Friday, July 11, 2014

The Value of Garden Tours

Gate by Mike Suri, Suri Iron
Finding inspiration. Spending a day with friends. Reveling in what gardeners—and garden designers—have accomplished. Seeing how garden and lifestyle challenges are solved. These are a few reasons to take advantage of garden tours. In the case of the ANLD Designers Garden Tour which took place June 28, visiting six urban gardens also raised funds for ANLD’s scholarship fund. (ANLD stands for Association of Northwest Landscape Designers.) Click here and you’ll see more photos and explanations of the projects. I’d like to share what my takeaways were for  the gardens.

However, before launching into the ANLD garden tour photo essay, if you live in the Portland area, I encourage you to join the Hardy Plant Society of Oregon to take advantage of the hundreds of open gardens that its members so generously share. The open gardens alone are worth the price of membership!

Art in the ANLD gardens played and important role.It created focal points and whimsy, distracted the eye from vistas best left unseen, added punches of color, and visually pulled the visitor to destinations in the garden, not to mention creating the "Wow!" factor.

The rusted metal rooster added an element of surprise in an otherwise sophisticated Japanese-inspired garden. Rooster was designed by metal artist Zoe Bacon in the garden designed by Barb Hilty.

Garden owner Linda Ernst created these lively glass panels to add color in her already colorful edible garden.

Also in the Ernst garden, this contemporary gate acts as art.

The forms in this garden gate by Mike Suri, Suri Iron, were inspired by the poppies found on the property and saved by the homeowners when they built their new eco-friendly home on the lot. Garden designed by Marina Wynton.

St. Francis is one of my favorite sculptures by artist Patrick Gracewood, Gracewood Studios. Garden was designed by Bruce Hegna.

Structures define space and add functionality to a garden. Both of these garden structures were used as light-filled tool sheds that can also shelter tender plants.
Shed with green roof designed by Marina Wynton.

Shed was crafted by Patrick Blakeslee. Lion in foreground was sculpted by Patrick Gracewood.

Water features can contribute visual appeal, drama, color and sound to a garden. The sound distracts the ear from unappealing neighborhood and traffic noise, a very practical application, but overall the effect is usually one of relaxing the soul. Ahhhh.
Found granite was the inspiration for this custom water feature. Its scale is large for the garden space adding a lot of zen drama, if one can use both those words to describe something. Garden designed by Barb Hilty; refreshed plantings designed by Adriana Berry.
The small birdbath-like fountain provides just enough movement and sound to make it a welcome destination for wildlife. Garden was designed by Darcy Daniels.

This contemporary water feature design incorporates the owners' glass artistry. Designed by Laura Crockett.

Sometimes it is the very subtle that is of great interest in a garden design.

Brass Buttons (Leptinella squalida, formerly Cotula squalida) made a tidy and attention-grabbing ground cover for this parking strip in the garden designed by Donna Giguere.

The design challenge was to manage a steeply sloping slope (solution: beautiful concrete retaining walls that compliment the 1905 house), create off-street parking (solution: carve space out of the sloping yard and use attractive permeable pavers), and use low maintenance plantings. Designer: Donna Giguere.

Rain water was redirected to this simple and stylish rain garden. Designer: Donna Giguere.

Believe it or not, this is a Mahonia! Fabulous evergreen texture. Look for Mahonia eurybracteata 'Soft Caress'.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Gardening as Exercise

Wrist Stretch for the Gardener. Photo:
I don’t like gyms or to “work out,” but I do like gardening. In addition to walking Barney, my adorable Golden Retriever, and dancing, I consider gardening to be a vital part of my fitness, health and well-being program. I used to be able to work in the garden for hours and hours, now a four to six hour stint is about all I can muster. What I don’t do—but should—is prepare for working in the garden by stretching. Stacy Best is a garden coach with a blog offering tips on gardening for health, including stretching. A few well chosen stretches might make a day in the garden—and the next day—even more enjoyable!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Investing in Hydrangeas

Hydrangea macrophylla 'Wayne's White'
Hydrangeas offer some of the best garden value for the dollar: Months of blooms and, in some cases, stem and leaf color and a fall foliage show. You have the macrophylla (mophead and lacecaps), paniculata, quercifolia (oakleaf), serrata, and even the occasional aspera and arborescen. Every year, more new hydrangeas appear on the market. The hottest new characteristics are compact form (three feet tall and wide) and multi-colored blooms on the plant at the same time. I did a tally in my head and the number of Hydrangeas I have in my yard is … 40!

When most of my Hydrangeas were just starting to form buds, Twist-'n-Shout was already in full bloom. It blooms on new wood, but it blooms much earlier and more prolifically on old wood. It is a stunner with  bright blue, eight-inch wide lacecap blooms. Last year I was given a ‘Lemon Daddy’; its foliage is a lovely chartreuse. It has a few blooms forming and I suspect the mophead will be a light pink.‘Wayne’s White’ is one of my favorites. It’s a lacecap, but it seems to have fewer fertile flowers than other lacecaps, either that or they are just covered by the massive, showy, sterile flowers that open with a tinge of pink and age to pure white.
Hydrangea macrophylla 'Lemon Daddy'

‘Glowing Embers’ (a.k.a. ‘Alpengluhen’) is hard to beat for intense, magenta mophead flowers. It is reliable with dark green leaves and a nice size (about four feet tall and wide).  The dark purple-black stems of ‘Nigra’ beautifully offset its deep pink blooms. ‘Zebra’ is a compact mophead with white blooms and sturdy dark stems, and it is blessed with a much smaller stature than ‘Nigra’. This is its second year in my garden and I’m impressed. And of course, H. serrata 'Preziosa' offers dark maroon stems and lots of flowers.
Hydrangea macrophylla 'Glowing Embers'
Hydrangea macrophylla 'Nigra'

Hydrangea macrophylla 'Zebra'

Hydrangea serrata 'Preziosa'
Regrettably, I’ve lost the tags on many varieties in my garden. I wish I knew the cultivar names of three in particular. One is a small-stature lacecap with intensely blue three-inch blooms. Another blue lacecap is a larger shrub with sterile blooms and bead-like fertile flowers that intensify in color as they mature. Another is a paniculata. Paniculatas often feature reddish stems with pyramid-shaped flowerheads. The one I’m so enamored with is rather course in texture with a balanced mix of creamy sterile and fertile flowers.
Unknown small stature lacecap Hydrangea

Unknown lacecap Hydrangea

Unknown Hydrangea paniculata
And then there is the oakleaf hydrangea ‘Snowflake’ with its double white blooms. It’s a bit floppy, but the blooms age beautifully and the leaves turn a lovely purplish red in the fall.

Hydrangea quercifolia 'Snowflake'

There have been a few disappointments, too, but those I gave away and they are thriving in the gardens of friends. Few pests bother Hydrangeas and they make beautiful cut flowers. Other than a little fertilizer and some pruning, Hydrangeas are delightfully carefree. A nice mix of species and cultivars generally can be found in garden centers and a vast selection can be found at

Do you have a can’t-live-without-it Hydrangea?

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Waterwise Gardening with Kids this Summer

Photo: Getty Images
Information provided by the Regional Water Providers Consortium (RWPC)

Using resources wisely and understanding water conservation is important in the Portland metro area. Portland receives about 37 inches of rainfall annually. Only about 12 percent of that precipitation falls June through September. We tend to use the highest amount of water during summer months when our water supply is at its lowest—water use can often double in our region during the summer months due to outdoor watering. This summer, the Regional Water Providers Consortium encourages you to hand your kids a bucket and shovel and turn gardening into a learning experience.

Living in rainy Oregon can make it tough for kids to connect the dots about saving water. Here are three activities that promote water conservation and produce tangible results.

1.    Introduce your kids to the joy of gardening using native [and xeric plants]. Children love gardening. Helping kids plant a seed, start or fully rooted plant, care for it and watch it grow and bloom into a beautiful flower is a great way to introduce an understanding of the value of natural resources. Choosing native plants for children’s early gardening experiences is a great way to set them (and the environment) up for success. Once established, native plants are very low maintenance, require little to no pesticides or fertilizers, and survive on minimal water. [Editor’s note: Even native plants require water for the first year or two to get established.]

2.    Give your soil a healthy boost with compost. Adding organic matter such as mulch or compost can greatly increase your soil’s ability to absorb and store water (especially important in our region, where the native soil is dominated by clay). Plus, it’s a great excuse for kids to dig! [Start a compost or worm bin to turn food scraps and clippings into garden gold.]

3.    Use a watering gauge to make sure you water your garden efficiently. A watering gauge helps you see how long it takes your sprinkler to water an inch—about what grass needs each week. Once you know this, you can adjust your watering to meet your garden’s needs so that it gets just the right amount of water each week. Request a free watering gauge kit from RWPC, and follow the instructions together. The kits are available from July 7-31 for anyone who lives in the RWPC service territory (while supplies last; one per customer, please). Request your free watering gauge kit by calling 503.823.7528, emailing or visiting RWPC’s Facebook page. Please include your mailing address, water provider name and how you heard about the offer.

Here are some additional resources offered by RWPC to help you create a waterwise garden that will be enjoyed by kids and adults alike:
•    Water-Efficient Plants for the Willamette Valley: an online guide packed with photos and information about waterwise plants
•    Planting & Maintaining Your Lawn: a brochure to help you get the most out of your lawn, with information on grass alternatives and waterwise maintenance
•    The Weekly Watering Number: the amount of water in inches that your lawn needs each week, tailored to your zip code

The Regional Water Providers Consortium (a group of 20+ local water providers plus the regional government Metro) is committed to good stewardship of our region’s water through conservation, emergency preparedness planning, and water supply coordination. The Consortium provides resources and information to help individual and commercial customers save water.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Edibles Amongst the Ornamentals

Rhubarb, Allium and Podocarpus lawrencei 'Red Tip
I am a proponent of tucking edibles in amongst ornamental plants. But this garden design strategy has its drawbacks, especially when the pleasing nature of a plant combination relies on a particular attribute of the edible plant. In my case, the dilemma involves rhubarb. When should I harvest it?

I love the contrast provided by the humongous rhubarb leaves. But when I harvest the rhubarb, which I so enjoy, it leaves a gaping hole where once there was striking foliage. The problem is amplified because I’m planning to open my garden to visitors in a few weeks and I want them to appreciate the impact of my plant choices.

Please the stomach or give priority to aesthetics? I think it’s time for a rhubarb and strawberry pie!

Friday, June 6, 2014

Wrangling Garden Hoses

I do a lot of hand watering of my garden. One of the most frustrating things about gardening for me is keeping the garden hoses unkinked and not in a big mess of a knot when in use and tidy when not in use. I purchase hoses that purport to be kink-free, but so far none have lived up to their promotional promises. Then I’ve struggled with how to keep the hoses reasonably contained in a relatively tidy fashion.

There are lots of options, many of which are expensive, so I wonder which works best. Hose pots look attractive, especially the hammered copper variety; hose reels look more practical; hose trucks, carts and cabinets look functional and durable, but take up lots of space; and then there are the house mounted hose butlers in a myriad of designs. I have three hose connections I need to find solutions for, with hoses ranging from 50 feet to 150 feet.

Do you have a solution that helps you keep your sanity (my neighbors probably fear they have a pirate living next door with all the ARGHHHHHs and explicatives coming from my yard)?!? Please share. I’ll thank you and my neighbors will, too!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

The Star of the Yard

The mock orange as viewed from my living room window
I see it. I smell it. I love it. It’s an exclamation point in my garden. I’m talking about the mock orange (formally known as Philadelphus) that is exploding right now with deliciously fragrant, single, white blooms. Mine usually blooms around summer solstice, but this year it is already inching toward peak bloom a few weeks earlier. Darn! Because I am opening my garden for a few hours on June 23rd and I was hoping to have my Philadelphus play a starring role. Alas, it is not to be this year.

I actually have three Philadelphus in my garden. They were well on their way to maturity when I bought the house more than 15 years ago so I have no idea of their age or parentage. One is planted in a very shady area of the yard; though tall, not surprisingly it has sparse blooms. Another is a double. It is perhaps around 10 feet tall, also deliciously fragrant. It usually starts blooming a week or so later than the star of the yard, the mock orange I see from my living room window. That one is perhaps 15 feet tall and vase shaped.

Though it’s hard not to be distracted by the glorious blooms, if you look carefully it is actually an awkward shrub. I find it difficult to prune well because new growth shoots straight up at a 90 degree angle and there is a fair amount of die back at the tips each year. This website recommends cutting out up to one-third of the oldest branches each year. Because it blooms on last year’s growth, or “old” wood, it is best to prune after it blooms. I haven’t done any drastic pruning before, but perhaps it is worth a try.

After it blooms, there is little to recommend my largest mock orange other than its scale and the fact that it harbors no pest or disease. To provide an additional few months of interest, two Clematis have been plant to grow up through it.

This blog from Ed Hume identifies several cultivars of mock orange, some growing less than six feet tall, and how to care for them.

Perhaps my biggest one is a native: Philadelphus gordonianus Lindl. var. columbianus (synonym of Philadelphus lewisii Pursh). A bit of a mouthful for such a star.
A double Philadelphus

Mingling with Black Lace Sambucus

The single flowers from the largest mock orange

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Roses = Shrubs

Honey Perfume, a Florabunda Rose
Shrubs provide structure, texture, color and scale to gardens. They are sometimes evergreen and often deciduous. And ideally they are low maintenance. Most often they require exposure to some sun during the day and often require a lot of sun. What comes to mind when you think of a shrub?  I’m guessing roses don’t often make the “top of mind” list (nor do Japanese maples, but that’s a blog for another time). For some reason, I think of roses as their own separate category, but I also think that’s a mistake.

It used to be that many roses required a lot of care and upkeep. Nowadays, so much breeding effort has gone into creating roses that are carefree and more modest in size that it is time to encourage gardeners to think roses when they want a flowering shrub for a sunny location.

I recently visited Portland’s International Rose Test Garden. It was a lovely evening and many people were enjoying one of Portland’s great destinations (including a lot of wild looking people dressed up in togas…weird, huh?). Of course there are the glorious flowers, some of which deliver on fragrance, but bronzy foliage can also be found. Stately or shrub-like are also options. And the color range is breathtaking! Surely anyone can find a shrub that happens to be from the genus Rosa to work in their garden. Rosa ‘William Shakespeare’, a David Austin Rose from Heirloom Roses is about to share it’s beautiful, fragrant, magenta blooms with me in my garden.

What rose do you recommend?

Portland's International Rose Test Garden
Princess Alexandra of Kent, an English Rose
Pop the Cork, a Hybrid Tea Rose

Pink Flamingo, a Grandiflora Rose with bronzy foliage

Monday, May 19, 2014

Tidbits about Tomatoes

Sungold Cherry Tomatoes - Photo: WikiCommons
It’s May 17 and today’s the day I bought tomato plants—at Garden Fever! this year—for my community garden plot. I intended to buy only three cherry-type tomatoes, but I couldn’t resist trying two others as well. Black Cherry, Sweet Million, perennial favorite Sungold, Oregon Spring (an Oregon State University introduction) and Viva Italia, a plum tomato, are now snug in their beds. The latter two are determinant varieties; the others are indeterminant tomatoes. What’s the difference? Once flowers form at the branch tips, determinant varieties stop growing, keeping the plant to about 3 feet tall. Indeterminate tomatoes keep growing until stopped by frost, which means the fruit ripens over a longer period of time. (It also means that most tomato cages sold commercially aren’t tall enough to contain them.) To get the most from indeterminant varieties, prune the non-fruiting branches and leaves so more energy goes into fruit production.

“Low maintenance” and “easy” are my gardening mantras. Consequenetly, it’s usually just a hole that gets dug in the well-tended, compost-amended garden soil. This year I splurged and added lime and bone meal to the planting hole. I probably should have added a teaspoon of Epsom salt, too, to promote productivity, but I forgot. During the growing season, Organic Gardening recommends a weekly application of liquid seaweed to increase fruit production and plant health, and two or three additions of compost. It’s likely that I will forget to do this, and before I know it, the growing season will be at an end.

I had to shake my head when I saw a posting on Pinterest recommending that a half dozen fish heads and other amendments should be added to a deep planting hole to ensure healthy, productive tomato plants. Ewww … I don’t think so!

Nighttime temperatures are expected to dip below 50 degrees for the week ahead so I need to give my tomato plants – and basil – some protection. I think I’ll stop by Goodwill and pick up some tall glass vases for this purpose, but plastic gallon milk jugs would work well, too.

What do you do to help your tomatoes grow well?

For the plant-geekier readers, here are some interesting tidbits about tomatoes (source: Wikipedia):

Originating from South America, botanically speaking, tomatoes are fruit, a berry actually. Because the tomato has much lower sugar content than other edible fruits, it is typically served as part of a salad or main course rather than dessert. It is considered a vegetable for most culinary purposes (except tomatoes are treated as a fruit in home canning practices: they are acidic enough to process in a water bath rather than a pressure cooker as vegetables require). In 1893, the U.S. Supreme Court declared the tomato a vegetable. This declaration had economic implications: an 1887 U.S. tariff law imposed a duty on vegetables, but not on fruits. The tomato is the state vegetable of New Jersey, Ohio, Tennessee and Arkansas (where it is also the state fruit).


•    Tomato plants developed at OSU: , including the purple tomato.
•    Tomato Varieties recommended by OSU:
•    10 tips for Growing Awesome Tomatoes:,0

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Favorite Garden Vignette…of the Moment

The view is always a little bit different each time I wander out into the garden. Yesterday, the part of the garden I kept coming back to actually is a view from my bedroom window. It overlooks a just-about-to-burst-open pink Rhododendrons yakushimanum, a stalk of bleeding heart Dicentra ‘Gold Heart’, a variegated Lonicera nitida (‘Lemon Beauty’?), and Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Lemon Daddy' all tucked under an Acer palmatum 'Sango-kaku'. Sprinkled around are lovely hostas and the thug Arum (which I’m not happy about, but can’t seem to get rid of).

What plant combinations are grabbing your attention?

A Tough Turf Job?

I have struggled to maintain a healthy lawn for a number of reasons: lots of shade, the soil is likely too acidic, grubs, and lots of wet soil (there’s a layer of grey clay that runs through my yard, which Barney, my adorable golden retriever, finds irresistible...and he’s willing to dig to find it). Doesn’t sound very hopeful, does it? Last year when I had work done in my garden by JP Stone Contractors, they helped the lawn along in time for a late May garden tour by putting down compost and over-seeding. After a year, the grass has reverted to its straggly ways. Obviously, more drastic action is needed.

My lawn rehabilitation plan involves raking; a unit of compost or Grimm’s Lawn & Turf Mix (I used MacFarlane’s Bark “how much do I need” calculator); JB Instant Lawn grass seed for shade; micro-clover seeds, because it’s supposed to grow in the shade; and English daisy seeds to create a meadow-like effect in the sunnier parts of the turf. In addition to these “to do’s” and "need to have's," a friend suggested that aeration should also be done so that the top dressing of mulch gets down into the soil. I think I need to order up a few sunny days and take some time off work to get it all done in a timely fashion…and then I have to figure out how to keep Barney off the area until the grass grows in! Or, I could kill the existing grass, prep the soil, and bring in turf to start anew (click here for Oregon Turf & Tree’s turf calculator). Hmmmmm.

Which would you do?!?!?

To test the lawn for some of the most common problems, Garden Time TV offered turf tips on the April 19 show from Alec Kowalewski, an Oregon State University turfgrass specialist.

•    Mow the grass to the right height to help create a low-maintenance, drought-tolerant lawn. Trim only one-third of the grass’s height to protect roots from the sun (e.g., trim one inch off three inch tall grass).
•    Avoid over-watering by testing for moisture. Push a screwdriver into the ground. If it is difficult to push in, the soil is dry and you need to water. If the blade goes in easily, the lawn doesn’t need water.
•    Most turf grasses prefer soil with a neutral pH. An easy home pH test involves mason jars (2) and ½ cup each of water, baking soda and vinegar. Fill two jars about half full of soil. Add a half-cup of water to the soil in the first jar. Mix well and then add a half-cup baking soda to the slurry. If this mixture fizzes, the soil is very acidic. Overly acidic soil can be amended with lime. If there’s no reaction, add a half-cup vinegar to the second jar. If the mixture fizzes, the soil is highly alkaline and sulfur can be added to neutralize the soil.
•    If there are dead patches in the lawn, it could be caused by grubs feeding on the roots of the grass in the fall. To treat 1,000 square feet of grass infested with grubs, dilute two tablespoons of lemon-scented liquid dish soap in a gallon of water and spray it on the lawn. The grubs will come to the surface, where you can collect them (the neighborhood birds might help you with this unseemly task). 

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Invasive Species Hotline

Giant hogweed* (Heracleum mantegazzianum). Photo: WikiCommons.

Invasive species are animals and plants that are not native to an ecosystem and that cause economic or environmental harm. They can take over landscapes and drive native wildlife away. More than 50,000 non-native species have been introduced to the United States throughout our history, but invaders don't have to come from outside the U.S. to be considered invasive. Something native to the Eastern U.S. can be invasive  in Oregon. Click here for Oregon's top 100 Worst List.

There are two easy ways for people to report invasive species sightings to the Oregon Invasive Species Council: a toll-free call (1.866.INVADER ) or submitting an online form.  All invading plants and animals should be reported. Once reported, the information is screened and the person making the report is connected with an expert able to make a quick identification. The hotline has been instrumental in early identification of invading species. See something odd? Give them a call.

Want to learn more about invaders, where they come from and what we can do to stop them? Watch Oregon Public Broadcasting’s The Silent Invasion (online or purchase the DVD), visit The Silent Invasion website, check out the Oregon Invasive Species blog, or visit the website of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

*Giant hogweed is one of Oregon's top 100 worst invasive species. It escaped from arboretums and private gardens, and is now naturalized in surrounding areas, especially riparian and urban sites. The plant exudes a clear watery sap which sensitizes the skin to ultraviolet radiation. Humans often develop severe burns to the affected areas resulting in blistering and painful dermatitis. Blisters can later develop into purplish or blackened scars. Currently under eradication or restricted to a small area in Oregon.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Potato Towers

I have grown potatoes in potato towers for the past two years with moderate success. I planted one layer and then tried to keep up with the fast-growing stalks and leaves by adding alternating layers of straw and a potting soil/compost mixture. New potatoes grew along the elongating stalks. At the end of the season, the towers get tipped over to reveal the new potatoes. All in all, easier than digging down into the soil to retrieve the new produce. Inevitably, the stalks and leaves grew faster than I was able to keep up.

Always on the lookout for shortcuts, I came across a potato tower blog that suggests the routine can be simplified…and the yield improved. Rather than trying to stay ahead of the fast-growing greenery, the author suggests planting multiple layers under compost all in one go, then letting the stalks grow naturally out the sides and top of the tower. When the stalks and leaves turn brown, it is time to harvest by tipping the tower on its side and reaping your rewards.

Shall we give it a try?

Monday, April 21, 2014

Large Shrub or Small Tree?

There is a Rhododenron for every size garden. You may have a too large rhododendron that requires an annual pruning to keep it at a reasonable size. Unless the rhody is too close to your foundation or otherwise gets in the way, or pruning puts you in the zen zone, there’s a better way than wrestling with size reduction. Instead, consider embracing its ultimate size and “arborize” it, i.e., limb it up and turn it into a structural, small, evergreen tree; one that offers a month worth of luscious blooms and a year-round presence.

This time of year is perfect for enjoying the vast variety of the genus Rhododendron, from species to gloriously exotic. Most of us have more mundane rhodys that came with the house. Case in point: I have three large rhodys in the 6-10 foot wide strip of soil between my driveway and my neighbor’s driveway. They are interplanted with large, awkward-looking ornamental cherry trees (lovely in bloom, but they offer little value during the rest of the year). In the next year or two, the cherries will likely be removed, at which time we can begin to shape the rhodys into “replacement” trees.

I fell in love with the large and fragrant Rhododendron loderi ‘King George’ at the Cecil and Molly Smith Garden in St. Paul, Ore. And of course the Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden offers months of stunning blooms, excellent for inspiration and taking colorful “selfies.”

Monday, April 14, 2014

OAN rolls out first-ever Plant Something™ art contest

April is a month to celebrate trees, Earth Day and spring. The Oregon Association of Nurseries is asking elementary school-age kids to create colorful artwork around the theme "Plants Make Our Lives Better." Winning artwork will appear on the cover of Digger, the OAN's monthly industry publication, in a 2015 e-calendar, on the Facebook page and website, at the 2014 Farwest Trade Show, one of the largest wholesale trade shows in the country, and other venues.

Please help us get the word out by contacting your children's elementary school teachers and by sharing the contest rules. To be eligible, artwork must be completed in class and postmarked by May 12, 2014. A team of OAN members will select the winning artwork. If you have questions, please contact Ann Murphy at or 503-682-5089.

» Contest Rules
» Release Form

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Conifers for Shade

I have a shady yard, in large part because I have huge conifers—sequoia, spruce, cedar and fir. There are so many interesting conifers I would like to integrate into the design of my garden, but finding those that will tolerate a fair amount of shade has been an ongoing search. In the recently published Conifer Quarterly, Winter 2014, by the American Conifer Society, an article titled “Appreciating Conifers in the Shade” gave me a bit of hope.

The garden discussed in the article is in St. Louis, Missouri, a very different growing environment (USDA Zone 6a) with many more stressors than Portland, Ore. (USDA 8a in my neighborhood); however, it seems there are quite a number of genus and species that might be worth trying.

“Some types of acceptable shade for growing conifers are filtered shade, dappled shade, traveling shade, light shade and high canopied shade. Generally speaking, there is more light available in shady spots than gardeners realize,” concluded the authors Bruce and Chick Buehrig. More hope for me and my garden.

Tsuga canadensis (hemlocks) are a good place to start. I have several planted, including T.c. ‘Gentsch White’. They live but I wouldn’t say they thrive, and in full shade ‘Gentsch White’ doesn’t have the showy white new growth it is known for. Other Tsuga cultivars mentioned in the article include ‘Stewart’s Gem’, ‘Curly’, ‘Canoe’, ‘Spring Glory’, ‘Greenbrier’, ‘Devil’s Fork’, ‘New Gold’ and the list goes on.

Picea orientalis (Oriental spruce) cultivars to consider include ‘Skylands’, ‘Bergman’s Gem’, ‘Connecticut Turnpike’, ‘Repens’, ‘Gowdy’, and ‘Shadow Broom’. I’m going to keep my eye out for ‘Skylands’; it offers year-round golden needles.
Picea orientalis 'Skylands'. Photo courtesy of Conifer Kingdom
The authors state, “Surprisingly, Picea abies [Norway spruce] is a superb candidate for low-light areas.”

Taxus (yews), especially the columnar varieties which add height are good candidates for adding interest in a shadier spot. Look for ‘Beanpole’, ‘Stovepipe’, ‘David’, ‘Minuet’, ‘Citation’, ‘Erecta’, ‘Standishii’ and ‘Sentinel’, the authors’ favorite (I’m guessing they are referring to Taxus x media ‘Sentinalis’). ‘Flushing’ and ‘Maureen’ which reach ten feet tall by two feet wide can be focal points.  ‘Citation’ is also a favored addition to their landscape.

Cephalotaxus (plum-yew) thrive in more shade. Look for ‘Duke Gardens’, ‘Fastigiata’, ‘Hedgehog’ and ‘Korean Gold’.
Cephalotaxus harringtonia 'Korean Gold'. Photo courtesy of Oreogn State University.
Chamaecyparis nootkatensis (Alaska cedar) grows in shade, but doesn’t attain the height of examples grown in sunnier locations. ‘Van den Akker’ is considered superior by the authors, but other cultivars to consider include ‘Jubilee’, ‘Green Arrow’ and Stricta’.
Chamaecyparis nootkatensis 'Van den Akker'. Photo courtesy of Dancing Oaks Nursery.
Sciadopitys verticillata (Japanese umbrella pine), Cryptomeria japonica (Japanese cedar), Ginkgo biloba, Pinus cembra (stone pine), Pinus sylvestris (Scot’s pine), Pinus strobus (white pine), and Picea glauca (spruce) have also been grown by the authors in shadier conditions.

Perhaps not all of these species and cultivars will thrive in the shade of the Maritime Northwest—after all, St. Louis has much warmer and moister summers than we do—but it does suggest that there may be a few more conifers that can add year round interest in our gardens, even in shadier conditions.

Sources for more unusual conifers, in addition to your local garden center, include Conifer Kingdom, Oregon Small Trees, Dancing Oaks, Forestfarm, Porterhowse Farms, River Rock Nursery and Secret Garden Growers.