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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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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Summer Blues – Catananche caerulea

 

One of my favorite summer flowers is Cupid’s Dart, because the lavender-blue flowers are a nice contrast or complement to almost any other color in my garden and the wiry stems weave in and out, knitting other plants together and filling in the blank spots.

with Linaria purpurea

Cupid’s Dart is a short-lived perennial, but self sows politely.  In my garden, the center of two or three year old plants die out, but new plants emerge just at the edges.  The two foot stems rise up from a one foot clump and can sometimes be a bit floppy, so it’s wise to plant where it can be supported by other plants.

with Nassella tenuissima and Nicotiana alata

Given its Mediterranean origins, it seems logical that most sources say to plant Cupid’s Dart in full sun with good drainage.  But I’ve also had luck with it planted in my entry garden which is soggy all winter.

with Rudbeckia fulgida 'Goldstrum'

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