NEWSLETTER: Desert Northwest Open this weekend, new plant list, and more!

Dear Gardening Friends,

That was some summer we had earlier this month, wasn’t it? Who knows, perhaps we’ll get another one later on. Here in Sequim we finally managed to accumulate 5 inches of precipitation for the year to date, just last week. We have a few patches of brown grass from the hot spell but seem to have narrowly escaped the impending summer severe-dry-out for the time being.

We write to remind you of our Open House event this coming weekend, May 31st and June 1st ONLY! Sorry to capitalize ONLY, but we just really want to make sure no one shows up on the 2nd and has to leave disappointed. As was the case last year, the front 3/4 of greenhouses 2 and 3 will be open for shopping, as well as the west side of the shade house, and a selection of plants sitting outside on tables and pallets. We remind you that it is very helpful to come with a list of what you are looking for, as many plants are unlabeled (but we make sure you leave with labels); and that payment is by cash or check only. We continue to add more signage but there is still a lot of cool stuff tucked away out there that doesn’t have a sign. Check out our open house page for details, and directions to the nursery.

Speaking of lists, just in time for the open house, our retail plant list is now up to date! These are the relatively larger (1 gallon and up) sizes that are not usually available mail-order, though we do bring them to regional sales. Check it out: if you want it, we have it; but quantities may be limited so it’s first come, first served!

You can also shop from the mail-order list while you are here. This is quite up to date as well. I have a few more things to add but it is pretty darn close right now. So, yay. Let me just emphasize again that making a list of what you want before you come out really helps! Especially those little mail-order sizes, which can be hard to find (though we are here to help).

Of course it follows that if you just want to order something in the mail, you can be reasonably confident that the web site closely reflects actual availability at this point. Not only have I been busy adding plants; I have also added 60 pictures to the plant catalog in the last month. You can imagine we are very proud of ourselves for being quite on top of our game at the moment, as far as the web site is concerned.

If I may highlight a couple of exciting plants new to the list, we now have three groundcover banksia species! These are next to impossible to find; and, coming from Western Australia, they are not difficult to grow and are content in pots where not hardy. We have also selected some good new forms of Arctostaphylos x media we think are promising as garden plants, and a really nice-looking A. patula x nevadensis hybrid from the Columbia Gorge area, which may be its first introduction to cultivation. Gardeners in cold climates will be interested in our continuing good selection of species Penstemons, rare conifers like Modoc cypress (Hesperocyparis bakeri), and an interior collection of Garry oak (Quercus garryana).

If you’re not able to attend the open house, you can also find us at Sorticulture in Everett, where we will be from June 7 – 9. Check their web site for more details on that.

One more note: if you are not too far from Olympia, and don’t feel like a drive to Sequim is in the cards for the weekend, why not stop by Steamboat Island Nursery for their CHANGE OF DIRECTION plant sale (8424 Steamboat Island Road, Olympia, WA 98502). The nursery has not been open for retail for a long time, and Laine would certainly be grateful for your support. Or better yet, you could visit us and them both: what better way to spend a weekend than running around chasing after plants? (Don’t answer that.)

And one really final note: You Portland folks have the amazing good fortune that Xera Plants will be opening a retail location at 1114 SE Clay, Portland, OR 97214. The first day of business will be June 6th followed by a grand opening party on the 8th! You can read more about that here and here. If I were down there I wouldn’t want to miss it!

OK, I’m done now. Thanks for reading, and we hope to see you soon!
Ian & Co.
The Desert Northwest
PO Box 3475
Sequim, WA 98382

Several Fun Conifers, Facebook in General, Web Update

So Tony Avent at Plant Delights thinks that promoting their plants on Facebook has been an effective marketing tool that actually leads to more purchases. I have decided to give that a try and see if it works for us, since we do, after all, have to sell plants one way or another to make this work. If I have been less than super-excited about posting plants on Facebook in the past, it is because Facebook made some changes about a year and a half ago now (I discussed it here… at the last paragraph of this very long post) which caused our posts to be hidden from the news feeds of most of our “followers.”

So, while we welcome you to follow us on Facebook if you’re not already doing so – we would ask that you modify your settings for our page, and any other you wish to follow in any serious way, by hovering over the “Like” button at upper right of The Desert Northwest Facebook page and selecting “Show in News Feed.” Otherwise there isn’t much point, since you will miss most of our posts.

Now as long as I’m doing this, I may as well repost the Facebook posts onto my blog to reach the broadest possible audience. Anyway, I should be talking more about our plants on this blog in general, since they are all so cool. I’ll do several at a time so things don’t get too hard to keep up with.

My current theme is confiers. All of the following are currently in stock with plenty of plants available, and you can find them described here.

Last week the glossy purple-ish color of Podocarpus lawrencei ‘Purple King’ caught my eye – I say “purple-ish” because the purple undertones of this plant are always very pronounced but it would be misleading to say it is really purple. This is a great plant and is easy to grow in sun or part shade, and is hardy to at least the single digits. It is more vigorous than a lot of the other small-needled Podocarpus and can compete with established tree roots. With dark purplish winter color and soft, pale purplish new growth, it’s pretty different, and pretty cool!


Sticking with the Podocarpus theme here, Podocarpus salignus is a real gem of a plant. The beautiful weeping foliage is appealing at all seasons, but especially in late spring when the new growth emerges a soft light green. It looks every bit as exotic as the (relatively) tender Afrocarpus (Podocarpus) gracilior, but it is native to central Chile which has a similar climate to the Pacific Northwest. (We also have a report of it performing well in the Southeast, unlike many Chilean plants.) And, it doesn’t get too big – though it can reach tree size in many years in the wild, it will remain shrub-sized for many years in gardens. Hardy to about 10 degrees, it is probably not suited to really cold frost pockets in the Northwest, but well worth the effort elsewhere.


What’s one of the best-known distinctive trees in the Northwest yet still quite hard to find in nurseries? (not to mention expensive) Monkey puzzle tree, of course. I’m not sure what this tree has to do with monkeys, since it is native to Chile and Argentina. Monkey dinosaurs perhaps. But I digress. It’s also quite a bit hardier than people think (-15F?), as evidenced by a 20+’ tall specimen in Kennewick, and this old tree in Weed, CA. We have plenty of these available now at a reasonable price – get ’em before we bump them up to larger pots!!


The Tasmanian Huon Pine, Lagarostrobos franklinii, is one of the most elegant of the temperate Southern Hemisphere conifers. It takes centuries to reach tree size in the wild, and perhaps almost never does in gardens, where it is usually seen as an irregular shrub to perhaps 5 – 7′ tall and wide, with plumes of soft, hanging, deep green, scaly foliage. A distinctive and slightly odd beauty, it is certainly hardy in sheltered Northwest gardens, though it appreciates some summer water.


Was that exciting or what? Really though… when the plants offered by normal nurseries continue to become increasingly homogenous, it is fun to grow something different.

OK, final note on the web update that was supposed to happen by mid-February. I think I have figured out that I need to try something different this year; namely, to update the web site little by little instead of shooting for all at once (I can hear some of you saying “DUH”… OK, I’m slow!). So that is the new plan. And perhaps it will actually work. After all, that is pretty much how I do everything else, or else I could never do it. I’ll start making some little changes in the next few days and post back here soon! At the very least, I need to make the web site look less outdated, even if it is not, in fact, outdated – there is not much on our list from last year that we are not still able to supply. Which is a long way of saying we still have almost all this stuff in stock. But if you’re wondering about any specific items before you place your order, please don’t hesitate to ask!

Fronderosa! Manzanita update. Naming plants.

That’s right, it’s three blog posts crammed into one. Perhaps even four, since we ought to start by confirming our next open house, which will be September 1 – 3. I am giving an exciting presentation on Sept 1 that you will not want to miss! Details here.

And, while I have your attention (because the remainder of this post gets pretty plant-geeky): if you missed our open house, don’t worry – just come and see us this weekend at the Fronderosa Frolic: Details here. It is one of the funnest and geekiest plant sales in the Northwest, and is in Gold Bar Saturday and Sunday from 10:00 to 3:00. Many of the best specialty nurseries in western Washington, and a few from Oregon, get together and bring their coolest stuff; and this year it looks like we might actually have normal, pleasantly warm weather (ever since we have participated it has either been unusually cool and wet, or blazing hot)!

And, just in time for Fronderosa, we have newly updated our list of available specimen plants! It was almost a year out of date for some reason, which I did not realize, but that has all been fixed now. This means if anything on the list interests you, we would be happy to bring it to Fronderosa for you! (Of course, anything on our mail-order list is fair game as well.) Or if you can’t make it, we will probably still have nearly all those plants available at the September Open House.

Here, of course, we must add a few pictures of Fronderosas past to show how exciting it is certain to be.

Not our booth, but this year we will be bringing a fancy canopy like this, so that we can be as cool as all the other nurseries.

This was “the hot year,” 2010. Of course our plants didn’t mind at all!

OK, so about those manzanitas. I finally managed to finish potting up last fall’s Arctostaphylos cuttings a couple weeks back: much later than ideal, but as you may have read about in our previous blog entry, we were just too dang busy with other nursery work. So our new Arctostaphylos introductions are generally coming along well, but especially the ones that got potted up early in the season. Certain forms of A. patula x A. uva-ursi, A. x media, and A. columbiana x nevadensis are developing into vigorous plants that are certain to make excellent plants for the dry garden. Most of the “pure” A. patula forms did not root well, providing us only one or two plants of each. These we will have to coddle along until we can propagate them again and introduce them years down the road. The A. columbiana, A. nevadensis, A. columbiana x patula, and A. patula x nevadensis forms have produced varying results, with a couple not rooting well at all, some that rooted well still looking good but not putting on much new growth, and a few vigorous forms doing very well and looking splendid.

Why do we note these things? Well first of all we want to be able to sell some of these plants and get them into circulation as soon as we can, because they are just pretty dang cool. We want to get our new introductions out there so that more people can have a chance to try them. We have already released one Ceanothus (C. prostratus ‘Goldendale Grey’) and a good selection of Penstemons, which grow to salable size much more quickly than our native Arctostaphylos. We’re also interested in assigning names to some of these forms as we release them, so that gardeners will have something to remember them by besides just a collection number, and because good cultivar names (registered or not) are an excellent promotional tool for nurseries that might want to produce and sell them in the future.

This form of Arctostaphylos columbiana x A. nevadensis from Skamania County is certain to be name-worthy.

Who says Arctostaphylos x coloradensis (A. patula x A. nevadensis) has to be from Colorado? This hybrid also occurs in Chelan County, Washington. These plants are doing great and showing excellent potential.

How do we know what plants to name? Sometimes it is possible to take a good educated guess that a plant will be good in the garden just from looking at it in the wild, and comparing it with those around it. Not all wild plants are equal (particularly when you’re looking at a hybrid swarm of Arctostaphylos!) and some will exhibit better ornamental qualities, disease resistance, and vigor; even in habitat.

Observing wild plants only gets you so far, though; because most of the time nurseries (except certain native plant specialists) are not selling plants to people who are going to grow them “in the wild.” It is also important to observe whether a plant is easy to grow at the nursery. For example, we would never have guessed that our Ceanothus prostratus ‘Goldendale Grey’ would vastly outperform all our other accessions of this species in the nursery, since all the plants around it in the wild looked pretty much the same.

Here’s how Ceanothus prostratus ‘Goldendale Grey’ is looking; I hope it’s not just a fluke!

In conventional horticulture, plants are not released with names until they undergo a series of rigorous trials in various locations around the country to prove their ornamental value and durability in the garden in a wide variety of situations and climates. (At least, that is the theory: I think a lot of breeders bend these rules.) Some would say that all nurseries should do this before releasing and naming every plant, but to do so would present some problems for us. We have only one place to test plants, and that’s here. If we send plants all over the place and then try to find out how they did later, it may be too late to try to apply a name retroactively to a successful plant. Some may propagate it without the collection number leaving no way to trace it back to the name. In some cases nurseries interested in protecting their product have gotten around this problem by putting a trademark name on a plant that was originally collected in the wild (Delosperma FireSpinnerTM being a recent example). Great marketing move, but we’re not going to apply trademark names to plants that originate from the wild. I’m not sure why, we’re just not. Perhaps it’s because we feel that no one should have to pay a royalty to market something that wasn’t developed by a breeder.

This is a good selection of Arctostaphylos patula x nevadensis from Klickitat County.

And this is another really good one from the same area, which will certainly get a name. These cuttings rooted 100%, and very quickly, which I thought was amazing. I know, I’m saying great things about all of them, but that is because I am not showing pictures of the ones that don’t look as good.

So we believe, for the most part, in naming things preemptively, which has certain advantages, the main one being it’s a lot easier to keep track of what name belongs to what plant. Nor are we alone: a lot of specialty nurseries have done this, and continue to do so. For one, we have less at stake since we are not looking to protect patent rights or invest money in trademarks to market our selections (after all, we didn’t breed these things). But perhaps more importantly, since it’s specialty horticulture, not conventional horticulture, nothing we grow is required to perform well in a wide range of climates. Although we like to emphasize plants that are easy to grow, to a point; we are also increasingly devoted to plants that may be rare in cultivation partly because they have a narrow range of tolerances. Does that sound self-contradictory? Well, what can I say: at least we write our descriptions to indicate which plants are which and give you the best chance of success!

The only thing that can potentially go wrong is the possibility that a plant might get named after someone, then prove to be generally difficult or a poor grower in cultivation, resulting in the association of that person with a poor garden plant. This concern will not stop us entirely, though: we’ll just proceed with caution. Anything remotely questionable will be named for something other than a person, and then if it doesn’t turn out to be a good plant, it can go extinct from cultivation and no one ever has to propagate it again – nothing wrong with that.

So on that note, you’ll be seeing more named selections of western and Northwest native plants coming out of our nursery in the coming months, and years. We even have a vague system in place for doing this. Collections from Washington will mostly be named for locations in Washington. This is because some people (Richard Hartlage being one, as per a presentation I heard from him in February) think we have almost no native plants with ornamental value — to which we say, “Faugh” — and we want people to start associating some of our better native plants (Arctostaphylos, Ceanothus, and Penstemon being notable examples, but not the only ones) with the great state of Washington. We shall also name certain really outstanding collections for notable plantspeople of Washington who have had an interest in them.

For Oregon and California (and someday, I hope, Arizona: I am still “Arizona dreaming” big time) we will get a little more frivolous. Sean Hogan has a system for naming his Oregon accessions for Oregon locations. We admit that we are stealing this idea from him, and applying it to Washington. But we will not intrude into his territory. We’ll be giving our Oregon and California collections fun names, mostly after songs.

Annuals: A Major Waste of Time, Effort, and Resources???

One result of our meteorologically quiet and somewhat dry autumn is that many annuals look better than one might expect. Usually by mid-November they are brown and frosted – as has already occurred in some colder gardens – or melted into a mushy mess by our not-so-gentle autumn rains. In either case their departure is a sorry sight, as they usually leave quite a mess to clean up – and once you’ve done that you have a big hole to fill in, or just leave it empty so it can look empty all winter. This leads me to ask, could there be a better way to garden without using annuals?

Now I’m not lambasting all annuals indiscriminately, believe it or not. Annie’s Annuals certainly grows some good annuals, among other things. I’m aware that many wild plants are, in fact, annuals: their life cycle involves germinating, flowering, and setting seed within a single year (usually less) to perpetuate their species. This is sometimes a survival strategy to endure winter cold, but more often summer drought. Many annuals also produce food, but I’ll get to that later.

So here are a few reasons why we are not overly fond of annuals. I’m really not trying to spoil anyone’s fun, but perhaps you’ll consider some of these points the next time you’re shopping for plants, or even making plans for your garden.

First, growers of annuals are major consumers of peat moss. This is a finite resource that will expire at some point. It is also quite environmentally destructive to harvest it. Once you’ve dug up a peat bog it takes thousands of years to recover. This has become a major substrate in potting soils for annuals because it works so well. While some substitutes have been developed (coco coir being the best known), none of these has really caught on sufficiently to show promise that it could truly replace peat moss. So for the present, it takes some really specialized knowledge to figure out what else might produce acceptable results without compromising quality. Growers of annuals aren’t guilty exclusively; but, broadly speaking, most perennials and shrubs seem able to perform better than annuals in a bark or compost based soil mix.

Second, you plant annuals, and then in a few short months they’re dead. Sure, they are great while they last. But if I’m going to spend $100 on plants wouldn’t I rather enjoy them year after year? I dunno, that just seems like kind of a no-brainer to me.

Third, it’s more work to plant a bunch of stuff year after year (and then to clean it up year after year when it dies) than to just plant it once and let it keep on growing. Gardening of any kind requires a certain amount of maintenance, but having to do the exact same work over and over again seems like a waste of effort (unless you’re really easily amused, in which case I guess there’s nothing wrong with that).

Fourth, many annuals require a lot of water to look good in our dry-summer climate. This is not true of all annuals; there are certainly many exceptions – but I rarely see drought tolerance considered as a factor when someone selects annuals for planting. Watering takes time and money; and, while a lot of perennial and woody plants require regular water through our dry summers as well, we try not to grow or encourage too many of those and only use them in moderation.

Fifth, the majority of annuals that are now available are over-bred genetic dwarf hybrids of the species and earlier hybrids from which they were bred. This means they just plain don’t have what it takes to perform that well in the garden. A lot of people buy these plants and plant them, then after watching them languish they think they did something wrong and blame themselves. This creates a negative experience that I consider to be quite destructive since it has the potential to turn people off from gardening in general. Sometimes it really is the plants’ fault – or, more precisely, the growers and breeders fault for producing this junk to merchandise to unsuspecting plant shoppers. So because growers are now flooded with over-bred dwarf annuals, gardeners lack the right plants to choose from. Of course we could do something about that by growing and selling only the best kinds, and perhaps someday we will.

My sixth and final reason has to do with how they’re used. This is less of a serious complaint since we can do something about it; that is, use them tastefully if we use them at all, and show gardeners how to do likewise. The problem is that the sort of “boink-ism” that Annie’s Annuals blogged about has infiltrated every area of society, it seems. People, and especially new gardeners, don’t even know how to use annuals well since they have so little to go on.

At the Desert Northwest, we do not grow or sell annuals. But that doesn’t mean we never could: but they will probably not ever become a really major part of what we do. We would probably stick with certain easily grown and water-wise annuals that perform well here and fit our theme.

Another great excuse for annuals is that some of them produce food. Like tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, peas, and more. We think that’s just grand. If you’re going to be an annual and use up all that time and effort it takes to grow you, you might as well give something back.

We would say, though, that we do not believe annuals will feature prominently in the future of the horticulture industry – at least, not the segment of it that survives the challenges it now faces – relative to the past. As people are increasingly interested in sustainability; and in saving time, money and water; they will gradually figure out that annuals just don’t make as much sense in a sustainable and water-wise garden. Not that they’re all going to disappear, or that we want them to. But for gardening to remain popular it has to make sense to our current generation of people who don’t like wasting money and would usually rather be spending time on other things than planting and replanting the same area over and over again.

I may be right, or perhaps not – I guess time will tell!

Here’s part of an appealing mixed planting of water-wise annuals, perennials and shrubs in downtown Port Townsend. Now I think this (possibly excepting that one stray grass front and center) looks great – hooray for whoever did this.

New botanical expedition report!

I have now posted photos of the highlights from our botanical expedition to Chelan County that we took in October! This is the first such report I have produced in about five years, so that is exciting. Have a look, and let me know if the new format gives you any trouble.

I have also made a few minor corrections to the web site – thank you for your feedback. You can now see what our mail-order plants look like at the Terms page; these images had not been loading earlier. I think things are all fixed for the time being.

Backyard Botanical Adventure!

Although many cool plants come from exotic destinations, it is also possible to drive 35 minutes from my doorstep and reach a rather interesting site in the northeast Olympic Mountains, just up the Dungeness River. This site is certain to “wow” anyone who thinks native plants are all boring and ugly. Sure, some of them are; but there are plenty of exciting ones, and here you can find a lot of them in one spot!

So last weekend Mark and Lila, owners of Fairmeadow Nursery in Olympia, came up to visit; and we all drove to this area. We had a lot of fun looking around at the plants. Lila noted that we should return in the spring when all the wildflowers are in bloom. In addition to the plants I will show you below, there are also many little forbs, bulbous plants and other wildflowers growing here that are sure to put on an excellent show. I have never been there in the spring yet myself; it seems I am always too busy then.

The most conspicuous of these exciting plants are some truly gigantic specimens of our native Arctostaphylos columbiana (hairy manzanita). It is difficult to get a feel for the scale from this picture, but the plants are mostly 6 – 8′ tall and 10 – 20′ across or more!

There are a lot of variations in form here: my favorites include this one with large, blue leaves. There is also one with super dense growth, and another with exceptionally hairy stems and grey-green leaves (not pictured).

Good forms of Arctostaphylos x media can be found here. This natural hybrid of A. columbiana and A. uva-ursi (kinnikkinnik) exhibits considerable variation. Although mentioned as a popular Northwest garden plant back in the 1950’s, it seems to have never caught on widely, as it is still rather rare. This is unfortunate since many of these forms are great plants, and each is a little bit different.

Impressive, tree-sized junipers are found in plenty here: this is J. maritima. With this past summer having been so cool, these fruits may not ripen, and certainly not until after access to the plants are snowed in. Although marginally distinct from J. scopulorum, I consider this to be one of our more special native trees.

The juniper populations tend to be centered around these large rock outcrops where Pseudotsuga menziesii (Douglas-fir) and other forest trees cannot compete, resulting in sufficient light to sustain the juniper populations.

This low growing Juniperus communis var. montana occurs more widely in alpine areas and rock outcrops in the Olympic and Cascade Mountains. In the northeast Olympics it is quite common above 4,000′.

Farther up, one can find rock walls covered with Sedums, Penstemons, ferns, forbs, mosses and lichens – the ultimate no-maintenance vertical garden!

The views aren’t bad either. This is looking northeast towards Mt. Zion.

In any case, diversity may be somewhat less than what one finds in the Siskyou/Klamath bio-region, but it is still a fun area to botanize; and I seem to find something new every time I go up there. Of course, it was great to have the opportunity to share this experience with someone else who was excited about it! Following my planned return in the spring, I may have to update my Plants of the Olympic Peninsula pages.

Big web update news!!

FINALLY, for the first time in… sheesh, I can’t remember how long. Maybe ever?… the Desert Northwest Mail-Order Catalog has been updated to where it agrees in its entirety with the availability list, and everything on the list has a description! I even cross-linked everything so you can click on a plant name from the main list and get a description, as well as adding cross-links within each page of the catalog where appropriate. I still have a little more work to do, like making some inventory adjustments and adding more images. But all things considered, this is a MAJOR accomplishment especially considering the size of our inventory right now. I am aware of a few links that still don’t work (and here I’m mostly writing to myself as a reminder of what to fix) – notably most of the links on the “downloads” page and the downloadable lists under “Local Sales”. Also for some reason the Sequim webcam was offline, but it was not mine anyways. I’ll have to search around for that if it doesn’t come back. If you find other broken links besides that, I will appreciate if you let me know!

Anyhoo… check it out!!

Danger Garden Interview

Loree at Danger Garden sent me an e-mail interview about the concept and goals of the Desert Northwest. Check it out here! We are most appreciative of her efforts in getting the word out about us.


Ed. note: Following is our first email newsletter in years, but hopefully not the last. Enjoy!

Dear Friends,
Greetings from Sequim, Washington, where we are pleased to announce the sun is out once again and for the last week or so it has finally started to feel like a normal summer. As I look back I note that our previous newsletter dates back to – wait for it – October 2007! That’s right, when things still looked rosy, before the economic meltdown really set in. Now that things aren’t so rosy anymore, we hope that people will be increasingly interested in saving water and reducing garden maintenance, and therefore interested in our plants which (for the most part) require little of either once established.

With such a long hiatus from e-mail newsletters, some of you may be wondering if we have gone out of business, or if your attempt to sign up for the newsletter was unsuccessful, or what. You may have even forgotten you signed up! But in any case, we’re still here, and at long last we’re finally organized enough to make this happen again. I know it’s not exactly a spectacular example of effective e-mail marketing from a business standpoint, but at least we are not guilty of spamming your inbox with at least two or three “newsletters” a week as is another certain mail-order nursery which shall remain unnamed. In theory we’d like to aim for about four to six newsletters per year. Due to the long break, this newsletter will necessarily be the longest one we have ever sent. Think of it as a “chapter” in the story of the Desert Northwest.

We would like (before rambling enough to completely lose your attention) to draw your attention to our largest EVER inventory of mail-order plants, which can be viewed at
Now the only problem is that we provide only a simple list of plant names: we have not managed to keep up with our enticing descriptions. We hope this shall soon be remedied, but don’t wait for it. (And hey, at least we have kept the list current for the last couple seasons, which is more than we can say for certain periods in the past.) In the meantime, you can find out how cool these plants are by plugging the names into a Google search and/or Google image search. Between Google and Wikipedia you can probably find out a lot more about some of these plants than I could tell you anyways (although that won’t stop me from trying in the future!). I know, it’s not quite the same, but it’s something to do on those days when you just need to geek out with some plants.

Highlights of the mail-order list include our best selection of Arctostaphylos (manzanita) in years, including an outstanding local form of A. x media with grey-green leaves and pink stems. We also have four collections of Banksia marginata now, three of which are new to us. This is certainly one of the most promising Banksias for Pacific Northwest gardens, as some specimens even in cold gardens remain alive after the last few cold winters. We also have B. integrifolia subp. monticola, a “mountain Banksia” of giant proportions never before offered in the US that we know of (except by us last year). We also have five species of Azara, fourteen(!) Callistemon selections, and fifteen of Grevillea (that may be our best ever, or close to it), and fifteen of Leptospermum including some very hardy species (the newly offered “spreading form” of L. lanigerum, shared with us by Mark and Lila Muller at Fairmeadow Nursery, endured 6 degrees F undamaged!) – each more beautiful than the next, of course. If you need any advice selecting the best ones for your site, just e-mail us and we would be glad to help. Our conifer selection has also expanded greatly, and don’t miss the Hebes which have now all been re-classified under Veronica for some reason.

We would also like to present our largest list ever of specimen plants (which is what we are calling plants in 1 gallon or larger sizes) for sale, which can be viewed at
These plants, available for local sale, look great now – so, hey, come and get ’em! Just e-mail us for an appointment; we are happy to accommodate.

For those of you who are wondering about seeds, we are unfortunately suspending seed sales until later this winter when I will make a reassessment. (I know it doesn’t say that on the web site.) With the absence of any recent collecting trips, and the fact that some of the stuff we used to collect locally has frozen in the last few colder winters, you could say our seed sources have somewhat dried up. Stay tuned for more updates and if there are any particular items you are interested in you are welcome to inquire about availability.

So, to quickly recap what has happened since October 2007: in 2008 we moved the nursery from Poulsbo to Sequim and went through a difficult period of having very little time to take care of the nursery or build new greenhouses in Sequim. A proportion of our inventory and collections were lost in the December 2008 freeze, although we did manage to save a lot of stuff by moving it into the garage for a time! Since then we have been adding as much as we can to our facilities, having constructed a shade house and two large (20 x 84′) greenhouses (with only one layer of plastic, I have been using them more as cold frames so far). So we have certainly kept busy. This year I feel like things are really coming together better than ever before, and I suppose that relates to our impressive (for the scale of our operation) inventory of healthy plants. If you’re interested in a closer look at the nursery development process, go to our blog at and start clicking back at ‘Older Entries’ to see the documentation of greenhouse construction and other exciting stuff.

Some may be wondering how we feel about the “lousy” weather we have been experiencing over the last couple years. Mostly I have been too busy working on the nursery (among other responsibilities) to have time to complain. I will say that a cool spring actually makes things easier in some ways – if plant growth is slowed down a bit by cool weather then I’m under less pressure to pot up those plants that don’t sell right away, before they become rootbound and leggy. I then have all summer to catch up which actually works out quite well. The other thing to bear in mind is that no matter how cool and dark it gets around here, we can never manage a truly “wet” Northwest summer. Unless you live in a swamp, sooner or later your soil dries out, and if your garden is thirsty then you’re watering, even if only for a short period for some years. Thus we continue to believe that what we are doing remains relevant and beneficial. We would also note that one of our coolest summers in history, 1957, was followed immediately by an exceptionally long and hot one in 1958. Anything can happen!

A couple other quick notes before I wrap this up. I mentioned the blog – I have been posting more regularly there about a variety of topics that you may find interesting if you have a professional interest in horticulture. Another way we are staying in touch is through Facebook or “the evil empire” as we sometimes call it. We have been posting brief updates there once or twice per week as well as the most current photos of the nursery. If you are on Facebook please consider going to and …(cough)… “liking” our page.

Finally, since I know you’re looking for something to do next weekend that doesn’t involve hanging out with people who don’t care about plants, we would like to invite you to the 2011 Fronderosa Frolic, which will be held at Fancy Fronds Nursery in Gold Bar (for more information see We will be there along with all the most exciting Northwest nurseries with all the coolest plants, including some of our favorites such as Fairmeadow Nursery, Steamboat Island Nursery, Cistus Nursery, Far Reaches Farm , Dancing Oaks Nursery, and more! And you should come and buy some ferns from Judith at Fancy Fronds who is truly one of the coolest and most gracious nursery people around. If there are any special requests we can bring for you just let us know and we will bring them – we hope to see you there!

Thanks for reading and may your plants and gardens continue to prosper whatever life brings!
Ian & Co.
The Desert Northwest
PO Box 3475, Sequim, WA 98382

Sequim Garden Show. Hear Me Talk!

We like the Sequim Garden Show. First of all, it’s only five minutes away from the nursery/home, so we don’t have to worry about whether we have forgotten to bring something. But it’s also really cool. I know, you’re thinking, how exciting can a “Sequim Garden Show” really be? You probably didn’t even know there was one at all.

We were certainly impressed with this show the first year we discovered it. With about 70 vendors, including some that don’t do any shows besides this one, it’s certainly the best garden event on the Olympic Peninsula and as good as anything in Kitsap. We also like it because we always do well in it. Some real plant nerds—yes there are some here on the Peninsula—tend to come out of hiding and roam about.

And, believe it or not, there are still some really interesting and unique specialty nurseries out there that don’t have an online presence, and you will probably never have heard of them. But a number of my favorites will be here at the Sequim Garden show. One is Phocas Farms, a nursery in the foothills above Sequim specializing in Sedums, Sempervivums and related plants. Of these the owner is a renowned expert, and has about every kind you could possibly want, and more! Another one is Pacific Northwest Naturals, which also does some Sedums, hardy cacti, and other unusual plants. Skyline Nursery usually has something interesting as well.

The Garden Show also offers a number of seminars offered by local experts. At 3:00 Saturday I will be giving a presentation on broadleaf evergreens. You’re all welcome to come to that and make me feel intimidated – ha ha. That reminds me, I should start preparing for the talk.

The Garden Show is at the Sequim Boys & Girls Club, located at 400 W Fir St. in Sequim. There is a $5 admission fee. If you have any special requests I would be glad to bring them.

If you can’t make it to the Sequim show, mark your calendars for the Bloedel Reserve Premier Plant Sale and Open House April 16-17. This is the first year ever for this sale but it seems to be very well promoted and organized so we are excited that it will be a good one. That would be at the Bloedel Reserve on Bainbridge Island.

A quick side note. Some of you may be wondering whether I am aware that March 8th has passed since I was supposed to have the online catalog done by then. So I have been very naughty and not finished it yet. But I will make an announcement here when I do! It’s the usual problem of too much going on at once you know.

In any case you can always refer to the Current Price List and order from that, especially if you know what you want or don’t mind doing a little independent research.

Our booth at the Sequim Garden Show last year.

Catalog Update and New Features!

Greetings desert enthusiasts. I hope you are all having a good spring. I have been too busy to do a lot of posting here but you’d better believe we are working hard at the nursery in every spare moment. The weather has gone from mild over the winter to cool and at times stormy for April and May, making for a very protracted spring – that’s fine as far as our plants are concerned because it hopefully gives us more time to get on top of them!

Several items of note. The catalog has been updated and many new plants and returning favorites are now available. So even if you’ve checked it lately, have another look!
New categories for conifers and Mediterranean plants were added in March, and will be maintained. Our inventory is not quite up to pre-move-to-Sequim-and-big-freeze levels, but we’re getting close.

Also, we have added a HOT LIST to note new and returning plants, other changes to our inventory, and plants coming soon. We hope to update it regularly, and you can add it to your bookmarks to check the new and exciting offerings we are able to come up with. But of course, we would say that. I also started a list of discontinued plants but I’ll probably move it to a separate page at some point.

Another change is the assimilation of 1 gallon mail order plants into the mail order catalog. Previously they were only listed separately and without any description on the alphabetical list. So the plants in the mail-order catalog designated as “1 gallon” are larger than our usual mail-order size.

You may also have noticed that I added a couple of “featured plants” to our home page providing additional direct links to the plant list. (I think we have about 400 of Agave montana, and every last one of them deserves a good home!) And I have cleaned up the main page of the catalog to hopefully make it appear more straightforward and less cluttered up.

Thanks for reading, and don’t forget to follow our Facebook page if you aren’t already!

New plant list and other news

I have two major announcements really. The first is that the plant list found here is actually now up to date, and lists plants that I have for sale now.  Fancy that.  I know, that took me a long time and now it’s winter, but hopefully it’s another step towards getting the nursery organized and enabling me to be more on top of things next year. Please have a look at the new plant list which contains some exciting things not offered before!  Descriptions are lacking so feel free to ask me about any of the plants.

Please note that the descriptive catalog is still not updated, though I am working on it.

The second announcement is that I have launched a Facebook page for the Desert Northwest.  I think this is a great way for me to provide more frequent updates about what I’m doing in a more casual setting.  I wouldn’t want to clutter up this blog with so much stuff that no one can keep up. So if you’re more interested in the day-to-day of all my nursery projects, please consider “becoming a fan” (as they say in Facebook) of The Desert Northwest on Facebook. (Now I’m not really positive the above link will work, but if it doesn’t, go to “pages” once you have logged on and search for it.)

These announcements, though noteworthy, still isn’t exciting enough to warrant an official newsletter, so if you signed up for newsletters and didn’t get any, it’s because I haven’t sent one in a really long time.  But I will. I’m just waiting until I have something really exciting to announce, like a huge number of cool new plants.

In other news, I’m almost done building a large greenhouse, which should hopefully alleviate the sort of disaster we had last winter with too many plants and not enough greenhouse space during the big freeze – what a setback that was to the nursery.  More on that coming soon.

Ian botches it again

Another day, another goof-up.  And of course it’s my fault.  If you have recently tried to contact us to no avail, please try again.  I’ve just figured out that the zip code provided on the web page was incorrect.  I have corrected it now. If it’s not one thing it’s another!!! Just to clarify, our contact information is as follows:


snail-mail and orders: The Desert Northwest, PO Box 3475, Sequim, WA 98382

Apologies for the mistake!

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