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.

NEWSLETTER – September Open House and Sales! Featuring Conifers.

Greetings Friends Against Boring Plants,

September is here, and despite it still being summer, our fall rains have arrived early! And it looks like more is on the way this weekend. Of course we all know fall is a great time to plant, and that is especially true of early fall, and it is even more true in weather like this. We have been doing a little planting ourselves.

So here is what we have in the pipeline. This weekend is our final open house of the year! (Details/directions on our web site as always.) Then after that we have two regional sales coming up: The Salem Hardy Plant Society sale, Sept 14th in Salem, and the Northwest Horticultural Society sale, Sept 20-21st in Seattle. We welcome your special plant requests for either of these sales. After that, well, there is still mail-order, and you can always visit the nursery by appointment!

You hear often that “fall is a great time to plant,” but is it really true? Well, yes, in fact, it is. Studies have shown that many plants make more root growth in the fall than at other seasons. And we have certainly noticed that plants set in the ground or potted on in the fall have a great advantage in the next growing over those whose planting was delayed until early the following spring. Not only do they start growing faster and better, but they look greener and healthier too, with fewer physiological problems.

As we are highlighting different groups of plants with each open house event, I thought this time we would go with conifers. (Even if I have already mentioned some of these earlier.) They might not be listed on the web site yet, but we still have a few Juniperus maritima left. This is one of western Washington’s most special native plants, being found only in the ‘Salish Sea’ area and a few isolated pockets of the northeast Olympic Peninsula. A true relict from the Holocene warm period, this is a great drought tolerant, conical, small tree for the garden producing berries that attract the birds. It is uncommon in the wild and very hard to find in nurseries.

In the Juniper department, we also have an ever-increasing selection of Juniperus communis var. saxatilis forms from various places around the Northwest. This is a nice groundcover that grows slowly enough to be considered well-behaved. For something shrubbier, we also have an upright form of J. communis. And just in case you need something extremely drought tolerant that will keep the neighbors out, we have a few Juniperus oxycedrus. This Mediterranean species makes a big prickly tree! Just don’t plant it too close to anything else.

Getting back to rare and special Northwest native conifers, Taxus brevifolia, the Pacific yew, is a nice small tree that thrives in shade. It is easy to grow but slow, and with its glossy, dark needles I think it can look a bit exotic in the right spot. We also still have plenty of Modoc Cypress (Cupressus bakeri) in stock (small size only). This beautiful tree occurs farther north in the wild than any other Western Hemisphere cypress, and has fine, soft, grey foliage. Although easily hardy in Northwest gardens, it remains very rare. We have a few other rare Cypresses in stock too, like C. austro-tibetica and green Arizona cypress (C. arizonica subsp. arizonica).

Looking at a few more West Coast conifers, you can also find at our nursery Pinus jefferyi, which does great here and looks much like a Ponderosa. We also have a new crop of the deep green and vigorous Cupressus pygmaea and the beautiful C. macrocarpa ‘Donard Gold’. And we have just a few of the very rare Torreya californica, a yew-like tree with long sharp needles that can eventually reach quite a large size!

Port Orford Cedar (Chamaecyparis lawsoniana) remains a great choice for well-drained Pacific Northwest gardens. We carry an excellent large-growing blue form of it as well as the fabulous upright cultivar ‘Blue Surprise’. If you want to try something different we also have some little starts of ‘Chilworth Silver’.

The beautiful Chilean conifers Podocarpus salignus and Prumnopitys andina remain available in ample quantities, as does Fitzroya cupressoides, the “Patagonian redwood” which can live longer than 1,000 years! Some other fun Southern Hemisphere conifers in stock would include the golden totara, Podocarpus totara ‘Aurea’ from New Zealand, and the weeping Tasmanian Huon pine, Lagarostrobos franklinii. We also have an exciting form of Afrocarpus falcatus that has proven hardy at the J. C. Raulston Arboretum in North Carolina. This is usually regarded as a houseplant in our climate but why not try it outside?

In the smaller Podocarpus department, we continue to have plenty of Podocarpus lawrencei ‘Purple King’ with its beautiful purple winter color, as well as P. alpinus ‘Red Tip’, and the plain green form of P. alpinus, and P. nivalis which makes a nice little groundcover.

Finally I shall mention a couple of Asian conifers: Podocarpus macrophyllus, which is often sold as a houseplant though it is actually completely hardy outdoors in the Northwest. With its huge strappy leaf-ish “needles” it hardly even looks like a conifer. And Cephalotaxus harringtonia is a fun plant with a tiered branching habit and dark green needles. It does great in the shade, and both of these will appreciate summer water.

That’s all for now. Thanks for reading, and we hope to see you soon!
Ian & Co.
The Desert Northwest
PO Box 3475
Sequim, WA 98382
mail@desertnorthwest.com
http://www.desertnorthwest.com

NEWSLETTER: Weekend Open House featuring New Zealand and Chilean Plants!!

Fellow Heroes of Horticulture,

It’s a spectacular summer and this weekend comes our summer open house! As usual the details and directions are posted on our web site.

Hey, we’re actually having a real summer this year, and by the end of it, you are certain to be tired of watering, if you aren’t already. It’s time to start planning NOW to make your garden more drought resistant with plants that are easy to grow and don’t need a lot of water! Yeah, I know, I am probably preaching to the choir.

It doesn’t look like I will get a chance to update the web list before this weekend (here and here), so allow me to highlight some of the more exciting plants we have that are available for purchase and look great now! However, the web list is very nearly still up to date – we haven’t sold out of much in the last two months. I probably need to add a few things to the list soon, which may explain why some of the plants I am about to tempt you with are not listed on the web site.

Our New Zealand and Chilean plant sections are looking particularly good this summer, in terms of both selection and quality! Plants from both regions are very well adapted here, since central Chile and New Zealand are at approximately the same latitude as we are, and with a strongly maritime climate similar to ours. Central Chile even has a summer dry period like ours, while New Zealand plants are frequently adapted to gritty soils and tough enough to take our summer drought without any help once established, or nearly so, depending on the soil/site. In any case, New Zealand plants are perfect for Northwest gardens that are close to salt water.

Among the best New Zealand plants for Northwest gardens are the Olearias. These daisy shrubs are fun and easy to grow and many of them reward the gardener with showy white flowers, which are fragrant on some species (notably O. x haastii) and may appear in late summer when little else in blooming (O. x haastii and O. avicennifolia). We have many of these to choose from now, in a variety of sizes from 4” on up to 5 gallon for O. macrodonta and O. avicennifolia. Other Olearias in our selection occur the huge-growing O. traversiorum, fine-textured O. lineata and O. solandri, and well-behaved grey-leafed shrubs O. x mollis and O. moschata – lots of options!

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The fragrant Olearia x haastii putting on a show in late July.

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Olearia macrodonta, a spring bloomer, with Phormiums.

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Olearia x mollis putting on a show in a planting bed with Phormium and others.

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Olearia avicennifolia blooming in August!

Check out this cool picture. That’s Hymenanthera crassifolia, which we don’t have our own image of yet. Evergreen and drought tolerant, with LOADS of shiny purple fruit, it’s pretty great! This is one of those plants that no one ever buys because they don’t know what it does. But now you have no excuse. We also have H. alpina, which has narrower leaves.

Some New Zealand plants have strongly divaricate juvenile foliage, thought to be an adaptation to prevent grazing by moas, which is pretty fun. Corokia cotoneaster is the well-known example, but we also have the much larger-growing Aristotelia fruticosa available now, and a hardy form of Leptospermum scoparium, the New Zealand Tea Tree (which isn’t strictly divaricate, but has similarly tiny, tough leaves).

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Divaricate growth habit of Corokia cotoneaster.

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Leptospermum scoparium, the source of tea tree oil.

Everyone seems to have forgotten about Hebes (technically Veronicas) for some reason – perhaps because too many of the tender varieties were marketed and then wiped out in recent cold winters, and now people are afraid to try all of them. Yet, as the discriminating gardener will note, the numerous hardy species that remain are still excellent garden plants, requiring little care and always looking great. Try Hebe ‘Blue Mist’, with conspicuous blue flowers; ‘Quicksilver’, which has tiny silvery leaves, or ‘Western Hills’, a nice mounding shrub with greyish foliage and white flowers.

And I’ll just mention a couple other New Zealand odds and ends. Astelias are very cool – like silvery Phormiums, and they are hardy in the Northwest (except frost pockets) once established if they are provided really good drainage: a scree garden is ideal. We now offer the spectacular A. chathamica and the red-tinted A. nervosa ‘Westland’. Podocarpus totara ‘Aurea’ is a small coniferous tree with foliage that is bright gold in full sun. Also we now have, for the first time in years, Carmichaelia australis, one of the elusive New Zealand ‘tree brooms’; though this one is more of a shrub, at least it is hardy!

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Astelia chathamica looking fine, and this picture was taken after a hard freeze.

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Podocarpus totara ‘Aurea’

Let’s take a look at a few exciting Chilean plants. We seem to have a whole lot of Azaras right now. These plants are wonderful evergreen shrubs or small trees with flowers that are either showy, fragrant, or both. They are moderately drought-resistant and don’t mind being in either sun or partial shade. Our current selection includes, in a variety of sizes, A. microphylla, A. microphylla ‘Variegata’, A. dentata, A. aff. uruguayensis, A. lanceolata, A. petiolaris, and A. serrata – more than you will find anywhere, probably! (I’m not sure how that happened.)

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Azara lanceolata blooming in April in Seattle. I bet you never knew Azara could be this showy – it looks like an Acacia!

Luma and Eucryphia continue to look great with a good selection to choose from. These are evergreen large shrubs or small trees with showy white flowers, which again are very easy to grow, unfussy, and moderately tolerant of dry conditions once established. We have L. apiculata and E. nymanensis ‘Nymansay’ in about any size you could want, but also a good stock of L. chequen, and a selected hardy form of L. apiculata, as well as Eucryphia x intermedia and the rather rare, small-leafed E. x hybrida.

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Eucryphia x nymansensis blooming prolifically in August in Bremerton. Bees love the flowers!

In the ‘odds and ends’ department, Aristotelia chilensis is looking great. This very vigorous and easy shrub produces tasty edible fruit that is attractive to birds. Gunnera magellanica is a cute little groundcover with glossy green leaves suitable for a moderately moist spot in the garden. And if cute things aren’t your cup of tea, Dasyphyllum diacanthoides is a giant tree-sized daisy relative that gets 60′ tall and has spiny leaves.

Finally, Chile has a number of exciting conifers, like the rare Fitzroya cupressoides (Patagonian cypress), which we have in plenty in 1 gallon pots. Prumnopitys andina and Podocarpus salignus are two beautiful Chilean conifers in the Podocarpaceae family with a soft texture and very graceful habit of growth; also available now in a variety of sizes.

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Beautiful new weeping foliage on Podocarpus salignus. I think I just posted this a couple months ago on my blog, but hey, it’s such a great plant that one more time won’t hurt!

And as long as we’re talking conifers, I’ll mention a few hard-to-find Northwest natives we have in stock now. Cupressus bakeri (Modoc Cypress) is a very special native tree from the Siskyous that does great here in a dry spot. Juniperus maritima is a very special native of the ‘Salish Sea’ area that is rarely available. We also have Cupressus pygmaea from Northern California, and a local collection of Taxus brevifolia (Pacific Yew). Hurry and buy them all so I don’t have to put them on the web site – ha ha.

Well if you have read this far, your level of plant-geekiness is certainly sufficient to make a visit to the Desert Northwest this weekend, or any time really, a rewarding trip. Learning from last year, we have tried to schedule the summer open house for a weekend when not much else is going on in Sequim. The weather promises to cool off just enough not to be blasting hot in our greenhouses – so it ought to be perfect. Thanks for reading and we hope to see you soon!

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

Several Fun Conifers, Facebook in General, Web Update

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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…

The Unrealized Allure of Northwest Native Plants

I feel like I mentioned this previously, but earlier this year I heard a well-known speaker (not Richard Hartlage or anybody) give a presentation in which he described the set of Northwest native plants that are useful in gardens/landscapes as “all eight of them.” It is clear that there is much more work to be done… no, that I have much more work to do, to educate people about the vast array of native plants that are, in fact, valuable garden subjects, and not boring. So to wrap up this series on native plants (for now anyways – at least until I write something else about them) I present this third and (if we’re lucky) final installment on the subject, to try to convince you that native plants are, in fact, exciting. Think of it like the third movie in a trilogy: as such, we can only hope that the second post ended disappointingly enough to make this one look good.

To start with, some of you might be wondering by now, what’s a dryland plant? Is that different from a native plant? Had I been giving myself a little more time to proofread and edit these posts for clarity, I would have been more careful to define terms first. Oh well, better late than never.

Furthermore, it may have sounded like I contradicted myself by stating (essentially) most native plants like shade, “and thus make poor choices for urban gardens” and then going on to allude to all these exciting native plants that are out there that people “should be growing.” Huh? – am I making sense at all? What are all these supposedly great plants that are out there; and if they’re so great, why don’t we know about them already? This post is to clear up some of these questions, and to hopefully get gardeners a little more excited about some of our lesser-known native species.

So, here is the deal with native plants, and dryland plants. It is easy to look at an undisturbed native forest and be overawed at the grandeur of giant trees. We think, wow, here nature is at its climax! – and rightly so. Where it is easy to go wrong is when we conclude that this “climax” supports the widest possible selection of native species. We often have a seemingly inherent tendency to associate lushness with diversity. Perhaps that is because we have all been taught that the amazon rainforest contains tens of thousands of species per acre, or something. Which may be true, but things are different in the tropics.

In reality, in the Pacific Northwest, as well as many other temperate regions of the world (one might make an exception for China, but I have never been there), a mature native forest supports only a relatively limited number of plant species. They represent a climax of successional maturity, but not of diversity. To find the greatest diversity of plants, you have to look elsewhere than our lowland forests. Plant diversity increases as you go up in altitude (exposed subalpine and alpine areas), and east (rainshadows and deserts), as well as south. Basically, the more trees you leave behind, the more room you have for a diverse range of sun-loving dryland species. That is why it is easily possible to “get out in nature” in western Washington and not see much of horticultural interest, until you venture away from the lowlands.

So, if we’re looking for interesting native plants to add to our gardens, we need to look up (alpine natives) and east (dryland natives). Now some of you might be thinking, “But I don’t want a rock garden!” (I can’t imagine why not, but we won’t go there for now.) Ok, so skip the alpines, and just go with dryland natives. There are still hundreds from which to choose (well, potentially, if nurseries start growing them).

Dryland native plants are those that occur in the open forests and deserts on the east slope of the Cascade range and beyond, and in a few localized drier places on the west side, especially within the Olympic Rainshadow. That means west of the Cascades, these plants are not common in the wild, nor are they as diverse as on the east side. The important thing characterizing all of them is their ability to tolerate sun, and our period of summer drought. (More broadly, dryland plants can those be from anywhere in the world that occur in similar dry open forests, deserts, or scrub: think of the Mediterranean region, for example. But that goes beyond the topic of this post.)

Now fortunately for us, urban gardens offer the perfect situation for many dryland plants (native or otherwise). Sometimes older neighborhoods are heavily treed; but many are not: there are large areas of the city with plenty of sun. It is in the city that rockeries to provide drainage, walls to reflect heat, and pavement abound. Also, water tends to be expensive: why plant stuff that is going to need a lot of water for its whole life? Dryland plants and urban gardens really are a match made in heaven, if not in a “hell strip.”

What kind of plants am I talking about? Well, when was the last time you saw a Ribes aureum or Artemisia tridentata in a Seattle garden? How about never? Because when you go to a nursery specializing in native plants, they mostly sell the usual limited palette of boring, lowland forest plants, and maybe a few of the easiest and most common alpines (Potentilla fruticosa, Artemisia ludoviciana). This, I suppose, is largely from a lack of awareness that so many other great native plants exist; and to the extent that nurseries are aware of them, they haven’t figured out how to grow them yet, and/or recognized the potential market for such plants.

So, what to do if you want to learn more about these plants? We Northwesterners seem to be somewhat lacking in resources for people interested in exploring and growing our native plants. There are some field guides available of varying quality, and there may be some books about our native alpines or other web sites devoted to this topic that I am not aware of. (Let me know, please!) The only really noteworthy reference I know of specifically dedicated to the cultivation of Northwest Native Plants is Arthur Kruckeberg’s Gardening with Native Plants of the Pacific Northwest. Now before continuing on to discuss a couple of books, I must firmly establish that these are, in fact, excellent and very valuable works, authored by true experts in their field. It’s going to sound like I’m complaining about their shortcomings with nothing positive to say. That is not the case at all: I simply wish to make a point that there is a lot about these plants that we don’t know. The dilemma is, how can a noted author or expert speak with authority on a topic when the knowledge isn’t available in the first place? How do we know whether or not Krascheninnikovia lanata thrives in a sunny Seattle garden until someone has tried it?

So in Kruckeberg’s book, numerous dryland natives are mentioned, but with a lot of talk of “this is really happier east of the Cascades” as if we don’t dare try to grow them on the west side. I cannot help but wonder how many of these have actually been attempted west of the Cascades in the kind of conditions they prefer (i.e. sun, and no summer water once established). The much shorter commentary on these compared to well-known forest natives leads me to suspect that some of these plants may have been attempted once without success and then given up on, or not tried at all. I don’t really know that for a fact, and I may well be entirely wrong; but I do note that some of the comments in this book do not agree with my personal experience. Penstemons, for example, are accused of being “spectacular” but also “short-lived.” “Short-lived” has not been the case for me: they lived for years and years, even when I grew them in rainy Olympia, on heavy clay soil. (Heck, they’re probably still there!) My conclusion: if you want Penstemons to live longer, just don’t water them so much!

And why can’t we extend this principle to most of our other dryland native plants as well? Let’s be sure to give plants a fair chance before we dismiss them. Once again, I don’t know how extensively some of the plants described by Kruckeberg were tried, so I acknowledge the possibility that I may be quite incorrect. Or maybe I’m just halfway incorrect: perhaps half of them will grow here under drier conditions, and half of them still won’t no matter what you try. (Like I said, I have a lot of work to do!) Maybe Kruckeberg’s perspective on dryland plants is reflective of a time when there were still a lot more undeveloped/wooded pockets in the greater Seattle area than there are today: perhaps the region in general felt a little more forested and less urban than it is today, when the book was first authored.

In what is probably my favorite native plant book right now, Wildflowers of the Pacific Northwest by Mark Turner and Phyllis Gustafson, the authors note that they “put particular emphasis on central and eastern Washington and Oregon and on the Klamath-Siskyou region in southern Oregon and northern California because most other field guides have glossed over these areas.” Wonderful, hooray for them, I say. Now if only gardening references would do the same! Even they, however, admit the shortcomings of their book. It is quite comprehensive, but not quite complete. Some plants are not pictured, only described briefly under the headings for related species; others are skipped over entirely. And of course, since it is not a gardening book, it only describes what the plants look like and where they can be found, not how to cultivate them. (Of course that’s perfectly appropriate for a field guide.) They also exclude any plants that don’t fall under the category of “Wildflowers,” such as our native trees and ferns. And finally, the photography is outstanding and more than worth the price of the book even if it lacked descriptions; but when you only see a close-up flower photo of Purshia tridentata or Luina hypoleuca, you are likely to think “what an ugly little flower” without knowing how cool the plant is when you see a whole one. So that’s not a complaint against the book itself, just an inherent shortcoming of a book of its nature and scope: you can’t get a feel for what many of these plants will look like in their entirety, or how they could potentially be used in the garden, from a book of this type. This book is excellent, and a valuable reference: get it anyways!

So, as far as I can tell, there is not really any one reference that brings it all together, communicating the exciting world of Northwest native plants in its entirety to a broad audience. While Kruckeberg’s book is excellent, I am daring to question whether some of the statements presented are not worthy of challenge. (Also, the book might have achieved broader appeal with more color pictures, especially of more obscure and interesting species. Having color pictures alongside the plants always helps make a book more accessible too, but I know that also makes it more expensive – oh well.) Wildflowers of the Pacific Northwest is superb, but it is a field guide, with its inherent limitations. Plants of Western Oregon, Washington and British Columbia by Eugene N. Kozloff contains an excellent collection of photos in the center section, but again most of these are close-up, and the text of the book is primarily botanical in nature with few tips for gardeners. (I won’t comment further on that one, because I haven’t looked at it very much, except for the photos.) And of course Hitchcock and Cronquist are great, but 98% of people, in other words most normal people, are not going to get excited about native plants from reading that!

Anyway, if you want to see more than eight species of garden-worthy native plants, you may need to get off the beaten path. Forget about looking in nurseries. Go explore for them in the wild. Go east! Go up! Follow the field guides and wildflower hike books, but don’t forget to look at everything – the ferns, trees, and plants that may have nondescript flowers but excellent foliage and form. And then recall that they’re perhaps not so difficult to grow as commonly believed. Maybe someday people will figure this out and we will see more of them in our nurseries and gardens.

Ceanothus integerrimus, a dryland naitve that is very showy and easy to grow.

Lomatium utriculatum, “Fine-leaf desert parsley” is a neat little dryland plant that even occurs west of the Cascades. I photographed it here in the Olympic Mountain foothills not far from our nursery.

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