Better Late than Never

This is where I offer a quick update to let everyone know I’m still alive. Now I have once again been very delinquent in maintaining the practice of posting our nursery newsletters to this blog. I send them by email and I should post them here but I sometimes just can’t get to it all. For the sake of consistency I think I ought to post them here even if they are old news. So you can look at those below if you are really bored and want something to read. I know some of the information about past events isn’t going to do you much good at this point.

As we head into winter my level of occupation with the nursery and other important pursuits continues apace. There is no “winding down” with the tail end of the fall season, at least not this year. Retail nursery people might not get this, but I would be happy to put them to work on a number of tasks if they are bored and want to work for free. Ha ha.

Most importantly we are in the process of building greenhouse 4. (I said that in the newsletter below.) If that gets done before winter strikes, life will be much easier because there will be plenty of room in the greenhouses for all the stock that needs to go in. If winter decides to show up in mid-November again, then I am going to have to shove everything into the other greenhouses and end up moving it twice and not be able to reach everything. That is a lot of extra work but if it is what I have to do we will do it. I think this greenhouse will be done by about Thanksgiving, but it’s not that I got a late start– I have been clearing a pile of rocks out of the way since August. Generally, the stuff sitting outside that needs to come in can take a little frost, and sometimes more, but real winter– mid 20’s or below– really needs to hold off a few more weeks or I will have to ask for my money back.

Soon-to-be-assembled greenhouse 4, all the posts set and just a few large rocks still left. I moved all those rocks just after I took the photo.

Soon-to-be-assembled greenhouse 4, all the posts set and just a few large rocks still left. I moved all those rocks just after I took the photo.

A 5' tall pile of rocks that I moved from the space where greenhouse 4 is going. By the way, did you know that rocks are heavy?

A 5′ tall pile of rocks that I moved from the space where greenhouse 4 is going. By the way, did you know that rocks are heavy?

What else do we do in winter? Well last winter, I did a lot of organizing papers in my house. It had been neglected and put off for a few years but I made a major dent in that stuff and got organizeder. (That should be a word.) I had some other house projects to do as well—building shelves and that sort of thing. Also last winter I did a lot of cleaning up in the greenhouses. Stock gets old, gets weeds in it, roots into the ground, etc., and needs attention. But I did not do nearly enough. This year I shall be far more aggressive about it. I also expect more success since I have new soil, unlike last year. New soil with no weed seeds in it gets me off to a much better start each season. And I also did a little planting in the ground last winter. But this year I want to do a lot more. We’ll see how far I get, but I probably won’t get too serious about it until that greenhouse is done.

This is the Grevillea section. It is already cleaned up, but there is much more work to do in other areas. The kneeling pads, broom and dustpan are placed to make it look as if someone is working on it.

This is the Grevillea section. It is already cleaned up, but there is much more work to do in other areas. The kneeling pads, broom and dustpan are placed to make it look as if someone is working on it.

A new pile of soil with no weed seeds in it. Yes, it really is as exciting as it looks.

A new pile of soil with no weed seeds in it. Yes, it really is as exciting as it looks.

Here are some plants that are in the ground, and have been for just under a year. There are few weeds in this spot because it still hasn't really rained under the large douglas-fir trees where these are planted.

Here are some plants that are in the ground, and have been for just under a year. There are few weeds in this spot because it still hasn’t really rained under the large douglas-fir trees where these are planted.

This Arctostaphylos manzanita 'Montlake' is also in the ground. The cage is in place to protect it from giant, evil rats with antlers.

This Arctostaphylos manzanita ‘Montlake’ is also in the ground. The cage is in place to protect it from giant, evil rats with antlers.

In winter, we still ship, but we try to pay attention to the weather. If it’s bitterly cold where the plants are going, or en route, we wait until a break in the weather. Shipping along the West Coast is certainly not a problem, as long as we are above freezing here. We also continue to be open by appointment.

In theory we also work on the web page. I don’t even want to say anything about that because this is like the sixth time in a row I have said I am going to update it and then I can’t quite get it done. But someday I will, and when it happens I will certainly announce it here.

Late fall is also when we propagate nearly all of our cutting stock. We do not have a mist propagation system yet, so we find that cutting propagation works best during a relatively narrow window from late fall up to about New Year’s. We are constantly on the lookout for cuttings of new and interesting things, so guard your plants carefully! Ha ha, yes that was a joke. (Or was it?)

The beginning of fall cuttings. At left is Romneya, which I haven't propagated in several years.

The beginning of fall cuttings. At left is Romneya, which I haven’t propagated in several years.

Here I am attempting something experimental. Certain easily propagated plants such as Hebes and Fuchsias have been stuck in their individual pots with potting soil. As long as they can root without bottom heat I think it may just work.

Here I am attempting something experimental. Certain easily propagated plants such as Hebes and Fuchsias have been stuck in their individual pots with potting soil. As long as they can root without bottom heat I think it may just work.

I also have numerous “family commitments” as we might call them. So that’s all right, and I don’t feel like I’m wasting time even if I’m not spending as much on the nursery as the nursery would appreciate.

So that is what we are up to. And here are those newsletters that should have been posted here months ago. Better late than never, right? Hey, at the rate we’re going that could be our motto.


July 29th Newsletter
The Desert Northwest SUMMER OPEN HOUSE! …and more news.

Dear Plant Friends,

Welcome to another dry Northwest summer. While this summer has been drier and hotter than average by a significant margin, there is still nothing unusual about the fact that it has been dry. Lest we forget, it gets pretty dry around here every summer, just not as early and not this hot. So while some of us are scrambling to keep everything watered, we here at the Desert Northwest continue to propagate as quickly as possible more exciting water-wise plants for your garden.

This newsletter is to remind you all that we will be open this Friday and Saturday, July 31 and August 1, for our annual summer open house. (See for details and directions.) Unlike the spring open house, this time we will be putting signage back up in the nursery, although we don’t have signs for everything. The “overly attached plants sale” will be on once again: that means 50% off the regular price of anything that is rooted into the ground through the bottom of the pot (or otherwise shabby). The numbers of these have diminished somewhat compared to the spring sale, but not quite as much as we would like, and a lot of new and fresh nursery stock has been piled in front of the old stuff until we have time to deal with it. Which we will. Oh yes we will.

What’s new as far as plants? All of a sudden Australian tea trees (Leptospermums) are back and we have a lot of them! L. namadgiensis and L. ‘Eugene Hardy’ in particular are very useful garden plants, making a beautiful fine textured screen that tolerates drought, any soil and the deer don’t touch it (yes, for real!). Available primarily in the 4” pot size (but a few odd larger ones), these grow fast and will be impressive in the garden within a year or two. Colorful new growth and early summer flowers are nice too. The silvery L. cunninghamii and deep-green ‘Highland Pink’ are also still available, as well as others.

Then we have the manzanitas (Arctostaphylos), which are among the most valuable water-wise plants for Northwest gardens, and our selection of these is now on the upswing once again! These are mostly in the 4” pot size but a limited selection of larger sizes can also be found. There are too many types to list, but they include both the popular hybrids such as ‘Pacific Mist’ (back after a long absence) and ‘Howard McMinn’, along with a limited number of wild selections of species and hybrids native to Washington, Oregon and Northern California. The much talked about Xera Plants selection A. x media ‘Martha Ewan’ is also available (although you won’t see it on the list yet, because they looked too small a couple weeks ago when I made the list).

Complimentary to manzanita is the genus Ceanothus. We currently offer a nice form of C. impressus, as well as a huge mystery hybrid Ceanothus that ought to make a fabulous large-scale groundcover and be hardy to subzero temperatures. Some forms of C. prostratus also look like they’re just about ready to sell (also not yet on the list). This native species is slow-growing, cute and rarely offered.

And of course there is all kinds of other cool stuff available as usual, but I don’t want this newsletter to get so long that we don’t make it to the end. OK, but just one more thing: Telopea truncata. What is it, you ask? Basically it’s an Embothrium relative from Tasmania but with dark red flowers in tight clusters. It is super rare! People have been asking me about this for years, and at last I have managed to produce a nice crop of them. They are little but look great!

So what’s up with the web site? It still says 2013 on the plant list, which I admit is now way out of date. However I do HAVE a new list, and it’s just a matter of getting it on the web site. Actually I almost finished that about two weeks ago when some other stuff came up and I just couldn’t quite get it—oh well, hopefully soon. In the meantime I will attach for your viewing pleasure an up-to-date and CURRENT list of our plant availability to this e-mail.

If you can’t make it to the Open House this weekend, come and visit us at the Fronderosa Frolic in Gold Bar the following weekend (August 8). (See And as always, you are welcome to request plants from our list that you might want and we will bring them!

Thanks for reading! We hope to see you soon.

Ian & Co.
The Desert Northwest
PO Box 3475
Sequim, WA 98382


September 18th Newsletter
The Desert Northwest OPEN HOUSE, Late Summer Update and Special Offer!

Greetings plant people! We write to remind you of several things. First off, NEXT weekend, on September 25th-26th, is our FALL OPEN HOUSE, our final open house event of the year (directions at Fall rains are here and it is a fine time to plant (except really tender stuff). Come on out and shop till you drop! If that doesn’t work for you, we’ll be at the Heronswood sale THIS weekend (the 19th) in Kingston (details at And if that doesn’t work, there’s still mail-order and appointments at any time! You’ll have to keep reading for the special offer part. Are we tricksy or what?

While everyone may be talking about fall, we haven’t forgotten that it is still technically summer. We like to remember these things because we don’t fear the heat. And what a summer it has been. We extend our sympathies to those who have suffered losses from the unusually bad wildfire season this year. I figure this summer has been a bit like the Holocene Warm Period of 7 – 10,000 years ago; when Garry oak, golden chinkapin and sagebrush dominated western Washington’s vegetation: hot, dry and sunny with smoke in the air half the time. Only we’re not accustomed to that.

More importantly (ha ha), our gardens are not used to it! I’m seeing all kinds of established plantings, usually of species that prefer summer water, that look either very stressed or fried to a crisp. And even some native plants and other water-wise species are under stress. When the weather deviates from normal, root systems are simply not equipped to draw water deeply enough from the soil to sustain the plants in good condition. Except cacti; they do fine.

This leads me to my next point. Our selection of hardy cacti is expanding! A few months back I took some cuttings of 15 or so different Opuntias (prickly pear cacti). They don’t have any new growth yet but they are rooted and ready to sell. We promise lots of new growth next year, and as long as they have good drainage, yes you can plant now—these are all super-hardy types including some native to Washington. Did we mention they have fabulous flowers? This is why we need a few display beds. But hey, we’ll get there sometime.

So, what about the rest of our plant availability? It’s actually on the upswing, and more on that below. It seems every time I send out a newsletter I say I am almost done with an update to the web site, and then never quite manage to finish it. That is really lame since it is so far out of date. On the other hand, I suppose it is a good sign I am keeping busy enough with ongoing maintenance and orders from people who email and ask about availability (and this is very much welcomed) not to have much time to work on it. Let’s just say I haven’t given up, but I’d best refrain from making any promises as to when that update will appear. For now I will append to this newsletter the July 2015 availability list which is reasonably up to date. This is the same list I sent out with the July newsletter, but I’ll send it again just for fun.

Now if you come out to the nursery, you’ll find there is actually MORE available now than even the July list shows, particularly in the 4” pot size. This is because a lot of the cuttings I potted up in May and June matured after I made the list. This includes a broad range of items from manzanitas to Grevilleas to Chilean and New Zealand stuff. So there are actually lots of new (and returning) treasures available, and no telling what you will find! I’d better mention Grevillea juniperina ‘Molonglo’ which we have not had in many years. We also have to note Ceanothus impressus really does impress us. And yes, Telopea truncata is still available.

So about that special offer. If you show up at the open house, I’m offering a free plant of either Arctostaplylos densiflora ‘Howard McMinn’, Arctostaphylos ‘Pacific Mist’ or Leptospermum namadgiensis—yourchoice!—with any purchase of two plants or more. Hey, if you blow a lot of money here I might even give you more than one. Don’t you just love gimmicks?

The Overly Attached Plants Sale continues yet again—that means 50% off the regular price for plants that are rooted through the pot and into the ground, or otherwise severely distressed. There are a few less of these than in July but I have not had the time to deal with these that I had hoped for. Perhaps I will in the coming months. (This had really better be the last time I do this or I will have some major problems next year.) Oh, and our familiar gray canopy died in the windstorm, which is tragic. If I had been using my head I might have put it away first. Maybe if the Heronswood sale goes really well I’ll feel inspired to buy another one next week, probably something smaller.

As long as I’m rambling enough to mention the canopy, I may as well note that construction of greenhouse 4 is underway, with the goal of being completed around early November! We can hope that the room to spread out will be just what we need to improve the nursery’s organization going into the future. We hope to move a lot of stuff around over the winter when it is done. Watch for an update on that, and other happenings, on my blog! I ought to have more time to provide updates on this stuff come late fall and winter.

See you soon!
Ian & Co.
The Desert Northwest
PO Box 3475
Sequim, WA 98382


Spring open house is this weekend, Friday through Sunday, details and directions about which can be found here. More about that below! But first, some whining:

Good grief, what a month! I am sorry if I have not responded to your email. To start with I had my SECOND hard drive crash of the season, which had the misfortune of coinciding with my computer guy being out of town. At least the hard drive was under warranty, but I still don’t have my main computer back (and the others don’t really work well enough to count). Then on top of that our internet hardware seems to have died. I hope we have that resolved in the next day or two. In the meantime I admit the emails are piling up. I’m here in the library typing this and for some mysterious reason STILL can’t get into my Desert Northwest email. (Which also means this newsletter won’t go out via email right at this moment.) I hope all this will be resolved soon, hopefully before I turn into a complete technophobe.

Then there’s the nursery. Earlier this spring I got off to a great start, but parts of the nursery are now in, shall we say, less than ideal condition because babies (of the human variety) don’t sleep through the night. They are also a major distraction but in a good way of course. So the end result is, I’ve decided to announce a sale on OVERLY ATTACHED PLANTS. All overly attached plants will be offered at… drumroll please… 50% OFF the listed price on the web site.

What’s an overly attached plant, you ask? Well, that’s a plant (generally in a 4″ pot, but even a few larger items) that just loves being at our nursery so much that it rooted itself right into the ground through the bottom of the pot before anyone managed to move it. In general most of these plants are still salvageable given the right care. You’ll see some that I pulled out, cut back hard and potted up earlier and they are now doing fine. I still have a lot more of that to do and fortunately all summer to do it. But maybe we can speed this process along by trying to clear a bunch of them out right now.

The only conditions are that “overly attached” is defined according to our discretion (but don’t worry, we won’t be stingy), and plants should be pulled under staff supervision (that’s me!). Reasons for this include making sure you, the customer, have realistic expectations about the plants’ salvageability/performance. We’ll want to determine that a good proportion of healthy roots are still in the pot. We may also want to cut it back for you and/or soak it in water, which will be available. Another reason is if you pull something from the nursery and later decide you don’t want it, we’ll need to attend to it/them that evening. They may not last if they are just left out in the nursery, especially if I don’t find them for a while i.e. if I don’t know they have been pulled. Finally, the usual quantity discount for one-time purchases of $200 or greater does not apply to these plants.

Now lest we think this is entirely a salvage operation or something, there is also plenty of good news. Certain sections of the nursery are in good shape such as the conifers (a great selection as always) and the Fuchsias. Our selection of things like Olearia, Callistemon and Podocarpus remains good as well as various Washington native cacti (all Opuntia, no Pediocactus at this time). There are even a few exciting things like Heteromeles arbutifolia, Grevillea x gaudichaudii and Brachyglottis ‘Otari Cloud’ out there if you poke around. So yes, there are still a lot of NEW plants in the pipeline, and hopefully clearing out some of the old stuff will make room for them to fit!! And as always, some of the usual stuff like Grevillea, manzanita and the like remain available.

I will not be putting up my usual signage for this event, so it will be beneficial to arrive with a list of what you have in mind. I will be here and available all weekend to assist you with any questions. One thing about my signs is that there are a lot of good plants in the nursery for which I have no sign, and people keep passing these by, so we’ll just see how it goes without signs this time and call it an experiment. Maybe some of the other good plants will get some attention!

So there you have it. This is the first proper “sale” we have ever had and will probably be the last for a long time! Unless we change our minds. Well I’d better stop typing before the library staff accuse me of hogging all the internet. Thanks for reading!

Ian & Co.
The Desert Northwest
PO Box 3475
Sequim, WA 98382

2015 Schedule of Sales and Events!

Is it 2015 already? Why didn’t somebody warn me this would happen?

Well that was an exciting few weeks—first I had way too much going on at once, then I got sick. Then my hard drive crashed. (Fortunately I had backed up all my files.) After waiting a bit to get my computer back with a new hard drive, it took another day or two to get files transferred and programs downloaded. So for all those reasons, it’s been a challenge to keep on top of emails. I think I am now caught up but if I owe you correspondence, just write again and bug me; I don’t mind.

Now we look into the future once again to try to predict where and when we will be selling our plants this year, besides mail-order and by appointment which are always available. We are taking it a little easier on ourselves as far as spring sales, which tend to drain all my energy at exactly the time of year I need to be putting work into the nursery. So here they are, in chronological order.

March 21 – 22: Sequim Garden Show this weekend! Yeah that’s coming right up. I guess you’ll have to really drop whatever you’re doing to make that one! Well, I would have provided more advance notice had I had my computer for the last two weeks.

April 17 – 18: Rhododendron Species Foundation Sale in Federal Way. Hopefully this year it won’t pour down rain all of Saturday. That was exciting.

May 16: Heronswood garden open and sale, Kingston.

May 29 – 31: Spring Open House here at the nursery in Sequim!

July 25: Heronswood garden open and sale, Kingston. I expect we’ll be bringing some extra cool stuff to this one.

July 31 – August 1: Summer Open House, Friday and Saturday only. (The date on the main “open house page” is incorrect but I’ll fix that soon.)

August 8 – Fronderosa Frolic, Gold Bar, Washington. I’m glad Judith is still hosting this event. As with last year it will be one day only.

September 12: Salem Hardy Plant Society sale in Rickreall, Oregon (just west of Salem).

September 19: Heronswood garden open and sale, Kingston.

September 25 – 26: Fall Open House in Sequim, Friday and Saturday only. Early fall is a great time to plant and our availability is usually at its peak around this time!

So here’s the “what’s different this year” section, along with some further random thoughts.

We’re skipping “Hortlandia,” the big HPSO April sale this year, since it conflicts with the RSBG sale, which costs us less in travel expenses and we think we will do better there given the type of stock we currently have more of. We still like it though. Hopefully we’ll be back next year.

There is still no Bloedel Reserve Plant Sale, which is too bad. I have one nursery friend in the know who swears it will be back soon, and another who swears it will never be back. So that’s interesting. If they ever have another one, we’ll do it, despite the challenge of preparing for it.

The Clackamas County Master Gardener sale. That went OK, but not great; and I expect we’ll give it at least one more shot, but not this year. It’ll be more worthwhile if I have my trailer ready to go, which I still don’t at this time (another project on my list!). (The trailer not being ready is also a factor in choosing RSBG over HPSO, for that matter.)

HPSO Fall Plantfest (which, ironically, is actually in summer). Last year I said I hoped we would do this but we didn’t end up actually doing it. I’m pretty sure that’s the same weekend as the SHPS sale so we’ll probably once again not do it and stick with SHPS, unless something changes at their end. That is a long way off so who knows.

NHS. Unlike last year, there is nothing on their web site this year that confirms they are having a sale in September, the one they have had for many years. Will there be one? When will it be? Who knows? Perhaps they haven’t decided yet. But if they are, it is certain to land on one of those weekends we are already doing something else. The two times we tried to do it in coordination with the SHPS sale at the same time, the added stress hasn’t been worth it. So, for those reasons and others, in all likelihood we’ll be giving it a pass even if it’s on.

Just for fun, and because I need to test out the new image editing software I downloaded (GIMP), here’s a random photo of our booth at the Salem Hardy Plant Society sale.


Exciting Facebook groups YOU should join—and General Update

When you start getting emails of “are you still in business?” that must mean it’s been too long since a web update or at least a blog update. Of course this has been on my mind for a while now, but we’ll start with the blog since that is easier. Yes, we are still in business and we have in fact been quite busy.

Before getting to that though, let’s take a moment to talk about Facebook. You’re on Facebook, right? I mean, come on man, everyone is doing it. Actually, if you are one of those who has still opted out, I can’t blame you. I’m half expecting everything we put up on Facebook goes into some vast database that Big Brother will eventually use against us. But then the same goes for most everything we put on the internet, including my blog and web site, so I guess it’s a chance I’ve decided to take for now, unless someone can convince me to go back to snail-mail only for the nursery business. At least I haven’t bought one of those TVs that listens to your every word and transmits your information to some unknown data cloud.

In any case, there continues to be a steadily increasing amount of action on plant-based Facebook groups (as an aside, the group called Plant Idents is particularly fun). So now that you think I’m nuts, let me tell you about three exciting Facebook groups you should join:

The first is called Arctostaphylos Aficionados. I started this back in late summer or so for people with a serious interest in manzanita—growing it, photographing it, documenting it in the wild, whatever. We even got someone in the group who is doing molecular research on them, so that is exciting; as well as most of the living scientific authorities on the genus that I know of. Do you like manzanita? What are you waiting for?

The next is called Cold Hardy Australian Plants, which I started around New Years Eve or so. I am astounded at the positive response to this group which already has more people in it than the Arctostaphylos group; and lots of great discussion, information and photos have been shared. You can be part of the fun at

Then we have Hardy Cacti for Temperate Gardens. Unlike my other groups this one has NOT really taken off. In fact I started it way back last March and we are still not quite at 100 members. But there is a back story here.

A certain Dan Carter, well over a year ago, started a Facebook group called Cold Hardy Cacti—nothing wrong with that. He then went on to define the subject of his group as being primarily cacti that will grow in USDA zones 6 or colder, where temperatures below 0°F are expected most winters. To the annoyance of some, contributors from zones 7 and 8 would be repeatedly informed their posts were of relatively less interest to the group. For example I even posted photos from an eastern Washington garden and was told my post was only marginally on topic. The problem is, with a title like “Cold Hardy Cacti,” it’s pretty much inevitable that you’re going to attract people who are interested in cold hardy cacti on up to zones 7 and 8; where, outside of desert areas, you very seldom see cacti cultivated due to the challenges of cold and wet. So, while I recognize someone is free to manage a Facebook group any way that he chooses to, in my mind it gets a little silly when you start a group with the title “Cold Hardy Cacti” and then tell such persons their contributions are not on topic. Now this is not meant as an attack on his group; in fact, I am still in his group. But this did motivate me to start Hardy Cacti for Temperate Gardens, which is meant as a “bigger tent” for people interested in discussing cold hardy cacti in any zone. (If Dan reads this and feels I am representing him unfairly, by all means please chime in—I have no personal beef here.) I won’t even say anything if you start talking about Agaves or Yuccas in my group; just don’t start talking about Encore Azaleas or something.

So I still wish to revive this group. It could be a valuable resource for those of us who are growing cacti in climates cold enough to be challenging but not frigid. With that remark I am pledging to become somewhat more involved there myself, and would love to have your contributions as well. Here’s the group again:

So what else is new? Well, some people have called this a “really boring” mild winter in the Northwest generally, but in our neck of the woods we had 3” of snow on November 29th followed by a drop to 18°F on the 30th. So we hit our “zonal low” if you will for the winter. A hard freeze before that and another just after Christmas were also annoying. (And what’s with all these early hard freezes lately? 2006, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2013, now 2014. Perhaps I ought to just start expecting them.) So greenhouse 4 didn’t get built, but that isn’t really a surprise. But that is all right, since I’m knocking off a whole lot of other little projects that have been bugging me for years. For example an annoying pile of rocks and dirt (inherited from previous owners) on the east side of the nursery growing area that has been covered with groundcover cloth for years has finally been leveled flat. This week I am working on getting Dungeness River irrigation water over to the east side of the property, which is exciting. And I am finally getting more plants into the ground, but more on that in a future post.

I have been doing some cleaning and organizing in the greenhouses as well; in short, we are doing the usual stuff to get ready for spring. And fortunately I am more on top of annoying paperwork this year than before, which means I can be OUTSIDE doing the work! Of course there’s still the web site to update; but for now I’ll just say, if you’re wondering if something is available, just ask, and I’ll let you know.

The other exciting news is that last October I managed to get out and do a quick bit of plant hunting in southwest Oregon and California. Highlights were a couple nice forms of Heteromeles arbutifolia that have already rooted really well, one of which had huge clusters of berries (why didn’t I get seed? But hey, at least they rooted). I also revisited some very nice forms of Arctostpahylos x mewukka that I had collected in 2006 but later lost. These forms from the Mt. Shasta area are beautifully silver—not as screaming blue as some, but still pretty good—and ought to be super hardy to cold (-20°F?). Speaking of cold, I encountered Arctostaphylos viscida in the upper Scott Valley where temperatures in the neighborhood of -20°F are not unknown—temperatures that these manzanitas take in stride. Look for these and similar exciting items to make it to our web list later this year. Then we have the rare Ceanothus pinetorum which looks a lot like C. gloriosus, but it grows high in the mountains and it’s MUCH hardier. Sean Hogan (Cistus Nursery) tells me it’s a major challenge to grow but I’m hoping I’ll have better luck if I get them in the ground from a small size. I guess we’ll find out.

Although it has taken me a while, I still intend to post photos to the web site both from this trip, and from the 2012 trip to Oregon and Northern California that I did with Mike Lee (formerly of Colvos Creek Nursery) and Vor Hostelter. There was also a minor trip to the Mt. Hood area in 2012 that I never did post photos of, but hey, it’s not too late!

We got to see some splendid gardens last fall, including Hummingbird Hill Villa on Whidbey Island, which houses an impressive collection of water-wise plants including a lot of things like Arctostaphylos, Grevillea, Leptospermum and the other usual suspects. The late Bob Barca, who was also one of our customers, started this garden which continues to be well maintained by the surviving family. We also visited Mike Lee, who continues to maintain a collection of fun, unusual, garden worthy plants at Arbor Heights Botanic Garden, a private garden in West Seattle. Both of these were kind enough to allow us some cuttings for propagation of exciting plant material, some of which we have not offered in the past. We also visited Derek Clausen and his amazing conifer collection back in October, but the cuttings from him mostly don’t look all that great now due to the downright hot weather we had back then. Anyway, stay tuned and we’ll see how much of it grows!

Not only that, Mike Lee was in Arizona and generously supplied us with a collection of cuttings and seeds, including four forms of Arctostaphylos, two of Platanus wrightii, the Arizona form of Frangula (Rhamnus) californica and more. (I opened the box and thought, what is this, Cotoneaster? But it’s all good; that just what this form looks like.) The Arizona Arctostaphylos are exciting because these get quite a bit of summer water in their native habitat, which could potentially mean they are both more “garden tolerant” in areas receiving summer irrigation, and possibly even that they would grow in parts of the mid-Atlantic region or Southeast—but has anyone tried? I have no idea, but I know Sean (the same as above) has already propagated a few A. pungens forms from southern Utah, and it’s certainly a fun possibility.

So, that is where we are at for the time being. I think we are going to have a good year with all the new stuff in the pipeline. Also, the word on the street is that the nursery business in general is picking up from previous years. Our local non-specialty garden center says business is way up from last year already, and with the mild weather people certainly have planting on the brain. Thanks for reading and for your continued interest in our business!

This is called 3" of snow, which fell on 11/29/14.  I left one Leptospermum juniperinum outside in a pot through the freeze just to see how wimpy it was.  It died.

This is called 3″ of snow, which fell on 11/29/14. I left one Leptospermum juniperinum outside in a pot through the freeze just to see how wimpy it was. It died.

Plant hunting in California.  This is Heteromeles arbutifolia with impressively large fruit clusters.

Plant hunting in California. This is Heteromeles arbutifolia with impressively large fruit clusters.

Arctostaphylos viscida in the Scott Valley, where temperatures to -20°F may occur.

Arctostaphylos viscida in the Scott Valley, where temperatures to -20°F may occur.

The gardens at Hummingbird Hill, Whidbey Island.

The gardens at Hummingbird Hill, Whidbey Island.

At Arbor Heights Botanic Gardens, this Acacia pravissima was loaded with buds.

At Arbor Heights Botanic Gardens, this Acacia pravissima was loaded with buds.

Cuttings from Arizona in the nursery!

Cuttings from Arizona in the nursery!


Greetings Plant Friends,

Hey, what’s that wet stuff falling out of the sky? It may actually be rain. That means it’s time to plant! And I guess we timed our later-than-usual FALL OPEN HOUSE just right, because it’s this weekend! That’s right, come on out this Friday or Saturday and we’ll be ready for you! Check this page for directions and a map.

So was summer dry enough for you this year, or what? It was supposed to be a hot one, and indeed it was hotter than average across the Northwest. Here in Sequim we got just one good soaking rain in the middle of August – which was most unexpected, and not everyone got it. So we all got a good reminder this year of the good sense in using water-wise garden plants. We may have a long rainy season, but a 4 – 6 month dry season is still a long time to be irrigating!

So last year we had a little problem here at the Desert Northwest. And you can help to fix it. It was called, too many plants and not enough greenhouse space. This especially becomes an issue when I have to cram the greenhouses so full that there are plants in the aisles, and I can’t reach or even see a lot of our stock. You can imagine the mess that can potentially result, but things are reasonably under control at the moment so we won’t go there.

So obviously, your purchases – whether at the open house, or by mail – will help us clear out enough space to fit everything into the greenhouses. More importantly, they will help us to fund the construction of our next greenhouse, which shall be called (very creatively) Greenhouse 4. Greenhouse 4 is exciting because it will have a space dedicated to nursery stock grown specifically for regional sales, and will be available for retail shopping all the way to the back. The question is, can we get it done this winter? Well, we’re going to try, though (as usual) we have a lot of other projects to complete at the same time.

A few interesting plants are available that we haven’t had in a while. These may or may not be listed on the web site at present, since (once again) I need to update it. A nice crop of our native Arctostaphylos x media is a bit on the small side, but looking good. A couple of 1-gallon A. pajaroensis ‘Lester Rowntree’ are ready to go, and we still have some nice 2 gallon A. rudis ‘Vandenburg’.

We also still have plenty of the best and hardiest Grevilleas in stock, including lots of ‘Poorinda Leane’, ‘Marshall Olbrich’ and ‘Murray Valley Queen’ in 4” pots. Then there is a really nice crop of the grey-leafed Leptospermum cunninghamii also in 4” pots. This is a nice irregular evergreen shrub with delicate foliage, very showy flowers and totally hardy. Nearly our entire selection of ice plants remains in stock, as well as a good variety of our native hardy cacti. Yes, it’s OK to plant those now, as long as your soil drains.

Fall is especially good for planting conifers. People used to ask us for Fitzroya cupressoides all the time, and now that we have them, no one wants them. So we now have a beautiful crop of 1-gallons and they are feeling very lonely. Also looking good is Chamaecyparis lawsoniana ‘Chilworth Silver’ – this has delicate foliage and an upright habit like ‘Blue Surprise’ but is a whole lot easier to grow and won’t randomly die overnight of root rots.

Trachycarpus wagnerianus, a HARDY windmill palm relative with compact leaves, has now been moved up to the 1-gallon size and looks good. There’s lots of other good stuff too but I suppose we have to stop somewhere.

We wish to gratefully acknowledge the recent help of our assistant, Bob. He has a real passion for cool plants and has been assisting significantly with all the work I haven’t had time to do lately. With all this help the nursery is looking pretty good right now!

If you can’t come and see us this weekend, remember you can make an appointment to come out any time we are available.

Happy growage,

Ian & Co.
The Desert Northwest
PO Box 3475
Sequim, WA 98382

NEWSLETTER: Summer 2014 Update!

Greetings Plant Friends,

Well it’s just about time for our summer OPEN HOUSE, which will once again be the fourth weekend of July! We welcome you to come on out and browse our selection of rare, unique and water-wise plants this Friday and Saturday – check this page ( for directions and a map. Now let’s see if I can make the rest of this newsletter short and sweet.

First I ought to mention that I have finally updated the availability on the web site of ‘Specimen Plants’ – those plants we sell in 1 gallon or larger sizes – just in time for this event! So now you can look online at what we actually have, and come on out and find it (unless someone else beats you to it/them – quantities are limited). When will I update the mail-order list again? Well, I’m getting close… baby steps, you know.

So what’s looking good? Well, we have a really nice crop of Arctostaphylos x ‘Sunset’ right now. This is one manzanita that’s beautiful, drought resistant and very easy to grow. Although it won’t grow in a swamp, it isn’t as fussy about drainage as some others. We also have a really nice crop of Olearia avicennifolia. This New Zealand daisy shrub is the perfect late summer show-stopper with its large masses of white daisies. It is super easy to grow and tolerates drought, wind and coastal exposure.

Hardy ice plants are blooming! These showy succulents are perfect, easy care plants for rockeries or if you just have a yard full of gravel which seem relatively common in Sequim. Some remain in a tight clump while others are spreading groundcovers. If you want to see Bergeranthus jamesii in bloom, come late in the afternoon when they open up.

We still have quite a few 1 gallon Agave montana, Yucca schottii, and Aloe striatula. Aloe striatula is a reliably hardy Aloe for our region but it grows better with good soil and summer water. The flowers are very showy! It will freeze to the ground in a colder winter but always comes back. We will probably “dig” some more hardy Opuntia cacti out of greenhouse 1 to sell, including our native ones. They have made a lot of new growth and are looking great!

Oh, and we’ve still got a few Araucaria angustifolia left! We have to mention that. See my blog a couple posts back for how special this tree is. And I suppose you’ve been searching all your life for a tree sized Eucryphia, right? Well, look no further. This late summer bloomer will be putting on a show soon. It gets covered in showy white flowers with yellow stamens that the bees love.

And now for a really special announcement. Do you love our plants but don’t want to pay for them? Do you like to work outdoors? Do you have tons of spare time? (I know, I lost you with that one.) If so, we could arrange a work trade to the tune of $20/hour in plant value – perhaps more if you’re really good? Maybe you are a horticulture student who wants to learn more about plants: we could call this an internship. Duties would mainly be (but not limited to) weeding, potting up, and helping construct/maintain our display beds (which are just starting off and don’t look like anything yet). There will be some different work in the fall with building a greenhouse and some tables, etc. I always think I am going to do it all myself but who am I kidding; history has shown I am not likely to get near as much done as I would like. It’s kind of low-key out here but at least I am very nice to work with – I think. If this sounds at all interesting to you, just let me know!

If you can’t visit this weekend, Fronderosa is August 9th! Come out to Gold Bar and see us. We’ll bring whatever plants you want us to. See this page for more information:

All right, I’d better quit before I get myself into trouble. We hope to see you soon.

Ian & Co.
The Desert Northwest
PO Box 3475
Sequim, WA 98382


Here’s Bergeranthus jamesii, a rare hardy ice plant with yellow flowers that open in the evening.

Colvos Creek Nursery Closeout Sale

Who’s ready for some sad news? Well we have some really downer news. (Where’s that “Brace Yourselves” internet meme when I need it?) After approximately 39(?) years of business, Colvos Creek Nursery is closing its doors. That’s right, they’ve been selling interesting, rare, and very cool plants since before I was born.

Unlike many nursery closures, this seems like less of a casualty of the economy than a casualty of circumstance. (Just in January owner Mike Lee told me that business was going well with interest in their plants on the rise.) You can read about the reasons for their closure here.

Thankfully there is a positive aspect about this: this Saturday is the final day of their closeout sale, with all plants being 50% off! So this is your chance to get on over to Vashon Island and get some cool stuff. (I’m making the link to their web site really big so no one misses it!) If you can’t make it this Saturday, you should contact Mike and see what could be worked out.

I need to say a little bit more about Colvos Creek, which currently consists of Mike Lee (founder and long-time owner) and Vor Hostleter (expert plantsman and possibly co-owner, I’m not sure).

I am supremely disappointed about this closure, personally. Colvos has been a great inspiration for what we do here at The Desert Northwest. I believe Mike is among the very best plantspeople in the Northwest, if not THE best, even if he is not as well known as some. His knowledge about plants, and the cold-hardiness of all kinds of plants (including many so rare virtually no one has tried them), is nothing less than encyclopedic. And he’s a really nice guy to boot. Now that Mike is freed up from the nursery I expect him to write a book. Or perhaps several.

Also of significance, Colvos Creek has been a long-time pioneer for water-wise gardening in the Northwest. For decades they have been quietly promoting the use of many of our favorite drought tolerant plants like Arctostaphylos, Grevillea, and Callistemon for Northwest gardens.

Not only that, their availability was saturated with the rare and edgy, rivaling Heronswood in the 90’s or Cistus Nursery for hard-to-find cool stuff. (I say “was,” but the stuff they have now is still cool, as you will find if you visit.) For example, way back in January 1998 I bought an Araucaria angustifolia from Colvos Creek, which is now the tree you see pictured in the previous blog post! If you see hardy Agaves or tree-sized Embothriums in gardens around the Seattle area, there is a good chance they came from Colvos.

Colvos Creek Nursery had a great run, and certainly outlasted most mail-order nurseries. We are grateful for their inspiration. We want to do all we can to ensure that all they have contributed to horticulture in the Northwest and beyond does not go unrecognized.

We also secretly hope this closure is only temporary, and Mike and Vor start producing more plants again. But don’t tell anyone.

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