Creating Beautiful
Whidbey Island Landscapes


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

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A horse of a different color

I had ten yards of arborist chips delivered last week for mulching the garden beds.  The delivery man said, “Wow, you’ve got the thickest stand of horsetail I’ve ever seen on this island.”  Now I like commiserating as much as the next gardener, but shouldn’t he have offered a compliment first?  Or maybe he was . . .The horsetail is rather lush looking.  I have a very healthy 12′ x 100′  swath of it down one entire side of my garden.

The good news is that shrubs and the horsetail seem to co-exist quite happily.

Potentilla with horsetail

Potentilla with horsetail

The bad news is that you can’t even see the choice perennials that I sometimes succumb to. Maybe there’s a lesson there too.  Can I get rid of the horsetail?  I don’t think so.  Here’s what hasn’t worked: lime; gravel; covering a patch with black plastic to burn it out; pulling; mulching with compost, bark or wood chips.  We did some drainage work last spring to dry things out a bit, are now just snapping the horsetail stems at ground level and are adding high nitrogen via blood meal.  We’ll see whether those things plus doing more dense planting of shrubs will help convince the horsetail to eventually go the way of its pals, the dinosaurs.   But the horsetail has those thousands of years of survival skills on its side.  I’d better starting learning to live with it.

I’ve had to do some serious rethinking about beauty and what makes a good garden since moving to Whidbey’s more rural environment as in: a gravel drive needs some softening grass in it; windswept trees and shrubs are picturesque; the deer are always with us;  caterpillars drop nutrient rich poop.  I’m not so in charge here as I was in my suburban garden and most of the time that’s the way I like it.

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Aquilegia sp?

I love it when I find a plant that has seeded itself into my garden – like this columbine with stunning red stems and purple-flushed leaves or when I spy a cultivated plant like ajuga that has snuck its way into the grass at the side of the road.

Ajuga in the grass.

Ajuga in the grass.

I do promise to not share plants that may have shared the ground with horsetail as any little bit of root can regrow and populate quicky.  Obviously.  Because one gardener’s groundcover is another’s scourge.

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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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