Return to AZ

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Nolina parryi subsp. wolfii in the Kingston Mountains

Who remembers way back when I first started the nursery—which, a few of you may recall, began as a seed business—and I did quite a bit of traveling to California and the Southwest to collect seeds of virtually any interesting plants I could find, that I thought I could sell? I know, it was a while ago. Until this year, my last trip to such far-off destinations was in 2005. Finally, in 2018, I have managed another excursion down that way, plus another shorter trip that I will tell you about also.

But before we get on to the important part of this post, we should pause to note that I have reminded myself of the need to watch “Return to Oz,” one of those great movies which I think didn’t do that well upon release, but is certain to actually be quite interesting. I probably saw it long ago but I’m darned if I can remember anything about it. We will also note that this is the first blog post I have produced in who-knows-how-long which does not have the sole purpose of announcing an upcoming open house or plant sale. So that’s special. What can I say, it’s a major challenge to make time for blogging at this time in my life.

However, lest anyone get the impression this post is entirely recreational, I must announce that seeds will be trickling back into our selection of offerings here at the Desert Northwest. It only makes sense that we should sell some of what we collect; if we have an excess there is no point of just letting it sit around until it loses viability. And excesses are inevitable for things like Agaves, which can yield tens of thousands of seeds from a single infructescence (I’ll be using that word a couple more times, so I hope you like it). In any case, watch this space for more news about seeds, including a selection of Agaves and similar exciting items. Some of them will be mentioned later in this post. Ok, commercial announcement over, now on to the fun part.

So what exactly have I been up to? Well, I don’t know if I’ll have time to write up a whole trip report and put it on the web site, like I used to, so we’ll give it the brief (but not too brief!) blog summary. But before we get to AZ and Agaves, I must tell of the earlier trip, which was shorter and less ambitious, but still worthwhile. In the last week of September I took off for a five day trip to southern Oregon and northern California, during which I tracked down things like manzanita cuttings (not that these are hard to find), and acorns of evergreen oaks.

Collecting acorns presented a new challenge. Since I failed to calculate into my plans the amount of time it takes to track down acorns of certain oak species, and then to actually collect them; I found myself running behind schedule the entire trip. This was because in past years I always seemed to miss my chance with the acorns due to being too early, too late, or choosing a bad year for seed set. This year, remarkably enough, I hit it just right. And once acorns are actually found, the amount of time it takes to collect them really adds up: hence being constantly behind. But all’s well that ends well, as the saying goes; and I ended up with a lot of good collections, such as this Quercus durata growing along a remote mountain road.

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Q. durata. There were easier places to get to this, but hey. This is a wonderful evergreen shub with attractive leaves in all seasons, and conspicuous acorns! This deserves much wider use in gardens, and should be completely drought tolerant in the Northwest.

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And some fun manzanitas like this one (A. manzanita subsp. weislandieri, I suppose) north of Chico with enormous leaves. I noticed everything was particularly crispy dry in this area. I was hoping for Heteromeles seeds but they apparently failed to mature, perhaps due to dry conditions. When I came through there in 2014 they had loads of red berries!)

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For some reason I had never seen Woodwardia fimbriata in the wild before, until now. (I drove through here in 2014 and didn’t notice them, for some reason.)

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Ran across a really, really nice blue form of Quercus douglasii near Platina with thick, deep blue leaves. Not a lot of seeds on it though.

Of course the trip would not be without a misadventure of some sort. It was Saturday night when I was driving “my” rental car up that Berry Summit between Willow Creek and Arcata, on a winding road in the dark and pouring rain, and my tire pressure light came on. Oh crap, I thought, why does it have to be now? I checked out the tires and none of them appeared to be flat enough to explode just yet. Thankfully the tire survived long enough to reach a Tractor Supply Co. in Arcata just before they closed, where I bought a pump to temporarily keep the tire going. I also discovered the problem, which was a screw stuck in the tire. It wasn’t until the next day that Ev’s High Tech Service in Gold Beach repaired the tire properly. They were great, and I’m really glad they were there when I needed them!

So after a drizzly morning excursion in which I discovered I was too late to collect seed of Notholithocarpus densiflorus var. echinoides, I stopped off and visited Ben Gardener in Pistol River, who may be known to some of my readers. He is a pioneer of Australian plant growing on the West Coast who really doesn’t get the credit he deserves. My main reason for visitng was that I had borrowed some books from him twelve years ago and felt I ought to return them, which I did. He said he would put them on the Rare Book Shelf, since a rare book is the one that gets returned. I was glad to find him still on his feet and living in the same spot at the spry age of 93. I told him I’ll be happy if I’m in half as good of shape at that age, although he may have been slowing down just slightly. He was kind enough to take me to his niece’s garden and welcomed me to take cuttings of Australian plants, which I did in such a way so that almost nothing would be noticed to be missing. So Rebecca (I don’t seem to have your contact details, sorry), if you’re reading this, thank you for the cuttings!

Then it was off to Gib Cooper’s place to check out Tradewinds Bamboo Nursery. This was highly anticipated not just because of my continuing interest in bamboo, but also because the last time I had been there was 16 years ago. So a lot had changed from before; some plants had grown much larger (Oldeania alpina, which wasn’t called that 16 years ago), some looked the same (Chusquea foliosa, which occasionally freezes to the ground), and certain remarkable specimens weren’t even there the first time, like the massive Borinda macclureana pictured below. I also bought six more bamboos I didn’t have, that being about what I could fit into the rental car with all the seeds, cooler full of cuttings, campling gear, and other travel essentials I had brought.

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Borinda macclureana, at 10 years old, is a stunner of a plant! All the Borindas are great, but this one may take the cake for a tropical-looking, HARDY bamboo. It’s hard to get a feel for the scale in this photo but it’s easily 30′ tall and wide at the top; exponentially more impressive than any Fargesia.

I did not pass through Bandon or Yachats (places of botanical interest that you may read about elsewhere on the nursery web site), because at Gold Beach I cut east and headed towards Grants Pass via the “coastal route” where James Kim died a few weeks after I went through there in 2006. Sad to say this whole area was a major mess. As I progressed east, the going got slow because numerous large paved sections had been taken out of the road and replaced with gravel (new culverts, I guess, and who knows what other maintenance): this road used to be nice and smooth the whole way; I wonder if it will be repaved. I had been hoping for seeds of Quercus vaccinifolia and Chrysolepis chrysophylla, but with earlier delays (tire repair, road condition) it really got too dark by the time I made it east of the crest where they are found. I was also hoping for Q. sadleriana seeds; I was too late to get more than a small handful. (They had plenty of seeds the second week of October in 2012 when I came through there with Mike Lee and Vor Hostelter! I guess summers were cooler then.)

On the east side of the coastal route, the road was better, but fire camps were set up here and there as fire crews finished off the Klondike and Taylor Creek fires. They also “finished off” about every living thing within 20 yards of the road by cutting fire lines. It is incredible how much destruction can be caused by a motivated fire crew in a short amount of time. A lot of my favorite Arctostaphylos canescens plants that I had taken cuttings from before were razed completely to the ground. So the whole area looks ugly, but don’t read me wrong: I acknowledge the necessity of controlling wildfires, and appreciate firefighters very much. I’m glad this large fire was in a nearly unpopulated area. Anyway, perhaps out of the ashes will come a lot of interesting new manzanitas: I’ll have to go back in three years and check. Then after a quick stop off at Cistus Nursery, I returned home.

So after a week and a half to spend at home and sort through all that stuff, and process cuttings, I left once again in another rental car for a longer and more ambitious trip. This was a trip that really should have been done in at least 16 or better yet 20 days, but given the constraints of family life I figured I’d better limit it to 12. On this trip as well as the last, I spent probably far too much time hunting down Opuntia fragilis in the Shasta Valley. Remind me not to bother with that again. Then there was the hunt for modoc cypress (Cupressus bakeri) which I believe I saw but there were way too many darn junipers in there so as to confuse matter substantially, and none of the cypresses had any seeds. (But at least they were labeled—a rare treat for wild plants!) So the end result of that was that once again I started the trip off behind schedule. I did some real late night driving down to almost Bishop, CA to try to catch up.

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I love it when wild plants are labeled! Why can’t they all be that easy?

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Quercus chrysolepis growing above Devil’s Half Acre, a lava flow just east of Lassen Park. Who knew this attractive broadleaf evergreen could be found in such a high, cold, and snowy area? We’re in at least USDA zone 5 here if not 4. I expect the city of Spokane to be all over this to promote as a street tree.

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I also visited some really interesting and rather ambiguous Opuntia basilaris and/or O. erinacea types along CA Hwy 168, which someone had posted to Facebook so I thought I’d better check them out. A long time ago someone didn’t want to tell me where to find hardy cacti in the Bishop area of California. But now I found them, so, ha.

The next day it took way longer than I thought to get all the way down to the Tecopa, California area to camp. I had really wanted to reach the Kingston Mountains that day, but it was too late in the afternoon. So I got up super early the following morning to do it, and had only been driving for 20 minutes when at 6:15 am it was of course time for the obligatory flat tire. This time it was so bad I had to put on the spare, but at least the weather was pleasant instead of raining. I ended up spending the rest of the morning in Pahrump (not really on my way) where I found the tire was beyond repair and I just had to get a new one. It was a Saturday and tire shops were busy, and I had to go around to a few places to come up with a matching tire, so I couldn’t get out of there until just after noon.

After that, since I had already been detoured to Pahrump, I figured I may as well attempt a different adventure than originally planned; in which I hiked two miles across the Mojave Desert in the sun to the Nopah Range, an environment that reminded me of the Mountains of Shadow bordering Mordor. The trek was harder than it looked from the road. I was hoping some of the Agave utahensis subsp. eborispina plants reported from this area might be found at the base of the mountains, but when I got up there I couldn’t see anything. So, not wanting to give up just yet, I started climbing into a canyon. I was just about to turn back, when I finally spotted one still pretty far ahead and high up. It took quite a bit more climbing to get even close to one with a spent infructescence. Finally after a 40’+ rock scramble I arrived at a nice one, only to find I was too late and all the seeds had blown away. So that won’t be on the seed list; sorry. It was only a two hour foray but I was sure glad I brought a lot of water!

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Agave utahensis subsp. eborispina with no seeds, Nopah Range.

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I made a new friend! This was the first time I had seen Echinocactus polycephalus in the wild before.

Finally it was back to the Kingston Mountains. The west approach was even more interesting than I remembered it (again, from 13 years ago) with tons of great cacti including a good variety of Opuntias, Echinocereus and Ferocactus. But the road was horrible. I kept asking myself, how did I actually drive the Volvo through here in 2005 and not get a flat? At the crest of the highway I found Agave utahensis subsp. nevadensis which I missed that year (seed set wasn’t impressive though). Of course, a major reason to go this way was to collect Nolina parryi subsp. wolfii at the northernmost place that it is found in nature. This magnificent plant with its huge rosette of stiff leaves and larger-than-life flower spike is basically the Puya raimondii of North America. And fortunately it is much easier to grow, albeit quite slow growing! So that will be available again—hooray. Note to self: next time approach and leave the Kingston Mountains from the south. The road isn’t great but it’s a lot better!

It was dark when I got out of there, making me basically a day behind. I drove three hours (including right through downtown Vegas) to northwest Arizona to camp in the Beaver Dam Mountains. I had contentedly settled down to what I thought would be a nice relaxing night, when the wind came up in a major way at about 2:30 am and about ripped my tent to shreds. I took it down hastily and managed to save it. I had to try to sleep in the car after that and was awfully tired the next day.

For the next several days I had generally terrible weather, including snow and ice at higher elevations and lots of wind almost anywhere I went. Although I was not unprepared, this made the trip a lot less fun. I had better weather when I went in December 2004! On one night (and I’m no longer relating the trip in chronological order) I wimped out and got a hotel. It snowed in Flagstaff the day after I passed through it stopping there for lunch, but snow in Flagstaff is none too uncommon. On another night I looked and looked for a campsite, but for various reasons all the ones on my route were closed and I ended up sleeping in the car yet again, which turned out to be just as well since it poured rain all night. In the morning I got up and there was a fresh coat of heavy snow in the New River Mountains and the Mogollon Rim. (Why didn’t I get a picture of that? Oh well.) On the same morning, I attempted to drive to the trailhead of the Barnhardt Trail to look for Arizona Fremontodendrons, but the mud on the road was so bad that I did not feel safe continuing and had to turn around, even with four wheel drive (which I was very glad to have!). I couldn’t believe how wet and almost swampy it could be in a place so heavily populated with cacti and Agave chrysantha.

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Echinocereus swamp? South of Payson Arizona.

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Arctostaphylos pungens northeast of Globe. There’s potential in central AZ for manzanitas that will tolerate summer water and heat, to a point, anyway. I made quite a few collections in various places (cuttings, not plants), and it will be interesting to try them all out, provided I can get them to root.

Unlike California, this was not a good year for seeds in Arizona. I could probably research this, and I know they had a wet summer, but I suspect winter and spring there were on the dry side. A lot of the plants I wanted to collect seeds from (especially Yuccas, but even some Agaves) appeared not to have bloomed that year at all, or very little. So hunting around for seeds was an involved process that took longer than I had hoped. Of course, I made the best of it. It took a long time but I eventually found a Nolina microcarpa with good seed set near Show Low, after passing thousands of them with no seeds nor evidence of having flowered this year. The furthest point of my trip was when I drove clear out to Cloudcroft, New Mexico to try to collect Agave neomexicana at 7,600′ where I collected it in 2005 with my friend Steve Smullen, formerly of Las Cruces. But despite an extensive search I found that none of them had any seeds. That was a heck of a lot of extra driving for no seeds, but oh well. The search for A. neomexicana caused me to run out of time to find A. gracilipes near Alamogordo. And I did not quite make it to Texas, so there will be no A. havardiana or A. lechuguilla collections this year.

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Agave neomexicanas which annoyingly had no evidence of flowering and no seeds this year.

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Not a great picture but this is ice on Quercus hypoleucoides at Emory Pass. Yes the weather was lovely.

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This is the giant form of Agave parryi I have collected before near Mimbres, New Mexico. This year I took a moment to measure some rosettes, and made a point of getting seeds from the largest one possible. This rosette measured 54” across!

Although I had already been around Arizona quite a bit, it was only on the return pass when I finally found seeds on any Arizona oaks, in the Chiricahua Mountains. Agave palmeri in that area was easy to find seed of also, which was nice. What I was disappointed not to find any seeds on, despite looking at thousands of them, was Yucca schottii. That plant does great in the Northwest and is in high demand, but better luck next year, I guess. It didn’t help that it was so foggy up there I could hardly see 20′ off the road. A quick hunt for Agave parryi var huachucensis was also unsuccessful due to any of them that were easy to find with seeds being on (apparently) private property. And I did finally find a Yucca schottii near Canelo with two seed capsules on it, but they were heavily guarded by huge, ferocious looking wasps, so I opted to give them a pass. I was happy that day though that the weather finally changed for the better with sun and temperatures above 70; and that I made it to an actual, respectable campsite before dark, in the Catalina Mountains.

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Here’s an oak in the Chiricahua Mountains that looks suspiciously like Q. greggii, which is not supposed to be found outside of Mexico.

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Yucca schottii in the fog. It can be found as high as 8,000′ altitude in the Chiricahua Mountains.

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Quercus oblongifolia near Canelo.

After a bit of poking around the Catalina Mountains, I drove north once again, making my way towards a good high altitude collection of Agave parryi from Mingus Mountain at 7,200′ that could only be reached by climbing up a short cliff. OK, the cliff had footholds, but it has been a while since I attempted anything like that, a bit out of my comfort zone! Well, how else was I supposed to get the seeds? Fortunately I survived and got a large batch of seeds that looks great.

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Arbutus arizonica—had I been a few weeks later, the fruit would have been ripe. Oh well.

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Arctostaphylos pringlei in the Catalina Mountains, growing out of rocks!

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Agave parryi at Mingus Mountain, Arizona.

In the interest of not making this a book I’m skipping over some stuff, but I’ll note that the trip wouldn’t have felt complete without a pass through southern California and the San Jacinto Mountains. This is an area with a winter rainfall maximum and roughly the same amount of winter rain and cold as we get in Sequim. The east slopes of the San Jacinto Mts around 4,000′ is an Opuntia enthusiast’s paradise, with a confusing array of far more species and hyrids than one normally finds in proximity—not to mention Cylindropuntia, Echinocereus, Agave deserti at the highest elevation where it grows, Nolina parryi, Yucca schidigera, and a giant form of Hesperoyucca whipplei, which I again took a moment to measure. Seed hunting here went reasonably well though I once again underestimated how long it would take. I had to be pretty quick about getting up to Wrightwood before dark in the same day to hunt for Hesperoyucca whipplei subsp. caespitosa, where I located some good plants at a higher altitude than my previous collection. These ought to have respectable cold-hardiness, coming from higher than the base of the ski area.

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7′ wide Hesperoyucca whipplei in the San Jacinto Mountains—yes, they really can get that big!

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Agave deserti, a plant which I am convinced would be more popular if it didn’t have such a dumb name. It is an attractive species.

And from there of course it took two days to drive back, though I may have been a bit distracted along the way taking more manzanita cuttings (can one ever have enough?). It was fortunate that I passed through central California on a Sunday, though I still managed to get stuck in traffic for a bit; and that I did not have any more flat tires. As I said I skipped over a lot, but those are some of the important trip highlights. Then there was the adventure of spending most of the next day after I returned home getting the rental car cleaned out and wiping all the mud off places I have no idea how it even got into.

So, what’s next? Well, I am done processing all the cuttings, so that’s good; and I’m still in the middle of cleaning seeds. I need a bit more time to get through that, and then seed availability will be announced here soon. Even if it wasn’t everything I had hoped for, I’m happy to get a few good collections of Agave seed (and a couple Yuccas) so at least for certain species, I don’t have to worry about purchasing seed and wondering if they will come up. I don’t want to pick on any seed companies I mostly like, but I’ve had some issues with that in the last couple of years. It’s nice just to get my own seeds and know they are fresh, and that I can sow as many as I need.

I’m also rather excited for all the Arctostaphylos cuttings. Normally when hunting for Arctostaphylos, I don’t make it further south than the Redding area of California. Besides manzanita there are a few other interesting odds and ends in there as well. This year I will have a lot of new and different collections if I can just keep them all alive and growing. You’ll want to wish me luck with that!

So there you have it: my return to AZ and the Southwest. We’ll see if I decide to do this again sometime or what. After the weather I had, I might make it easier on myself and book some hotels in advance! And did I mention I missed 12 days of sunny, warm weather back home? At least we may all feel reassured that Agaves and cacti can handle nasty, cold and wet weather.

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Selfie with the giant form of Agave chrysantha.

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Desert Northwest Last Open House of The Year, This Weekend!

Dear Hortfolk,

We hope you and your garden have survived a summer of even-drier-than-usual drought and annoying fire smoke, which we are glad to apparently have behind us. Since you still don’t have enough plants, we would invite you to come and see us this weekend for the final open house of the year, here at the nursery in Sequim. The hours for this event are, according to our usual habit, from 9:30 to 5:30 Friday and Saturday (directions here). Shop from an array of interesting water-wise plants all locally produced by us, here on site!

Now usually we would call this the “fall open house,” but it seems that in the official sense summer will actually linger through part of the weekend. Whatever. The calendar may say summer has a couple days left; but the weather, unlike last year at this time, is making it feel like summer was over a while ago. That’s fine by us though, and I think most of us are glad for the change. We can even see fresh snow near the summit of Gray Wolf Peak (7,200′) which is visible from the nursery. (Speaking of which, I need to get up there sometime and see what is growing at the top!)

This summer we have been salvaging a selection of hardy cacti and succulents from a garden in Rock Island, whose owner plans to sell and is concerned the new owners won’t appreciate being in a house surrounded by prickly things. (I can’t imagine, but hey.) So if you visit this weekend, you may see us in the process of “assembling” a really fabulous cactus bed which will probably not be finished until sometime next week. The end result should be exciting. All these plants are totally hardy, but the question is whether they can survive a (relatively) wet winter having lost much of their root systems in transplanting. We will know by spring!

Now to tell you of some really exciting plants that we have grown just for you. You probably got our availability list in the August newsletter so we won’t send that again, as little has changed. This is an excellent chance for you to get a Eucalyptus neglecta. Despite the somewhat disparaging botanical name this is a great plant. It has big round leaves on square stems that smell strongly of, well, eucalyptus. (Imagine that.) Unlike some eucalypts this species makes rather dense shade, and may be considered a good fast-growing and very unique broadleaf evergreen shade tree. It is very cold hardy and our trees were grown from a tree I planted 16 years ago that has never been damaged by cold. (A 21 year old E. neglecta also grows there, which has also never been damaged.) Oh, did I mention the new growth is purple? No joke. Yes it is pretty cool, and, we think, rather hard to find in nurseries lately.

We also have lots of the purple form of Leptospermum lanigerum, which may look a bit underwhelming right now as we have had it under shade cloth, but turns a nice shade of purple out in the sun. (Should have moved them outside before the open house, oh well.) Eucryphia x nymansensis is looking fabulous, as is a nice crop of Arctostaphylos pajaroensis in little pots. This seems to be one of the easier manzanitas to grow in the garden as well as in containers, but for some reason doesn’t get the same attention as popular manzanitas like ‘Howard McMinn’ and ‘Sunset’. Also Gunnera manicata is still available, because G. chilensis isn’t big enough, we had to grow the really big one! Because who doesn’t have room in their garden for a plant with 9′ wide leaves? This one needs water though so watch out for that.

What happens when someone puts a trademark name on a wild-collected plant, such as one of the South African hardy ice plants? Well first of all people who care about integrity in naming plants get slightly annoyed. It would have been better to market it as a selected form of a known species. The main result is that it is still fine to sell the plant, but it cannot be sold under the trademark name. So you have nurseries such as Plant Delights selling it as Delosperma ‘Fiore Spinner’ (note spelling), and we are selling it as Delosperma ‘Spinner of Fire.’ We’ll leave it to you to guess what the trademark name of this plant is. And no, we’re not being naughty: only plants of cultivated origin may be patented. It is unfortunate that the way people use trademarks results in this mess. You’ll want to check out this cute succulent groundcover with conspicuously yellow-centered red flowers. It’s even blooming now!

I will stop there. If you can’t make it to the open house, we thank you for your past business, and hope we all have a great winter!

Ian Barclay
The Desert Northwest
PO Box 3475
Sequim, WA 98382
http://www.desertnorthwest.com/
mail@desertnorthwest.com

NEWSLETTER: Open House time again at the Desert Northwest!

Greetings Hortophiles,

This weekend once again we will have our mid-summer open house, which will be on Friday and Saturday only! Please come out and buy everything so I don’t have to pot it up again. I’m just kidding; that’s all part of the fun. As always, directions and a map are found here. We are glad that, just in time, the weather will be cooling off back into the 70’s, so it will be possible to walk into the greenhouses without melting.

What exciting goodies will we find at the open house? Well this time I am so organized that I have just completed a new inventory of ALL the nursery stock that is for sale. You will find appended to this e-mail (assuming I remember to do it right) not one, but two documents; one of which shows our current availability in the mail-order department (generally smaller stock in 4” pots) and the other one showing “specimen” plants which means those in the 1-gallon and larger sizes. [Note: this is not yet available to blog readers unless you e-mail me; sorry. Working on it!] Of course the next challenge is to get all this stuff on the web site, but hey, at least we know what is out there and available.

This is the time of year when we are reminded how much easier gardening is when water-wise plants are used. It is super dry out there and our soil (where not irrigated) is basically powdery dust with rocks in it. Still, there is nothing wrong with planting now if you dig a proper watering basin and keep new plants watered. (We would be glad to show you what one of those looks like.) Our established plantings of things like Arctostaphylos, certain Ceanothus and Luma are looking great with no water at all, as well as a few surprises like Cassinia vauvilliersii var albida which we can’t say enough good things about. Interestingly, plants such as some of the hardy Grevilleas and Leptospermums seem a bit “on the edge” of drought tolerance here in Sequim, at least on our soil; but for most of you about anywhere else in western Washington they are good performers with no irrigation. We will continue experimenting further with those.

Looking particularly good right now are a couple of Southern Hemisphere butterfly bushes, B. araucana from Chile and B. loricata from South Africa. Both are hardy here and look quite similar to each other, having attractive pale gray leaves and white flowers. We also have a really nice crop of Eucryphia x nymansensis in two gallon pots that are vigorous and look outstanding. This Eucryphia is one of the few trees that puts on a show of big white flowers in late summer! It is evergreen and bees love it.

We ought to mention that groundcover Banksias have returned after a long absence, which are in the 4” pot size for this year. These rather bizarre plants creep along the ground sending thick leaves straight up into the air. Once they reach a certain size, conspicuous inflorescences emerge straight up from ground level around the periphery of the plant! B. blechnifolia, gardneri, petiolaris and repens all fit into this category. Native to Western Australia, they can handle some frost but are not quite cold-hardy here (low 20s generally), but they are fun to try in a sheltered spot or in a pot. B. repens is probably the best for cold tolerance, but B. blechnifolia has the coolest leaves. Beyond that there is not a whole lot new in the Proteaceae department right now, although we do have a modest crop of Protea subvestita in production.

We might also call your attention to a short list of bamboos at the end of the specimen plant list, most of which are clump-formers that do not invade. We do not claim that bamboos are terribly drought tolerant, in general; except the Chusqueas which are pretty tough. But they are interesting and useful plants that are fun to grow, and we continue to propagate and offer a few of the best ones from our collection. Although we are not shipping bamboos, we think our prices compare favorably with places like the long-established Bamboo Garden in Portland, being at least 10 – 20% below their prices.

Finally I should mention something we haven’t grown in years, and which we will admit have nothing to do with the desert or being water-wise. That would be the REAL Gunnera manicata, which is now in stock, and I have to say “the real” because most plants sold as G. manicata are actually G. chilensis. G. chilensis is still cool but a little less exciting: G. manicata has 9′ wide leaves rather than just 5′ wide leaves! So you don’t want to miss your chance to get one—as long as you have a place for it that gets plenty of water! Half shade is about right.

That’s all for now. If you can make it, we look forward to seeing you this weekend!

Ian

The Desert Northwest

mail@desertnorthwest.com

http://www.desertnorthwest.com

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Gunnera manicata at Chetzemoka Park, Port Townsend
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NEWSLETTER: Desert Northwest Open House This Weekend!

Dear Plant People,

This weekend, the first official weekend of summer, we will hold our first open house of the year here at the Desert Northwest (Friday-Saturday, 9:30 to 5:30; click here for map and directions). More on that in a minute. But first, a silly story by Ian Barclay. Once upon a time I had the wild idea to sell some plants in British Columbia. I grew all these nice plants and they look great. I put them in the back of greenhouse 4 where they could grow and flourish until it was time to deliver them in early June. Then I scheduled the first open house of the season relatively late this year, so that those plants would be out of the way and people could shop without tripping on them.

The “funny” part is that getting those plants across an international border is quite an involved process; and, for some reason, the plants are still sitting there, looking more wonderful than ever. So when you go into greenhouse 4 you will see them in the back, all roped off. Oh well. I’m not giving up on getting them to BC, and they may still make it in a week or two; but if it doesn’t work, I’ll have a lot of really nice plants for the August open house and for fall sales!

Besides that we are in our usual recovery-from-spring mode. That means the nursery is not looking nearly as good as we would like it to, but it is not so bad that I feel like I need to cancel the open house. So I guess that means you’d better come on out and find some cool plants this weekend! Did you ever want a Eucalyptus regnans, the world’s tallest non-coniferous tree? This is your chance to get one—we only have a few left!

Did you know that when a plant goes on to the noxious weed list, only that particular species listed is a noxious weed, and not all of its relatives? That’s why we have in the past sold plants like Buddleja coriacea and Hedera colicha ‘Variegata’, and the reason you can buy things like ornamental hawthorns with pink flowers in nurseries. However not everyone seems to get this: some believe that if a plant is bad then all of its friends must be bad. We say no, that’s wrong. On that note this is your chance to get some fine Tamarix parviflora plants in 1 and 2 gallon pots. They have an amazing texture and the spring flowers are quite spectacular covering the whole plant. They were quite a hit at the Grays Harbor Garden Show in Elma but we still have some nice ones left.

What’s evergreen, aromatic, always looks great, grows almost anywhere, and the deer don’t eat it? I’m not telling you: you’ll have to come over this weekend and find out! Ha ha ha. OK, fine, I’ll tell you. Because you should know. Leptospermums, commonly called tea trees, fit the above criteria, and the hardier species are really excellent performers in our region. You just can’t beat the soft-textured foliage and white flowers. And yes they will grow most anywhere including heavy clay soils and coastal exposure. We still have quite a few left of various kinds, including the silvery and showy L. cunninghamii and large-growing L. ‘Eugene Hardy’. And don’t forget the groundcover L. humifusum which looks great now in the 4 inch size.

In the odd plants department, I bet you’ve always wanted a Furcraea parmentieri. It’s an enormous yuccoid plant that grows 8′ wide with a massive trunk. At maturity (which takes quite a few years) it sends up a 35′ tall flower spike and then dies. Unfortunately it’s only hardy to around 20 degrees so you’ll have to keep it in your 35′ tall private conservatory. Equally not-hardy is the southeast Australian Banksia serrata, with its saw-toothed leaves and big orange to yellow flowers. Although we grow these plants to tempt people with sheltered gardens, Cliff Mass thinks winters are gradually getting less extreme (check this out), so there’s that. On the other hand, a plant that DOES show good hardiness is Araucaria angustifolia: the one I planted in Olympia in 1998 must be close to 35′ tall. We just have a few of them left at $24 each in band pots.

And some of you will be wondering about the Arctostaphylos (manzanita) and Grevillea supply. There are some 1 gallons out there but the little pots are more numerous and look better. Looking particularly good right now would be the silvery groundcover Arctostaphylos ‘Pacific Mist’, as well as the taller A. pajaroensis and the outstanding A. bakeri ‘Louis Edmonds’ with its pink flowers and (when older) smooth purple trunks. In the Grevillea department G. ‘Poorinda Leane’ (a staple here) and G. miqueliana may be found, as well as the nearly ever-blooming G. ‘Audrey’ which has returned after a long absence from our availability. (Seriously it blooms 10 – 11 months out of the year!)

At this time I had best stop writing and start working. Thanks for reading and may your gardens prosper!

Ian

The Desert Northwest

mail@desertnorthwest.com

http://www.desertnorthwest.com

General Update: The Good, The Sad and the Ugly

Hi Folks.  I know you haven’t heard from us in a while, so I thought I’d better post something to let you know we are still living and still operating a nursery which is in business.  (We won’t even talk about the web site.)  And if you keep reading you will see that the title of this post is no joke.

We are actually having a remarkably good year.  Apparently we have eliminated much of the competition while demand for cool plants still exists.  Ten years ago I attempted to sell some plants on the wholesale market and I had a heck of a time getting any nurseries to buy from me, so I gave up.  This year I thought it might be time to give wholesale another go.  In late winter I sent out a modest availability and within two weeks 70% of the plants listed were pre-ordered.

At the retail end, people keep coming out here and buying stuff despite having to guess what is available from the out-of-date web site.  At the Sequim Garden Show we exceeded our previous sales record by about 20% despite having only one booth instead of the usual two.  (A Dan Hinkley talk promoting some of my plants helped.)  We also brought plants to “Hortlandia”, the Hardy Plant Society of Oregon sale in Portland, and did so well that I am still in shock.  We were up 95% over the previous record for that sale and grossed our second highest total ever for all events of this type that we have ever participated in.  (The second year of the now-defunct Bloedel Reserve sale holds this record, if you were wondering.)  The Rhododendron Species Foundation sale was up 90% from the previous high.  In short this season is going to be a tough act to follow.  We thank all of you who have come out to support us.

I never usually say this but I am getting a little nervous about running low on plants while having trouble finding the time to produce and pot up new stock.  This week I’m in the middle of taking apart the whole area in front of greenhouse 2 and 3, repairing the tables and cleaning it all up.  But I think things will fall into place and there will be plenty of new stuff by summer.  We are buying some important supplies for the nursery such as a compost tumbler to mix soil and fertilizer (I’ve been mixing it by hand all these years), and seeds of unusual rare stuff from various sources.  We were generously gifted a minivan earlier this spring, which was a big help to get more plants to the sales.  We have just bought a fancy tag printer.  That’s right, after 13 years we are finally going to have pre-printed tags with descriptions on them.  I have hand-written thousands of tags over the years so that will be an exciting change.

Shifting gears here, back in September, Laine McLaughlin, a friend and former employer, passed away.  Laine was the owner of Steamboat Island Nursery where I had worked in 1997, 1998 and 2002.  In the official sense it was my first “real” nursery job.  I had intended to write a longer post about Laine and the nursery in October and I regret not managing to do it.  In any case, I attended her memorial service at the end of October, which was held in a little meeting hall within walking distance of her nursery.  I still have a number of interesting plants from Laine including Ceanothus gloriosus ‘Emily Brown’ which has been passed down through a few different hands, and Eucalyptus urnigera x dalrympleana which I planted at my parents’ house in Olympia and later took the opportunity to propagate from cuttings after regrowth from frost damage in 2010.  Although the nursery closed several years ago when her partner Duane passed, Laine and her crew grew top-quality plants that were unusual and always got attention.  She was well-loved by the local horticulture community and is already missed.

And now for some terrible news, which is also old news by now, but I’d better report it.  Rod and Rachel Saunders, the British owners of a world-renowned South African seed Company, Silverhill Seeds; were kidnapped back in February by a remote cell of ISIS terrorists and apparently killed.  I say “apparently” because Rod’s remains have been found, but not Rachel’s.  Some have postulated that they were tied into their sleeping bags and thrown into a crocodile infested river, so Rachel’s remains may never be found.  This is horrific on several levels.  First of all what the heck is ISIS doing in South Africa?  I am no expert but this seems rather unrelated to South Africa’s other current policital/social challenges.  Almost like it might have happened anywhere.  More significant is the shock one feels over losing a friend(s) in a horrific manner.  Although I never met them in person, I have been ordering seed from Silverhill for over 20 years, long before we opened the nursery!  This included a lot of correspondence, in which Rachel helped me greatly with my plant selection when I was just doing this for a hobby.  And they were very close friends with a number of our mutual friends, who had met them in person.  So at this point, the shock is wearing off but the anger is not.  I am glad the suspects have been identified and captured and as old school as it sounds, I hope that justice is served.  I just placed a small order from Silverhill Seeds, and at this time it seems the business is continuing without Rod and Rachel.  But for how long, who can say?

I’m contemplating planting something special in their honor, which would have to be something I got from them and that will do well here in the long run.  Perhaps Leucosidea sericea.

That’s all for today.  Let us be hopeful that when I write the next blog post all the news will be positive!

Link to a news article about Rod and Rachel Saunders

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Remains of Steamboat Island Nursery display garden in 2017, with Trachycarpus fortunei, Cercidiphyllum japonicum, and Chusquea culeou.

 

Sequim Garden Show This Weekend, and Other Events!

Chelsea. Philadelphia. Northwest Flower and Garden Show. Sequim Garden Show! OK, maybe these other shows aren’t quite as exciting as the Sequim show. But the Sequim show, at only $5, costs a lot less to get into. It is held the third weekend of March every year, at the Boys and Girls Club in Sequim. And that means all the excitement starts this weekend.

So, really, what can you expect at the show? Well, it’s actually more of a friendly small-town garden show with nothing too flashy or extravagant. Despite a lot of Northwest nurseries going out of business, there are still a number of nursery vendors at this show. We will be there in our usual space with a fun collection of cool stuff. I have been cleaning plants all winter long (except for a couple weeks when I was sick), and we now have a whole lot more cool stuff that looks good, compared to most years in late winter. I’m gradually learning that cleaning plants all winter is a worthwhile effort, despite the amount of time it takes! We have already had a few special requests for the show, and you’re welcome to send more of those to mail@desertnorthwest.com

As for the rest of the sales we are doing this year, we don’t have all those pinned down yet, but I’ll name a few:
Hortlandia, in Portland, is April 14 – 15. For some reason we have been at this sale about every other year lately. Anyway, this year we will be there!
Rhododendron Species Foundation Sale, April 20 – 21 in Federal Way. We do this every year, but it sounds like they have a new location this year at a nearby church.
Heronswood: As we did last year, we’re skipping the spring events at Heronswood, but will be there on July 21.
Open House: The summer open house will be on August 10 – 11. We will also have “open house” events in June and September, but you’ll have to stay tuned to figure out what the dates were, because we are not sure yet. I’m leaning towards pushing the June open to a later date than usual.

As always, mail-order shipping and visits by appointment continue to be available. Until I get the web site updated, please e-mail us for a more current plant availability.

As far as more general news, I am glad to be over the flu. At first it seemed convenient that I was sick the week it was cold and all my potting soil was frozen (thus not wasting any additional time I might have been working), but then the weather moderated and it took me more than another week to get better. That was seriously the worst bug I have had in a long, long time. Although the late February cold was annoying (didn’t it seem like we were going to sail from a benign winter right into spring?), nothing really got damaged despite dropping to 21 degrees.  So it could have been worse.  Our snowfall total for the winter (assuming we’re done with that) was 14″, the highest since 2010-11.

And with that, I’m wrapping up this post in just a few short paragraphs. See you in Sequim, or perhaps somewhere else!

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Sequim Garden Show last year

NEWSLETTER: Desert Northwest New Plant List and Open House!

Dear Plantfolk,

Hooray, “fall” rains are here! There may technically be one more day of summer but it no longer feels summer-like out there. We got a whopping 0.07” of the wet stuff this week so far in Sequim, which barely counts for anything, but almost anyone reading this will have had more.

In any case, this is when we tell you it’s time to start planting again, even if there was nothing wrong with planting earlier. So, we want to welcome you to come out and shop this weekend as we will be open on Friday and Saturday for our final open house of the year. Directions and details may be found here. As always, if you can’t make it, we welcome you to e-mail us for an appointment to visit the nursery on another day.

Appended to this email Coming SOON to the web site you will find our latest availability and price list, which is, as the saying goes, hot off the press! (Or you can e-mail me for a copy.) Note that this is only for the mail-order stock: there is a lot MORE out there in 1 gallon and larger sizes that is not listed. We hope to attend to that next. In the meantime getting on top of the mail-order list feels like an accomplishment since it’s the first step to getting the web site up to date again. Note also, VERY importantly, that the prices are $3 off the listed price when you buy the plants on site!

Picking out a few highlights from the list, Arctostaphylos x media is available again, as people keep asking about it. This attractive native plant, a hybrid of hairy manzanita and kinnikkinnik, does so well here and is attractive at all seasons and completely drought resistant, yet remains underused in gardens. Then we have a respectable selection of Ceanothus from groundcovers to large shrubs. They are in little pots but they grow FAST and it may be better to plant them at a small size for quick establishment. These are also very drought tolerant once established and in fact tend to prefer drier sites.

Our Grevillea selection is looking good with a couple items back on the list that have been absent for a long time, like G. lanigera and G. x gaudichaudii. We don’t expect these to last long; in fact this is the first time the latter has made it to my mail-order list before selling out at shows. Finally, the nine Eucalyptus selections listed are more than we have had in years. We had run out of E. regnans but now a new crop is ready. If you didn’t know, this is the world’s tallest tree that isn’t a conifer (or perhaps the tallest, period, but that’s up for debate). Since not all of us have room in our garden for a 370′ tree, we also offer smaller species like E. gregsoniana which, unlike some Eucalyptus, can be relied on not to exceed 20 – 25′ tall in cultivation, or E. pulverulenta, which we grew from seed I collected from an odd tree in Seattle that was more horizontal than vertical. E. nobilis, on the other hand, is another giant, a recently described member of the white gum group (referring to the smooth white bark) that grows at high altitudes in northeastern New South Wales. You can be among the first to try it in the Northwest!

Do you have deer? We’ll tell you what you can plant that they actually won’t eat. A good starter list would include Leptospermum, Ozothamnus, Olearia, Callistemon, Luma, Myrtus, and any of the Grevilleas with small leaves. This would be so much easier if only deer read the right books, but we can say they will leave these alone from our years of experience.

In other news, germination has been pretty good on most of the Yucca and Agave seed I planted this summer. I’m excited that next year we’ll be able to offer many of these again for the first time in years, though at this point they do need to grow on for a bit. I also started a selection of cacti, almost all cold-hardy species, from seed; especially from genera like Echinocereus and Trichocereus. These are a bit of a challenge to maintain and grow on to salable size, so wish me luck! If they make it they will be a great addition to our selection of offerings somewhere down the road.

Did you know that we propagate and produce 100% of our own nursery stock? When you buy from us, you are not just getting plants from a national chain that sells (often as a loss leader) whatever is easiest to propagate and has the shortest production time,while failing to provide expert advice to the buyer. Rather you are personally supporting a small family business in which we know our plants because we grow everything we sell. We appreciate your business, and we look forward to seeing you this weekend or at another time. Happy fall!

Ian Barclay
The Desert Northwest
PO Box 3475
Sequim, WA 98382
http://www.desertnorthwest.com
mail@desertnorthwest.com

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And then we have the previous newsletter from early August, which for some reason I managed not to post on my blog at the time.  Oh well; I’m trying to catch up:

Dear Plant Enthusiasts,

It’s that time again! This weekend, on Friday and Saturday (August 11 and 12), we will be open for business here at the nursery in Sequim. Come on out and see what’s new! Yes, there are some exciting new plants that are not on the web site yet. Also I had better mention once again that we can now process your debit and credit card, though we will still happily accept cash or a check. Directions to the nursery may be found here.

It’s too hot to plant, you say? Well, it’s true that things like Rhododendrons or ferns have to be handled with care at the peak of summer. But most of our plants can take the heat, and we grow them “tough,” erring on the side of more sun exposure, and not too much fertilizer, to produce strong plants. It is actually a fine time to plant anything you don’t mind watering from now until the fall rains arrive.

Most importantly, weather like this is really not that unusual (except that annoying smoke—that can go away any time please). Every summer it’s dry, and every summer we have a week or two of hot weather. So this weather is your annual reminder that water-wise plants such as those we grow make sense, and everyone ought to be using more of them!

Last time I managed to lure some of you in here by promoting just one very cool plant, Grevillea x ‘Neil Bell’. We had a huge crop of these this year, so although we sold quite a few, there are still plenty available for everyone. They are now growing so large in their 4” pots they could make full 1-gallons. Grevillea victoriae ‘Murray Valley Queen’ is back, which we haven’t had in a couple years. Truly one of the best Grevilleas, it starts blooming in the fall and doesn’t stop until spring! It is much more showy than the “usual” form of G. victoriae, being covered in large flowers.

If that doesn’t grab you, we have a great selection of Leptospermum right now including a large crop of ‘Eugene Hardy’ in 4” pots. This makes a great hedge plant with pretty foliage and flowers, and the deer won’t eat it. Speaking of things the deer won’t eat, Ozothamnus hookeri ‘Sussex Silver’ and Olearia x oleifolia ‘Wakairiensis’ are also looking fine. Some little hardy Eucalyptus trees of various species are coming along; they are not quite ready to sell yet but they sure are cute.

It has been an exciting summer here at the Desert Northwest. Although I haven’t done much with the web site lately, I have been busy with the nursery. I have started many more plants from seed this year than I have in several years. Seed is more expensive than it used to be, but I can collect some of my own; also, some old seed I have lying around is still viable. So there are a lot of Agaves and Yuccas in the pipeline as well as Eucalyptus and other random stuff. Hopefully even a few hardy Acacias which we haven’t sold in years. Things like Puya, Dudleya, Nolina and Banksia are germinating now.

In late July I took a quick trip to Vancouver Island, where I got to see some really remarkable gardens maintained by serious plant collectors. I also visited a number of nurseries. I have uploaded photo albums from each visit to Facebook, and set them to “public” so you should be able to view them even without a Facebook account. Check out the links below, and I think you’ll be impressed! Each one opens a different photo album.

Garden of Jeff St.Gelais, Victoria, BC
Garden of Judith McLauchlan, Victoria BC
Garden of Graham Smyth, Victoria BC
Garden of Cal Mateer, Victoria BC
“Vanisle Bamboo” garden in Comox BC
Valley Succulents, Comox, BC
Comox, BC public plantings
Vancouver Island Nurseries

However, another purpose of this trip was to explore the possibility of marketing plants to customers in British Columbia in the future. We hope to pull that together by this time next year. So far we have not offered this service, for reasons I won’t go into here. There are, of course, certain regulations that complicate the process of bringing plants across international borders. Numerous plants do cross the border under the appropriate regulations, but it is easier for larger nurseries that have the resources to stay on top of this. Anyway, we’ll see what we can come up with, so stay tuned for that.

We look forward to seeing you this weekend, if you can make it to Sequim!

Ian Barclay
The Desert Northwest
PO Box 3475
Sequim, WA 98382
http://www.desertnorthwest.com
mail@desertnorthwest.com

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