Waiting for autumn’s reviving touch


Whew! After writing 16 posts about Portland gardens, each containing scads of photos of summer-lush and richly blooming borders, I’m somehow ready for a return to my own Death Star-blasted garden. August is my least favorite gardening month here in Austin. I’m over the heat. I’m over the humidity. I’m over, over, over summer.

And yet there’s love, still, for the garden as it patiently — much more patiently than I — awaits the reviving touch of fall.


Last evening I strolled through the front garden at sunset, taking a closer look than I’ve done in weeks. The trio of ‘Burgundy Ice’ dyckia (two are replacements after the cold snap last winter) is looking quite sharp.


The west side of the driveway-island bed is looking good too despite my neglect. ‘Color Guard’ yucca, gopher plant (Euphorbia rigida), Mexican feathergrass (Nassella tenuissima), wavy prickly pear (Opuntia), ‘Powis Castle’ artemisia, and Vitex agnus-castus don’t ask for much except sun and an occasional deep watering to look their best, even in summer.


In the shade of the live oaks, heartleaf skullcap (Scutellaria ovata) has gone to seed, leaving a trio of Texas dwarf palmettos (Sabal minor) to strut their stuff. They’d look better if I trimmed back the spent skullcap, but oh well.


A different view. Those sabals are putting on some height this year! Turk’s cap (Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii), one of my few dependable summer bloomers, screens the street behind the palmettos.


Here’s the long view across the front garden and Berkeley sedge lawn, as seen from my neighbor’s yard (the fence runs along the property line). I think I’m going to Outlaw Gardener-up that bare spot in front of the giant hesperaloe (Hesperaloe funifera) — maybe a few colorful Mexican gazing globes?


And here’s the long view as seen from the curb: a garden of deer-resistant grasses, salvias, yucca, and herbs. The caged tree at left is a young possumhaw holly (Ilex decidua), which I’m still protecting from deer. Every day I tell myself to get out here and whack back those autumn sages (Salvia greggii) by one-third, for better shape and fall bloom, but every day laziness wins out. Maybe tomorrow.


Stepping back about 15 feet into my neighbor’s driveway, you can see how her garden and mine blend together. I planted this for her a few years ago, and we share the decomposed-granite path that runs between our gardens from the street to the fence, and which continues into my garden. (She opted not to continue it around the back of her bed to her driveway, but that could be added later to reduce even more lawn and improve accessibility.)

Taking stock, I see that the ‘Whale’s Tongue’ agave has grown tremendously, but three Gulf muhly grasses (Muhlenbergia capillaris) have not thrived. Two have been removed, and the last one needs to go. My neighbor planted a softleaf yucca (Y. recurvifolia) to fill the gap; I would not have chosen to place the yucca so close to the agave, but after all it is her yard to play in. Her salvias, like mine, need a good whacking. It’s a bit crispy and could really use a deep watering, but overall this is typical for a largely unwatered, native-plant garden in August in central Texas. Fall rains will perk it up.


I’m not sure anything will perk up this poor, gnawed-to-a-nub ‘Soft Caress’ mahonia. I received two beautiful plants from the Sunset Western Garden Collection following the 2013 San Francisco Garden Bloggers Fling. I’ve had good luck with this plant in shade, and I added the freebies to my new side garden with high hopes. From the start, however, the deer have chomped them, although they’ve never touched more-established mahonias along the front of my house. Frustrating.

Despite the challenges of August and Bambi, I know I will delight in being outdoors again soon. Just one month to go until the happy gardening month of October! How about you? Are you enjoying or hurrying along these last weeks of summer?

All material © 2006-2014 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Exploring outside Portland: Columbia River Gorge, lavender farm on the Fruit Loop, and Cannon Beach


Before the Garden Bloggers Fling in Portland, Oregon, last month, my husband and I took a few days to explore the city and surrounding region. On our last day we rented a car and drove east along I-84 to see the majestic Columbia River Gorge. Vista House, a waystation perched on a promontory overlooking the river (pictured above), is one of many scenic destinations along the way.


The Art Nouveau-style Vista House, which offers beautiful views, historical information, a gift shop, and of course restrooms.


The mighty Columbia has been tamed with dams and made navigable with locks since Lewis and Clark canoed it 200 years ago on their exploratory trek to the Pacific. You can watch barges and other ships chugging along from numerous viewpoints along the highway.


We turned off I-84 onto the Historic Columbia River Highway to see some of the 77 waterfalls on the Oregon side of the river. The 249-foot Latourell Falls, dropping straight down like water poured from a pitcher, is one of the more dramatic waterfalls we saw. A broad patch of yellow lichen covers the basalt wall on the right.


Wahkeena Falls is almost as tall as Latourell at 242 feet, but its rushing cascade is broken by numerous ledges. Climbing uphill a short way to a wooden bridge overlook, we were finely misted by a roaring sheet of water. The chilly spray felt good to me on this hot day but caused David to shiver.


The granddaddy waterfall, Multnomah Falls, is easily reached by car and therefore sees throngs of visitors. With a combined upper and lower falls, Multnomah is the tallest waterfall in Oregon at 620 feet. A picturesque footbridge just above the lower cascade provides a closer, mistier view, and we climbed to experience it as well.


By now we’d worked up an appetite, so we headed to the town of Hood River for lunch at Full Sail Brewing Co., from whose deck you can watch the colorful sails of windsurfers and kiteboarders on the river below. After a tasty burger and brew, we headed south on the area’s “Fruit Loop” to visit Hood River Lavender, an organic pick-your-own lavender farm. In full summer bloom, the mounded rows of lavender were beautiful and fragrant. But the view was made spectacular thanks to two snow-capped peaks, Mt. Hood (pictured here) and Mt. Adams, visible south and north across the farm.


Mt. Hood meets Provence


Perennial gardens alongside the lavender rows added more color.


A variety of lavenders are farmed here, including white lavender.


Really, what other color could the chairs be?


In the small shop, we bought a few lavender sachets for gifts.


Mt. Adams, seeming to float where the snow line begins


It was mid-afternoon by now, and David had a sudden inspiration: Let’s drive to the beach!


So we did, leaving the mountain views and driving a mere 3 hours back through Portland and then on to Cannon Beach, an impossibly quaint seaside town, where gray-shingled, brightly trimmed cottages with picket-fenced flower gardens nestle along sandy beach roads.


The luckiest overlook this: Haystack Rock, a 235-foot-tall basalt monolith rising from the surf. The smaller rocks around it are called The Needles.


Haystack Rock and a broad swath of fine sand make Cannon Beach a popular tourist destination. But with water temperatures peaking at around 55 degrees F in summer and dangerous currents, the Pacific Ocean does not lend itself to the beach experience I’m familiar with: the bathwater-temp surf and baking sun of South Carolina and Texas beaches. You don’t swim here. Instead you wrap up in a sweatshirt and scarf and build a campfire in the sand as the fog rolls in and the light goes gauzy.


I’d naively thought we might see a glorious sunset over the ocean, but this was even better, moody and dreamy.


As dusk fell, a colony of seabirds on Haystack Rock settled in for the evening. Suddenly they rose in a squawking tornado, wheeling in disorganized, panicked flight. We stared, wondering what had happened. Could there be a predator up there, we wondered?


Suddenly David pointed straight up over our heads, and I looked up to see a bald eagle clutching a smaller bird in its talons, flying toward the forest. Two gulls (if that’s what they were) gave noisy chase. We watched them disappear over the trees.


The drama of predator and prey seemed appropriate to the dramatic and rugged beauty of the Oregon shore. Isn’t it odd, and wonderful, that we can find peace in such wild places?

I hope you’ve enjoyed my series of posts from Portland. Thanks for armchair traveling with me! For a look back at mysterious and magical Bella Madrona garden, the final stop on the Portland Garden Bloggers Fling tours, click here.

All material © 2006-2014 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Love just around the bend at Bella Madrona: Portland Garden Bloggers Fling


For our final tour on the Garden Bloggers Fling in Portland last month, our bus stopped on a rural highway and deposited us in a field with a few pieces of rusty farming equipment strewn about. Not sure what to expect, I walked through open gates adorned with the garden’s name, Bella Madrona. Suddenly a pulsing beat and falsetto vocals filled the air. The disco anthem “Stayin’ Alive” was playing throughout the garden via hidden speakers. This was going to be a party!


A dramatic red and black garden greeted us as we entered.


Va-va-voom reds


Beech hedges, like arched Gothic columns, framed the space, creating doorways and windows, while this black pot sat like a cauldron atop a mossy pedestal.


A mysterious and romantic mood was set.


A concrete dolphin sporting a red crystal on its head? Why not?


Crocosmia and red-tinged banana leaves, along with mossy chairs, make for a lost-in-the-jungle vibe.


Intimate seating areas like this appear throughout the 5-acre garden, amid slightly overgrown, romantically tangled gardens.


Paths branch off in different directions, curving around hedges and shrubs so that you can’t tell what’s ahead. Randomly selecting the left-branching path, I came across a barn-like, ivy-cloaked guest house. Old wash buckets decorate the side.


On the porch, all manner of cast-off items are turned into strange and spooky still lifes.


Following the path onward, I paused to admire these stars set in the gravel. As soon as I got home I dug some old metal stars out of my garage and set them in one of my paths.


At the base of some steps, a series of monumental, angular arbors appeared, beckoning one downhill and into the woods.


I did not heed their call, tempted as I was by another path leading elsewhere, and I never made it back to this area in my 2-hour wanderings. How I wish I had! It led to an eerie gnome garden and high-flying swing that others have blogged about.


Instead, I walked this way, drawn by a small seating area atop a curved double stair backed by a doorway hedge.


Looking through from the other side


The terracing contained a dripping fountain of metal pipes jutting out of the rocks, which fed a small pool.


Just beyond that, a larger gathering space appeared, as well as “waterfall” steps leading up past billowing white hydrangeas. You can’t really see it in this photo, but a terraced stream runs downhill alongside the path. Heading upward and around the bend…


…my heart gave a start as I peeked beneath low-hanging branches to see what a glimmer of blue might be. I find this vignette creepily fascinating. It’s like the garden is populated with otherworldly characters that come to life after dark.


But although the sun was low in the sky, it was still light, and Aretha Franklin was belting out “R-E-S-P-E-C-T” over the speakers. I couldn’t be too spooked. Soon I came upon a tousled, English-style border, and all eeriness disappeared.


Spiky eryngium — love!


Tall pedestals along the back of the border support potted ‘Color Guard’ yuccas and add drama to the scene.


The columns themselves are set in planters made of steel rings.


More flower-border goodness


And more. I love the rich colors.


I watched a hummingbird working the border for some time and caught one blurred image.


The other side of the border was intriguing also, with a spiky, orange-tinged Solanum pyracanthum in front of a tiered metal fountain. I once tried to talk Loree of Danger Garden into this plant at Cistus Nursery. “But you need it. It’s dangerous!”


Speaking of whom, there’s Loree with Peter, The Outlaw Gardener, who’s giving me a this-is-the-life wave.


And here’s Loree again, one of our incredibly organized, generous, and welcoming Fling hosts.


Bella Madrona is the 34-year-old creation of two retired physicians, Geof Beasley and Jim Sampson. Their magical garden is regularly the site of fundraising benefits, and the band Pink Martini, which has performed here, wrote “The Gardens of Sampson and Beasley” about it. Stacks of Pink Martini’s CD Hang On Little Tomato, which contain the song, were generously donated to our group by the band when they heard we would be visiting the garden.


This skeleton affixed to the front of a truck in the driveway is perhaps a nod to the owners’ former profession? It reminded me of a similar hood ornament at Wamboldtopia at the Asheville Fling in 2012. Actually, the whole garden bears a certain resemblance to Wamboldtopia, especially in its mysteriously magical mood and cast-off-object artistry.


Wandering past the front of the house, I came across a living bottle tree.


Chunks of glass were stuck in the folds of its massive trunk, reminding me of the pig’s teeth in the wych elm of Howards End.


A carved, wooden figure wearing a tin hat, with a piercing, blue-eyed gaze, emerged from a swath of ferns.


Here’s a striking use for a steel pipe remnant.


And a wire sphere


Heading back down into the main gardens I entered a room bordered by a randomly crennelated hedge — Piet Oudolf meets Sleeping Beauty’s castle.


Secret gardens at every turn


And inviting, wandering paths…


…full of mystery…


…and beauty…


…and “danger”…


…and romance.


A cracked, hollow sphere appears, egg-like, to hatch an ornamental grass. I’m fairly certain this is a Little and Lewis piece.


How could anyone resist paths that beckon you on with curves and hidden rooms ahead?


What lies around the bend?


A boulder with glass horns and a spot to sit with a friend and enjoy the view…


…surrounded only by grasses and conifers.


A few steps down from the chairs and table…


…I came upon a golden garden around sunset.


It glowed with gold and chartreuse foliage. I felt I’d stepped into King Midas’s garden.


Continuing on, I encountered a pair of red chairs enclosed by tall…thistles?


In yet another small clearing, a sundial or clock made of chains, round pavers, and straight sections of slate reminded me that it was getting late.


Heading back, I was enchanted to find a small patio paved with bottoms-up wine bottles. I wonder where they get all these bottles?


Oh, never mind. Here’s a beautiful bouquet on a table of drinks and food set up for our group on the main lawn.


Our group of 80 bloggers, plus one very enthusiastic bus driver, gathered here for refreshments and conversation…


…sitting with friends for a while before drifting away to explore the winding paths of Bella Madrona.


What a magically wonderful way to end the Fling.

My thanks to the owners of Bella Madrona and all the other gardens for welcoming us so warmly into your delightful creations. And huge applause and congratulations to the Portland Fling planning committee — Scott Weber at Rhone Street Gardens, Loree Bohl at Danger Garden, Heather Tucker at Just a Girl with a Hammer, Jane Howell-Finch at MulchMaid, and Ann Amato-Zorich at Amateur Bot-ann-ist — for putting together such an incredible event. Thank you, thank you!

Up next: A pre-Fling drive out to the scenic, wild Columbia River Gorge and then to Cannon Beach. For a look back at the foliage-rich, xeric garden of John Kuzma, click here.

All material © 2006-2014 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.