipes. This got regularly leaned on by my Datisca cannabina, so it had posture issues from the jump (in this photo it's being held up by that large stone). Then our late wet snow storm in April completely put it on the ground. I pruned it rather harshly and moved it to another spot in the bed. I think it’s time to admit that it just needs to be replaced. Otherwise a perfect plant.

Mahonia 'Cabaret.' I got this from Far Reaches. It notably has pink to purple blooms like you’d find in Mahonia gracilipes (one of its parents). It has been eaten within an inch of its life by some critter and I’ve been too forgetful/lazy to figure out how to treat it. It looks awful through no fault of its own.

Mahonia x savilliana. I saw this at The Elisabeth Miller Garden and dreamed about it for years. I finally wrote Richie Steffens and was like, “How do I get one?” He said to check with Far Reaches because they took cuttings years back. I contacted them and sure enough, they had some tucked in the back of a hoophouse. It’s one of my favorites.

Mahonia confusa ‘Cistus Silvers.’ Another favorite, I think this one looks dramatically better when grown in quite a bit of sun. I have two of these, one grown in morning sun (leggy and anemic) and one grown in almost full sun (lush and full, seen below).

Mahonia x media ‘JC.’ This was a cultivar grown in JC Raulston’s mad laboratory that Sean Hogan took home and planted in his garden. In my memory it was taller than his two-story house. I asked him if he’d ever consider propagating it and HE DID. Maybe he was already planning on it, but I felt like he did this just for me and I appreciated it so much. Plant people are the best people. Mine is only 6' thus far, and it has stubbier flower spikes than the other Chinese crosses. It’s great.

I should mention that I planted Mahonia haematocarpus ‘Santa Fe Landscape,’ a diminutive form. It was so small and in such an overplanted area that it was trampled or pulled up by accident. I would buy this one again and be more careful.

Photo from plantlust.com

I’d never purchased ‘Soft Caress,’ I think because I equated it with the poor performance of ‘Dan Hinkley’ even though I’ve seen it countless times in other gardens looking great. Reading Loree’s post it became imperative that I get one right away. I started texting her and calling around and she pointed me to Cornell Farm. Within the hour I had called them, sped over there, and purchased two. Greg immediately declared them “super cool” and asked why I didn’t buy more. I’ll probably buy more.

Sean and the Cistus team have been experimenting with seedlings and posting teasers on Instagram. I look forward to buying many more from them. Am I missing any great cultivars or seed strains? And please, feel free to harass Grace and let her know that she's wrong about mahonia. It's a great genus of plants.

Monday, April 4, 2022

Have you heard the good word?

Hey guys, did I miss anything while I was off, not blogging? Hoo, everything is terrible, no? I’m a weird one in that I don’t always find solace in my garden when times are tough. For a lot of reasons (terrible neighbors, forest fire smoke, an inexplicably bad ant year) I didn’t do much in the garden in 2020. I didn't buy any plants or complete any big projects. I hid in the house and watched RuPaul’s Drag Race like the bible tells us to do in difficult times. It made me feel better, even if Greg wishes I’d stop calling him “hunty.”

By the time 2021 and vaccines rolled around I was ready for Hot Garden Summer. But jesus, NOT LIKE THAT. The heat dome hit at the end of June and really crisped the shit out of the garden. Our back garden measured a top temperature of 115.5. It was terrible.

Good thing we’ve introduced a never-ending source of joy into our lives: palm trees. Much like coconut oil in 2015, they work in any application and cure any ailment. I grew up in an area where they are ubiquitous in Safeway parking lots and gas stations, so I took them for granted for many years. At some point I came around and in 2018 we bought some 1 gallon Trachycarpus wagnerianus from Rare Plant Research. By 2021 they were still pretty small and I decided that I was willing to shell out a lot of money for some instant impact.

Still quite small after three years

At the end of 2018 we had the Home Depot yellow bamboo removed from our back garden. They came with the house and had become increasingly problematic. While it was a relief to have them gone, I had never appreciated the privacy those two clumps provided or how they anchored the back. I picked up Chusqea culeou from Bamboo Garden but it’s going to be many years before they have the visual heft we want. 

Before removal

After removal

The replacement bamboo is . . . sparse

Enter palm trees. I visited Oregon Palm Nursery and bought three palms ranging from 5-7’. As soon as I got them in the ground, I wanted more.

Luckily disaster struck and a wind storm took out the Ceanothus thyrsiflorus that framed the entrance to the back garden. 

A lot of people made excellent replacement suggestions but I ignored them and planted yet another Trachycarpus wagnerianus. And another and another because nature loves odd numbers and palms really can be squeezed in anywhere. And if you’re paying a flat delivery fee, you might as well make it worth the driver’s effort. In a fun twist, the trees were delivered one day prior to the heat dome hitting, which meant I had to hustle after work to get three 6’ trachys unboxed, put in the ground, and watered in. I'm not sure I've ever been that sweaty, muddy, and tired. 

Did I mention I was opening my garden in a few weeks, so that Ceanothus absolutely had to be replaced as soon as humanly possible?


Scott Weber kindly photographed my garden this summer so I would have a few non-blurry iPhone shots of my garden.

Photo by Scott Weber

Photo by Scott Weber

Photo by Scott Weber

I'm not saying palms will cure your cancer but I'm not saying they won't not cure it, either. At the very least you might feel better and it's a less stupid trend than oil pulling. These palms make me SO HAPPY. I tend to treat them like I treat Bee, which involves a lot of staring and whispering "You're so good."

The look when you're not giving her snacks fast enough

Stay tuned for my next trend talk: Fuchsias – I'm Suddenly Extremely Into These, Possibly Because They Look Great With Trachys?

I only know how to take blurry iPhone shots

I'm sadly very late to the game acknowledging that two friends wrote exceedingly nice things about my garden in the last two years: Loree Bohl at Danger Garden and Alyse Lansing at Lansing Garden Design. You both make me feel extra #blessed.

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Book giveaway winner!


Congrats to Laurie G! I used a random number generator and you were selected to win Loree’s book. Please email me at heather [at] justagirlwithahammer.com with your address and I’ll get it shipped to you.

Monday, January 11, 2021

Book giveaway! Fearless Gardening by Loree Bohl

I started blogging and gardening in 2009, during the heyday of longform content. I quickly found Loree's blog Danger Garden. She introduced me to so many plants I didn't know and that I didn't know could grow in our zone. She also reframed a lot of plants that I had grown up with in California, which I thought I disliked. Her blog had a huge effect on my emerging gardening style and opened my eyes to so many new ideas.

In 2012 a reader wrote me and offered to swap some plants. She had a number of agaves and a toddler, a bad combination. Would I want to trade them for something in my garden? 

Agaves in their original location

I had never grown agaves before but Loree gave me permission to try them out in my garden. And I mean that literally: I emailed Loree and asked if she knew what kind of agaves they were and should I put them in the ground? She told me she didn't know but that I should plant them anyway and then she walked me through how to prep my soil. Nine years later they are the anchors of my front garden. 

If you haven't yet purchased your copy of Fearless Gardening: Be Bold, Break the Rules, Grow What You Love, I am here to tell you that it's great. It's that magical unicorn of a book: equal parts inspiring and practical. 

In a time when our gardens are more important than ever, she gives you permission to break the rules and grow what you want. And then she gives you great tips for how to work with any limitations you might have. 

I should mention that I am a librarian and, after working in an academic library for years, I stopped buying books. I made an exception to my usual rule of "just borrow it from the public library," and I'm really glad I did. I know I'm going to return to it whenever I need a creative shot in the arm.

I am giving away a copy of Loree's book. Just leave a comment to be entered in the giveaway. If you're having issues with commenting shoot me an email.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Diary of a wimpy gardener

I've just returned from another successful Garden Bloggers' Fling, this time in Denver, CO. I had so much fun (or possibly lost so much blood to mosquitoes) that I'm still trying to recover. One of my favorite things about the Fling is that I get to explore another gardening environment and it always makes me realize that I garden exactly where I should.

Because guys, I am a wimp.

I'd never been to Colorado and I was unprepared for how much tougher it is, being at a higher elevation and in such a dry environment. I felt perpetually thirsty, tired, and unmoisturized. They only average 17 inches of precipitation per year! It often snows in MAY. The bees are absolutely enormous and their mosquitoes are blood-thirsty. YOU CAN'T BUY WINE IN A GROCERY STORE, WHAT THE FUCK COLORADO, YOUR PEOPLE ALREADY ENDURE SO MUCH.

But in that pioneer spirit, they make do. They manage to create stunning gardens even though they have a much shorter growing season than most of the country. They create fascinating topography using rock, which I suspect looks great even covered in snow.

They create beautiful vignettes in pots.

They create visual interest using unusual materials.

They seemingly spend entire paychecks on annuals.

Their porches go up to 11.

They hunt down liquor stores for a measly bottle of chardonnay, apparently. People drink wine IN CHURCH, Colorado. This feels punitive.

They plant poppies galore.

And penstemon, so many penstemon!

And the most beautiful flax I've ever seen.

Bonus Jean color echo!

They embrace color amongst the evergreens and really squeeze every opportunity out of their growing season.

The gardeners in Colorado are exceedingly warm and generous, allowing us not only into their gardens but also their homes. Many of them provided snacks and let us use their bathrooms.

I really enjoyed myself, in spite of my Pacific Northwesterner wimpery (and I'm an especially tender example). Huge thanks are owed to the organizers, who did such a fantastic job. I left inspired to up my container game and to appreciate that I can buy wine at Safeway, the way god intended.

Coloradans are creative, friendly, and far tougher than me. They make spectacular gardens.