Spiky Plants of Sequim

About two weeks ago I took my youngest family member on a bicycle tour of some of the spiky plants growing around Sequim.  I thought I would share the photos, but first I’ll make mention of a couple brief notes.

Did you miss our fall Open House the weekend before last?  Well that may be because I neglected to advertise it.  Or perhaps that isn’t the reason.  In any case, we’re planning to have one more open day this year on October 29th.  Stay tuned for more information on that!  Of course, you’re still welcome to come out by appointment on another day if you like.

The other big news is greenhouse 4 is finally done.  Well, it doesn’t have doors, or irrigation, but these are minor details.  The main thing is it has plastic on it and looks great.  The plastic expands when it is warm and contracts when cold, so it has to go on when it is warm (or hot) and sunny or it doesn’t fit well.  Thanks to assistance once again from our volunteer Bob, we got the job done just in time last week, when it was sunny and relatively mild.  Now of course the fall-like weather has set in.  We are happy to have some new uncluttered and open space as it will help us to clean through parts of the other greenhouses that are overcrowded.

Finally we (well just me actually) had the pleasure last month of visiting a nursery I really like, Wild Ginger Farm, which is located southeast of Portland.  They specialize in alpine plants and have a fine selection of Penstemons, Lewisias, Lilies, dryland native plants, and much more.  We thank Truls Jensen, the owner, for a nursery tour.  Very nice folks. We recommend you check them out!

All right, now on to the spiky plants tour!

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First we have this Yucca patch just outside of town.  These appear to be Yucca glauca or a similar species (there are several that look more or less like this).  Might not be all that exciting for some of my readers, but this is actually a very rare plant in these parts, one which nurseries almost never sell even though it is easy to grow and does great here.  The homeowners (one presumes) have tried to kill this thing off a time or two, but it always returns from the roots.

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In another yard, here’s a perfect, mature specimen of Hesperaloe parviflora.  I have pictured this plant on my blog before… a really long time ago.  (I’m sure you all remember that, right? Ha ha.)  It has grown nicely since then; I guess it really likes Sequim!

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This Opuntia engelmannii on Hammond St. is probably a “child” of the large specimen of this species that used to grow at a storefront in Carlsborg.  I’ve posted about that plant before as well.  It’s nice to see someone who likes cacti enough to keep them going.  I have seen a couple others around town too, which are probably all this same clone.

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Here’s a yard on the south side of town planted by someone who really likes interesting plants.  This is a Dasylirion that appears to be too green to be D. wheeleri, but I can’t be certain.  I can hardly tell these things apart and they are kind of a taxonomic challenge.  It may be D. longissimum. I wonder where they got it?

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In the same yard, an outstanding specimen of Yucca rostrata.  Just look how happy this thing is in Sequim.  (The Gunnera in the background isn’t exactly what I think of as a combination plant for Yucca rostrata, but like I said this yard is definitely about the plants!)

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Then right in downtown Sequim along Washington Street (which is basically Sequim’s main drag), the city (presumably) has planted some cute little Yuccas.  I think this is again Y. rostrata but it will be a few years before it looks as good as the specimen pictured earlier.

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This wider shot shows where they are planted, in little islands on both sides of the street.  I actually think this is great.  But I have a few questions.  Did whoever selected these know how tall they can get?  Are they going to be a problem being planted so close next to those large deciduous trees?  (I have to admit I didn’t even notice what those were.)  How long will it be before someone complains about getting poked by them, and the city is pressured to take them out?  That would be a shame, but not really surprising if it happens down the road.

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Not spiky, but this is Arctostaphylos densiflora ‘Howard McMinn’ at the new Sequim Civic Center.  We sell this, and a few plants from our nursery have found their way into city plantings.  In general, I am pleased to see the city getting a little more adventurous with the use of dryland plants (we’ll ignore that dogwood at upper left for now).

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Also not spiky, but I have passed this Eucalyptus gunnii on Cedar St. a million times without stopping to photograph it, so I figured I’d better do that.

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Now what is this, across 5th Avenue on Spruce St.?  Hint: it’s not a spruce.  (Although spruces are prickly.)

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That’s right–it’s an honest to goodness Agave.  Although not enormous it is certainly large enough to make a statement.  The owners had this plant in a pot for a long time.  After a while it apparently grew too large to overwinter in their sunroom, and they let it sit outside in a pot for a year or two, even through a winter that went down to 17°F.  It must have rooted into the ground from its pot because I later saw it tipped on its side for a couple months. For a while there I was worried they were going to get rid of it or something.  But no, they just wanted to create this special planting bed to put it in, which took them some time. Now it looks happily at home.

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The big question, of course, is what kind of Agave is it?  It looks a good deal like A. americana, but one does not expect that species to survive 17°F in a pot without a scratch in the Pacific Northwest, as this plant did.  In my experience A. americana gets frost damage in a normal winter, and the couple times I put it in the ground it failed. However, it’s not totally out of the question, as there is a good deal of variation in different clones of A. americana.  My next best guess would be A. protamericana, but who knows.  It’s happy and I’m enjoying keeping an eye on it.

Well, if we went a little farther out of town there would be a few more plants I could show you, but that was all I had time for that morning, so it will have to do for now.  All of these plants are rather special.  Some might consider them to be “pushing the boundaries” of what will grow here, but I just think of them as plants that make sense in a relatively drier part of the Pacific Northwest, and require virtually no care.  It’s not like the Agave needs that drip emitter on it! They are actually very practical, and they look different than the same boring stuff everyone else puts in their yards.

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.

To Toot Our Own Horn

In what may be my briefest blog post in a while, if we’re lucky (and because I don’t have a lot of time), we will embark on a bit of shameless self-promotion.

First, I must call your attention to our mail-order catalog, where 46 new species have just been added to our list. Notable features include an assortment of new Arctostaphylos generally unavailable elsewhere (e-mail for availability first; we just sold out of a couple things), and an expanded selection of conifers. Astelias are back for the first time in years, and we have a few of the spectacular Protea punctata which seems to actually have a shot at being fairly hardy in sheltered Northwest gardens.

And, of course, there are lots more. Not everything we have just added to the list says “New Fall 2013” as this designation applies only to plants that are truly new to our mail-order list, not those that have returned after being unavailable for a time.

Basically I am playing catch-up from all the plants I should have added over the summer. Oh well – better late than never. It is still a great time to plant, fall (despite a dramatic start) being far from over; and we would be thrilled to have your business to keep us going into what is usually the slow season for nurseries. I don’t know about you but our soil is nice and moist and ready for planting, even here in the rainshadow.

The big news however is that we are famous. During our September open house a group of very enthusiastic garden bloggers dropped by for a visit and quick tour. We were happy to welcome this group as they were serious plant nuts who had never seen our nursery before. In order to fully savor our new-found fame we must share the posts by these bloggers that included mention and generally favorable reviews of our nursery. We thank them for the visit and they are welcome back at any time.

The relevant links follow.
When You Come to the End of a Perfect Day; The Desert Northwest (The Outlaw Gardener)
Veni, vidi, WeHoP – a glorious garden geek adventure – part 2 (The Creative Flux)
And finally, The Desert Northwest… (Danger Garden)

Not directly related, but as long as I’m at it, Loree at Danger Garden (among the group of intrepid nursery hoppers) has also mentioned us in this post.

Finally, we wish to offer our sincere thanks to all of you who attended our open house, purchased from us at the Salem Hardy Plant Society Sale, or the NHS Fall Sale. I’m no economist but I have a hunch it would be a lot more difficult to run this nursery if no one ever bought anything. Drop me a line sometime and let us know how your plants are doing.

A Great Month for Relatively Young Horticulturists

I am always excited to connect with other people in my approximate age group, who have similar passions about horticulture that I have. And when these friends are recognized for their accomplishments, it somehow encourages me even though I had nothing to do with it myself. Here I will share two such examples.

Organic Gardening magazine has just produced a splendid article featuring six “young horticulturists” who are each pursuing their passions in their own special ways. This article was fun and I really enjoyed reading it – I hope you will too. I think out of the six I most identify with Brienne, especially when she said “I have found nothing else to be as satisfying as seeing newly formed roots on a cutting.” Yeah I am kind of weird that way myself, no doubt about it! I suppose, however, I am older than all these people, so I hope I can still get away with considering them my peers and calling myself “young.”

Then we have Riz Reyes (featured in the above article, BTW), for whom congratulations are in order for pretty much stealing the show at the 2013 Northwest Flower and Garden Show. His ‘The Lost Gardener’ garden (is that redundant? sorry) was so well executed that it won numerous awards including the founders award. We are honored to have been able to contribute a few plants to this garden. It appears Riz really went out of his way to get the coolest and best plants, lending credence to my personal theory that 2/3 of the secret to a great garden is to avoid boring plants. Sounds like a no-brainer but some people who design gardens (including some of the ones at the show) still don’t get it. Anyway, enough about that – we wish to publicly congratulate Riz on his success! Way to go Riz!

(Update 3/7: Check out more pics of ‘The Lost Gardener’ and a great write-up at Danger Garden!)

To follow up on my last post, I ought to say a little bit about what’s going on at the nursery. I still have not done anything with the web site, but I have actually been working extra hard outside getting geared up for spring. Most years it seems like spring always gets away from me before I can get on top of things, so this year I am determined not to let that happen. Last year at this time I injured my shoulder snowboarding and couldn’t do much lifting for a month. Two years ago it snowed about this time, plus I was committed to the Flower and Garden Show which sucked away a bunch of my time. (This year I did not even attend – oops.) So this year I am going to get done what I need to get done here at the nursery to make it look awesome for summer open houses and sales, with tons of cool plants available and looking sharp earlier than last year. Hopefully I’ll do the web site soon enough as well. Wish me luck!

I should also mention that almost all the plants on the mail-order list are still available. And please don’t hesitate to ask if you want to check availability of something in particular.

Finally, on a sad note, we wish to lament the passing (about a week and a half ago) of retired King County extension agent George Pinyuh. He was a pioneer of cold hardy cactus and succulent gardening west of the Cascades, having attempted at least a couple hundred species; and was also an avid enthusiast of broadleaf evergreens. To others I don’t doubt he was much more, but I will remember him for his enthusiasm about under-appreciated plants and generosity in sharing them. We hope to honor his memory by getting a lot of the plants we have from his collection into general production (mostly from small cuttings… so it will be a while) with the promotion and recognition they deserve.

I think that will be all for now!

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Here’s a pic that I don’t think has seen the light of day (I can’t imagine why not) – George Pinyuh talking to some weird long-haired dude, his cactus garden in the foreground, October 2006.