some observations

cherry blossoms

The cherry trees are blooming, but not the great white cloud of years past.

lichen and moss on cherry trees

The trees are covered with lichen and moss. I wonder if that has anything to do with the sparse bloom. Of course the rain could also be the culprit. Any theories?

Euphorbia wulfenii after the rain

The rain has certainly taken its toll on Euphorbia wulfenii. When it stands up straight it reaches our second story, and is magnificent. Here, it’s been beaten down to the ground. Ah, well..we takes our chances with this one, but it’s well worth the gamble when things go right.

Anemone blanda ‘Alba’

I planted lots of white anemones, but the heathers have overtaken most of them. Time to order lots more.

fuchsia ‘Golden Gate’

Last year the Fuchsia ‘Golden Gate’ went wild and grew clear to the top of the deck roof. Usually, it dies back and/or it gets cut back to the ground. Not this year! It’s leafing out already and I am tempted to give it free rein and see what happens. Do you think I’d be creating a monster?

Saxifraga dentata

I’m crazy about the sawtoothed leaves of the Saxifraga dentata I got from Loree at the last plant swap. I left this much of the clump intact, to be on the safe side, but what I really wanted to do was spread it around as a ground cover.

Saxifraga dentata divided

Success! Here are the starts I separated from the main clump last fall. Looks like I’m good to go.

Mahonia ‘King’s Ransom’

I have a big patch of Mahonia ‘King’s Ransom’. It flowers nicely, but the foliage is rather diseased looking and the plants are leggy. Right after the flowers fade, I am going to cut it back hard. If it doesn’t behave itself next year, it’s coming out (sometimes these threats are just what’s needed).


Another disappointment is this Hellebore, always looking down demurely, afraid to show her face. She would be just right for a terraced garden, where one could catch her off guard by looking up. Anyone out there ready to give her those conditions?

Odds & Ends

Alcea rosea seeds starting to sprout

Let’s start with the odd. I plucked this seed pod from a stalk of Alcea rosea, a single, nearly black hollyhock. See how the surface of the pod looks almost mossy and the seeds within are beginning to sprout? I had never seen anything like this before. Scott of Rhone Street Gardens noticed the same phenomenon on some of the seed heads that he had left standing in his garden, and was equally perplexed.

Alcea rosea seeds two ways

The seeds on the right came from that pod, while those on the left came from one I brought in earlier, before the monsoons set in. I think I will experiment with planting both to see if all are viable. I also left some on the stalk and scattered others around, just to see what will happen.

drab maple

Here’s another garden event I’m puzzling over: this maple turned brilliant shades of red for several years running. This year it was satisfied to cloak itself in shades of gold-to-brown. Any ideas what’s up with that?

Digitalis seedlings

Another result of lazy gardening practices: when foxgloves are left to dry in place, the ground becomes choked with seedlings. Here they are duking it out with Ajuga ‘Black Scallop’. I am leaving them to it, to see which of them gains supremacy. In future, I think I will cut down the dying stalks of the foxgloves.

leaky pipe

Here’s a situation I brought on myself. Late in the season, I started digging up an area where I wanted to establish a new bed. I got as far as removing all the sod when the rains set in. During the holidays, R’s sister, Kathryn, was visiting. She called to our attention that a virtual stream was gushing forth out there. Oops! Without the grass to absorb the rain, the water had accumulated to such a degree that it had caused the water line from the pump house to the main house to rupture. We really know how to entertain house guests: R & John spent the next couple of days up to their shoulders, digging a trench and repairing the pipe.

the hole

We marked the path of the pipe before filling in with planting mix and making sure that the area is planted with plenty of Acoris, whose root systems should take over where the missing grass left off.

ornamental kale in red pot

Not everything around here has been an unmitigated disaster. About the time bloggers were debating the pros and (mostly) cons of ornamental kale, R came home with one. I had proclaimed my love for red and purple as a color combo. I plopped the purple kale into this red pot, and quite like the effect…how about you?

daggawalla seeds

Speaking of seeds, I came to this local company by a circuitous route: Margaret Roach’s A Way to Garden, to be exact. These folks are a brand new company right in my own back yard, so to speak. They feature a collection of hard-to-find Nicotiana, among other things. One of the joys of dealing with start-ups is the personal touch. They sent me a hand written note and a bonus packet of seeds with my order. Won’t this be fun? Take a little side trip to check out Daggawalla to get in on the ground floor of this new enterprise.

seed card

Here’s another seed experiment waiting to happen. This was a birthday card. The yellow outer card is impregnated with flower seeds. Supposedly, it can be buried under a light topping of soil to produce a floral display. I can’t wait to try this.

gardening sentiments

A gardening friend brought me this card, along with a bright bouquet, when she came to dinner. I thought you would enjoy the sentiment.

woven card by Ellie

Another friend, Ellie, makes these cards. They are stacked and woven from papers that she designs and has printed in soy-based inks on recycled paper. You can find her cards and papers at her Etsy shop.

spring card

Email has replaced much of the correspondence that used to take place, but I am fortunate to have a few friends who still send hand written thank-you’s. Some even make these cards themselves. Here’s a hand calligraphed and painted card from Susan to leave you with thoughts of Spring.

the seed project: where are they now?

zinnia ‘Envy’

Let’s start with a success story. The green zinnia named “Envy” is one you won’t find at the nursery. Odd that a green flower should capture my fancy when there is already so much green out there. Must have something to do with rarity, a concept familiar to all gardeners.

early zins

Regular zinnias are notoriously easy to grow. These: not so much. Early on (late April or so) my success rate was spotty. These three pots were each planted with five seeds from the same packet. One pot yielded three plants, one coughed up only one and the third…a big zero. I moved all three (and a few others) outside anyway. That laggart came alive and pumped out five plants that soon shot past their coddled brethren.

struggling zinnia in the shade

Placement is everything. Compare the vigorous growth in the first picture to this poor guy struggling in the shade.

baby Amaranth

The seeds for Amaranth were way tiny, so they were scattered as sparingly as possible…and guess what? Same story in the performance department.

planting size

I waited for the successful plants to reach this size before planting them out.

success in a pot

Pretty soon the ones I put in a pot were looking pretty good. My theory was that if they got wonderfully dangly the pot could be raised to show them off.

in-ground failure

The ones in the ground had not thrived…exactly the opposite results from what was expected. Maybe the claims made by potting soil companies are legitimate?

in-ground success

In case you’re thinking I’ve stumbled upon a truism…not so fast. Here is one from the second batch that is doing fine in the ground.

others not so much

If its neighbors had filled in as intended, this would be a nice looking bed filled with ‘Love-Lies-Bleeding’. As it is, one is doing well, the others, so so. But wait! That shade cloth is covering a little Rhody that R is babying along, and it just occurred to me that he must be fertilizing it as part of the program. So much for my “tough love” approach (but please don’t tell him…he’s already incorrigible).

seed tray & cukes

The commercial seed tray setups gave pretty good results. Those four little cucumber plants on the right were responsible for mountains of cucumbers and are producing still.

castor bean seed

I was greedy for Castor Beans, so bought two packets of seeds. The directions advise planting directly in the ground, but I was out to experiment. Some went in the ground and are still so small that I only discover them when weeding.


The rest went into the seed trays, which they quickly outgrew. Get a load of them roots.

comparison plants

They graduated to clay pots, here compared to a couple that were direct sown.

sidy by side castor beans

Proving again that each seed has a mind of its own, these two were raised under identical conditions and came from the same packet of seeds. The one in front is twice as big as the one in back, this time with no fertilizing intervention to account for the difference. This stuff must drive real scientists to the brink of insanity. Of course the one in R’s veggie bed is four times the size of my greatest success and already producing seeds for next year’s crop (sigh). How about you? Have you conducted any experiments this growing season?

i want to live!

The fiery, spectacular Susan Hayward won an Acadamy Award for her performance as a condemned killer in a movie of that name. My reference is considerably less grisly.

Kalanchoe fedtshenkoi roots

Usually, when I trim back succulents before moving them inside for the winter, I just stick the pruned sprigs into potting soil and let nature take its course. This piece, however, broke off of the Kalanchoe fedtshenkoi mother plant when I was moving the pot around. Since I have a hard time throwing away any kind of plant material, I put it in water on the windowsill. See those roots beginning to fill up the bottle? Looks like these things will grow no matter what is done to them.

K fed leaf

Need further proof? Here’s a leaf from that same plant. It cracked horizontally and then fell into a nearby pot with exposed soil. There are new little plants forming all along the crack.

Sedum morganianum

There are two sedums that are quite similar. Both form long stems packed with fleshy leaves that trail over the edges of their pots. Sedum burrito, or Burro’s tail, has rounded, very plump leaves which cling to their stems fairly tenaciously. Sedum morganianum, on the other had, has slightly more pointed and slender leaves which fall off at the slightest touch. Each fallen leaf can become a new plant, as is beginning to happen in the above picture. The new plant draws strength from the reserves in the fallen leaf. By the time nothing but a flake is left of the leaf, the new plant will have sent down roots and be well on its way.


Don’t you just love it?


Meanwhile, out in the garden, each Eremurus ‘Cleopatra’ that I planted last year is sending up at least two, and in one case five, new shoots. I am feeling compensated for the things that may not make it (too soon to give up on anything quite yet, but it’s not looking good for quite a few things that used to be reliably hardy here).

seeds, seeds, glorious seeds


The catalogs have been pouring in for some time now. I am not sure why they keep coming, because it has been some time since I procured seeds through mail order. Here’s why:
seed racks

I stood in the middle of a long wall displaying seeds from many sources and took this shot looking one way

more seed racks

then turned to my left and took another shot. This impressive display is at Garden Fever in NW Portland. The catalogs have provided me with reading, dreaming and planning time in the off season, but why would I pay postage on top of the price of the seed when I can walk into this shop and find anything my little green heart desires. Now, if you happen to live far from the madding crowds, nothing could be more inspiring than a package of unusual seed delivered straight to your doorstep. The colored photos of the end results of planting these seeds are nothing short of inspiring. Come to think of it, I’d best send in a token order just so this source of inspiration will not dry up. For now, though, here is what I will be starting indoors before my next trip to Garden Fever to pick up a few more little magical nuggets of life.

seed packets

From Botanical Interest, formerly Renee’s Garden, if I am not mistaken: ‘Kentucky Wonder’ pole beans, Zinnia ‘Envy’ and Agastache rupestris. Each of these seed packets is a little work of art, with a watercolor rendering of the mature plant encapsulated in each tiny seed. From Seeds of Change, in an environmentally friendly package, green deer tongue lettuce. From Seed Savers Exchange, Aunt Molly’s ground cherry, or Physalis pruinosa. This last is a nostalgic pick, as I fondly remember the ground cherry preserves made by my great-grandmother. The plainest packets in the racks shown above are from Nichols Garden Nursery located here in the Willamette Valley of Oregon. If you can find a seed source that is local, it will deliver a product reliably adapted to your own climate. For the run-of-the mill, stand-by veggies, you might as well shop at the local super market, where there may even be 50% off sales. The pennies saved can be applied to more exotic fare from the local garden center…or…the catalogs.

succulent gardens

mother plants

If I see an unfamiliar succulent, I must have it. Each year, when their summer vacation outdoors comes to an end, they have overgrown their containers. That plant front and center is Ledebouria socialis. It has been divided so many times that wherever I go its offspring are in evidence. This year I rounded up all of the containers that I have been squirreling away and turned them into little succulent gardens.

Ledebouria socialis in box

It won’t take long for these little transplants to gain some presence. Don’t they look cute in this wooden wine box?


This metal box spent a lot of time in R’s studio, where it accumulated the patina of paint dribbles and drips, making it a fitting home for three Kalanchoe fedtschenkoi cuttings.

Haworthia attenuata ‘Zebra’

Good thing I like the look of little plants all in a row, because many of my available containers were oblong box shapes. The divisions here are Haworthia attenuata ‘Zebra’.

collection of succulents

Here is a little sampling of the mini-succulent gardens in a toddler’s cowboy boot, a bag balm tin, a tea tin, a dolmas tin and a tuna tin. The last two also served a stint in the painting studio. I’m thinking these will make nice little hostess gifts. They definitely need to find new homes elsewhere, because we are being driven out of the dining room by overwintering plants.

dividing iris


When iris begin to form a solid mat, it is time to begin thinking about dividing. Some people wait until flowering starts to taper off, but by then the simple chore has become challenging (I speak from experience).

weedy iris

Weeds love to lodge themselves where it is almost impossible to remove them without damaging the meaty rhizomes of the iris. Dividing provides an opportunity to clear out the weeds in the process and start anew with a clean bed.

lifted rhizomes

Using a fork or shovel, lift the whole mass of tangled rhizomes and tease them apart.

iris discards

Some of them will be spent and shriveled. Close examination will reveal holes where borers have penetrated some of the healthier looking parts. All of these should be broken off and discarded.

ready to plant

Once the healthy sections with vigorous leaf growth have been separated and brushed free of dirt, the leaves should be trimmed to about 6″.

planting hole

Make a hole about 3″ deep and wide enough to spread the roots. Make a mound in the center of the hole upon which to place the rhizome.

finished planting

Fill in, covering all of the roots, but leaving the top of the rhizome showing. Water in well, and that’s it. The new transplants may skip a year of blooming, which is why I like to stagger my transplanting. I plan to keep closer tabs on their progress and label the various colors so that I can plan placement better. The fans of lance-shaped leaves make a dramatic contrast to other leaf shapes when used strategically, so I spread some of these around where I think they will make an impact, and still had plenty to share with neighbors. Come spring, I hope to get some shots to show you the fruits of my labor. Oh, and mid-August through September is the best time to tackle this job.


I have a very cavalier attitude toward propagation. When I read scholarly tracts on the subject, my head quickly begins to hurt. Every once in a while, a tip will jump off the page and lodge itself in the brain. For instance: a cutting of anything in the willow family will release a hormone that encourages other cuttings sharing the same container to produce roots. I don’t happen to have any Salix in my garden, but have found that Coleus provides the same service.


My studio windowsill sports a collection of clear glass containers filled with bouquets of hopeful cuttings. As roots form, they create swirling patterns as lovely as the foliage above. There are apparently certain times of the year that are best for taking cuttings, but my slipshod approach has not included record keeping to note when successful snippets were taken. An occasional rinsing of the jars reveals what is working and is an opportunity to discard the hopeless cases.


Choisya ‘Sun Dance’ has been one of the successes, though I fear for its survival after its most recent winter ordeal. Other champs have been geraniums, rosemary, lavender and forsythia. If I live long enough, I may fill up this garden yet.



I love the way Lonicera nitida ‘Lemon Beauty’ sets off other plants. I bought one from Cistus in ’05 and stuck it in this berm. It flourished, with many branches bending low to the ground (an open invitation to take a stab at layering). Here’s how it works. Take one of those low-growing branches, and make a small nick on the underside where it will touch the ground. Make sure there is a good bit of branch beyond the cut.

I happen to have these U-pins left over from some long forgotten floral project, but you could as easily craft some from wire coat hangers. Use them to secure the branch to the ground where the nick is. Pile some soil over that spot. I did this with the Lonicera in ’07. By ’09, I had a crop of new shrubs. All that’s required is to sever the branch where it leads from the mother plant to the newly rooted babe, dig up the newbies and use them as you will.


Transplant to new quarters and gloat over saving as much as $20 per new plant. The latest issue of BBC Gardens Illustrated showed a clipped hedge of these plants in a formal garden. It was a striking counterpoint to the darker boxwood hedges. I happen to prefer letting things sprawl as they like. Either way, it is good to have a lot of them to play with. Other plants I have had success with using layering are heaths and heathers, hydrangeas and barberries. Any woody shrub would seem to be a good candidate.

lily chronicles, part II

Back in August, when it was too hot to even think about excavation projects, I opined here about the need to divide my lilies.


So hi-ho, hi-ho…with fall it’s off to work I go, mining the lily beds for a gardener’s stand-in for gold. The Casa Blancas had been perfectly happy in the original bed, but were beginning to crowd and push. After amending the soil with compost and bone meal, I put a third of them back, adding stakes as I went.


Here they are, all tucked in and staked in a new spot. The Muscadets and Stargazers were puny by comparison. I’m hoping they will be happier in new spots with less competition and careful soil preparation The red border lilies had produced a whole gang of new bulbs and bulblets, so I spread them around to a number of beds, just to see how they might like different conditions. It will be fun to see what next summer will bring.