December-Plants for wintertime cheer

Mahonia, cv. unknown

Mahonia, cv. unknown

I’ve said it before and I notice it every winter–the value of yellow in a gloomy climate can’t be overstated. I went through some of my December and January photos to find examples of the wintertime cheer a nice yellow or golden plant can give. Enjoy!

The big mahonias, particularly the Asian-based cultivars rather than the local version (M. aquifolium) are stately plants that provide color for people and nectar for hummers and the occasional bee that finds the day warm enough to go out. Fabulous form and a liking for shade makes these plants all around winners. There are a number of good cultivars: ‘Arthur Menzies’ and ‘Charity’ are two old-timers.

Eleagnus pungens 'Maculata'

Eleagnus pungens ‘Maculata’

Eleagnus pungens ‘Maculata’ is a big (10-15’H and W), rather ungainly evergreen shrub for shade (it can grow in the sun but I’m not sure why you’d bother–there’s a lot more options there). It has sweetly scented flowers (of the inconsequential type) in the fall–an unexpected time for a nicely scented shrub.

'Maculata' leaves

‘Maculata’ leaves

Chamaecyparis pisifera 'Aurea' (probably 'Aurea Nana')

Chamaecyparis pisifera, cv. unknown

Golden threadleaf cypress (Chamaecyparis pisifera cvs) comes in a variety of cultivars from the big (C. pisifera ‘Aurea’ at 15-20′) to pretty small (C. pisifera ‘Aurea Nana’ at 4-8′). There are some other cultivars out there as well. Plant in sun to brighten up the gold.

Lonicera nitida 'Baggesen's Gold'

Lonicera nitida ‘Baggesen’s Gold’

I’m always rather amazed by the Lonicera clan. The most famous Loniceras are vines, honeysuckle. Some have sweetly scented flowers, others not, but the vines I know all have good-sized tubular flowers. Then there are the shrubby Loniceras which seem nothing like the vines. I know I’ve seen the straight (green) species in flower and they occasionally have the most extraordinary purple berries but I don’t recall either flowers or berries on ‘Baggesen’s Gold.’  If they happen they clearly aren’t memorable!

Yucca filamentosa, cv. unknown

Yucca filamentosa, cv. unknown

Dazzlingly bright (and often looking a bit odd and out of place in Seattle) are some of the yuccas. They do brighten the landscape and have a powerful form. That can make them hard to work into a garden, especially along a walkway. Ouch.



November–Salvia, still goin’


Photo taken 11/5/15

This salvia (looks like a Salvia greggii cv to me or it could be S. microphylla or a cross between the two) is the woodiest old S. greggii (or one of its close kin) that I’ve ever seen. I took this photo on November 5 and it was still going strong–I’m sure it made any hummingbirds around happy. I’ve always liked these plants. I saw one planted with Ballota pseudodictamnus (not always an easy plant to find). They round, pale green, felty leaves of the Ballota and its rounded shape go well with the more upright and spiky salvias. It’s worth keeping an eye out for the Ballota. Both plants like sun and can take a fair amount of drought.


November–Planning for spring, try agastache for bees

agastacheThe agastaches finally stopped blooming a month or so ago. They bloomed, with no serious deadheading, all summer. They were a bumble bee (and honey bee–see above) magnet. Check out my post on them at my other blog, Honey Bees Can’t Pollinate Tomatoes.


November–Wool carder bees in Seattle

Anthidium sex

Anthidium sex

Check out my post on the cool (albeit non-native) wool carder bees (Anthidium manicatum) that can be seen patrolling flowers around Seattle once bee season returns.


November – Seattle Surprises

november1After 25 years of living in Seattle, the city still gives me these moments of surprise and small delights. I was walking down a random street the other day, having just gotten new lenses for my glasses, and I ran across a little front yard. It was the typical in-city small yard fronted by a chest-high (I’m pretty short) concrete wall and backed by a bungalow. It was the second day of November and this tiny little yard had flowers. Not one kind, not two or three, but lots. Mostly, they were summer into fall flowers that hadn’t gotten the “it’s time to stop now” message.

Looking at this yard, which was a bit of a mish-mash, made me wonder about garden design ethos. Plant fewer things in large numbers, plant in odd numbers (up to a certain point) consider form and foliage, not just flowers. Sometimes I’m paralyzed by all the possibilities. Do I want year-round good looks? Do I want serene? Do I want bodacious beauty? Do I want low maintenance? Do I want food? Do I want elegant? Regretfully, many kinds of gardens please me so, sometimes, I’m paralyzed.

november2This little garden didn’t follow many design principles other than maybe “if you don’t choose a plant for a space, mother-nature will.” It had ice plant sporting hot pink flowers and a small shrub rose (it looked like ‘The Fairy’ to me) with little pale pink flowers with a fig tree looming over it. A rugosa rose had finished blooming but had fat, red hips. A couple of heaths (pink and white) were either in bloom or on the cusp of blooming. A few little orange gaillardias were still going as was an orange nasturtium. A good-sized white-flowered aster frothed on one side of the sidewalk while a purple aster lolled on the other. Add a yellow rudbeckia, a pink mallow and one of those orangey echinaceas. That’s what this little yard had blooming in November. A happy mish-mash that made me glad that the “plant in large swathes” and “pay attention to form” are not for everyone.


October- unfortunate examples of plantus rectilinearis


Berberis (barberry) box

Outside a Whole Foods in Seattle, I saw these plants. Good plants badly pruned, and probably, wrongly planted. In a year or two I suspect anyone that has to get into those meters in front of the barberry may be cursing whoever chose the planting. Also, the bed was only about 5′ deep, and although Viburnum davidii supposedly only reaches 4′ wide, I’ve seen it wider. I’m not sure which species this evergreen barberry is but some get quite large, let’s hope it’s a smaller version!