January 31, 2011

Evergreen in Zone 5, Huh?

This post is a followup to my post last year on which evergreens actually looked good by midwinter in my zone 5 garden. The 'Queen Charlotte' violet surprised me with fresh-looking green leaves and an actual flower (in January! - a miracle for sure), but be warned that the rest of the photos are more dreary. Honestly I feel like I'm posting pictures of my armpits - very unsavory - but here are the facts on the evergreen situation.

The Sagina subuluta groundcover looks about the same color as it is in summer - with some straw-colored bits mixed in. It doesn't make a huge statement at less than an inch tall, but it's nice to see some patches of green on the ground.

I had high hopes for my two 'Green Tower' boxwoods (click on the name for more info from Monrovia), and they're looking OK but not spectacular. They aren't totally bronze like so many boxwoods, but they aren't a very 'fresh' shade of green, either. Some of the long stems were sticking out sideways (like a bad hair day) after heavy snow, but they have mostly recovered now that the snow has melted.

The only juniper I find attractive, super-hardy 'Blue Star', is of course looking fine despite the cold and snow. You can see the touch of pink in its needles that appears during the cold months. Other types of needle-leaved evergreens do well here in tree or shrub form - arborvitaes, spruces, firs, pines - but they just seem boring and prickly to me, so I don't have any in my yard.

These hellebore leaves are growing in full winter shade on the north side of our home, and the leaves are still a beautiful green but buds have not yet formed. I figured out that if I want my hellebores to bloom before May, they have to get some winter sun. Of course they need summer shade, so planting under deciduous trees is perfect. Their leaves turn brown faster with winter sun, but in exchange I'll get early flowers. All of my other hellebores are getting winter sun and have buds formed and blotchy brown leaves.

The various heucheras in my yard are looking OK, if a bit flattened by the snow. Above is 'Lime Rickey'. 'Green Spice', 'June Bride', 'Prince of Purple', and 'Autumn Bride' all look similar, with slightly faded colors from summer. They'd look better if I would clean out the brown leaves around them, but that hasn't happened yet.

The Juncus spiralis 'Corkscrew' clumps still look pretty good, and they bounce back from the snow easily.

This photo shows Thymus 'Elfin' in front, Penstemon 'Elfin Pink' on the left (how cute, the Elfins are together), and Aubrieta 'Axcent Blue' on the right. All of these plants are doing fairly well this year. The grey thyme looks dreary, but perhaps it's better than bare earth? The penstemon leaves are holding up better this year than last year, looking wilted but green. And the aubrieta even has a few small violet flowers on some plants.

The 'Big Blue' liriope is pale and listless, but still somewhat green. Again, better than bare earth, I guess.

The poor 'Otto Luyken' laurels look like a joke, with the top halves burned brown by subzero temperatures and the bottom halves pretty green where they were protected by snow. They looked better last year. Here's hoping that the stems are still alive and the brown leaves are quickly replaced by green ones during their spring flush of growth.

I'll finish with a 'Golden Lotus' hellebore bud to show that there is hope for spring eventually! As you can see my grand plans for including non-needle-leaved evergreens in the garden haven't been as successful as hoped. At least all the boulders are looking good. It's so hard to find the right balance between winter interest and summer interest in zone 5 - with every 'boring' evergreen shrub you plant, you give up space for flowers and interesting foliage in the summer. Even though our growing season is shorter than most, I spend so much more time outside during that time of year that I'll probably keep weighting my garden toward summer interest. What's your opinion on the right balance?

January 24, 2011

Cut Flowers for January

Even though my mother isn't a huge flower fanatic like me (I inherited that from my dad), she always buys herself some cut flowers in January. She says it's cheaper than a session with a psychiatrist and just as helpful for the mild depression that's hard to escape during a grey Washington January.

Last week I took her advice and picked up a bouquet of roses from Costco. Only $15 for two dozen roses, and they perked up my mood nicely. I put them in a ceramic bowl that my grandmother passed off to me. What a family affair.

Roses don't last nearly as long as carnations, which is why I brought my grandmother a vase of carnations in her favorite colors: coral, hot pink, and a bicolor carnation that brought the two colors together.

If you're battling the January greys (which are even worse than the blues, by the way), I hope you have enough left in your budget to pick up a few cut flowers to bring home. If not, you can enjoy these pictures instead. No matter what others say, I think eye candy is good for the soul.

January 10, 2011

Tips for Ordering Plants by Mail

If you are planning to order plants from a catalog or website, here are a few tips that I've learned from past experiences. Why order by mail? I grew up watching my dad order plants from catalogs. He lived in a small town with few nurseries close by, so catalogs were the only way to get much of a selection. Catalogs and the internet offer an endless selection of plants that you may not be able to find locally. The pictures in this post don't have much to do with the words - they're just random photos that haven't fit into other posts yet. Above is 'Eglantyne' rose.

I have learned that even if my favorite local nursery (Gibson's - which is just a mile or two away from home) doesn't have a plant in stock, they can often order it to be delivered on the truck that's coming anyway in a week or two. This is a better deal than ordering online, because I don't have to pay shipping, and I get a 1-gallon perennial instead of a 2- or 3-inch pot (which is what often comes by mail) for the same price. After looking at 'Summerwine' yarrow (Achillea) in catalogs all last summer, I happened upon it in during the fall clearance at Gibson's. I brought home a hefty plant for just $7.50. I was glad I hadn't paid twice that much plus shipping to order it online. Above is Salvia 'Victoria' or 'Evolution' - I can't remember.

If you can't find a plant locally, it's easy to research a new catalog or internet nursery through GardenWatchdog. When you type in the name or zip code of the company, you'll find ratings of plant quality and customer service from past customers. The 'Watchdog 30' list shows the 30 top rated companies and is a good place to find a reputable mail-order company. I've been pleased with plants from Bluestone Perennials, Oakes Daylilies and Forestfarm, all of which are on the top 30 list. Above is 'Vintage Pink' double petunia.

When buying groceries with kids in tow, I'm a big fan of one-stop shopping. But I don't order plants that way. I love finding a nursery that specializes in the plant I'm craving and searching through their huge selection for the perfect cultivar(s) for my garden. These types of nurseries know just how to handle their specialty plants, so you'll get a quality, well-cared for plant in the mail. I've had good experiences with these specialty nurseries: Swenson Gardens for peonies, Joe Pye Weed's Garden for siberian iris, Swan Island Dahlias, White Oak Nursery for daylilies and hostas, and David Austin Roses for english roses. Above is 'Rozanne' geranium.

When catalogs sell out of some plants, they often substitute something similar. That drives me crazy! The reason I order by mail is so I can get exactly what I want. If you don't want subs, make sure you indicate it on your order. Try to order early to reduce the chances that your plant is sold out. Last year I ordered a 'super poppy' from Heronswood and forgot to tell them 'no subs'. They sent me two plants of a different kind of poppy instead. Although it was generous for them to substitute two plants for the one I had ordered, they were the wrong color for my garden and I had to give them away. I don't want to bash Heronswood - I love their hellebores! - but I'll be sure to write 'no subs' on my order next time. Above is 'Endless Summer' hydrangea.

Are you obsessive compulsive about color like me? While considering a plant from an online nursery, it's easy to open another tab and google the plant's name to find pictures of it in real gardens. I'm always wary of 'true blue' pictures in catalogs, because so few plants are actually blue. If you see a blue rose, tulip or daylily offered, be aware that it will be lavender in real life. Although siberian irises can be true blue, you can see that the 'Blueberry Fair' flower above is actually blue-violet.

Finally, remember that the prettiest catalog doesn't necessarily have the best plants or best values. I order something every once in a while from White Flower Farm so they'll keep sending me their luscious catalogs, but I can often find a better value elsewhere. Van Engelen's paper catalog doesn't include any photos (though their website does), but their bulb prices are amazing.
I hope these tips help make your mail-order experience better! If you have some words of wisdom, please leave a comment to share. Above is Forget Me Not (Myosotis), which is a very true blue.

January 3, 2011

Beautiful Backlit Bougainvillea

Sunlight, flowers and warmer weather were waiting for us when we visited California over the holidays. Our kids were happy to see Grandma and Papa, and I enjoyed photographing some of the flowers.

These pictures are of Bougainvillea, a flowering vine that is commonly grown in California but never seen outside the greenhouse in Spokane. Since this plant is native to the mild parts of Brazil, it's only hardy in zones 9b and 10.

The showy flowers aren't really flowers at all, but papery bracts. Flowering happens best when the plant is a bit stressed, so gardeners have to be careful not to overwater.

Bougainvillea vines are almost as common as Agapanthus in California, and I wonder if some gardeners there tire of them. I didn't have time to get bored with them during the three years we lived in Silicon Valley.

Since this plant is relatively pest-free and drought tolerant once established, it's a great fit for California gardens. I won't be attempting to grow it as a houseplant, so please enjoy it for me if it grow in your climate!