Portland gardeners are lucky ducks. They seem to have an unusual concentration of high quality nurseries in their area, nurseries whose display gardens would make them worthwhile destinations even if they had nothing for sale.

Blue Hydrangea and grasses at the Joy Creek display garden.

Blue Hydrangea and grasses at the Joy Creek display garden.

We don’t have that in Chicago, where land is at too much of a premium to be used that way by a retail nursery. By the way, I took these pictures as Judy missed the first day of the Fling. So they may not be up to the usual quality.

Rudbeckia hirta

Rudbeckia hirta

We visited two such nurseries during the Fling: Joy Creek and Cistus. One of the Portlanders told me that these two nurseries define two local styles of gardening. “You’re either a Joy Creek gardener or a Cistus gardener,” she told me.

Matilija Poppy. Wish we could grow these in Chicago.

Matilija Poppy. Wish we could grow these in Chicago.

If I lived in Portland, I would definitely be a Joy Creek gardener.

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Joy Creek has over four acres of display and stock gardens.

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And by the way, they also do mail order. Here’s the Joy Creek website.

Bee Balm, I think it's 'Jacob Cline'.

Bee Balm, I think it’s ‘Jacob Cline’.

Joy Creek specializes in Clematis, and their garden has an amazing selection.

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This one reminds me of Little Shop of Horrors. Feed me!

This one reminds me of Little Shop of Horrors. Feed me!

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Now if only I could get them to open a branch in the Chicago area.

Monday was a holiday, and I spent it planting 160 Tulips into 11 containers. Plus a 12th container I planted with ‘City of Haarlem’ Hyacinths (Hyacinthus orientalis).

12 containers full of tulip and other bulbs.

12 containers full of tulip and other bulbs.

There seems to be a fair amount of interest in planting Tulips in containers, so I’m doing this post even though I did a very similar one last  year.

So why would anybody want to do this? For me, there are three main reasons.

First, I find it easier to work with hybrid tulips in containers rather than in beds and borders. The bulbs are relatively large and sometimes short-lived and the post-bloom foliage gets in the way. For beds and borders I prefer smaller bulbs like Grape Hyacinth (Muscari), Snowdrops (Galanthus), and Species Tulips.

Tulips in Containers on the front steps.

Tulips blooming on the front steps.

Second, you can move your tulips in containers to wherever your heart desires – for example, to create a welcoming splash of color for your front door.

And last, this approach allows me to indulge my Tulip lust. There are 3,000 varieties of tulips out there, how can I be happy stuck forever with the same measly 10 or 12? I treat my container tulips as annuals, they go on the compost pile after blooming. Then I can order whatever I fancy for next year.

Plants waiting to be dislodged. The Mexican Petunia put up massive resistance. I took most of these pics with my phone.

Plants waiting to be dislodged. The Mexican Petunia put up massive resistance. I took most of these pics with my phone.

Planting tulips in containers is not complicated, but it is a bit of work. Of course, I had to start with pulling out all the summer annuals. And let me say, if you want to plant Mexican Petunia (Ruellia brittonniana) in containers, be aware that they are way easier to plant than they are to pull out. You’ve been warned. Then there are the following steps:

  • Dump most of the planting mix into a bucket. You leave the container mix at the level where you want to plant your tulips. I generally plant the bulbs at least 8″ deep. But before planting I refresh the mix with a couple of handfuls of compost.

uncovered bulbs in containers

  • Set the Tulip bulbs into the container. I plant them pretty close together – just an inch or two apart. Actually, they get closer together as the number of remaining containers dwindles.
  • Fill the remainder of the container with the planting mix. I like to mix in another handful of compost at this point.

Now the question is where to leave the planted containers for the winter. You need a place that gets cold but not brutally cold. Year before last I left them in the garage, then last year I buried them in the Cuttings and Edibles Bed. You just have to bury them so that their tops are level with the ground. I’m going with burying again this year, though I didn’t get around to it on Monday.

Ad hoc critter defense

Ad hoc critter defense

Either way, it’s smart to put something on the containers to deter critters. I had leftover bits of hardware cloth and chicken wire that I secured with bricks.

In past years I’ve put a mix of early, mid-season, and late tulips in each container. This year the containers were a mix of either only early, early and mid, mid and late, or only late season bulbs.

Want to know what kind of tulips I planted? Sure you do!

  • ‘Annie Schilder': fragrant, orange, mid-season.
  • ‘Ballerina': lily-flowering, orange-scarlet, late.
  • ‘Blushing Lady': yellow-rose, late.
  • ‘Couleur Cardinal': fragrant, red-plum, early.
  • ‘Early Harvest': orange-scarlet, very early.
  • ‘Elegant Lady': lily-flowering, yellow-rose, late.
  • ‘Keizerskroon': fragrant, red-yellow, early.
  • ‘Kingsblood': deep red, late.
  • ‘King’s Orange': red-orange, mid.
  • ‘Princess Irene': fragrant, orange-purple, early.
  • ‘Salmon Pearl': fragrant, pink-yellow, mid.
'Couleur Cardinal'. This is a Jason picture, please excuse the hubcap.

‘Couleur Cardinal’. This is a Jason picture, please excuse the hubcap.

You could say I’m not putting a big emphasis on subtle colors here. These will be tulips to wake you up in the morning. I am emphasizing fragrant tulips for the first time, something I’ve ignored in the past.

Of the 11 varieties here, eight are new to my garden.

You could make a pretty good case that this approach is expensive and wasteful. I think of it as my version of doing an elaborate Christmas lights display or Fourth of July Fireworks.

Already I can’t wait until Spring.

We saw a lot of wonderful gardens during the 2014 Garden Bloggers’ Fling in Portland this past July. If I had to pick one favorite, however, it would be Rhone Street Gardens.

Rhone Street Gardens

Rhone Street Gardens

This is a garden where it seems every square inch is bursting with exuberant plant life.

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The resident gardener at Rhone Street Gardens is Scott, who was also a principal organizer of the Portland Fling.

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Scott is well known for his love of grasses. His garden has its share of colorful flowers, but your attention is really captured by the rich and varied textures of the grasses, with their movement, varying shades of green, and subtle flowers and seed heads. All this tall grass makes me think of Rhone Street Gardens as the Little House on the Portland Prairie.

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Raised beds are used to make even the hell strips into bountiful gardens.

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Rhone Street Garden also provides habitat for wildlife.

Pay no attention to the person behind the Rudbeckia.

Pay no attention to the person behind the Rudbeckia.

The colorful wildlife provides contrast to the flowers and grasses.

2014-07-13 12.04.51 Joe Pye Weed Rhone Street Gardens

Scott is not afraid of tall plants. Here’s a happy clump of Joe Pye Weed.

Joe Pye Weed and Fireweed.

Joe Pye Weed and Fireweed.

Indeed, it is fair to say that Rhone Street Gardens does not neglect the vertical element in its selection of plants. I wonder if I could convince Scott to give Cup Plant a try.

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There are many fine plant combinations, not all of them tall.

2014-07-13 11.38.33 Astrantia and Persicaria

Such as Astrantia and – I’m not sure – Veronica?

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Geranium ‘Rozanne’ and Persicaria. Scott has inspired me to plant more grasses, but his garden also makes me want to acquire some Persicaria. Looks like some Agastache mixed in there also.

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Persicaria with Allium seedheads.

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Containers with perennials cover ground that is not hospitable to plants.

Overall, the visit to Rhone Street Gardens was definitely one highlight of the Portland Fling.

Just a random selection of recent photos, starting with Brown Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia triloba) in the back garden.

2014-10-05 13.37.19 Brown Eyed susan

Clove currant (Ribes odorata).

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Short’s Aster (Symphyotrichum shortii).

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Butterflyweed seed pods (Asclepias tuberosa).

2014-10-05 13.40.21 Butterflyweed seed pods

Swamp Milkweed seeds (Asclepias incarnata).

2014-10-05 13.41.03 swamp milkweed

Salvia with Bluestem Goldenrod (Solidago caesia).

2014-10-05 14.01.27 Salvia with bluestem goldenrod

The front garden viewed from the back.

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The sidewalk border.

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Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum).

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Northern Sea Oats (Chasmanthium latifolium).

2014-10-05 14.09.13 northern sea oats

Nasturtiums (Tropaeoleum majus).

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Happy October!

Scientists have determined that Bumblebees are the cutest insects. That’s an official fact. They are the teddy bears of the insect world, furry and rounded.

2014-10-05 14.11.03 Bumblebee

Of course, they are teddy bears with five eyes, two big compound eyes and three little “primitive” eyes.

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There are 46 species of bumblebee native to North America. They are intrepid pollinators who venture out when it is too cold or cloudy, too early in the day, or too early in the spring for most other bee species.

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Judy took these pictures on Sunday with her regular lens and I just kept cropping them for a closer look.

Ah, bumblebees. I will miss you over the long winter.

For the last seven years or so, we have not had a patio. The old patio disappeared when we rebuilt an expanded back porch.

Before the patio. Those are paver samples in front of the table. Everything is covered, of course.

Before the patio. Those are paver samples in front of the table. The furniture is covered, of course.

Since then, we’ve been keeping our limited collection of outdoor furniture on the grass. This had several disadvantages.

  • First, heavier members of our family (I mention no names) would find themselves suddenly sinking towards the ground with one or more chair legs if the soil was nice and soft after a rain.
  • Certain other members of our family who are more easily spooked by insects would frequently be bothered by the sensation of something crawling up from the grass onto her leg.
  • I had to rotate the position of the table or the grass underneath would die.

So we hired a contractor to put in a circular patio made of brick-like pavers. I considered trying to build it myself, but I realized I had neither the time, the tools, nor necessarily the know-how. So we went with a contractor, despite the damage to my DIY cred.

The new patio.

The new patio.

This past week the contractor showed up and got the job done in one day. And it’s pretty nice. We’re quite pleased with it.

As a bonus, the flower bed needs to be brought out to the southeast edge of the patio. Which means I can get more plants!

Incidentally, this is an old coal scuttle we found in Wisconsin. I'm using it as a planter by putting a grower's conainer inside.

Incidentally, this is an old coal scuttle we found in Wisconsin. I’m using it as a planter by putting a grower’s container inside. Next year I’ll include more trailing plants to hide the inner container. We also got a blue enamel pot that I’m using the same way.

Plus, the patio provides a context within which buying some White Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum) does not seem extravagant. White Trillium costs about $12 each if you buy four or more from Prairie Nursery. Without the proper context, this seems like too much. However, if I consider the Trillium as part of the cost of the patio, it seems like a much less significant expense.

Another look.

Another look.

On a completely different front, the Evanston forestry crew has taken down the dying Maple (species unknown) in the parkway in front of the Left Bank. I knew this was going to happen, as this tree sported just a handful of leaves and was dropping branches. Still, I was taken aback to arrive home one day and find it gone.

We tried counting the ring and this tree seemed to be 20 years old. I think it died from being planted too deep - it had no root flare.

We tried counting the ring and this tree seemed to be 20 years old. I think it died from being planted too deep – it had no root flare.

I was talking to the new neighbors who live west of us, and we all agreed we wouldn’t mind if the City refrained from replacing this tree. First of all, it’s really too close to a street lamp, and blocks much of the lamplight during the warmer seasons.

Also, without a replacement tree this part of the parkway would be quite sunny and a good spot for a garden. I can imagine it full of Prairie Smoke (Geum trifolium), Wild Petunia (Ruellia humilis), Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) and Flowering Spurge (Euphorbia corollata).

Even while dying, our late Maple had its moments, especially in winter.

Even while dying, our late Maple had its moments, especially in winter.

Maybe I’ll write the Evanston Forestry Department and let them know we don’t want a replacement tree. (The parkway belongs to the City, and the City plants the parkway trees.) Their hands are full anyway coping with all the dying Ash trees. At this point there’s up to a two-year delay for new parkway trees.

What would you do?

Autumn is about fruit. Mists and mellow fruitfullness, as the poet said. In the garden, there’s fruit for people and fruit for the birds. I have lots of the latter.

This year I noticed that lots of the fruit that is supposed to hang around so we can admire it for a while has been gone in a flash.

Grey dogwood berries.

Gray Dogwood berries. Unusual to see this many ripe ones.

Of course, some fruits you expect to disappear quickly. Gray Dogwood, for example, has white drupes that are eaten by birds almost immediately upon ripening. You see the unripe green ones – then they’re gone, eaten up by cardinals, woodpeckers, and other birds.

(I hate to get all botanical, but fruits with a single seed are generally drupes, not berries. Cherries, also, are actually drupes. So you could say that life is just a bowl of drupes, though that doesn’t have the same ring to it. Why am I pointing this out? Because I paid good money for that botany class, damn it.)

In early September, only a few unripe elderberries remained.

In early September, only a few unripe elderberries remained.

Same thing with my Black Elderberries (Sambucus nigra ssp. canadensis). Elderberries are also drupes, so they should be called Elderdrupes.

All gone!

All gone!

The Elderdrupes are green and unripe, then they’re gone.

Cranberrybush Viburnum 'Redwing' fruit, not quite ripe, on a young shrub.

Cranberrybush Viburnum ‘Redwing’ fruit, not quite ripe, on a young shrub.

But other plants are supposed to have persistent fruit. Cranberrybush Viburnum (Viburnum opulus var americanum), for example. The shiny red fruit are extremely ornamental and extremely sour. The garden books say that birds won’t eat the fruit until after a freeze, often not until late winter.

Somebody forgot to tell the birds, though. In my garden, all the Cranberrybush drupes were gone by the middle of September.

Fortunately, Cranberrybush has nice red and purple foliage in late fall, plus it’s a host plant for the Spring Azure butterfly.

'Donald Wyman' Crabapple

‘Donald Wyman’ Crabapple

Then there’s my ‘Donald Wyman’ crabapple. (Crabapples, like apples, are pomes. As in “I think that I shall never see/a pome as  lovely as a tree.” Ironically, pomes grow on trees.)

Anyway. Experts will tell you that ‘Donald Wyman’ crabapples will stay on the tree until spring. At 1/2″, they are too big for most birds. In the past that seems to have been the case in my garden.

But this year the birds changed their minds. By the end of September all the ‘Donald Wyman’ cranberries were gone.

'Golden Raindrops' Crabapple

‘Golden Raindrops’ Crabapple

In July I planted a new ‘Golden Raindrops’ crabapple. Birds are supposed to love the yellow 1/4″ fruit. The new crabapple has just a few fruits, but the birds have ignored them so far.

What’s your favorite ornamental fruit for fall and winter?


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