10 Year Blogiversary!

Can you believe it was 10 years ago that I started this blog?  I’m not sure I can.  Here’s a link to the very first blog post.  You will see that it is very exciting (not).  I think I just wanted to have something on there so people would not go to just a blank page, and I didn’t feel a lot of pressure to produce meaningful content right off the bat.

I have a total of 110 blog posts.  That amounts to just shy of one per month, but there have been periods of more activity interspersed with some long breaks.  This year I am going to attempt to be a little more frequent and consistent with the posts, but not unrealistically so.  I’ll be happy if I manage to post twice per month, but maybe give myself a break if it’s a little less frequent during the very busy season.

So on this exciting occasion, let’s do some reflecting.  A lot has happened in ten years.  When I started this blog not a lot of people were on Facebook (including me).  This blog was my outlet for information and connecting with plant people.  Now that has all changed.  But Facebook isn’t quite what it used to be either.  I almost think separate social media platforms are needed for discussing plants and political banter.  I’m glad I didn’t totally give up on my blog.

In ten years I feel like I have almost started learning how to run a nursery.  (The nursery itself goes back to 2005.)   From a financial standpoint the nursery continues to do slightly better every year.  If I can meet some goals this year perhaps it will do a lot better.  One likes to be optimistic!  One of those goals is to transition to a complete online shopping cart.  What’s holding me back, you might wonder?  Well, it’s simply that there are many steps between assessing inventory on the ground to the finished product of a functional shopping cart.  I need to count quantities, write descriptions, find photos, and more.  Oh well, I will get there somehow.  I believe in working hard but I am also quite meticulous.  I have opted to keep putting it off rather than do a sloppy job of it.  Other processes such as shipping, potting up, inventory management and so forth continue to be more streamlined, a word which makes this fact sound impressive.

Looking ahead in the nursery department, I did not get terribly far afield this year to collect cuttings.  I did not go on any plant hunting trips or botanical exploration in natural areas, not even locally.  But the propagation area is full, mostly of cuttings from friends’ local gardens, so there will still be a lot of great stuff for sale next year.  Notably, we visited Mike Lee’s Arbor Heights Botanic Garden in West Seattle, which is really coming along nicely.  If we’re lucky perhaps I’ll manage to post photos of that in the near future. Many cuttings from Mike are already rooting.  We also returned to Hummingbird Hill Villa, about which I posted a year ago.  We went the Saturday after Thanksgiving and Arctostaphylos ‘Austin Griffiths’ was already blooming!  We thank the owners of these gardens for their generosity.  (The funny thing is, nearly six weeks later I still haven’t quite finished processing the Hummingbird Hill cuttings.  But they have been carefully stored and, remarkably, they still look fine.  I continue to go through them as the chance allows and hope to finish tomorrow.)

Besides all these cuttings, I’m also hoping to increase our selection of seed-grown plants like Eucalyptus and Acacia this year–plants we haven’t offered a lot of in a while, but we should.  And I’m also looking through some of the stuff we used to sell way back when the nursery started and asking, what can I propagate that we haven’t offered in a long time, that people would want to buy?

Also in the works, I am hoping to re-introduce seeds for sale.  But it is going to be a rather humble beginning, as many of my sources back when we had more seeds are no longer available.  Various plants/trees froze, and I haven’t done any collecting in the Southwest, or around Seattle.  So this may not be a huge deal.  But as the chance arises I’ll just continue to collect what I can.  So far I have managed to collect about 15 species from plants like Eucalpytus, Callistemon and Leptospermum in quantity enough to sell.  I’ll see what else I can come up with.  Stay tuned for more news about this hopefully by February!

Finally, I’ll mention that I’m hoping I feel like I can afford to cut back on regional plant sales a bit this year.  It’s tempting to try to fill every weekend with one event after the other, but I have to consider how much valuable nursery time I am missing, and how far behind I get in the spring (especially on potting up cuttings and seedlings) by not staying home as much as possible.  I’ll be making some decisions about that soon, and I’m certainly not giving them all up. I have already reserved my usual booth at the Sequim Garden Show, which is coming up the third weekend of March.

How about this cold weather?  I admit we view it as a bit of a hassle when it lasts this long. We have now had three separate “arctic blast” type events, which is an awful lot of them for one winter, and we still have a good deal more winter to go.  Between everything being frozen and me being sick for that brief period after Christmas when we were above freezing, there have been periods where work has kind of come to a standstill.  (That’s why the Hummingbird Hill cuttings aren’t done!)  But when I can, besides sticking cuttings, I continue to clean up the first three greenhouses when we’re above freezing.  I have also organized my bamboos, which needed doing, and cleaned out the shade house, and I have a big project going now with organizing pots. Winter stuff, we might say.

We did not get a lot of snow, which is good.  No more than an inch fell at any one time, though with everything being frozen, there is still some out there now.  “Snow is a good insulator,” the saying goes, but what they don’t tell you is that it’s hardly worth it when snow cover on the ground substantially drops the air temperature at night from what it otherwise would be.  So we say no thanks to snow if we can avoid it.  Our coldest temperature has been 20°F, which is annoying but it could have been much worse.

And, importantly for my personal sanity, the freezing weather is great for catching up on various projects indoors that have been neglected for too long.  Spreadsheets about plant hardiness, organizing files, cleaning e-mail inboxes, cataloging photos, and the like.  I have been about five years behind on listing all the plants pictured in the photos I have taken.  But now I am catching up!  I have to know where to find the photos of various plants on my hard drive if I am going to use them.  The only unfortunate thing is it is just on a spreadsheet–If there were any fancy photo organizing programs when I started this 11 years ago, I did not know about them.  Now I think that’s too big of a leap to make.

I suppose that’s all the news that’s fit to print, and then some!  I’m sure most of my readers are looking forward to winter being over as much as I am, so we can all get on with planting!  Here are a few random photos:

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Nursery on December 6th.

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Little plants all snug and warm in the greenhouse.  Isn’t that cute?

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An ice plant covered in ice.  It seemed appropriate. Isn’t it an ice plant?

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.

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.

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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 http://www.desertnorthwest.com/openhouse.html 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 http://www.fancyfrondsnursery.com/events/) 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
mail@desertnorthwest.com
http://desertnorthwest.com

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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 http://www.desertnorthwest.com/openhouse.html). 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 http://www.heronswood.com). 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
mail@desertnorthwest.com
http://www.desertnorthwest.com

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? https://www.facebook.com/groups/1536485596588451/

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 https://www.facebook.com/groups/384205358407272/

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: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1468681576681957/

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!

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.

Open House Recap!

Woohoo! We did it! The open house was a success. We should note, however, that when one tries something entirely new, one goes into it with no certain expectations. This leads us to define a little further what we mean by success. First though we want to thank all of you who came, for doing so; and those of you who couldn’t come, for at least being interested enough to offer well-wishes and support. Hey if no one had showed up, we wouldn’t call it a success!

First let’s get a few “what didn’t work” notes out of the way. The weather might have been better. It poured rain Friday morning fortunately letting up just about the time we opened, but it was still a drizzle-fest much of the day and the sun never showed. (We should mention that we have had about four times our normal July precipitation this year in Sequim! It’s been weird.) Finally late Saturday afternoon the sun showed up, which of course would have been the best time to take some pictures, had I not been too busy to remember to do so. Then Sunday was back to morning drizzle but the afternoon was dry and cloudy.

Another major issue was traffic, since it was Lavender Festival weekend in Sequim. This turned out to be a worse problem than I expected. We used to live in Poulsbo and would come up for the Lavender Festival so we knew that traffic was often heavy at certain times on that weekend. Apparently things have gotten much worse. We heard that the police were stopping everyone at Sunshine Lavender Farm causing a miles-long slow backup. We also had a report of super-long waits to get on the ferry. To those of you who offered feedback about how bad things were, and when not to travel, we thank you; as we will be able to make some better specific travel recommendations for next year. (BTW, if you have more feedback, post it here – it’s valuable!) We do think it is important to be open that weekend to try to tempt people who are in town for the lavender mayhem. We also apologize; since, though some of these traffic issues are obviously beyond our control, our warning posted on the “open house” bit of our web page was certainly not dire enough.

So, all that stuff out of the way, it was just a real treat for us to see so many people here at once who were here and looking around the greenhouses, excited to shop for plants! We had a good mix of people from locals who saw the sign or knew us from the Sequim Garden Show, to people who heard about us at Hortlandia, to a couple of garden clubs and other random friends. Mark and Lila of Fairmeadow Nursery showed up on Sunday which was really a nice surprise. We easily sold enough plants to make our efforts all seem worthwhile, and partially fund some fall projects such as a new propagation house and display beds.

Just for fun we will share with you that our preparations for this event were down to the wire. With so much else to stay on top of it seemed to take forever to finish building greenhouse #3. Finally we got that done about two weeks before the open house: then there was the task of getting greenhouse #2 set in order, which had formerly been jam-packed with stock to the point where it was impossible to step anywhere without crushing a plant. This turned out to be a huge job with a few loose ends to still tie up. We also moved our entire “forest” of empty pots that had been right in the middle of the nursery behind greenhouse #1 and out of sight. So if the Friday morning crowd caught us slightly less completely prepared than we might have been, we hope they will pardon us: I was up very late Thursday night painting the nursery signs, moving plants, and trying to complete set-up! (Who said nothing good ever happens after midnight? Ha ha.)

If you missed the open house, despair not. For now that we know we can do it, we have decided to do another one! It will be September 1 – 3. I will post more about this later, but in general, we think that settling into a routine of 2 – 3 (4?) open house events per year would be a nice goal to shoot for. This one is specifically scheduled to accommodate Labor day traffic, which isn’t nearly as bad as lavender traffic, though ferry waiting can be an issue at certain times. Just remember that if our open house dates don’t work for you, you are always very welcome to schedule an appointment!

As I said, I didn’t manage to get a lot of photos with people in them, or with the sun shining, but here goes:

“Table” loaded with exciting Grevilleas and spikey things (that’s the scientific name)

This should tempt you to go in, right??

Inside newly completed greenhouse #3

Display of larger manzanitas… I figure if these don’t sell this fall, they’ll be more irresistible the bigger they get.

Here’s where we pretended to do some cashiering when it wasn’t drizzling too hard.

This Protea grandiceps decided to bloom just in time for the open house!

Here I am showing Mark some of my exciting Arctostaphylos and Penstemon collections from last fall (remember those?)

OK, so this is cheating. A couple days after the open house, a bunch of people who regretted missing it showed up and bought stuff. It was great since everything was still set up!

NEWSLETTER – June 2012 – First ever OPEN HOUSE and more!

Dear Friends,

Greetings from Sequim! Where did spring go?? More on that later. First, we have some exciting announcements!

You will not want to miss our first ever AWESOME OPEN HOUSE! What’s that? We’re really going to be open? That’s right. For one weekend, on July 20 – 22, we will be open for business and you can come out and see our amazing collection of cool and unique plants! Also, if you’re a certifiable plant geek, you may be interested in our Plant Geek Convergence on the 21st. For more information on both, and of course the all-important directions for how to get here, please see http://www.desertnorthwest.com/openhouse.html We look forward to seeing you at what is certain to be a unique plant shopping experience!

Next, and almost as exciting, we have finally updated the mail-order list again. This has been in the works for a long time, but required a major edit on our part as I wanted to go through all the plant descriptions to make sure they were accurate and up to date (and to redo some formatting), as well as add a new feature, Drought Resistance Codes. So it was supposed to be the spring 2012 list, and now it has ended up being the summer 2012 list – but hey, it all worked out! And it is very much current, even including stuff that has just become ready in the last few weeks. The Drought Resistance Codes are something we hope to continue to work on. So people won’t be totally lost we have posted a small essay to introduce the concept, which you can view at http://www.desertnorthwest.com/catalog/terms.html and scroll to the bottom of the page.

The new list, of course, contains many exciting new plants! (http://www.desertnorthwest.com/catalog/) Of particular interest will be our recent Penstemon collections; these are the perfect drought tolerant perennials for the Northwest garden (unless you live in a swamp or a dark forest, like Shrek). You will find a number of new selections on our list including the spectacular P. barrettiae, a rare endemic of the Columbia Gorge area that features glaucous-bluish leaves and tight clusters of light purple flowers! Then we have Grevillea australis, which is perhaps the hardiest Grevillea, or close to it anyway; and has (surprisingly) fragrant flowers: it does not get enormous and is perfect for smaller spaces. And Kageneckia oblonga is an interesting shrub or small tree from Chile in the Rosaceae family, that ought to be fun to try: so far the plants remind me very much of Vauqelinia (Arizona Rosewood) or Lyonothamnus (Catalina Ironwood), to which it must be closely related.

Also noteworthy from the list; Embothrium coccineum, the stunning Chilean Fire-Tree, is back after a many-year abesnce; as is Fuchsia procumbens. We also offer one of our Ceanothus prostratus collections (a particularly nice one, too!), a plant that is not easy to find; an evergreen Mediterranean oak that I haven’t seen here but it ought to do well (Q. faginea subsp. alpestris); an easy-care tree Aloe (A. plicatilis), the groundcover Gunnera magellanica, and several new conifers including the ever-popular Araucaria araucana (monkey puzzle tree). All of the new plants are noted on the list, but we still like to suggest looking carefully at the whole list,, as certain “returning” plants we have not offered in many years are not noted as new.

So, what else is new? Winter wasn’t bad, making me wish I had planted more stuff out in the ground last fall. We got snowed on for a few days totaling 9” but the ice missed us completely. June weather has been a drag (as I type, rain is pouring down – yes, even in Sequim) but April and May were about dead-on average which felt nice after last year. Even so, our spring seemed to get sucked away on various projects and we are now massively behind on potting up plants. Hopefully we can do some serious catching up over the next couple months now that we have about finished our third greenhouse. That has been a major time-consumer and I think I have learned my lesson to never again build a greenhouse in the spring when I have so much to keep on top of with the plants!

We (or in some cases, just I) enjoyed seeing you at the plant sales in which we have participated this spring; including the Bloedel Reserve sale, Hortlandia, the Rhododendron Species Foundation sale, and of course the Sequim Garden Show. Our next such event is the Fronderosa Frolic which is coming up the second week in August in Gold Bar, so if you can’t make it to the open house we will be glad to bring any plants you would like for pick-up there. If you can’t wait that long, we will also be present at Dragonfly Farms Nursery in Kingston on the weekend of July 14 – 15 with a selection of plants to sell (we thank Heidi for this opportunity!); again, special requests are welcome for that too.

Thanks for reading and for your continued interest in our nursery! May your garden live long and prosper. And please come and see us at the open house!

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

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