Thursday, November 29, 2012

Hug a panicky bird


Did you have a good Thanksgiving?

We had a good long weekend. Greg and I played video games and watched bad movies and agreed that we left the house entirely too much. I cooked a big turkey for our friends but didn't eat any because I'm not crazy about it. Then I had to get on a plane on Sunday for a work meeting. But first I froze my butt off in the garden.

And now I need your advice.

This is the side entrance to the yard. It used to be in complete shade because my next-door neighbor's Ceanothus and Douglas Fir stretched into my yard and shaded this area. It was good and I planted all the ferns and hellebores I could get my hands on. Then my neighbor started going senile and thought I hated her Doug Fir and she had everything trimmed along the property line. Then this area was shady on the left but sunny on the right in the afternoon. Everything was fine until this August when we got a weekend of 100+ temperatures and then everything fried and flopped and looked like this.

This weekend I played whack a mole with my plants. I'd dig up one, decide to move it to another area, but then a different plant would be in its way, so I'd dig up that one . . . on and on. Right now the side yard has become a weird mishmash of plants, some of which will stay, others that will not.

This area badly needs height and some contrast. I gave it an enormous plastic pot of grass on top of an old kitchen stool. Sorry side yard, but not everyone gets to be an astronaut; someone has to fry the burgers.

The sweetbox (Sarcococca ruscifolia) has been there for over a year, stubbornly staying small. It's evergreen and fragrant and somehow escaped the blistering sun this summer, despite being a plant that is happiest in shade. So I think I wanna keep it here. I had toyed with the idea of an Acanthus hungaricus here but then I was given an Acanthus spinosus division from Ricki (whose gorgeous banners for your garden would make a terrific Christmas present) and that seemed like a reasonable replacement.

The Chinese fringeflower (Loropetalum chinense 'Sizzling Pink') was removed from another part of the yard and is hanging out here until I find a better place for it.

What would you plant here? It's fairly dry because of the Douglas Fir in the my neighbor's yard, and it sits in shade until the hottest part of the day, at which time it cooks. It's very narrow (less than 18"). It's a pain in the ass to get the hose over here, so moisture-loving ferns were never a good idea. 

Coming into the yard, where it's full sun almost all the time, I've put in Mexican feather grass, some salvias, and sedum 'Autumn Joy.' I ripped out the hops I had planted here because they couldn't climb this strange fence. I need something that can climb up anything. Would it be irresponsible to plant Virginia creeper? Would it even climb this?

Who has my inspiration?


  1. I think Virginia Creeper could climb a sheet of stainless steel covered in grease. Plus it would be the perfect way to drive your neighbor a little further over the edge since it wouldn't just stay on your side of the fence.

    Also for what it's worth I think a few nice tall Mahonia x media 'Charity' would be lovely there and they are "drought tolerant."

  2. Yay, I was hoping you'd chime in! So I've been hoping to work 'Charity' into my yard but the reports all say that it gets six feet wide. Is this not true? Can it be artfully pruned to fit a narrow space?

  3. sort of depends on what your preference is, as far as seasonality (evergreen vs. seasonal interest). I honestly can't think of a shrub that would work well in such a narrow space...unless you really like constant pruning...or getting scratched by rogue stems as you walk by.

    If it were me, for height, maybe Panicum 'Northwind" or Molinia 'Skyracer'? For something evergreen and lower, Pheasant's Tail Grass would be lovely...and then something with bigger leaves...hmmmm...that's tricky...most things with really large leaves (like the Canna I was thinking of) will want more moisture. Maybe some form of Salvia officinalis...'Berggarten' has those wonderful, fairly-large silvery leaves...and is mostly evergreen out here.

    Well, I'm not much help, let us know what you's such a narrow space! I'd be half-tempted to plant a row of Molinia and let them go to town ;-)

  4. I like what you're thinking. But WHERE will I buy molinias now? I'm still so sad. :(

    Shit, tomorrow is their last day being open, isn't it? DAMN IT.

  5. ooh, ooh, I have ideas!

    Climbing hydrangea -- mine's in full morning shade and hot afternoon sun. Not ideal, but it thrives. It's a very big woody vine and will need some tying up to get started up that fence, but what a strong architectural plant to go scrambling over that big fence. It doesn't twine around, it attaches by tiny little air rootlets and will go up the flat wall of the fence once you get it going. In winter the twisty woody branches have interesting bark. It will need some water, though, near those fir roots.

    Perhaps a climbing honeysuckle (but not the invasive Japanese). I am trying Lonicera reticulata Kintzley's Ghost and it is a neat climber with very interesting white bracts. Good for sun or shade, thrives in either or both. It might need a trellis along the fence to climb, though.

    Clematis Jackmaii will grow in some shade, and will like your afternoon sun as well. The purple flowers are awesome.

    I agree with Scott about Panicum Northwind. I have it in the same strip that gets deep morning shade, hot afternoon sun, and it is great. Very narrow and upright.

    No shrubs, you will always be pruning to keep them out of the walk. Just go with a big climber scrambling all over the fence, tall panicums in front of the vine, and keep (and repeat / get more of) the sarcococca, and feather grass. Or Hakonechloa aurea for the same fountainy low look as the feather grass but a brighter foliage color pop.

    You don't want lots of plants or blooms here, you want flow --- it's a path -- and simplicity is best for that.

    All these will want some water if the fir is so close by. So maybe an attractive rain barrel in the corner with an irrigation drip line coming from it? That would be nice where the plastic pot and stool are now. Not that those aren't attractive accents themselves : ) Get a big rain barrel, for visual weight and a roundy shape vs. all those straight house and fence lines. Or a big wood pyramid in that corner, for visual contrast and another shape. With a small-flowered clematis viticella draping it.

    I could go on . . . I love problem solving in the garden.

  6. Oh so you're one of THOSE people! The ones who actually read the tag and think about eventual size. I see how it is...

  7. I swear I'm not! Would it make you feel better if I told you that I don't always clean and disinfect my shears in between uses?

  8. Laurrie, you rock. Thank you! I have a climbing hydrangea ('Moonlight') climbing the fence behind the big grass pot, and it rebounded nicely after getting fried this summer. I might relocate it, although I love Kintzley's Ghost. Thank you for reminding me how badly I wanted it after reading about it on your blog. Of course, now that High Country Gardens is going out of business, where can I buy it?

    How about I fly you to Portland and you help me fix all my garden mistakes? :)

  9. I know...between that and High Country Gardens today, I'm a tiny bit despondent :-(

  10. You mean some people really do?

    BTW I saw a super tall (8ft?) 'Charity' today (around the corner from Garden Fever) that was only about 3 ft wide at it's biggest, and that was way up top. I would love to think that mine might someday achieve 6ft in width but I think if I wanted to I could easily keep it much suckers really just limited branching. Of course it is a little spiky. Maybe 'soft caress' would be a better option?

  11. So now I'm worried: should I not have planted Virginia creeper all over my fence? Sarcoccoa all seem to be pretty slow to get started so have faith and patience on that one. But I'm glad to hear you plan to move that Lorpetalum - while they aren't fast growers, they do become sizable, and if searing heat is an issue there in late afternoon, I know from sad experience yours won't like it. I like Laurrie's idea of climbing hydrangea, and another thought is the much-maligned Pyracantha. Makes a wonderful, shape-able privacy screen, if that's of any interest. That location might not get enough sun for it (or them), but if you want to see a good example, there's a hedge of it along NE 14th Ave, just north of the Backyard Bird Shop on Fremont. Drought-tolerant and evergreen, too.

  12. And what ever happened about your neighbor's tree? Did you find out who/what the problem was? Did she remove it (*so hoping not*)? Is she speaking to you yet?

  13. I agree with whoever said the virginia creeper would climb your fence. They're one of those vines with little suction cups. I also would agree with the switchgrass 'Northwind', My only other suggestions would be big leaf aster (Symphyotrichum macrophyllum, I think), which gets 2-3' tall and will create a groundcover. It's true that shrubs would require constant pruning but if you DID want a shrub anyway you could try Gray Dogwood (Cornus racemosa).

  14. Some people really hate Virginia creeper, though I don't think it's as vigorous as, say, bishop's weed. I need birdseed anyway, so I'll check out that hedge!

  15. I never found out what really happened with my neighbor's tree. She didn't remove it, thankfully, BUT she still won't talk to me. I've asked other neighbors and they have no idea where she got that idea from. It's so sad :(

  16. Thanks Jason! Panicum 'Northwind' it is!

  17. You're getting lots of good advice here, so I will just say that if you want more
    Sarcococca, I will be digging it from the town garden where it was misplaced in full sun. You are welcome to it. Also, thanks for the shout-out for my banners and the linky love.