Creating Beautiful
Whidbey Island Landscapes


that celebrate the unique history, ecology and character of our island home.

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Winter Jewel

Cyclamen coum

Cyclamen coum

Cyclamen coum is now blooming in my entry garden under a lilac and  Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’.   In summer, it is completely dormant (disappears underground) only to have the  mottled foliage reappear in late autumn and early winter.  The flowers can appear as early as late December and are usually some shade of pink through magenta with darker markings at the base, but some are white flowered as well.    It is reputedly one the few plants that will tolerate the dense shade of our native conifers and deciduous trees. I’d like to give this a try sometime.  Cyclamen coum is drought resistant and will naturalize  slowly by seed.  It grows best  in light to dappled shade and well-drained soil.    There is a lovely thick patch under the paperbark maple in the winter garden at the Washington Park Arboretum.

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Witch Hazel

Hamamelis x intermedia 'Pallida'

Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Pallida’

The exquisitely fragrant, spidery flowers of witchhazels are a welcome winter surprise . Here is Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Pallida’ now blooming in my garden.  The bonus of planting a witchhazel is that it also has beautiful fall color.  The wide shape and relatively high branching habit of witchhazels allows and calls for a primarily evergreen underplanting of  lower companion plants –  late-winter-interest ones  such as hellebore,  sarcococca, cyclamen coum, gladwynn iris  or summer-interest foliage such as ferns or grasses. Witchhazels thrive in rich well-drained soil, but also tolerate sand and clay if drainage is adequate. They like  a location with full sun to light or open shade.  The best flowering is encouraged with regular water during dry spells, but they can also tolerate less water after they’ve established.   Minimal pruning is needed and is preferred to maintain its graceful  form.

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Sarcococca

Sarcococca

Sarcococca

I stopped at Bayview Farm and Garden Nursery this week just to walk down this covered walkway where Sarcococca or Sweetbox is traditionally on display this time of year.  This is a perfect spot for it –  shaded, cool and right near the doorway where all can enjoy the intoxicating fragrance.

The three species most commonly available are Sarcococca confusa, Sarcococca ruscifolia and Sarcococca hookeriana var. humilis.  Sarcococca confusa and ruscifolia mature into evergreen shrubs about 4 feet tall and wide. S. confusa has blue-black berries and S. ruscifolia has red berries.   Sarcococca hookeriana var. humilis is a slowly suckering shrub, also evergreen, that matures to about 18″ tall and makes a nice little hedge.  A new species in my garden,  Sarcococca hookeriana var. digyna ‘Purple Stem’  has paler and longer leaves, more noticeable pink in the flowers, a purple cast to the stems and is stol0niferous (spreads by underground runners).   All like shade and must have protection from direct sun. Sarcococca prefers rich, moist soil but will  tolerate drought – even under eaves once  established –  which can take a few years.  All should be perfectly hardy in our climate.

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Plant Memories

We’ve had a lot of life events in our family this past year – wedding, death and a new baby on the way.   I like to mark occasions with the planting of a tree.  Much of the beauty of a garden is short-lived, but most trees live a long life given proper planting and care and it’s nice  to think that someday (quite a few years from now) when we’re gone, my children and grandchildren could walk down our road and say, “Look, there’s the tree that was planted for me.”

Two years ago, we planted a Liriodendron tulipifera / Tulip Tree to honor the marriage of our daughter A. and son-in-law, T.  A loves all kinds of magnolias and their relatives and they had a huge Liriodendron in their backyard in Brooklyn,  NY.  They lived on the third floor of a brownstone so they could see into the blooms at the top of the tree that most often go unnoticed from down below.

Liriodendron tulipifera

Another daughter, another A. married son-in-law S. this July.  This past weekend we planted Quercus robur / English oak in their honor.  Unbeknownst to each other, they both spent time in England as young adults, at the same time!  Both were English majors and have interests in British history and poetry.  S. requested that the tree be big enough to hold a swing for children or grandchildren.  I don’t know that I can deliver on that one – I planted the biggest specimen I thought would survive and flourish in our landscape.  For a now, we’ll just have to build a swing next to the tree.

Quercus robur

We said good-bye to our beloved golden retriever, Bunter this summer.  In remembrance of her, we planted Cornus ‘Starlight’ / dogwood in the corner of our property where she liked to chase rabbits.    ‘Starlight’ is a cross between our native dogwood, Cornus nutallii and Cornus kousa, noted for high resistance to the diseases powdery mildew and anthracnose.  Next year there will be white summer flowers, showy fruit and fall color.

Cornus 'Starlight'

We’re looking forward to the birth of our first grandchild, a boy at the end of the year.  I’ll think about what to plant for him while I’m out watering the trees. . . .

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Late blooming Ken

Tropaeolum tuberosum var. lineamaculatum ‘Ken Aslet’ my climbing, perennial nasturtium finally started blooming on our vegetable garden fence this week.    It’s a reminder to keep up with the plant data base I started just this year.  If Ken had been entered two years ago when I purchased him I could have checked the notes to see whether this year’s late bloom was an anomaly or perhaps whether I have in fact the straight species which does bloom later.   The hummingbirds are back and unbothered by my puzzle.

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Asters, Fall Fireworks

The simple form and  association with meadows make asters a must have in our garden.  I also appreciate the late season boost of color.

Asters are sun-loving and require good drainage – but don’t make the mistake of letting them dry out or they are prone to mildew.  I pinch asters back in early summer but still stake them as they inevitably flop and don’t live up to their potential.   I’ve been able to keep the rabbits at bay by spraying.  So far the deer don’t seem interested. Slugs can be a problem early in the spring.   I’ll be looking to add more asters, particularly A. laevis ‘Calliope’ with purple tinted stems, purple blooms with yellow centers ‘ and A. lateriflorus ‘Prince’ with purple-black stems and small white blooms with a pink center.

Aster x frikartii ‘Monch’ started blooming earlier than most other asters and is almost finished here.  It is shorter (2-3′), self-supporting, hasn’t been even nibbled by the rabbits and deer here and since it is blue, is my favorite aster.

Aster x frikartii 'Monch'

Aster nova-angliae  ‘Alma Potschke’  is a later bloomer (still blooming here), 3-4′ tall with a striking color in bud and bloom.

Aster novae-angliae 'Andenken an Alma Pötschke'

Aster nova-angliae ‘Treasure’ is also a later bloomer (still blooming here). It grows to 3-4′ tall. Look carefully and you can see the grow-through plant supports that work particularly well with asters.

Aster nova-angliae 'Treasure'

 

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6 Months Later

Here’s an update to a project I started in April.  (See the post “Thank goodness for the Mr.”)  The goal was to create a native or native looking area along our little dirt road that would eventually create some privacy and cut down on the dust.  A little like a loose hedgerow.  The first task was to eliminate the sod while retaining as much organic material as possible.  As I’d done successfully many times before, I laid down newsprint and piled compost on top.  Only this time, it didn’t work so well.  I am now in the process of digging out many weeds.  I think the lesson learned this time was:  Do not scrimp on the mulch.  4″ seems to be the minimum and 6″ would have been better.

A glimpse of what the garden will look like once the plants start maturing and touching each other.

Plants for the Roundabout Hedgerow

You can see the Mr. and his weeding bucket just past the little Siberian spruce.

Weeding the Roundabout Hedgerow

We got a good start on the planting.  No matter how many times I do it,  I’m always surprised at how small the plants look when they first go in.

Roundabout hedgerow, October 2011

The Greenbank deer and rabbits don’t seem to be interested in my Spiraea, so I am planting Spiraea betulifolia ‘Tor.’

Spiraea betuifolia 'Tor'

 

close up, Spiraea betuifolia 'Tor'

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Crocosmia – do you have to go so soon?

The last of the crocosmia flowers in my garden will be just a memory by the end of this week.  I grant them a well-earned rest after starting their show in mid summer and continuing the run all through late summer and into fall.

Crocosmia or Montbretia are native to South Africa. There are hundreds of beautiful, easy to grow cultivars on the market.  (See http://www.thecrocosmiagardens.net/5330361).   Crocosmia do best in fertile, moisture retentive, well-drained soil.  They will grow and flower in sun or part sun, but excessive shade may cause them to sprawl. Some are clump-forming and others tend to spread about.   There is some disagreement over whether to cut back the brown foliage in late fall (seems to me this is a good idea to prevent disease) or whether to allow the dead foliage to protect the corms over the winter.  The larger flowered cultivars can be a bit tender, so maybe this is a good alternative for them or you could give them a light mulch instead.  Buy the corms in spring or as plants later towards the summer.

Here are the cultivars I currently grown in my garden.  I think I’ll look for ‘Emily McKenzie’ next spring . . . .

Crocosmia x crocosmiiflora ‘George Davison’ is a vigorous clumper with beautiful red and orange buds and first to flower.

Crocosmia x crocosmiiflora 'George Davison'

 

New this year, from a friend  is C. crocosmiiflora ‘Colton Fishacre.’  Look at that bronze foliage.

Crocosmia x crocosmiiflora 'Colton Fishacre'

Crocosmia x crocosmiiflora 'Colton Fishacre'

 

Crocosmia ‘Star of the East” is a  spreader, that usually has these fantastic dark orange seed pods when the flowers are finished.

Crocosmia 'Star of the East'

Crocosmia 'Star of the East' seedpods

 

Crocosmia x crocosmiiflora ‘Severen Seas’ with brilliant reddish-orange tubular flowers and golden throats and a favorite among the hummingbirds was a choice gift from a friend.

Crocosmia 'Severen Seas'

 

 

 

 

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Coreopsis

One of my favorite work hard – no fuss perennials is Coreopsis verticillata ‘Moonbeam’ or Tickseed, still blooming in my garden after putting on a show (without deadheading) all summer.  It is drought tolerant once established (and needs good drainage), our Greenbank deer don’t seem to like it,  the rabbits nibbled it only in the  spring as the new foliage was emerging but then left it alone.  For combining with other plants, I especially appreciate the see through, fine texture.

 A new cultivar in my garden this year is C. verticillata ‘Sienna Sunset’ which I’m hoping will perform as well.

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Rework

One of the things I like about gardening is its physical requirements.  I am not enjoying this week of chores so much however.  I am ripping out a border adjacent to our field, one that I planned to be a drought and deer tolerant “no weed’s land”  between the field and the inner border.  I planted it shortly after we moved to Whidbey, using some tough groundcovers that I’d relied on when I lived and worked in the suburbs, such as Rubus pentalobus / Taiwan bramble,  Ceanothus gloriosus ‘Pt. Reyes’ / Point Reyes Creeper, Cistus salviifolius ‘Prostratus’ / Sageleaf Rockrose and Juniperus procumbens ‘Nana’ / Dwarf Japanese Juniper.  Of these, the only one that performed well enough to stay is the juniper, which looks good without water, is impervious to weeds, deer and rabbits.

The problem isn’t with these perfectly good plants – it’s with the placement next to a field and I’m guessing the same would happen adjacent to a wooded area where you not only get weeds creeping in (as in town) but blowing in constantly.   With most ground-hugging groundcovers, there’s  just enough tiny spaces for the weed seeds to sprout, but since the plants root along as they spread, you can’t lift branches to pull out the weeds.  Perhaps it’s also true, that with a bigger garden, I’m going to need some plants that can duke it out on their own for a longer period of time.   Plants that have worked to halt the weeds are taller – at least a foot  and allow me to pull up the “skirt” and weed underneath, if need be.  Prostanthera cuneata / Alpine Mint Bush and surprisingly enough, Nepeta ‘Walker’s Low / Catmint, a perennial are doing a great job.  Miscanthus sinensis ‘Little Kitten’ / Maiden Grass has been fiercely territorial.  So after I finally get done taking out my hard-earned lessons, it’s back to the nursery.   Along with more Prostanthera and Nepeta, I’m going to try Berberis, shrubby Cotoneaster, shrubby Potentilla, Caryopteris and some smaller mugo pines.  I’ll keep you posted.

 

 

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