June 20th reopening and Covid protocol!

At last, we have landed on a reopening date, which will be on Saturday, June 20th, the first day of summer! Yay. We will also plan to be open Saturdays through at least early August. Later I’ll work out a schedule for late summer and fall. We can also be available by appointment during the week. Just shoot us an e-mail at mail@desertnorthwest.com and let us know if you need to schedule an appointment!

So what’s available, you’re wondering? As of June 17th, I have finished a current plant inventory with prices, which is now posted on the web site. Thus far it is just a list with no descriptions or photos, unfortunately; but for now we hope that an up-to-date list of everything we have available will help motivate at least keen gardeners with some plant knowledge to come out here and shop. You may also notice that mail-order will be restarting in mid-July. We’ll talk more about featured plants in the next update.

And now to talk Covid protocol. We are not oblivious to the fact that Coronavirus is still looming out there, and even if things are now opening up, we sure as heck don’t want to catch it and we don’t expect you do either. In my case I’m not only concerned about spreading the disease, but if I fall sick for two or three weeks the nursery can quickly fall apart. So we’re putting into place the following precautions:

#1 If you’re sick, don’t come! That should be obvious. Please wait until you are completely all better, and then come.

#2 Masks. We have decided not to make a big deal out of masks, especially since we ourselves are unlikely to wear them especially in hot weather. Visitors may wear masks, or not. I think the main point is just to be aware and considerate, and don’t breathe on people or their stuff. If you are uncomfortable with non-mask-wearing, we respect your choice to delay your visit, and mail-order will be available soon!

#3 Distancing. I don’t know why they call it “social distancing;” it should be just “distancing.” I can still practice distancing while being anti-social, and you could say it is easier. In any case we ask that you respect other people’s space, and ours, as much as possible, keeping at least six feet away or better yet ten feet. We don’t anticipate this to be a huge problem as there is plenty of space here at the nursery, and usually not a lot of people come through at once.

#4 Touchless sales. We’ll ask that you pick out your own plants. Most people do this anyway. But we hope you will make an effort not to handle plants you have not decided to purchase. We know this isn’t always realistic but let’s give it our best shot. If you’re trying to pick through a group of plants to select the best one, we will not pull them all out for you too look at. We will also not look at photos on your phone of a space you want to work with, or a plant you want to identify, or that sort of thing. We’re not hostile, only taking precautions.

#5 Carrying plants. Boxes will be available for you to put plants in. But for the present, we will not help you pack the plants into boxes as has been our custom. There should be no need to use a cart or wagon. If you purchase a lot of plants and don’t want to carry them all, you can just back your vehicle right up almost to the sales table, and load up.

#6 Labeling plants. In normal times, we typically label plants as they go out. If you don’t need labels, that’s fine and makes things easier. If you do that’s just fine also. We will have a box of disposable gloves and I will put on a new pair to write your plant labels while transacting with each customer.

#7 Transactions. I believe I have thought through how to do this very safely–much more safely than, say, Safeway (is that ironic or what?). We will have a box that you can drop your cash or check into without touching it. We think that payment by check is the most preferable at this time, followed by cash, with credit card being the least preferred option (but can still do it if necessary). My reasoning is that a check may be written out in the exact change with tax, whereas it can be difficult to predict in advance the exact amount with cash (unless you want to bring a lot of different types of bills). But if you want to do cash I can supply you with change while wearing disposable gloves. This also applies if you want a receipt, which we usually try to provide especially for large purchases–but if you don’t need one, that’s fine and makes things easier. For credit cards, we can process them by manually inserting the number, but will not swipe them. You could either read the number aloud (might not want to do that with other customers present), or set it down on a table and I could read it off, then let you pick it up and read off the security code.

That sounds like a lot of information, but we are all used to this sort of thing now, and I don’t really expect it to be that difficult. I am confident that our customers are the kind of people who excel and being mindful and considerate. I’ll look forward to seeing you this summer!

Ian

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Reopening Plans!

So the question of the spring has been, are we ever going to reopen or what? And the other question has been, why can’t we see a list of your inventory online? As some of you may recall, we had already closed before the Coronavirus panic erupted. The answer to the first question is that we are shooting for right around the first day of summer, or about a month from now. This makes sense for a number of reasons, a big one being, our period of very low inventory over the winter will be coming to an end, and that is also about when I expect to finish cleaning certain places that need to be presentable, a time-consuming process.

To the second question, the low inventory situation will soon be behind us, as the stuff I have been potting on through late winter and early spring finally fills out enough to become available. Except for all the stuff that froze dead when it unexpectedly dropped to 23°F on March 15th. That was too bad. That is the latest 23 we have ever had, and I would certainly have done a few things differently if I had known it would happen. Weather in general was a bit rough on plants early this spring with periods of cold and wet alternating with periods of blazing sun, abnormally low humidity, and extreme dinural fluctuation. Freshly potted cuttings don’t like that too much. But in spite of that, inventory will overall be on the upswing soon, and thus will again be worth listing on the web site. So that stuff will all be back, even if it is taking us a while.

Then there’s mail-order. I think we can resume mail order just after we reopen, or about early July or so. That puts us a bit later than the spring mail-order rush (still ongoing for other nurseries), but we don’t really want to start off overwhelmed so that is fine. We will be well poised to have a great fall mail-order season.

What kinds of plants will be available? I think we’re looking at a good selection this summer of plants such as evergreen oaks, Hebe, Olearia, Grevillea (finally!), Leptospermum, and Opuntia cacti. And perhaps later, Eucalyptus. Things are still not moving too fast in the Agaves and Yuccas department, and Arctostaphylos will probably be a bit sparse this year, but we are working on all those. There may even be a few fancy things like Leucadendron and Protea species available later this summer if we’re lucky.

Then there’s the seed list. What happened to that idea? Well the seed list is ready to go. I just have to jump through a couple more hoops and get all my ducks in a row at this end. I might even get that done by the end of this week. As was the case years ago, the seed list will be heavy on Eucalyptus and large-scale succulents, with a few other random odds and ends.

The main point here is, just because it appears I am moving slowly, does not mean I am not moving. In fact the nursery is keeping me quite busy, with a lot of time still being dedicated to maintenance and cleaning. Put another way, I’m very goal-oriented, but it often takes longer than I expect to get where I want. Increasingly I see the value in “plodding along” at a couple hours per day per task, to ultimately fulfill multiple goals at once. By playing the long game you’re not as likely to get burned out. I know, I know, some of you figured this out long ago.

So there you have it, our reopening plans. As usual, watch this space for updates.

Oh, one final note, I haven’t forgotten that I promised to follow up on my post about street trees. I started on it but it’s fairly involved to come up with a good tree list. That will be a fun summer project.

A few current nursery photos, including new Grevillea cuttings that should be ready sometime in July, Leptospermums that are pretty much ready now, and some nice 1 gallon Opuntia cacti.

2019: A Great Year for Bamboos and Ferns

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Crushed shade house with bamboo collection under there somewhere.

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Shade house tear-down.  Photo by Connie Barclay

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

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

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

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Summer 2019 Update and Nursery Open Days

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Readers,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

General Update: The Good, The Sad and the Ugly

Hi Folks.  I know you haven’t heard from us in a while, so I thought I’d better post something to let you know we are still living and still operating a nursery which is in business.  (We won’t even talk about the web site.)  And if you keep reading you will see that the title of this post is no joke.

We are actually having a remarkably good year.  Apparently we have eliminated much of the competition while demand for cool plants still exists.  Ten years ago I attempted to sell some plants on the wholesale market and I had a heck of a time getting any nurseries to buy from me, so I gave up.  This year I thought it might be time to give wholesale another go.  In late winter I sent out a modest availability and within two weeks 70% of the plants listed were pre-ordered.

At the retail end, people keep coming out here and buying stuff despite having to guess what is available from the out-of-date web site.  At the Sequim Garden Show we exceeded our previous sales record by about 20% despite having only one booth instead of the usual two.  (A Dan Hinkley talk promoting some of my plants helped.)  We also brought plants to “Hortlandia”, the Hardy Plant Society of Oregon sale in Portland, and did so well that I am still in shock.  We were up 95% over the previous record for that sale and grossed our second highest total ever for all events of this type that we have ever participated in.  (The second year of the now-defunct Bloedel Reserve sale holds this record, if you were wondering.)  The Rhododendron Species Foundation sale was up 90% from the previous high.  In short this season is going to be a tough act to follow.  We thank all of you who have come out to support us.

I never usually say this but I am getting a little nervous about running low on plants while having trouble finding the time to produce and pot up new stock.  This week I’m in the middle of taking apart the whole area in front of greenhouse 2 and 3, repairing the tables and cleaning it all up.  But I think things will fall into place and there will be plenty of new stuff by summer.  We are buying some important supplies for the nursery such as a compost tumbler to mix soil and fertilizer (I’ve been mixing it by hand all these years), and seeds of unusual rare stuff from various sources.  We were generously gifted a minivan earlier this spring, which was a big help to get more plants to the sales.  We have just bought a fancy tag printer.  That’s right, after 13 years we are finally going to have pre-printed tags with descriptions on them.  I have hand-written thousands of tags over the years so that will be an exciting change.

Shifting gears here, back in September, Laine McLaughlin, a friend and former employer, passed away.  Laine was the owner of Steamboat Island Nursery where I had worked in 1997, 1998 and 2002.  In the official sense it was my first “real” nursery job.  I had intended to write a longer post about Laine and the nursery in October and I regret not managing to do it.  In any case, I attended her memorial service at the end of October, which was held in a little meeting hall within walking distance of her nursery.  I still have a number of interesting plants from Laine including Ceanothus gloriosus ‘Emily Brown’ which has been passed down through a few different hands, and Eucalyptus urnigera x dalrympleana which I planted at my parents’ house in Olympia and later took the opportunity to propagate from cuttings after regrowth from frost damage in 2010.  Although the nursery closed several years ago when her partner Duane passed, Laine and her crew grew top-quality plants that were unusual and always got attention.  She was well-loved by the local horticulture community and is already missed.

And now for some terrible news, which is also old news by now, but I’d better report it.  Rod and Rachel Saunders, the British owners of a world-renowned South African seed Company, Silverhill Seeds; were kidnapped back in February by a remote cell of ISIS terrorists and apparently killed.  I say “apparently” because Rod’s remains have been found, but not Rachel’s.  Some have postulated that they were tied into their sleeping bags and thrown into a crocodile infested river, so Rachel’s remains may never be found.  This is horrific on several levels.  First of all what the heck is ISIS doing in South Africa?  I am no expert but this seems rather unrelated to South Africa’s other current policital/social challenges.  Almost like it might have happened anywhere.  More significant is the shock one feels over losing a friend(s) in a horrific manner.  Although I never met them in person, I have been ordering seed from Silverhill for over 20 years, long before we opened the nursery!  This included a lot of correspondence, in which Rachel helped me greatly with my plant selection when I was just doing this for a hobby.  And they were very close friends with a number of our mutual friends, who had met them in person.  So at this point, the shock is wearing off but the anger is not.  I am glad the suspects have been identified and captured and as old school as it sounds, I hope that justice is served.  I just placed a small order from Silverhill Seeds, and at this time it seems the business is continuing without Rod and Rachel.  But for how long, who can say?

I’m contemplating planting something special in their honor, which would have to be something I got from them and that will do well here in the long run.  Perhaps Leucosidea sericea.

That’s all for today.  Let us be hopeful that when I write the next blog post all the news will be positive!

Link to a news article about Rod and Rachel Saunders

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Remains of Steamboat Island Nursery display garden in 2017, with Trachycarpus fortunei, Cercidiphyllum japonicum, and Chusquea culeou.

 

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!

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