Don't be fooled. Inside this thin coating of sweetness is a fiery core of total insanity.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Taken With Autumn Leaves

I don't know if I've entered my second childhood early or what, but lately I have been really taken with autumn leaves, filled with memories of walking home from school on autumn afternoons, kicking my way through vivid ocean-like waves of fallen leaves.

I've started collecting them and bringing them indoors, searching for "that perfect one" -- the one without a blemish, without insect damage. They sit on my kitchen counter, drying out after a major soaking last night and today.

I immortalized some of them in a photograph by arranging them on my scanner.

And some I immortalized by taking a picture of them in the garden.

I need to do something with them soon. They turn crispy fast.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Best, Most Drought-Tolerant PNW Native Shrub in My Garden

Ribes sanguineum, pink-flowering currant, is hands-down the winner.

Unlike many of the other Pacific Northwest native shrubs I grow here, my four Ribes sanguineum survived our long, dry summer just past, one of the longest and driest on record, pretty much unscathed. It may have dropped a handful of lower leaves, but given that I watered them at most twice the entire summer, that's pretty good. Others -- Holodiscus discolor/Ocean Spray, Physocarpus capitatus/Pacific Ninebark, Cornus stolonifera/Red Osier Dogwood, Amelanchier alnfolia/Serviceberry, Lonicera involucrata/Twinberry, Sambucus racemosa/Red Elderberry, Philadelphus lewisii/Mockorange -- all lost many lower leaves and/or had their fruit dry up like raisins on their branches.

Why did I include the word "Best" in my title? Because pink-flowering currant has other wonderful attributes to commend it:

Gorgeous, bright pink, early spring flowers that hummingbirds love.

Wonderful dusky blue-gray drupes of berries that did not wither in drought, and, according to online references,  are attractive to wildlife, although I have not personally witnessed birds or animals eating the berries.

A nice, natural form that can be left unpruned.

The many-branched Ribes is on the right. The smaller shrub on the left is Philadelphus lewisii/Mockorange, and the naked stems in the forefront on the far right are Sambucus nigra, which is not a PNW native.

Interesting striated bark on older branches.

Most of my other native shrubs have already lost quite a few of their leaves, but the Ribes is still holding onto its mostly green, maple-shaped leaves. Like many other Pacific Northwest deciduous natives, its fall leaves turn primarily yellow, although there are touches of red in mine.

It has also been very easy to grow. My four shrubs came from the Pierce Conservation District's early spring sale three years ago as little more than sticks with roots, and have grown into many-branched, healthy, 6-foot tall shrubs. Three of them fill a corner of my back garden, and a fourth grows along my back fence. It makes a great backdrop to other plants in a mixed hedge.

Although in my experience, the species is completely garden-worthy, there are several cultivated varieties of Pink-Flowering Currant, the most well-known of which is probably 'King Edward VII', a variety with a much redder flower. There is also a variety with a white flower called 'White Icicle.'

If you are looking for a Pacific Northwest native shrub for your garden, you can't go wrong choosing a Ribes sanguineum. I only have experience with it in my PNW garden in Zone 7b/8a, so if you are in another area of the country, looking for a drought-tolerant shrub, proceed with caution. Like many other PNW natives, it is not only tolerant of our dry summers, but also undoubtedly accustomed to our wet winters, and may require our particular climate to thrive and perform its best. Keep in mind that drought-tolerant doesn't necessarily mean that a plant will look its best without water. It often means that it will survive, perhaps just barely, with minimal watering.

You can find more information about Washington state native plants at the website of the Washington Native Plant Society here.

Friday, October 26, 2012

One of My Brugs is Blooming!

One of my Brugmansias is blooming! It took long enough. Its growth this year has waxed and waned, growing, then dropping leaves all spring and summer.  I repotted it this spring, and to be honest, I haven't been as conscientious as I should have been about keeping it watered all summer. They like water, especially during the height of summer. I also probably should have brought it out of the house and repotted it earlier than I did. I waited till the weather had warmed up significantly, rather than just bringing it out when the threat of frost had passed. The only fertilizer it received was from the potting soil I used to repot it.

Now, suddenly, I notice it has a flower open, and more buds waiting in the wings.

Brugmansias are also called Angel's Trumpet, and you can see why when you look at the flower. Similar to Datura, which is called Devil's Trumpet, the Brug's flowers point down, whereas Daturas point upward or outward. Both Brugs and Datura are members of the Solanaceae or nightshade family of plants, which also includes tomatoes, peppers and potatoes. The foliage of all those plants, even the food crops, is poisonous. You can read more about Brugs here. There is more information here about growing them and overwintering them in containers.

Brugmansias come from South America, where they grow in the wild into woody trees or shrubs. I don't know enough about Brugs to say what the specific Latin name of mine is. It was one of three passalong rooted starts from Tom, who used to write the blog Seventh Street Cottage. I've had it going on three years now this winter, and this is its first flower ever.

I'm going to need to bring it either into the house, or into the garage soon. Our nights are getting quite cold now. Usually when I overwinter it, I nurse it along all winter, as it slowly drops leaves and looks more and more sickly, until spring comes, and I can bring it outside, whereupon it revives. I've heard you can bring it in and essentially ignore it for most of the winter, watering it once a month. I might try that this year.

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Post Where I Wonder If I've Completely Lost My Mind....

I really, really hope I'm not the only gardener who does this -- strives to achieve a certain effect in the garden, only to decide once it's been achieved to scrap it all and start over with something else.

Now that I've made some good progress on the front garden, and the fall rains have returned to water everything in, I've started working on the back. I'm not done in the front, but I've got a lot of changes I want to make all over both the front and back gardens, so I've got a lot of work to do. And I want to get it all done right now, in the fall, between the raindrops, so that anything that gets moved has a good part of fall and winter to get re-established (then maybe I'll start doing some housework...).

In the last three years I've worked hard to put together an area of self-sowing, en masse Columbines in the back garden. They flowered very prettily this spring.

But after they flowered I cut them back, and the area became just a jumbled mass of Columbine foliage, which was looking quite ratty and powdery-mildewed.

So --  I've yanked them out, roots and all.

I have all kinds of interesting foliage plants for shade that I'm putting in here instead.

It's a shady area under some Douglas firs, and when we first moved in, I thought it would be a perfect spot for Columbines. It is. But I also planted some other shade-lovers there -- ferns, Hepaticas, Jack-in-the-pulpit, Heucheras, Pulmonaria, a mini Hosta  -- and over the past three years those Columbines took over and were crowding everything else in there.

This bright caramelly Heuchera loves the part shade, but was completely overtaken by Columbines

Hepatica foliage until recently completely hidden under the Columbines

Disporopsis will make a nice contrast with the Hepatica and Heuchera foliage

Autumn fern

Farfugium japonicum 'Aureo-maculata'/Leopard Plant
I also removed and divided some Pulmonaria, Heucherella, Tiarella, and Heuchera, and potted them up to be redistributed eventually in the bed.

And all summer whenever I went shopping at the nursery, or explored a new one, I bought more shade-loving stuff to put in there too.

I bought some new ferns at Fronderosa back in August, and nursed them in the pot ghetto.

Dryopteris filix-mas 'Fluctuosa/Dwarf Crested Male Fern

Polystichum neolobatum 'Alpine Form'/Asian Saber or Long-Eared Holly fern

Polystichum setiferum 'Congestum cristatum'/Congested Crested Soft Shield Fern

Asplenium scolopendrium 'Cristatum'/Crested Hart's Tongue Fern

Hosta 'Fire and Ice'
There's more besides the classic Hosta/Heuchera/fern combo that borders on cliche in shade gardens.

Cyclamen hederifolium

Heuchera 'Lime Marmalade' and Carex morrowii 'Aureo-marginata', which I'm hoping will bring out the golden dots in the Leopard plant, as well as the row of now-dormant Dicentra 'Gold Heart' behind them

I'm hoping this variegated Petasites and Acanthus mollis 'Hollard's Gold' will also set off the Gold Heart Dicentras

Impatiens omeiana

Saxifraga fortunei and Bletilla striata 'Big Bob'

Am I just a little bit crazy? I guess everyone who fanatically engages in a hobby is. But to put so much work into establishing a patch of Columbines, only to yank it all out?

Ah well -- given how prolifically and promiscuously Columbines self-sow, I have a feeling they'll never really be completely gone. I'll have to keep on top of things if I don't want all the new foliage plants to be swamped by sweet, frilly flowers.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Foliage Followup -- October 2012

After a wild and crazy-windy-rainy night last night, I didn't expect to see much in the way of foliage still left in my garden, I figured it would all be on the ground or blown away. But there's still plenty to look at, considering not all the interesting stuff this time of year is in the trees (yes, that's right!). Besides, I already showcased the fall color in my garden in a previous post here.

Some of the interesting stuff was on the ground.
And yes, some of the interesting stuff was in the trees, but not the ones you'd expect.

 I wonder how long it will be before I am looking UP into the canopy of my two Trachycarpus, rather than down into its crown.

The new branches emerge all folded up like an accordion.

Mother Nature puts human basket weavers to shame.

Fall color on Schizachyrium scoparium 'Blaze' is a standout against the gravel and foliage of a Euphorbia

As an ornamental grass, it hasn't been particularly noticeable till now.

Lamb's ear and Kniphofia caulescens

The chicks in this container look like they are trying to jump ship and join their friends in the gravel.

Agave americana still in its pot, showing off the imprint of its teeth against the leaves

I hope you enjoyed this look at some of the October foliage in my garden. Pam Penick of the blog Digging hosts Foliage Followup on the 16th of every month, the day after Garden Blogger's Bloom Day. Check out her blog here, where she is focusing on teeth, seedheads and stripes in her garden, and where you can check out the links to all the other bloggers who are participating in Foliage Followup.