Gardening where the sidewalk ends

Insist on Cistus June 3, 2009

Filed under: shrubs — greenwalks @ 1:26 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

The one-gallon Rockrose (cistus) I planted at the end of my parking strip that’s furthest from the house (and hose) a couple of years ago is at least three feet wide now and fully established. I highly recommend this drought-tolerant shrub to anyone looking to add a little height and a lot of width to a dry spot – I barely remembered to water it at all when I first planted it, but it seems not to have minded. Now it’s covered with blooms like this:

First rockrose (cistus) bloom

I still don’t water it much and have never fertilized or otherwise done anything to it. It blooms once in a single and fairly short profusion and then goes back to being a green clump, which is a bit of a drawback, but it keeps the weeds away from that area and is evergreen in my climate, Zone 8. This is probably the last year I’ll be able to just let it be before I have to figure out when and how to prune it.

Cistus Nursery on Sauvie Island near Portland is beloved of some of my favorite garden bloggers, Megan of Nestmaker and Loree of Danger Garden. They seem to focus more on agaves, yuccas, and other desert-y plants but maybe they have a nice collection of their namesake plant too. I hope to visit there someday and bring home some cross-border beauties.


Longing for a Tree Peony May 27, 2009

Filed under: flora,neighborhood gardens — greenwalks @ 4:54 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

Somehow, I went my entire life up until this winter without ever knowing about tree peonies. Then, suddenly, they were everywhere – Portland Classical Chinese Garden, blog buddies’ photos, nurseries, and on the street. I’m not sure I have the just-right space, but my longing for one is severe and I might have to make a good spot if one doesn’t already exist.

I saw this one hanging over a retaining wall the other day, not sure if I am IDing it correctly but regular peonies are just starting to get buds here so I wonder if this could be a short tree peony. What do you think? It’s a bit past its prime, but still pretty glorious. Sorry, full sun, hard to capture the beauty of the white blooms.

A little past their prime, still fancy

Tree peonies have such a following, apparently, that there is an entire nursery called Tree Peony Garden in Pennsylvania devoted to them. Click here to see photos of their numerous varieties or if you just want to learn more about this astonishing plant, native to China and cultivated there for perhaps as long as three millenia!?! According to this article, it pays to find a reputable grower and spend the big bucks for a good plant, otherwise you won’t have much success. Site preparation and proper conditions are important too. In other words, this isn’t my typical cheap/free/whomp-it-in garden addition, so if I get one, it’s going to be a major decision.

I had to put my hand on one of the flowers to show the scale. These really are immense! Please ignore the dirt under the fingernails, occupational hazard for many of us at this time of year.

Big big flower (tree peony?) on way out

Plants are litterbugs too! But nice ones.

Plants are litterbugs too

What new-to-you plant has captivated you this spring?


Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day January 2009 January 15, 2009

This is my first time participating in GBBD, hosted by Carol of the wonderful May Dreams Gardens blog. I am a bit late to the party, but hope I can still join in.

January is not the finest month for showing off flowers in many climates, but most of us are lucky enough to have at least something nice to look at despite the winter blahs.

For me, January is always brightened by the arrival of my witch hazel’s flowers. I didn’t plant this tree (or is it a shrub? does anyone know how to tell the difference??), but it is the best thing I inherited from the previous gardener here. It is situated right outside our dining room window and gives me so much joy throughout the year with its multi-season interest.

Many witch hazels have cheery yellow flower tendrils, but mine are a deep orange, which I think I am very lucky to have. I couldn’t decide which photo to use, so I am including a few.






I look forward to seeing what others have found peeking out from under or floating above the dead leaves and snow today! And it’s always fun to see what the warmer-climate folks have going on too – it gives me a little hit of much-needed mid-winter warmth.


Black berries December 5, 2008

Filed under: shrubs — greenwalks @ 2:06 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Sarcococca is one of the hardest-working shrubs suitable for shade that you could hope for. It’s evergreen, puts out cute little red berries in late fall that gradually turn a shiny black, and then in winter sends out stalks of tiny white flowers that perfume their surroundings with a delicate vanilla-y scent.

We had some in a remote spot of our previous garden and I never gave them a second thought. In fact, I admit I found them prosaic and dull, and usually failed to even notice their valiant attempts to provide seasonal interest. In our current space, we inherited a few sizable ones that are poorly sited (i.e. too much sun) and not all that happy – their leaves tend to yellow in the summer and it takes them all year to recover. One of these years, I’m going to get around to moving them to one of our few shady spots, but it didn’t happen this fall. Poor things, I hope they can take it for another year where they are!

Sarcococca berries changing to black

On a linguistically related but otherwise random note, on a whim I bought some freeze-dried blackberries at the food co-op the other day and my daughter, the finicky eater who has now stopped liking fruits in addition to veggies and pretty much everything else except boxed mac & cheese (argh!), LOVES them and delights in popping them in her mouth for a super satisfying sour crunch. I’m not sure what the carbon footprint indications of freeze drying are (maybe someone can enlighten me?), but I have to say that this is a really great way to get my kid to eat fruit in the winter without any preservatives or energy cost from the freezer. I just picked up some freeze-dried strawberries and mangosteen from Trader Joe’s and those have been a hit too. Gotta get our Vitamin C somehow!


Witch Hazel, How Do I Love Thee? December 4, 2008

Filed under: shrubs — greenwalks @ 12:54 pm
Tags: , , , ,

Let me count the ways…

1. Your delicate early hints that fall color change is beginning

Witch hazel two-tones leaves

2. The beauty of the sun shining through your turning leaves

Sun through witch hazel

3. The royal carpet you spread on the path beneath you

Witch hazel leaves falling

4. The way your leaves change in stages, so that many colors are present both on each leaf…

Multi-colored witch hazel leaves

5. …and on the tree as a whole

Witch hazel in early fall

5. The full splendor of your autumn display

Fiery witch hazel

6. The number of leaf colors and sizes you provide for my favorite leaf collector

Collecting witch hazel leaves

7. The odd little yellow flowers you put out this fall, out of season and not true to your usual color

Witch hazel weird extra fall flowers

8. Your lovely upright vase shape, most apparent after the leaves are gone

Witch hazel in late fall

9. Your flower buds in fall, full of promise against a partly-cloudy sky

Witch hazel flower buds against the sky

and, lastly,

10. Your most marvelous feature, the delicately fragrant, sea anemone-like orange flowers you burst forth with in January, which happened to coincide last year with one of our rare snowy days here in Seattle

Snow-dusted witch hazel flowers in winter

This is the best thing by far that we inherited from the previous gardener at our place. He didn’t know the variety, but I am guessing it’s Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Jelena,’ since my plant book says it has coppery orange flowers and that its fall foliage is orange and red. I take my daughter’s picture in front of it every fall at the peak of its color show – I hope to put all the pictures together someday for her so she can see how she and the tree grew. (Many witch hazels stay pretty small, so they are a great choice for a not-too-big garden or a parking strip!)


Hideous Hack Job November 16, 2008

The little family and I took a quick trip up to Bainbridge Island on Tuesday, since nobody had to go to school or work that day. We missed a bunch of ferries in the morning due to general chaos and inability to get out of the house, and needed to get back on the early side, so only ended up with a few hours to spend actually on the island.

Bainbridge is a 35 minute ferry trip (once you’re actually on the ferry – you can spend at least that long, as we did, waiting in line to board, but that can be kind of relaxing if you don’t get too steamed for having arrived just as the previous boat was pulling away from the dock) from Seattle, and many of its inhabitants make the daily round-trip from the island to work in the city. It still contains many wooded areas and one of the area’s most famous botanical gardens, the Bloedel Reserve. I had a feeling we wouldn’t have time to visit BLoedel this trip, and it requires a reservation in any case, so it will have to wait for another time.

Instead we spent most of our time at the island’s tiny but fun Kids’ Discovery Museum,¬†which had an exhibit based on the “Arthur” children’s book series, plus a table full of craft supplies for making hand-tracing turkey pictures. What five year old could resist that?

There aren’t a whole lot of parking strips on Bainbridge, but I was kind of excited to see one as we were leaving the museum.

Pruning hack job IV

Then I got a little closer, and saw what has got to be the absolute worst pruning hack job I have ever witnessed.

Pruning hack job III

Ouch. But wait, there’s more! Take that, red twig dogwood:

Pruning hack job I

And that, royal purple smoke bush!

Pruning hack job II

It was truly painful to see. Not sure if the diner these were in front of requested the horrible pruning work in order to be more visible, you’d think their neon-blue paint job would do the trick. In any case, there should be a law against such plant-deforming atrocities! I wonder if any of them will even survive? I’m not the most expert pruner, but I’ve never done anything that ugly. Oh, the horror, the horror!

On an unrelated note, the Blackbird Bakery is a must-visit stop if you ever end up on Bainbridge. It’s right on the main street, Winslow Way, makes fabulous soups and incredible baked goods, and if you get a seat in the window you can learn a lot about island life. My daughter insisted on getting an elaborately decorated cookie which looked a lot like a certain garden nemesis of mine…

Squirrel cookie

Yes dear, of course it’s fine to bite the head off first!


Buddleia Arch September 16, 2008

I had the pleasure of walking under this lovely buddleia (butterfly bush) arch the other day.

Buddleia arch

It doesn’t completely hide the ugly power pole it grows next to, but it does a lot to improve that part of the street, where there isn’t much in the way of trees or anything too interesting growing in the parking strip. I didn’t see any actual butterflies visiting it at the moment, but I’m sure they love it.

Buddleia is considered invasive in some regions, including, alas, mine (Seattle), but we have one in the backyard anyway. I’ve only seen one seedling jump clear, so I hope it’s not too much of a menace. The simple sweetness of its fragrance alone is enough for me to risk being an eco-crumb, not to mention how happy it makes the bees and hummingbirds as well as the butterflies.

For more information about cultivating and pruning this very forgiving shrub, click here. This map shows states where the plant has escaped from gardens and is causing trouble.