2019: A Great Year for Bamboos and Ferns

So, a pleasantly mild summer here in Clallam County, Washington has come to a harsh and dreary end.  Who remembers the hot summer we had in 2009 when it reached 103 in Seattle?  We actually reached 103 here in Sequim on the day before that, but “only” made it to 100 on the following day (7/29, I think), which was hotter for Puget Sound.

I point this out only to remind myself that it can get hot here; because this summer, it did not.  We only squeaked out a grand total of five days above 80 degrees, with the hottest day being 84 (which was on June 12th).  Remarkably, we did not make it to 80 even once during the month of July.  Like most of the Northwest, we also experienced warmer than normal nighttime temperatures throughout much of summer this year.

We also had considerably more rain this summer than we have have been accustomed to lately, with the last few summers having been drier than average.  In particular, we had a very surprising, major soaking rain on June 27th which really helped tide things over.  We don’t usually expect that, especially here in the rainshadow.  And of course, if you live around here I don’t have to tell you that this September has been very wet.  Since the second week of September, I haven’t had to water much of anything at all outside of the greenhouses, and the grass that had looked parched a month ago is turning green again already.  I irrigated our lawn all summer (I always do this as a fire protection measure), but in the last couple weeks it has been out of control with hardly a dry day to mow it!

In general, the mild weather makes our job easier.  I said something like that way back in 2011 when we had a cool summer (see – here it is!), and it’s still true.  It is easier to get into the greenhouses and work when it isn’t so hot.  And most of what we grow is sufficiently adapted to our climate that it gets enough heat for growth, even in a cool year.  The only exception is some of the desert succulents and (non-opuntoid) cacti, which in many cases put on more growth the more heat they get, to a point.

Visitors to the nursery this year will have noticed that the snow last February crushed our shade house.  This could have been prevented had I not deliberately pulled the shade cloth back on (the wind having blown it off) to protect the plants inside from frost.  I am not too upset about this loss, since I needed to devote all my attention while it was snowing to clearing snow from the larger aluminum frame structures.  Losing one of these would have been a much more significant disaster.

The shade house was the first nursery structure we built at our Sequim location.  With help from family, it was built in haste in December 2008 when forecasts advertised a big freeze (which, of course, turned out to be significant indeed).  It sheltered many valuable plants through our first Sequim winter.  It existed for one winter as a greenhouse before I managed to finish the first aluminum frame greenhouse in December 2009.  By that time it had already become the shade house.  You can look back into the blog archives and read all about it, if interested.  But now, we bid farewell to this structure.  I am not going to replace it with the same sort of structure in the same place.  I have other plans for this space, though it will be a while before I get to them.

In any case, the shade house was destroyed beyond repair, and a large collection of bamboos was trapped underneath it for a long time while the snow slowly melted.  We have since dismantled what was left of the shade house and will repurpose the wood, most of which is in remarkably good condition.  I was amazed how well the bamboos did.  Although a few individual plants died, not one species was lost from the collection completely.  As they were buried under snow for almost a month, with numerous nights in the 20s and two nights down to the mid-teens, I call that rather miraculous.  (However, a few particularly vulnerable bamboos had been moved into the greenhouse in advance.)  We have since moved them over to a part of the property with some tree canopy and they are looking great (plus a few in the greenhouses to sell).

Bamboos are not desert plants, but we keep them around because they have so many other desirable features.  Admittedly they are a bit of a holdover from before I started the nursery with a water-wise theme.  A few years back I decided they were important enough to me to continue growing them, which is still the case.  With the cloudy, mild weather and relatively high humidity we have had most of the summer, they have been very happy.  We are continuing to gradually increase them, especially the clumping (non-invasive) types, for eventual sale.

Another “holdover” from an earlier era would be the tree ferns.  I would very much like to grow more of these, but I seem to have a problem with giving germinating treefern spore the attention it needs.  Nevertheless I will continue in my efforts until we can make more species available.  A modest crop of Cyathea dealbata we obtained from a friend is looking particularly lush as they enjoy the rain we have had this month.  We also have a number of Dicksonia antarctica in the nursery which I am rather tempted to just put in the ground.  Tree ferns are not at all drought tolerant, and certainly don’t fit the water-wise theme.  But I had a minor obsession with them for a few years of high school and college.  I still think they are intriguing plants and a lot of fun to grow.

Fortunately, I haven’t become completely distracted from water-wise plants.  I have been potting up a ton of Agave and Yucca seedlings this summer, for future sale.  Also, last year we were privileged to take some cuttings from a cactus collection in eastern Washington.  As they have rooted and grown, they are generating a lot of interest and selling pretty well.  So now, of course, we needed to go back and get even more!  Some of you will have noticed a photo of these on Facebook.  Don’t get too excited just yet though; they need the chance to grow some roots before they can be sold.

As you will have noticed from the web site, we have closed up the nursery early for the season, even suspending mail-order operations for a time.  I’ll attempt to quit whining about how difficult this year has been and just leave it at that.  We are now focusing on a list of tasks we need to get through to make 2020 a great year!  It’s no use looking back and it’s time to look forward.

A particular challenge is to get the plastic back on greenhouse 1 while it is full of plants.  It seems I was too busy complaining about snow to mention on this blog that my plastic sheeting blew off this greenhouse during a freak windstorm last December, and was never properly repaired.  (Yeah it was a heck of a winter!)  I’m now realizing it’s much easier to get plastic on a new greenhouse with nothing in it, and plenty of room to work, than on a greenhouse crammed with plants.  But at least we now have a new sheet of plastic, and I’m certain we will get the job done before cold weather arrives.  Another task on the list for this fall is to get the impenetrable jungle cleared from the back of greenhouse 3.  Wish us luck with that one because we will need it.  We still need to repair some snow damage to the wood framing in the back of greenhouse 3 that we can’t even reach.

Finally, we will soon be listing some seeds for sale on the web site.  But not right this minute, since I’m going down my task list in the best possible order of priorities.  This has been some time in coming, and I regret the delay.  Our goal is to have a seed list of at least 50 – 60 species posted to the web site by November 1st.  The list will look quite a bit like my list from many years ago: a combination of Agave and Yucca species along with a limited selection of Eucalyptus and Australian plants.  These are all fresh seeds that I myself collected (90% of the time) and use at the nursery.  I sow them and then I end up with so many seedlings that I never get around to potting them up.  Ha ha.  Well, you’ll want to check back for that!

More later.  We wish you a great fall.  You know, like Humpty Dumpty.  No, the other kind of fall.

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Initially, we did make an effort to clear snow from the shade house.  It’s great when children get big enough to help!

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Crushed shade house with bamboo collection under there somewhere.

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Shade house tear-down.  Photo by Connie Barclay

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Yushania (Borinda) boliana, giant blue bamboo.  Can you believe these were all in that shade house buried under snow for weeks?  Some sources call this not hardy, but not one of them that we left in the shade house died (or even died to the ground).  You’re going to need one of these in the spring.

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Snow also put a lot of pressure on our aluminum frame houses.  Here, looking into greenhouse 4, you can see the snow line where there was no room left for it to collect between it and the next greenhouse (left side of photo).  Also this greenhouse has taken on a distinct lean to the right, because of the weight of snow on the left side.  There isn’t anything I can do to fix that, but it has gradually resumed its correct shape over time, and isn’t too bad now.  I think the occasional wind we get has actually helped push it back into shape.  There is also damage to the framing in two greenhouses, one of which we have repaired.

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New cactus cuttings, which will be ready to sell in 2020!  If you liked this photo on Facebook, please try to maintain your level of excitement until then.

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Summer 2019 Update and Nursery Open Days

So here it is, almost summer already, having our usual bit of cool June weather before it really kicks in. And what looked like it would be a great year for our nursery back in January has turned out to be, well, quite different from expectations. I’ll comment a little more on that at the end of this post, but the main thing to discuss for now is how we plan to proceed with summer sales. I’m getting a lot of emails asking are we open, and when? It would have helped to post that on the web site earlier, I know. But I’ll get there. And rest assured we will still be open this weekend (June 21-22) as originally planned. Also if you show up this weekend you’ll get to see some amazing Echinocereus cacti in bloom in our display bed!  (Sorry, none to sell right now.)

I’ll be very up front about the state of the nursery, which right now does not look much like I wanted it to. I can’t pretend it looks spectacular. But it doesn’t make sense to cancel anything, since there are still so many great plants out there! There isn’t everything I was hoping for by now, but there are still a LOT of cool plants. And there are a few new items. If anyone wants little plants of Eucalyptus neglecta or E. gunnii this is your chance! They are small but look perfect, and I’ve had the best success putting them out from little pots.

So the basic plan is, we are open this Friday and Saturday, then on top of that will be open every Saturday through August and perhaps beyond. We will also be open August 9th and Sept 20-21 which was advertised earlier. But I’m not going to call it an “open house,” nor will I be sending out the usual e-mails in advance either. It’s just, show up on any Saturday you want, and we will be here. We will be potting up, cleaning up, and selling as the occasion arises. We will probably not be providing signage for the plants this time around as we have done in the past; I think there just isn’t going to be time. However, a deep discount is provided for quality-compromised plants, which has been the case for some time.

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Speaking of TIME, I suppose that’s the big factor in what’s going on with the nursery. As in, there’s not enough of it to go around, and I’m having a lot of trouble keeping up. This could be attributed to poor planning on my part, but there are also factors beyond my control, such as the weather and me getting sick. I’ve been considering options to solve these problems, and doing some re-thinking on the direction of the nursery for the future. I may produce a longer blog post about that sometime. But at least, I think closing the nursery is not an option. When my greenhouses didn’t collapse in the snow, I took that as a sign that I had best continue. Also, gardeners’ interest in our plants and nursery concept continues to be very high. So I guess this means we’re not giving up!

But with that having been said, perhaps I’ll shoot for a little sympathy here. First, the weather hit us really hard in February. Did I EVER think I would see two feet of snow in Sequim? (Which was mostly in 24 hours.) Well, honestly, I should have, since it happened in 1996. As I was out there knocking snow off greenhouses all night, to the limit of physical exhaustion, I was thinking to myself, let’s suppose two feet of snow at once is a “20-year event.” Do I want to be out here doing this again when I’m 60? As an aside, it’s a good thing I started taking some steps last year to get in better overall physical health, or I certainly would have lost the greenhouses. As it was, I was pushed close to the limit of my physical endurance, and I’m certain the greenhouses were close to collapse. We ended up with 36” inches of snow for the month. Some of you folks back east are probably like “what’s the big deal?” But around here this almost never happens, and you sure as heck don’t see it coming.

Second, did I ever think snow could take so long to melt? The last patch of snow finally fizzled out on St. Patricks Day, which has to be some kind of record. But it’s a real problem when everything stays basically frozen for a month. I need that time to work on the nursery and clean up the plants for spring. I can’t get the weeds out of the plants when the plants are frozen and the potting soil is frozen. And this is one reason I am so far behind.

So in March, I managed to pull together enough plants for the Sequim Garden Show. And then of course I got the flu. It seems to take longer to recover every time I get it. That was just when we had that hot weather in March, and I didn’t feel well enough to adequately keep watered all my exciting cuttings from California the Southwest. Some will be fine but a lot of them died that week, sadly. I’m sure going from winter to summer in a matter of about a week was as much of a shock to the plants as to me.

April was more productive, and the Hortlandia sale may be considered a success given the circumstances. And I’m glad the weather was normal for the whole month.

Then I got the flu again in June and lost a bunch more work time. In fact I didn’t even feel good enough to produce this blog post yesterday or this morning, so here I am doing it in the evening. I think I’m on the mend and should be good enough for this weekend. But sheesh.

Do I have enough material yet for a Shakespearean tragedy? Now, I know there are solutions to any of the above problems. Much has to do simply with preparedness, given that it is impossible to know what the future holds. But it takes time to implement any of those solutions.

Finally, on a broader scale, I have come to a better understanding of reasons the nursery has been in a general state of “decline” (in terms of maintenance, not sales) since 2015. But the reasons for that are personal and complex; and I don’t want to go into detail here except to describe (again, in a future post) what I see as the best solutions going forward.

Before wrapping up this post, I wish to thank my current volunteers, Bob and Susan, for their help this year (and in the past). Sometimes it is easier to deal with someone else’s mess than your own, which seems like the only possible explanation for why they continue to return. I do greatly appreciate them.

Oh, one last announcement, I should mention that wholesale will not be offered in 2019. Last year was very successful, and we hope to do it again when we can. But this year the weather really screwed it all up, at a time when we needed to be potting all that stuff up, everything was frozen solid. Once again, more time, attention and planning could offset such challenges in the future. It’s all part of a learning experience!

So if you read this far, thanks for reading. I guess we’re not like those other businesses that make everything sound like lollipops and rainbows all the time. Apparently we’re all about honesty around here! Rest assured there is still a lot of cool stuff available, and we look forward to seeing you this summer at the nursery.  

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(Here’s a scene we’d like to forget.  What happens when there isn’t enough space between the greenhouses for snow to collect?  Well it stacks up to 7′ high, that’s what.  At that point all I can do is try to keep snow off the center of the greenhouses.  Glad I had snowshoes or I wouldn’t have been able to climb up there!)

2019 Plant Sale schedule, starting with Sequim Garden Show this weekend!

Dear Readers,

Well it has been a heck of a winter, as you know if you live in the Pacific Northwest.  But, for better or worse, we have survived and are still here.  We’d be singing a different tune if I’d lost some of our large aluminum frame greenhouses from heavy snow, and it was a close call!  But finally, the last patch of snow melted off our driveway yesterday, and I’m starting to once again be able to see my Utah cactus collection that was sitting outside when multiple feet of snow got piled on top of it that I pulled off the greenhouses.  More about that later.  Amazingly, they still look fine.

So we’ve hit that time of the year where we frantically scramble to get ready for the Sequim Garden Show while planning for what the year ahead looks like in terms of sales and events.  Last year it was not so frantic, since we’re getting better at planning ahead and making advance preparations over time.  But this year it’s frantic.  I basically lost the entire month of February for productivity, due to not being able to work at night and with frozen potting soil.  We have a lot of catching up to do!

All the same, our nursery stock has, by and large, hung on to survive the winter.  So we’ll still have a respectable selection of cool stuff to bring to the Sequim Garden Show this weekend, which is Saturday and Sunday (see website for details).  This will be our 11th year of participation in the show.  We expect that a lot of people are feeling the same sense of enthusiasm about getting outside and planting, after not being able to do so for weeks.  We can also at this time assure you of the hardiness of the plants we are bringing, since nearly all of them were in an unheated greenhouse where it was well below freezing many nights in a row in February.

So that’s this weekend–wish us luck getting ready.  After that, we have the following events scheduled for this year:

April 20 – 21: Hortlandia, Portland, Oregon, the Northwest’s biggest and best plant sale at this time.

June 21 – 22: Open House, here at the nursery in Sequim.

August 9 – 10: Open House, here at the nursery in Sequim.

September 20 – 21: Open House, here at the nursery in Sequim.

That’s all we have planned so far.  Why so few events?  Well, as much as we’d really like to do the Rhododendron Species Foundation Sale in April, I don’t think we will have enough nursery stock to go around for both that and Hortlandia, following this weekend’s event.  I guess that’s what happens after a good sales year such as last year.  Of course, there’s a lot of new stuff I’ll be potting up, but it won’t be ready to sell by April.  I also think two consecutive weekends away from the nursery in April puts me at a major disadvantage for keeping on top of things here.  That is the reason I dropped the Grays Harbor Sale–although it was reasonably successful, that weekend (being mid May) my time is simply more valuable here at the nursery.

As for Heronswood, they changed their fee structure for vendors this year, in a way that causes me to wonder if we’ve been selling a lot less than the other nurseries who attend.  I’m going to wait to see how that pans out, but at this time I’m not feeling inspired to participate.  The other sales we have discontinued in the past have been discussed in earlier blog posts.  If anything changes, or if I add any more sales, I’ll try to remember to post it here!

Not committing to this yet, but one thing I might do is add another Open House in late May, which we have done in the past.  But I need to wait and see what I think the nursery will look like at that time.  In addition to giving the plants some time to bounce back, I also need to consider some damage to our infrastructure caused by the snow.  In the meantime, remember that you can always come out and shop from us by appointment!

So that’s how things look right now.  Stay tuned for more updates, and perhaps we’ll see you this weekend in Sequim.

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.

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

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