Thursday, March 14, 2013

The plants now control me and my weekends

It all started so innocently with a plan for a daphne purchase. I'd read on Growing Steady about Sean Hogan's plant talk at the Yard, Garden and Patio show, where he mentioned a daphne that flowers for 12 months.

Oh my god, I could smell daphne all year long! That's my version of the American dream.

So two weekends ago I headed out to Cistus where I picked up the most beautiful plant in the world and two Daphne odora 'Aureomarginata Alba'. The only problem is that the daphne Sean mentioned was Daphne x transatlantica 'Everblooming Alba'. So I called up Cistus last week and asked if they had the everblooming version. They told me they were still quite tiny and not yet out on the tables but they would pull a couple for me to buy. So I headed back to Cistus this weekend and picked them up. While I was there I stumbled on a couple of groups of grasses that weren't yet labeled and didn't have prices on them. I knew they probably weren't for general sale but I grabbed some anyway. When I got to the counter the guy was like, "Yeah, those are for a landscaping job and you can't have them."

They were Chionochloa rubra (New Zealand tussock grass) and Carex dipsacea (Autumn sedge) and I want them so badly it hurts.

Look how beautiful!

New Zealand tussock grass. Image source.

I also eyed a chartreuse bear's breeches (Acanthus Mollis 'Hollard's Gold') but decided to wait on buying it. But! I finally had the everblooming daphne in my hot little hands, and you know what? It doesn't smell like daphne. It smells very good but it's closer to honeysuckle. I'm glad I have it and I'm glad I have two standard daphnes to get my fix in the spring.

I'd been planning to put the daphne to the left of the front door, in a planting bed I'd build sometime this spring. When I moved in there was a rhododendron here with a bunch of buried bricks marking a curve around it.

The weather was really nice on Saturday so I thought I'd start clearing the sod and bricks from this area. The soil level was all over the place and graded toward the house, so I had to fix that.

Then on Sunday I headed down to Oregon Decorative Rock and picked up some edging stones like I used in the agave berm and some quarter-ten crushed basalt. I started leveling everything and laying the stones down . . . and then I got tired and hungry and decided to go plant shopping instead.

This is a tricky spot because very close to the house is almost always in the shade and it gets partial coverage from the eaves, so toward the house is drier. As you get to the outside of bed it gets sunnier and wetter, though it's still in shade for the hottest part of the day.

I ran down to Portland Nursery and picked up a Mahonia x media 'Charity' and three Carex dipsacea. Suck it, Cistus. I got my autumn sedges!

BUT. I had decided that I needed some Acanthus mollis 'Hollard's Gold' here. It tolerates drier conditions than the straight species and it would brighten this dark area up. Portland Nursery didn't have any 'Hollard's Gold' so I went back to Cistus (40 miles round trip). For the third time in two weeks. Global warming? MY FAULT. I'm so sorry.

I planted three because I'm impatient. Anyone who grows Acanthus mollis is tsking right now because they get big and they tend to spread and three is so unnecessary. At some point during the planting of this bed I pulled a muscle in my back, so now I'm miserable and my bed will be buried alive by bear's breeches.

And the daphne? It's so little you can barely see it. The mature size is 5x5 but it may get eaten alive by Acanthus mollis before then. I also tucked in the new hebe I bought at Joy Creek.

I still need to get more rock and finish the base layer, add a second layer, then top everything off with gravel. I also want to reposition the bear's breeches a bit. I was trying to keep them in the shade band, hence them all being squished together. I've since read in a few places that Hollard's Gold can take quite a bit of sun, so I'm not as worried about them getting scorched now.

Then I need to remove more sod because the area adjacent to this bed will be the new pathway to the backyard. But first I need to rest up my back a bit (it's getting better!). Send Advil. And go ahead and chastise me for planting so many bear's breeches. I can take it.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

What was I thinking?


My front yard looks so DUMB right now.


I'm trying to slowly smother the lawn under my dogwood, in increasing small sections, hoping not to stress out a very old tree. I'd probably be better off using a deep layer of wood chips but I thought that would look weird. So instead I used two smallish cardboard boxes and some yard debris bags to go underneath a layer of compost in this strange pattern. Doesn't that look so much better than a layer of wood chips?

I don't know what I was thinking. I wish I could use a sod cutter but the dogwood roots are just too shallow for it.

That strange half-circle of compost is where a previous owner had put down a circle of bricks to better show off the sewer cleanout that sits in the middle of our lawn. It was planted with daffodils. We removed the bricks and I kept rolling my ankle so I filled it with compost.

In this newly smothered area (from here on out know as "the meadow") I'd like to plant a huge swath of Bouteloua gracilis 'Blonde Ambition', a grass that I saw at Wind Dancer and I'm still kicking myself for not purchasing.

Image source: High Country Gardens

The good news is that High Country Gardens was purchased by American Meadows so their wonderful stock is still available to us in the event that I can't find this grass locally.

Also in this area (somewhere  . . . ) I'm going to put this baby.

This is a Cistus 'Elma', one of the plants Maurice talked about at the Yard Garden and Patio show. It's evergreen with beautiful red stems and sticky leaves that emit a wonderful fragrance when the sun warms them. So even when it's not covered in beautiful white flowers it still smells good.

Image source: Joy Creek Nursery

It's also drought tolerant and incredibly hardy. And it was $8.50. I'm so excited about this guy.

The bigger picture for this area includes continuing this pathway that goes behind the agave berm . . .

. . . through the meadow, where it will spread out to accommodate a bench or a large boulder or some sort of sitting device under the tree. And the path will continue to the backyard, so you can theoretically do one large loop through both the front and back yards.

The meadow will be expanded with more grasses and drought-tolerant perennials. I want to build up a small hedgerow to the right of the dogwood tree to create a little privacy for the seating area. By the house smaller shrubs and perennials will go in. Behold, my MS Paint skills!

So I have a plan but my neighbors probably can't tell. My hope is that everyone is so distracted by my neighbor's strange burial mounds that they don't even notice my crappy smothering attempts.

I don't know why.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Bursting with failure

When I moved into my house all the doors had padlocks on them, which was . . . disconcerting. Padlocks on the bedroom doors and a padlock on the door leading to the basement were the creepiest. And all of the doors has long scratches covering them.

If you know me at all you can guess that my mind went to absolutely terrible places with this. Some half-goblin/half-human monster was locked in the basement . . . her goblin mother would scratch at the door, trying to get in . . . This is why I don't watch American Horror Story anymore.

So I looked online for some reasonable explanation and found documentation that the fire department requires banks to padlock all the doors in foreclosed homes. That's the story we're going to go with, for my sanity.

The scratches on the doors weren't so noticeable until I painted the doors glossy black. My theory is that a previous owner had a dog that would scratch at the doors, causing these marks. That seems more likely than a human scratching, right?


When I painted the bathroom door I took the time to fill the gouges with wood filler and sand everything smooth. It looks great! The weekend before our dinner party I decided that I should re-paint this door (which leads to the basement), as well as the rest of the bedroom and hallway closet doors. Greg had just bought a new tube of wood filler but it wasn't the soft stuff I'd used before. It was seemingly made of concrete. But I didn't know this, so I overfilled all my gouges so I could sand it down level after.

And then I started sanding. And sanding. And sanding. And ALL OF THE SWEAR WORDS. Sanding.

I spent an entire Sunday trying to sand these down, working with the vacuum and the air purifier and still there was dust everywhere. And you know what? My door now looks like this.

With the contrast upped. It's very obvious in real life.

Like someone flung blood all over the door and we painted over it (I might be watching too much Walking Dead?). So the plan is to take it get dipped-and-stripped and to start over. With the nice soft wood filler and an electric sander. Outside.

Friday, March 8, 2013

I'm in love

I know it's likely that I've been this enamored of a plant before, but it feels like the first time. I thought I knew love before but I didn't. Because this? This is the most beautiful plant I've ever seen.

I want to send out Christmas cards with it. I want to call my mother and tell her I've met the one. It's an Echium candicans 'Star of Madeira.' Loree has posted about it a number of times but it wasn't until I saw it in person that I fell in love. I was shopping this weekend, first at Joy Creek, then at Cistus, and I was being really good. I was picking up plants I had planned on and avoiding impulse purchases. But then I saw this and we ran in slow motion toward each other and it leaped into my arms. Or something like that.

I put it in the berm, behind the agaves that are getting so big!

In between the echium and the agaves is a Carex flagellifera 'Toffee Twist' and a dormant (or dead?) ruby crystal grass (Melinis nerviglumis). I think I'd like to put a swath of the Toffee Twist through here. I'm really digging the color combination with it.

In a Bachelor-like twist, I think I've fallen in love with a second plant. I never knew this would be so hard! This was an impulse buy at Joy Creek.

What do you think it is? Greg said it looks like an arbovitae. BITE YOUR TONGUE, GREG.

It's a Hebe 'Karo Golden Esk'! Look how adorable it will be.

Image source: OSU

I love it when I attend a garden lecture and someone mentions hebes because the entire audience moans and groans. In the snowpocalypse of 2008-2009 gardeners lost a lot of New Zealand flax and hebes, both believed to be hardy in the Pacific Northwest. People are bitter now. I've actually heard people shout, "I won't get fooled like that again!"

Luckily that happened before I became a gardener so I can rush headlong into love, like a 24 year old dental assistant who thinks some dude on a reality show is "the one." We've registered at Crate and Barrel and Bed Bath and Beyond and we're gonna be so happy.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Seed starting for stupid people

Did any of you participate in Nan Ondra's great seed giveaway? I have gotten so much inspiration from Nan's blog and I jumped at the chance to get some seed from her favorite plants. The only problem is that I find seed starting really intimidating. For something that happens in the wild all the time with no help from humans, there seem to be a lot of rules. And equipment: sterile soil, heat pads, special lamps, etc.

Now that I've finally realized that annuals are awesome and totally of value in the garden, I think that I need to start saving seed and making my own. Then when I buy a new annual I can think of it as an investment. I decided to try the wintersown method, which means no heating pads or artificial lights. I'm just prepping the seeds and letting them germinate outside. But I'm me, so I screwed up a number of things. We'll see what happens!

The wintersown people are really into using tupperware for seed starting but I'm always short on tupperware and rich in plant containers, so I just used some of the hundreds I have in my garage. They say to wash your containers with warm soapy water, lest you infect your seedlings with disease. I didn't do that because I'm lazy. I may lose all of them because of it. Someone chastise me in the comments!

I did use seed starting soil! It was very expensive.

I googled seed sowing instructions for the seeds I had and put them in to the depth they indicated. Then I put the pots into a pan with some water because the Internet told me to. The idea is that the water wicks up from the bottom of the pot and doesn't disturb your seeds. I read after I plopped them in there that the water should be warm, "like water that has sat our for 24 hours."


My water was cold and it didn't want to wick up. I didn't have any 24 hour water sitting around! So I sprayed the top of the soil with a spray bottle.

For the seeds that want a warm humid environment I applied a layer of plastic wrap. For any seeds that didn't mention warm/humid I just gave them a layer of chicken grit so they wouldn't crust over (Nan does this, it's her fault if it doesn't work). In the plastic wrap I poked three air holes and then slammed a plant marker through. Then they got moved to a sunny spot in the garden. I'll have to monitor that the soil doesn't dry out.

At Dan Hinkley's lecture at the Yard Garden and Patio show he quoted his friend JC Ralston as saying, "If we're not out killing plants, we're not doing our job." So . . . mission accomplished, maybe. I'll keep you posted. And my apologies if you were one of the people who wanted Amsonia hubrichtii or Rudbeckia maxima and didn't get any because of me.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Blank slates and fun natives I'll never plant again

Did you ever have something really hard or bad happen in your life, and maybe you were super worried or stressed about it, but once you had a plan you felt better? You still have to deal with it and go through all the pain or hassle, but having a plan makes you feel like you're being proactive. Plans in the garden make me feel better too. I'm still going to have to deal with plants dying or growing slowly or not growing the way the tag said they would, but I have a plan.

In the northeast corner of the yard, the corner we stare at all through winter while we drink coffee in bed, I finally gave up on the Cryptomeria japonica 'Elegans'. It couldn't stand on its own for whatever reason (I think that corner is just too windy). This corner has been a mishmash of stuff, mostly natives that I got on the cheap because I was so cash poor when I first bought my house. Behind the cryptomeria was an Ocean Spray (Holodiscus discolor) that looked absolutely terrible all the time and it had no winter interest. It was also going to crowd out that tree eventually. Between the weeping blue spruce and the cryptomeria is a huckleberry that is going to take a million years to get up to a good shrubby size. I'm willing to wait on that one because it's evergreen and very pretty. There used to be a native flowering currant in that spot but the pink blooms clashed with everything else so I dug it up and gave it away. While we're on the subject of natives, I planted a nodding onion here on a whim and I will be forever pulling up seedlings as a result. Except the seedlings have to be dug up, they're so stubborn. Worst native ever.

Our view in winter

The cryptomeria is going to be replaced by a Korean fir but I've yet to find one with a form I like. I ripped out the Ocean Spray this weekend.

To get some height and winter interest in this area I'm finally getting smart and incorporating tall grasses and fast-growing perennials. Behold, my amazing MS Paint skills!

Two Panicum 'Northwind' will lend some height in the back, along with Joe Pye weed. I'm planning to put in some Zauschneria starts to obscure the tulip foliage once they start dying. I'm really excited about the lupine here, Lupinus regalis 'Thomas Church,' which Annie Hayes described in a lecture I attended last spring. Its blooms are two toned purple and yellow and it's fragrant and (supposedly) mildew-free.

Image source: Annie's Annuals
Just to the left lies the apple tree stump that I attempted to turn into a birdbath.

The birdbath couldn't hold water after the second year and the stump keeps suckering along the root line, so I've yanked out all the peonies and penstemon from this area and the stump will be ground out in two weeks. The peonies have been permanently relocated to another area of the yard and soon I'll have a blank slate in front of the bamboo. I don't have a plan for this area yet.

I want to plant a gunnera but I'm worried it will dwarf the ninebark to the right of the bamboo. I'm also worried it won't fit in a yard where there isn't much in the way of tropical plants. I have about 50 square feet of blank slate here. I think I might need another Melianthus major but that's all I've got so far. Anybody have good ideas? Has anyone ever crowd sourced their yard as much as I have? I don't think so.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Daphne is for winners

It's the most wonderful time of the year! I've gotten to work in the garden the past two weekends AND the daphne is blooming!

Daphne odora 'Aureomarginata'

I carry a little bud vase of daphne from room to room with me, like a weirdo. I think daphne has the best fragrance in the whole world. People should stop using those awful air fresheners and just plant more fragrant shrubs.

The best part is that my other two daphnes haven't even started blooming yet. More fragrance to come! (I'm a little high on springtime, if you can't tell.)