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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Fall Planting

Our Garden Helpers

It seems like every year about this time we get involved in a big garden project.  Last year we created a new moist woodland garden that I am still in the process of planting.  It hasn’t been easy with two young dogs who consider the area their personal romping ground.  It is an ongoing battle of wills but l have high hopes that the garden will prevail.

Our native wild iris, Iris tenax
This fall we wanted to find a place to feature our growing collection of Pacific Coast Iris Hybrids and species.  I was considering creating another new garden space but that is so much work!  I finally realized that I already had a great spot - the dry woodland garden under a large and thirsty pine tree.  The area has become overgrown over the past few years and it is a prime candidate for cleaning out unwanted plants, amending the soil and replanting with native irises and other drought and shade tolerant perennials.

Pacific Coast Iris 'Rincon'

While many gardeners prefer to do their planting in the spring, I would rather plant in the fall.  The weather is mild and the rainy season has not yet begun in earnest.  The soil is easier to work because it is not sodden as it is in the spring.  Some gardeners worry about the cold hardiness of newly planted hardy perennials but we find that they generally do very well when planted in the fall.


Drought tolerant plants in woodland garden
Douglas Iris, Iris douglasiana
Another advantage of fall planting is that the soil temperature is still warm and this encourages plants to develop good root systems.  Fall plantings that have a chance to sink their roots deeply into the ground will need less water next summer.  We regularly add plants to our rock gardens and dryland gardens each fall.  These areas receive minimal summer water and we find that fall plantings need no extra care the following summer.  In contrast, spring plantings must be regularly monitored throughout their first season in order to survive in low water areas.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Hardy Gingers: Late Risers of the Plant World

Who would have thought that it would take until August for the last of the hardy gingers to emerge from dormancy?  Cold hardy gingers are members of the true ginger family, Zingerberaceae, and overwinter as dormant rhizomes when grown in temperate climates like ours.  They can have a very long dormant period.  What follows is the timeline we have experienced this year in our Portland, Oregon area garden.

Dormant rhizome of Hedychium gardnerianum
Roscoeas were the first gingers to emerge.  I count on them to appear from mid-May to early June each year.  I wrote about these tough and reliable perennials and their orchid-like flowers in an earlier blog post.  The several species we grow will continue to flower in our garden until fall. 

Hardy Shade Ginger, Cautleya species
The Hardy Shade Ginger, Cautleya, emerged next, in June and July. We have been impressed with the striking green and red foliage and golden flowers with red bracts.  Our plants don’t seem to be one of the three known species and we suspect they could be of hybrid origin.  Whatever their identity, Cautleya want a cool, moist spot in the woodland garden and are winter hardy in well-drained soil.

Red Butterfly Ginger, Hedychium greenii
Hedychium species including Red Butterfly Ginger, H. greenii and Garland Flower, H. coronarium, began emerging in late July.  They are growing very fast and have beautiful foliage but have yet to flower.  So far we have seen only a few growth tips of the Garland Flower, Hedychium gardnerianum.  We think it is only a matter of time before they emerge because the rhizomes remain firm and have good growth tips.  All of these Hedychiums grow rapidly to several feet in height in a single season and are lovers of bright, dappled light and moist, rich soil. 

Curcuma 'White Wonder'
And finally in mid-August, the Curcuma ‘White Wonder’ and Globba schombergkii, Golden Dancing Girls, have emerged.  Who knew dancing girls could be so shy?

It remains to be seen if these later emerging gingers will flower this season.  If fall arrives too soon, the cold weather can cause the blooms to fail.  Even without their spectacular flowers, the vertical pseudostems rising out of the ground and large linear leaves create an interesting tropical look in containers or the open garden.

Hardy Gingers with Elephant Ears
Gardeners in temperate climates must practice patience to grow hardy gingers, the late risers of the plant world.  If you grow them in garden beds, be sure to clearly mark their location so you don’t dig them up earlier in the season, as I have, trying to find an empty spot for a new plant.   The good news is that the dormant rhizome is easy to replant if you do!

Hardy ginger plants are available now at the nursery.  They will be available in our mail order catalog when dormant.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

More About Public Gardens

Kalmiopsis leachiana

I recently wrote about the closing of the Berry Botanic Garden but there are many other public gardens in our area that you can visit.  The Leach Botanical Garden has partnered with Portland Parks & Recreation and is supported by Leach Garden Friends who put on the annual spring plant sale where we participate as vendors.  Plantswoman Lila Leach created this garden and left another lasting legacy, a plant she discovered in the Siskiyou Mountains and that was named after her, Kalmiopsis leachiana.

Rock Garden At Pittock Mansion
Photo courtesy of S. Frankwick
The Pittock Mansion is another public garden run by Portland Parks & Recreation and supported by an intrepid group of Multnomah Master Gardeners.  Situated on a hilltop above Portland, visitors can tour the century old home and enjoy breathtaking views.  Like many older gardens, it includes a rock garden that is being painstakingly replanted and rejuvenated.

Elk Rock Garden is a privately owned garden that is open to the public.  It, too, has a lovely rock garden as well as native plant trails in a mature setting near the Willamette River.  The Clackamas County Gardeners recently planted a native garden at another privately owned location, Hopkins Demonstration Forest, located in rural Clackamas County near our nursery.  In Salem, The Friends of Deepwood are enhancing the native plant area at Deepwood Estate with a large collection of NW Penstemons. 
Penstemon cardwellii
 In addition to these more intimate gardens, Portland boasts world-class public gardens including the International Rose Test Garden, The Portland Japanese Garden and Chinese Garden. The Oregon Zoo has also recently renovated some of its native plant areas.

There are many more public gardens in our region and throughout the country that are worth the visit.  I invite you to take a moment and share a comment about your favorites!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Support Your Local Botanical Garden

Plant lovers from around the Pacific Northwest are making their last visits to the Berry Botanic Garden, a public garden in SW Portland.  A casualty of tough economic times, the garden will close permanently on October 1st and the property will be sold.  The garden’s mission will live on with a conservation and seedbank endowment to Portland State University.  Read more on the Berry Botanic Garden Website.

On a recent visit, we strolled the lovely woodland trails viewing plants from around the world collected by Mrs. Berry.  Mature trees form a lofty canopy and understory plantings of Himalayan Maidenhair Fern and a sea of brightly colored Primroses left lasting impressions.  Of particular interest to us were the extensive rock gardens and the large trough collection.

Many communities have gardens and plant collections open to the public.  We receive emails from gardeners throughout the country asking which plants will grow best in their garden and I suggest they visit their local botanical garden.  This is an excellent way to learn what thrives in their area, to get planting ideas and to see the eventual size of plants.

The missions of most botanical gardens are conservation, research and education, making them wonderful community resources.  I can trace my interest in gardening with native plants to the many visits I made as a child to our local public garden, The Santa Barbara Botanical Garden.  I always make a point to visit gardens wherever we travel, both in the US and abroad.  As a mail order specialty nursery, we send plants we have grown to botanical gardens throughout the country, from New York and Ohio to Alaska.

There are a number of ways to support your local botanical garden including being a frequent visitor, volunteering your time, and attending benefit plant sales and other events. If you are in the Portland Metro Area in the coming weeks, make an appointment to visit the Berry Botanic Garden.  We might see you there!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Succulents in the Garden

Succulents are one of the highlights in our mid-summer garden.  We feature sedum species at dry garden edges where they thrive and put on a pretty flowering display. Pollinators such as honey bees and tiny native bees are attracted to the flowers and growing succulents helps maintain this important group. 
Sedum ellacombianum is a particular favorite.  It is extremely cold hardy as well as being heat and drought tolerant.  The bright green foliage and yellow flowers are bright spots in the summer garden and an added plus is the golden tones of the fall foliage as it dies back for its winter dormancy.

For evergreen succulents, it is hard to beat Hens and Chicks.  Sempervivums are very cold hardy and look their best during the cold winter months, many taking on red winter blush.  Our mass planting is one of our best looking winter and early season garden areas.  Their unusual flower stalks in summer are also great for attracting pollinators.