Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Mo' beds, mo' problems.

Last summer Loree gifted me the retaining blocks she removed from her yard during the great Bishops Weed expurgation. They sat in a pile in various areas of the yard, collecting spiders and looking terrible. My ultimate goal is to replace all of the retaining stones in the backyard with the same stone I used on the new shade bed but I spent way too much on plants last month and it's just not in the budget. I should use the free material I already have, right?

I started out a few weeks ago by dry fitting the blocks into roughly the area I wanted. Seeing that this corner was actually incorporated with the rest of the garden made me so happy. All of a sudden I realized how much this corner has been bugging me. But then I realized that I wanted to bring the line out a ways, so I had to remove some sod. And then I accidentally removed too much sod. I think I'm getting too good at it.

Side note: North Portland soil is much sandier than other parts of the city, where they have thick clay. Every time I get a plant from Scott I realize all over again how lucky I am, soil wise. His soil is sticky and unmovable and when it dries out it's hard as a rock. I've been able to see my soil improve dramatically (and quickly) by adding mulch every spring and compost every fall. My soil was badly compacted but I have almost no clay. I'm very lucky. The downside of North and NE Portland is that it was built atop a giant anthill. I could tell you horror stories of friends discovering ant infestations in their water heaters, so huge that grad students were brought in to study it.

Why am I telling you this? Because I discovered that every ant in Portland is living in this bed. I'll poison them if they come inside the house but out here they can do what they want. But, ugh.

Anyway, this area has been looking really good with all the ferns coming up, so good that I'm thinking about moving them.

I'm thinking about moving them forward and tucking another ninebark between the cedar and the pieris. 'Diabolo' grows insanely well in the northwest, sometimes reaching twenty feet (or so says Dan Hinkley). I don't think it would get that tall in a dry shady spot like this, but some height would be appreciated here. Or will the dark foliage just disappear in this area? I'm also considering a Mahonia 'Soft Caress.' Am I missing another shrub that would be good for this spot? Or should I leave it as is?

I'm badly in need of more plants to fill out this bed but I need to stop for a bit and let my wallet recuperate from April's shopping sprees and my trips to Rare Plant Research and Wind Dancer Garden. I thought creating this bed with donated stones would be thrifty but somehow I need to go shopping again.

Get opinionated on me. You all have such good suggestions.


  1. I like the idea of the Ninebark...but I think your instincts are right, 'Diabolo' might fade into the background. What about one of the other varieties, like 'Center Glow'? Also...looking at your pics...I'm thinking that Sesleria would look smashing back there...perhaps broken into two different-sized clumps?

  2. I hesitate to make plant suggestions as your climate and mine are so different but graceful ferns or grasses would help soften the donated blocks.

    Re the ants, I know how you feel as I believe I have the largest collection of ants in SoCal. Someone recently told me that large colonies of ants can help to prevent invasions by termites (a big problem near the coast) - I don't know if that's true or a fairy tale but I'm choosing to believe it as it makes the ants seem less noxious.

  3. I love the perfect curve of your stone edging. It arcs beautifully. I am curve challenged, and have never been able to make the edges of my gardens the right shape. Envy!

    The ninebark would be nice, and for dry shade it beats out other possibilities. I think you do want it to recede into the background a little, rather than stand out to accent the fence. Soften (hide) the fence, and then pull the eye forward with bright gold hakonechloa or other grassy low interest points in front of the ninebark. It's going to be so nice.

  4. Great new project! Mahonia 'Soft Caress' is beautiful. Have you considered adding a hardy fuchsia? Mine is over five feet tall and the hummingbirds love it. Or you could add some evergreen huckleberry to attract the birds. If you need any hostas to soften the edges of your new bed, let me know. I need to divide my hostas this fall.