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!

General Update

Hi readers. As it has been a few months since my last blog post, some of you may be wondering, what happened to me? Did I drop off the edge of the earth? Was I abducted by aliens? Or even worse, did I lose all interest in plants?

But no, it’s nothing that interesting. For as crazy as I was for starting a nursery, there are still times when I must confess to having the limitations of being a real person. So from about October through early December or so I went through a period of mild, shall we say, “burn out.” Like I felt like I just needed to give myself a little break for once.

It was, as I said, quite mild, and not too serious. And I think it is over now (maybe… LOL) or else I would probably not be admitting to it. Rather than leaving everything in a state of complete abandonment, I have still been working on the nursery, and it is still looking pretty good, other than the wind throwing empty pots all over the place on Christmas Day (I’m actually glad I wasn’t here when that happened—that must have been some serious wind!). I have frequently been busy in the greenhouses sticking cuttings, weeding, and moving plants. I am nearly on schedule with all my “fall” propagation projects (it’s still fall right?), though I will admit there are a few other projects I have been putting off. We continued to fill orders for fall shipping until Hurricane Sandy and the elections brought an abrupt, early end to the shipping season. However I have suddenly gotten swamped with orders this week, which is inspiring. (If it takes us a week or two to send your order, that is because it is supposed to get cold this weekend.)

What I have not been doing is diligently is following the blogs, forums, and facecrack, I mean spacebook groups that I had been checking regularly up till a few months ago. So, without worrying about it too much, I apologize for that.

So in theory, I hope to be back to my regular schedule of 2 – 4 blog posts per month. But for the moment we are just shooting for one occurrence!

What’s next, you ask? Well, I hope to provide an updated list to the web site in the future, but I had better not promise just when, since it always takes longer than I expect. Let’s shoot for mid-February. That is a nice goal. I also have a couple of plant expeditions to report on. Briefly, we went back to the Columbia Gorge area again (I think I said that earlier) the last weekend of September. I also got to go on a trip with Mike Lee and Vor Hostetler of Colvos Creek Nursery the weekend after that, in which we explored the Siskyou/Klamath region of southwest Oregon and Northern California. I had not been there in six years so that was exciting.

So I will, of course, provide full reports on both these trips soon, but I got a bit hung up on it because I did not know the manzanitas of that region well enough to positively identify most of the plants I saw. Fortunately for me, Sean Hogan of Cistus Nursery came to the rescue and took some time to look through a bunch of my Arctostaphylos pictures from our trip. He may be one of the few people in the world besides me for whom that would not be boring. We definitely found some interesting things on that trip and I learned much about Arctostaphylos taxonomy.

We also re-visited Far Reaches Farm, Colvos Creek Nursery (full-post feature to come soon), and a place that I had not been to in years, Xera Plants. Xera sells wholesale only but you can find their plants at retail outlets throughout the Northwest who know what is cool. It was inspiring to see how clean their nursery looked. Kelly and Sue at Far Reaches returned from a plant hunting trip to China recently, which you can read about here.

Sometimes exciting things crop up right in your own backyard. We finally got around to visiting a nursery called Phocas Farms. They specialize in Sedums and Sempervivums and are only 20 minutes away from us. Of course these plants are not hard to find in general (particularly if you want common types), but it is hard to find a nursery that grows a large variety of them including many rare species and varieties, and actually knows the names for all their plants! As there are about 12,000 kinds of Sedum (I exaggerate only slightly) this is no small feat, but owners Jim and Kathy Robinson have managed to do it. Phocas Farms sells at a handful of regional plant sales, and at certain farmers markets in season, including the Port Townsend and Port Angeles farmers markets. They can be contacted at luddite@olypen.com.

But wait, there’s more! We also had the privilege of visiting Derek Clausen, a first class plant geek with an amazing collection of rare conifers, southern Hemisphere plants, and other super obscure, rare things in his garden in Snohomish. We are grateful to him for his generosity in sharing plant material and for being one of the favorite customers of not only our nursery but other specialty nurseries both locally and throughout the country as well. His garden is living proof that doing business with specialty nurseries can result in an amazing yard!

I will also be providing a list of this year’s regional plant sale and open house dates before the end of the month. A few things aren’t quite finalized yet. But we have decided we are moving the open house events all to “regular” weekends and away from holiday weekends. We now think that trying to do one on Lavender Festival weekend was probably (on balance) a bad idea, despite the potential to catch more traffic.

In more miscellaneous news, Sean also tells us that the Arctostaphylos patula discussed in my previous post (of course I’m back to talking about manzanita… it had to happen) was originally sourced from Underwood Mountain, just on the Washington side of the gorge. This is significant as it means that a large, reasonably-pure-appearing version of A. patula can be said to be native to Washington State. This area is now quite heavily developed (the part I visited in 2011, at least) but it might pay to look higher up the mountain in the future. He was able to learn this from one of his employees who knows the person who planted it – wow, small world.

Finally, I have it that the two impressive specimens of Nolina nelsoni at the Center for Urban Horticulture are to be moved, and one (perhaps both?) already has. This is a special plant that is super-rare in Seattle, yet appears to be perfectly hardy; growing into a blue-colored, Dr.-Seuss-esque tree with a round head of stiff pointy leaves atop a very slow growing, but eventually tall, trunk. It can certainly survive transplanting at a large size: I have seen growers do it in the Southwest. My concern is that early winter is the worst possible time to do it. I hope they survive!! They are not going far, I hear – just to another part of the CUH campus.

That may be all the news that’s fit to print. Thanks for reading and for your continued interest.

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A very mysterious manzanita we found near Orleans, California. It looks an awful lot like A. densiflora (which is not supposed to occur that far north), but is it? You’ll have to stay tuned to find out!

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Xera Plants looking sharp.

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Flats of Sedums and Sempervivums at Phocas Farms.

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Derek’s Garden – just one little part of it, of course.

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Nolina nelsoni, Center for Urban Horticulture, from a photo I took way back on February 9, 2005. The cool plant at left with big fuzzy leaves is Pachystegia insignis, which froze out in (I think) 2008, sadly.

Greenleaf Manzanita Mystery

Hey, I should actually post something about plants sometime – imagine that. So last weekend we were out and about looking at plants – more on that coming soon – and the highlight of our trip was finding this large Arctostaphylos patula (greenleaf manzanita) in a neighborhood in White Salmon, which is along the Columbia Gorge across from Hood River.

What’s so special about that, you ask? Well, I should provide a little background information.

Greenleaf manzanita is considered to be native to Washington State, but we have learned that it is not at all easy to find and must be considered very rare here. Across the border in Oregon it becomes much more common, where huge specimens are all over the place in eastern Hood River County and western Wasco County, their range extending south from there. In Washington, it has been recorded from Klickitat County and Chelan County.

So far as we have seen, though, these plants occurring in these counties are mostly hybrids with pinemat manzanita (A. nevadensis) or kinnikkinnik (A. uva-ursi), and not clearly, genetically pure A. patula. How do we know? Well, the best we can answer is that we have been looking at them long enough to get a feel for the morphological “center” of these species – as far as key characters such as leaf size and color, plant size, fruit color, and more. With an expectation of “what they are supposed to look like,” we feel like it is possible to make judgments on when something is more or less genetically pure and when it shows evidence of hybridization. Of course, it would take a serious genetic study of these plants to truly sort them out, but we have to do this the old fashioned way basing our judgments on morphology.

An important source of information regarding the distribution of native plants is the WTU Herbarium website, on which we find only a few records of A. patula from Klickitat County. Four of these are from the town of Bingen. (The other one is from near Glenwood: more on that in a moment.) However, we have done quite a bit of driving around Bingen and never managed to find one. So have Mark and Lila at Fairmeadow Nursery. These records are all very old so there is a good chance someone built a house on top of it/them. On the other hand a little more searching the hills around town just might turn up some plants. I have done a little of that on each of my two visits to the area, and I have not found anything yet, but I have still not really devoted enough time to it.

So this is why the plant in White Salmon – just up the hill from Bingen – was an exciting find. Could this be a remnant of the “Bingen population” of A. patula? That is certainly a possibility. But there is a catch. It is worth noting that this plant looks very different from the Glenwood plants. The Glenwood plants are low growing, show evidence of hybridization with A. nevadensis, and very scattered within a population of even lower, clearly hybrid plants: in fact, I think these are all hybrids, since none of them is taller than about 2′ or have leaves as dark as the White Salmon plant. By contrast, the White Salmon plant looks very much like the Mt. Hood area forms of A. patula across the river in Oregon.

So the question remains: did someone plant this, or did it grow here by itself as the last remnant of a now lost population of A. patula in the White Salmon/Bingen area? It is very unlikely that this plant was purchased at a nursery, since nurseries almost never offer it; but it may have been dug from the wild in Oregon and replanted (which usually doesn’t work, but it might have survived as a seedling). The fact that this plant looks so different from the Glenwood plants, and similiar to Mt. Hood plants, might lead me to suspect that possibility. But on the other hand, Glenwood isn’t all that close to White Salmon, so why shouldn’t an A. patula in White Salmon (or Bingen) look like the ones across the river in Oregon? (Although… to complicate things further… we have never seen it at such a low altitude in Oregon. The White Salmon plant is at just 700′ while in the Mt. Hood area it seems to occur pretty much above 2,000′. The Glenwood plants are all at about 1,400′.)

I guess the thing to do would be to talk to the property owner. We didn’t really have time to pursue that over the weekend, but perhaps if I go back next year…

Christmas greetings!

Here at the Desert Northwest we would like to wish anyone who manages to read this, a very warm and pleasurable Christmas. We know that a lot of people find the holidays to be a stressful time of the year or just plain don’t care for Christmas. But we feel there is no harm in wishing positive things for you anyways. Can it hurt? So there you go.

Today is also special because it marks the five year anniversary of this blog. Wow – it does not seem that I have been blogging for five years! When I started this, blogging was just becoming big – now it seems everyone has a blog. There are so many blogs out there one can hardly keep track and (dare I say) way too many “garden bloggers” recycling the same old boring information. We will take that as a challenge to keep this blog interesting into the future!

The picture above is a little bit special. I don’t much care for the hustle and bustle and mass-commercialization of the holiday season. I’m also not really a fan of “Christmas music” and Santa Claus. The best holiday season I ever had was the one where I took off on December 2 on a huge botanical expedition to the Southwest and returned to the Northwest on Christmas Eve. So basically I missed the whole thing. On that trip I took this picture of Arctostaphylos patula in southern Utah. I didn’t spend a lot of time on the pic but I thought the leaves and bark made a nice contrast with the snow. You can click to expand it and use it as wallpaper! A little something from us.

Have a great holiday and we’ll see you in 2012!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New botanical expedition report!

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

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

Backyard Botanical Adventure!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big web update news!!

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

Anyhoo… check it out!! http://www.desertnorthwest.com/catalog/catalog.html

Danger Garden Interview

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

Really Miscallaneous News

I don’t usually like to randomly jump from topic to topic in just one blog post but so much is going on right now that I thought it would be fun to share some of it. You could say randomness reflects the state of our lives right now. Unlike most nurseries we always seem to be busiest in the fall. It might be 48 degrees outside but we like to pretend that summer is still going and we still have time to catch up on all the stuff that got neglected earlier in the season when we had to stay focused on potting up plants.

We are done with regional plant sales for the year, and we wish to thank everyone who came and visited, and supported us! Our second-to-last was the Northwest Perennial Alliance Sale, which was on a beautiful sunny, warm day in early September (remember those?) at Bellevue Botanic Garden. The highlight of this for me was meeting Rick Lupp of Mt. Tahoma Nursery, whose table was next to ours, and which we shall have to visit very soon. He is a great plantsman with some super plants. We were also present the Northwest Horticultural Society’s big fall plant sale. This year it was at a new location at North Seattle Community College. Despite the challenge this presented, and the tough economy, the sale still went reasonably well. Next year there will be some changes to our plant sale schedule. The next one where you will be able to find us will be the Sequim Garden Show which is the third weekend in March. We like this event a lot, and want to get the word out about it, so stay tuned for more information about that.

Our booth at the Northwest Perennial Alliance fall sale – look at those September shadows!

NHS Fall Sale after it had wound down a bit. (That red wall sure stands out, doesn’t it?)

We are fortunate to have had the chance to get out and visit other nurseries lately. One visit I particularly enjoyed was Colvos Creek Nursery, where I had the chance to chat with Mike Lee and Vor. Mike is a super-hort-hero, having founded Colvos Creek before I was born, and actually knows almost everything there is to know about growing plants in the Seattle area, and about wild plants; and is a widely acclaimed landscape architect and botanical illustrator to boot. He has been a major positive influence in getting me interested in water-wise plants and the nursery business in general. Vor I don’t know as well yet but he has been working with Mike for the last few years. It is great to see that the nursery is still kicking despite some challenges. They have had to move their production location and are now setting up all over again, but Mike emphasizes they are certainly not giving up, which is convincing since I know how much he loves plants and the nursery. They still ship mail-order as always, and remain open for retail at the Country Store on Vashon Island, too – most of the plants are actually there at the moment, where you can go and visit and you will find a lot of cool stuff you cannot get elsewhere! They are taking many more new cuttings this year in anticipation of expanding their selection next year.

A sneak peak at Mike and Vor’s cuttings including some great forms of Arctostaphylos patula and A. columbiana.

Back home, we wanted to be done building a third greenhouse by about the second week of October, but that isn’t going so well. Actually, we have barely started yet. A few years back, shortly after we moved here, I had dug some giant trenches in the ground with the backhoe to set posts, before figuring out that it was not impossible to do the job with an auger. It is going to take a while to fill these back up with posts set in them. Once that part is done the rest should go quickly enough. We hope that winter holds off until then, but if it doesn’t, there is (hopefully) just room for everything important to fit in the existing greenhouses – though it will be tight, and temporary.

If you’re considering placing an order, fall is a great time. This is because the plants we potted up in spring and summer are now well grown and rooted out. The availability list on the web site says “summer” at the moment but it is still quite up to date. We will do one final inventory for the end of the season before the end of the month, but it will be almost the same as what is on there now. Along with that I have remained ever so close to having that new catalog up to date and online. I know I have been promising to do it all year, but the thing is I have been so close all year and then more plants fill out and are ready to sell. In any case, we’re doing our best, and getting it updated remains a top priority. We have also had a few plants bloom here this fall for the first time, which is exciting, including some cacti and this spectacular Protea punctata. This ought to be one of the hardiest Protea species for outdoor trialling here, though we haven’t actually planted one out yet. It is exclusive to high altitudes in the wild and very easy to grow. We hope to have enough to offer by late summer next year.

Protea punctata in flower back in September.

In other exciting news, I have managed to get out and do some multi-day plant hunting for the first time in, oh, I can’t remember how many years. (I had done quite a few local one-day and half-day trips the last couple years but you can only get so far that way.) No, I still haven’t made it back to the Southwest – perhaps in a year or two – but there is actually plenty of exciting stuff to see much closer to home. First we went to Chelan County hunting for, among other things, Arctostaphylos patula and a stray Ceanothus prostratus far away from its home – well not really but it’s a widely disjuct occurrence, and we found it! And we managed to find some very intriguing Arctostaphylos (but no real A. patula) and other great plants. Then I took off by myself the following weekend, pretty much following the region’s best and most diverse Arctostaphylos; on a trip that led me to eastern Lewis County, Klickitat County, and Skamania County with a one-morning detour into Hood River County, Oregon. The trip was, dare I say, everything I dreamed it would be; and will result in some fabulous new introductions of awesome native manzanita species and hybrids in the pipeline for next year. I also encountered other genera such as Penstemon and Ceanothus in plenty. (And I don’t even feel bad for missing out on greenhouse-building time since on both trips the weather was far better where I went than it was back home.) I will have write-ups of both on the web site, with lots of exciting pictures, once I am sufficiently caught up with the nursery catalog – check back for that soon! – but here is a sneak peek.

This captures the exciting moment when we found Ceanothus prostratus in the Mad River basin, Chelan County. Actually Madelin saw it as I nearly drove past it!

Here’s one of many Arctostaphylos hybrids I saw with great ornamental potential, this one near Big Lava Bed, Skamania County.

On the return trip I stopped off at Cistus Nursery for a chat with Sean Hogan about (what else?) plants, and especially Arctostaphylos. Sean has amassed a fabulous collection of these with an emphasis on species and hybrids native to Oregon. Not only that, he has managed to figure out what most of them are, which isn’t easy! Sean states that this is a genus far more exciting than most people think, and deserving of wider attention and use in the Pacific Northwest, and we of course wholeheartedly agree! We also share a love for Opuntia cacti.

Sean and his Opuntias… well some of them anyways.

Finally, we wish to thank some good folks for promoting us. First, Kelly and Sue at Far Reaches Farm, who reciprocated our blog post about them with a huge promotion in their e-mail newsletter. Actually I think they must have a much larger e-mail newsletter readership than does my blog, so we sure do appreciate that! Loree at Danger Garden has also been promoting us repeatedly, for which we are very grateful. Check out a project she and a couple collaborators are working on called PlantLust, where they are working towards assimilating many sources for hard-to-find plants, including us.

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