New foundation bed, sedge lawn update, and fall color


The front garden by the house has undergone some major changes since we lost a tree last winter. But after some summer angst as formerly shaded foundation shrubs burned up, and some fixes, I’m feeling good about it again.


Here’s how it looked before, with the live oak before removal.


And here’s the stump and empty swath of lawn — the only lawn that was left in our entire yard — right after the tree came down. It happened in December, and I immediately started worrying about the Japanese maple and foundation shrubs, which would now receive a lot more sun in summer, although the north-facing house does give them some protection. I also knew that last bit of lawn had to go. I’d only kept it because it was chock-full of oak sprouts, which are easier to mow than remove by hand from a planting bed, and I hoped that once we ground out the stump, the sprouts would wither away (sadly that has not been the case).


So out came the lawn and the semicircle of metal edging that had kept it tidy. I laid a natural (not chopped) limestone edge to keep soil and mulch out of the dry stream behind it.


In February I planted rows of 4-inch ‘Scott’s Turf’ sedge (Carex sp.) from Barton Springs Nursery and a toothless sotol (Dasylirion longissimum) slightly off-center. The sedges looked so tiny!


But 7 months later, the sedge is fluffy and full — not all the way filled in yet, but close. You’ll notice one more change: the foundation bed has been replanted. That just happened. As I’d feared, the shade-loving Chinese mahonias and holly fern that had long occupied the foundation bed burned up under the Death Star’s rays.


Good riddance to the holly fern. I’d hated it. I regretted losing the Chinese mahonias, but I have others. I replaced them with two dwarf Texas palmettos (Sabal minor), as large as I could afford because they’re so slow-growing. I also shifted into more shade an ‘Everillo’ carex that was showing sun stress. Between the palmettos, for height, I placed a tall, narrow pot just outside the drip line of the eave with a ‘Pineapple Express’ mangave and silver ponyfoot. The mangave is a little too small — something with more heft would look better, like ‘Macho Mocha’ mangave — but I really wanted to try this one.


Side view


The combo of ‘Sparkler’ sedge, ‘Soft Caress’ mahonia, and ‘Everillo’ sedge by the front porch stayed pretty shady all summer thanks to the porch roof, so I was able to preserve it.


Happily, the Japanese maple at the far end came through the summer with only a little curling of its leaves by August. It’s getting a half day of morning sun now, but the other trees shade it from the afternoon sun, thank goodness.


On the sunnier side of the porch, these dry-garden plants thrive with only occasional hand-watering: toothless sotol (Dasylirion longissimum) in the tall pipe, red yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora) in the red planter, Agave ovatifolia ‘Vanzie’ on the left, dwarf myrtle (Myrtus communis ‘Nana’), and ‘Frazzle Dazzle’ dyckia (Dyckia choristaminea ‘Frazzle Dazzle’) in the small steel planter.


After the two quick deep freezes last winter, it look a long time for the normally evergreen flax lily (Dianella tasmanica ‘Variegata’) to recover, but by midsummer it was looking good again. I like how the stepping-stone path seems to cut through a swath of it — the eye reads it as one mass.


The surviving Chinese mahonia are growing in a loose hedge along the fence.


Farther out along the driveway, there’s white skullcap, bamboo muhly, and ‘Burgundy Ice’ dyckia.


And beyond that are new ‘Micron’ dwarf yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria ‘Micron’) and foxtail fern (Asparagus meyeri), plus Texas sotol (Dasylirion texana), gopher plant (Euphorbia rigida), spineless prickly pear, and golden thryallis (Galphimia gracilis).


Peeking around from my neighbors’ vantage point, there’s purple fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’) mixed in with the golden thryallis, plus gray globemallow (Sphaeralcea incana) starting to bloom.


By the street, crouching low — because this is a small plant — you see purple skullcap (Scutellaria wrightii), a super performer in a hot, sunny, gravelly site often visited by passing dogs. Not a browned spot is visible anywhere on it. Those are ‘Color Guard’ yuccas in the background.


The big ‘Green Goblet’ agave in the terraced bed on the other side of the driveway is doing well. Woolly stemodia (Stemodia lanata) carpets the ground beneath it.


Ruffled, fuzzy mullein is a silver accent.


My other sedge “lawn,” this one planted with ‘Berkeley’ sedge (Carex divulsa), is looking OK although not as fluffy as I would like.


Maybe it would be happier with more sun. At any rate, it does remain green with little maintenance. That’s a wide-leaf giant hesperaloe (Hesperaloe funifera ssp. chiangii) and white Turk’s cap (Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii ‘Alba’) on the right.


I’m always pretending the neighbors’ plantings are mine (I did plant them for them). Here’s lantana with a little Turk’s cap that self-seeded and Mexican bush sage (Salvia leucantha) in fall bloom.


The side path to the heart gate is quieter with masses of two grasses: inland sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium) and bamboo muhly (Muhlenbergia dumosa). On the cedar table…


…is a galvanized cake stand I punched a few drainage holes in, which holds some silver balls, stone hearts, a shell fossil, my friend Dustin’s cast-stone diamond, and pine cones.


Wow, the Mediterranean fan palm (Chamaerops humilis) has really grown this year. I do nothing with this — ever. So easy!


On the back deck, my little Moby Jrs are growing too.


It’s so much easier to enjoy the garden in fall — and maybe soon we’ll have actual fall temperatures along with the recent welcome rains. Come on, October!

I welcome your comments; please scroll to the end of this post to leave one. If you’re reading this in a subscription email, click here to visit Digging and find the comment box at the end of each post.
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Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

Get ready for fall garden tours in Texas! The Garden Conservancy is sponsoring Open Days tours in Fort Worth on Oct. 8th, San Antonio on Oct. 14th, and Austin on Nov. 4th.

Get on the mailing list for Garden Spark Talks. Inspired by the idea of house concerts, I’m hosting a series of garden talks by talented designers and authors out of my home. Talks are limited-attendance events and generally sell out within just a few days, so join the Garden Spark email list for early notifications. Simply click this link and ask to be added.

All material © 2006-2017 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Sunny day at Portland Japanese Garden


A trip to Portland, Oregon, wouldn’t be complete without seeing the city’s luminous Japanese garden. During our mid-August visit, we had to try twice because the first time, on a Sunday afternoon, we simply could not find any parking, even after circling for a half hour. Even on Monday at midday we waited in line 25 minutes at the admission booth to get in. This is a popular garden, y’all. (And at $14.95 a ticket, it isn’t cheap either, plus no reciprocal admissions.)


But for all that, Portland Japanese Garden is lovely indeed and well worth a visit.


Once you get past the entry hassles, you can relax and enjoy the serenity of the ponds, moss and gravel gardens, and light-filtering leaves overhead.


A zigzagging wooden bridge across a koi pond is a popular spot for visitors.


Colorful koi make their own fishy paths alongside the bridge.


We always make a game of trying to pick our favorite color patterns.


Spanning a larger pond, a gently arching bridge offers pretty views — and becomes one itself.


Nearby, a roofed gate leads from the sunny pond area into…


…a shady tea garden, framed here by a window on the tea house terrace.


The Natural Garden may be my favorite area. It’s tranquil and shady, and narrow winding paths lead you past ponds…


…and down a magical stone stair…


…through a glowing mossy hillside.


At the base of the stair, a diamond-in-a-square stone basin gracefully accepts a trickle from a bamboo fountain.


I love this.


Backlit maple leaves make a green canopy.


A board-and-slat fence opens under a rectangular arbor to invite you along a streamside stone path.


At the garden’s lowest point, a sheltered bench beckons…


…and frames a view.


A stone lantern leads the eye toward another stair.


Time to climb back up.


Midway up the hill, a karesansui garden appears, with stones set in rippled gravel that represent the Buddha (the tall stone) and a starving tigress and her cubs, for whom he sacrifices himself in an act of compassion.


Stone pagoda and luminescent trees


Another gravel garden, called the Flat Garden, extends just off the veranda of a large pavilion. Gravel waves ripple against mossy islands while carefully clipped trees and shrubs across the “sea” represent a distant shoreline.


The glare from all that white gravel reminds me that I’d love to see Portland Japanese Garden, and especially this space, in the gentler light of a different season. I’ve visited three times, always on a bright summer’s day. I long to visit on a misty autumn morning — check out Scott’s extraordinary photos from October 2013. Travel goals! And, heck, photography goals.


Inside the pavilion, an exhibit of Kabuki costumes was on view. Kabuki is classical Japanese dance-drama with all-male performers who wear elaborate makeup and costumes.


The exhibit, which ended earlier this month, “explore[d] the flamboyant and fanciful traditional performing art of Kabuki through an exhibition of seven authentic costumes on loan from Japan.”


Ironically, although Kabuki was created and popularized by a woman in the early 1600s, the shogunate later banned women from the stage to “protect the public morality,” leaving the stage to men — a tradition that continues to this day.


I wish I’d taken pictures of the new Cultural Village buildings near the entry, which opened this spring. But for some reason I didn’t, even though we admired the acclaimed contemporary architecture. I did take a couple of photos of the bonsai displayed outside, including this Ezo spruce…


…and Japanese maple. Lovely!


As is the whole garden. One day, though, I’m going to have to see this garden in the fall.

Up next: Sunset over the Pacific at Cannon Beach, my final post from our CA/OR road trip. For a look back at Portland’s boutique nursery Thicket, click here.

I welcome your comments; please scroll to the end of this post to leave one. If you’re reading this in a subscription email, click here to visit Digging and find the comment box at the end of each post.
_______________________

Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

Get ready for fall garden tours in Texas! The Garden Conservancy is sponsoring Open Days tours in Fort Worth on Oct. 8th, San Antonio on Oct. 14th, and Austin on Nov. 4th.

Get on the mailing list for Garden Spark Talks. Inspired by the idea of house concerts, I’m hosting a series of garden talks by talented designers and authors out of my home. Talks are limited-attendance events and generally sell out within just a few days, so join the Garden Spark email list for early notifications. Simply click this link and ask to be added.

All material © 2006-2017 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

A narrow side yard lives large in the garden of Rebecca Sams and Buell Steelman


I don’t think I planned a family road trip from San Francisco to Portland just to have an opportunity to swing through Eugene, Oregon, to visit the garden of Buell Steelman and Rebecca Sams, the husband-and-wife design-and-build team at Mosaic Gardens, whose work I greatly admire and recently wrote about for Garden Design. But then again, it’s possible.

Rebecca and Buell graciously invited us to stop by and see their garden last month, even though 1) they weren’t even going to be there, 2) their garden was newly exposed due to the cut-back of a neighbor’s tree, and 3) their poor plants had just endured an unusually long heat wave with little watering. Knowing that their garden is beautiful because of its compelling structure, not just the plants, I wasn’t worried.


And I wasn’t disappointed. Rebecca and Buell’s garden is essentially a long, skinny side yard that slopes sharply downhill from their house. They tackled this difficult space by creating a series of rooms linked by axis views to focal points. Like running your fingers along a string of beads, you enter their garden via a garden room — a gravel foyer — at the top of the slope, pause, look ahead to a focal point, advance toward it, pause in the next garden room, look ahead to the next focal point, and so on.


Each focal point, like this stock-tank pond (yes, one of the inspirations for my own), draws you forward but also gives you a reason to stop and look around, enjoying the mosaic of beautiful plants that Rebecca and Buell have created.


Stone stairs lead you down into the garden. Cascading sempervivum grows in the crevices of the stone retaining wall. Above, a frosty blue conifer cascades on a larger scale.


A wider view, with Japanese forest grass flowing like water alongside the steps.


Now we’re in the pond garden, a sunken space not visible from the street. The stairs where we entered are visible behind the pond. Atop the slope, strategically placed trees screen neighboring houses from view.


Stepping back a few paces, down a short flight of steps, here’s an even wider view. The gravel path flows around the pond so you can view all sides. The narrow spaces around the pond are densely planted with columnar trees, shrubs, and perennials to create layering that makes those beds feel deeper.


And look at the gorgeous plants! I asked Rebecca to ID this combo for me. From left to right: Cotinus ‘Grace’, a sport of ‘Conica’ Picea glauca, a mystery fern (“This thing is a wonder. Gorgeous, even in drought with a blast of midday sun. We don’t recall where we got it, but we’d love to find more. If someone knows this one, please tell me!”), Rhododendron ‘Yak x pak’, Corydalis lutea, and Galtonia candicans, aka summer hyacinth (“the best plant that no one grows — we love it, and so do the hummers”).


Looking across the pond, your eye travels along a path, past a brick BBQ and the stairs to their back deck, to a chocolate-colored pot framed by a living arbor. The pot stands out against a corrugated, galvanized-steel fence.


A closer look. A horizontal bamboo fence adds an Asian flavor to this area, and white hydrangea glows alongside the path. Espaliered trees arch over the path to create a living arbor.


Past the arbor you enter an edible garden, which jogs left into a small back yard. Asparagus was blooming here…


…and grapes dangled from a wire trellis fence.


A gateway in the trellis fence allows access to another garden room — an orchard of fruit trees, anchored by an approximately 4-foot-diameter stacked-stone sphere that Buell made.


I love this.


Apples were ripening in the orchard.


Returning through the garden, here’s another look at the espaliered arbor…


…and artichoke.


Back at house level, a long, narrow porch leading from the driveway to the front door is adorned with a collection of potted succulents massed for impact.


Other potted plants add interest to the edge of the gravel “foyer” garden, with fabulous skinny conifers visible in the background, growing along the property line and creating the illusion of greater depth.


River stone as art object in the garden


Another look from the top of the garden into the sunken side yard.


Eucomis flowers


Rattlesnake master (I think) and red dahlia


How do you approach the garden from the street? Via this almost secret-garden stone stair, through touchable grasses, conifers, and perennials. How could anyone resist taking a peek?


A gravel driveway leads to a garage, but knowing they wouldn’t be parking in it, and wanting to create more of an entrance and drop the cars slightly out of view, Buell and Rebecca dug out the driveway, put in a low retaining wall, and repaved the drive with gravel so that it sits about a foot lower than the entry garden. Isn’t this a nicer spot to come home to than entering through a dark, cramped garage?

My thanks to Rebecca and Buell for sharing their beautiful garden with me! I do hope to meet them one day, too.

Up next: Our day trip along the Columbia River Gorge to see waterfalls and mountain views — a tribute to an incredibly scenic area that is now tragically on fire. For a look back at our visit to the dormant volcano and sapphire lake of Crater Lake National Park, click here.

I welcome your comments; please scroll to the end of this post to leave one. If you’re reading this in a subscription email, click here to visit Digging and find the comment box at the end of each post.
_______________________

Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

Get ready for fall garden tours in Texas! The Garden Conservancy is sponsoring Open Days tours in Fort Worth on Oct. 8th, San Antonio on Oct. 14th, and Austin on Nov. 4th.

Get on the mailing list for Garden Spark Talks. Inspired by the idea of house concerts, I’m hosting a series of garden talks by talented designers and authors out of my home. Talks are limited-attendance events and generally sell out within just a few days, so join the Garden Spark email list for early notifications. Simply click this link and ask to be added.

All material © 2006-2017 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

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