Boolie vs. the Garden

Hot lips salvia blossoms in the rain

Hot lips salvia blossoms in the rain

The hummingbird garden in memory of my mother-in-law got off to a slow start. I first needed to clear out some of the raspberries, but when I dug down into the clay to remove raspberry and root, the next week another young plant sprouted up and it was once more down into the clay. This continued week after week until it was time for Ellie’s surgery, our trip to Maine, and suddenly we were well into the summer.

I didn’t want to risk planting new plants during the dry season, but since there was a Cape fuchsia out front (a sun-loving plant that a previous owner planted in total shade), I dug up some of its runners and transplanted them to the back. Unfortunately I didn’t have any potting soil to ease them into their new homes, so it was clay-to-clay for them. I hoped at least one would survive, and if not, it was no great loss.

To my surprise, all but one not only survived but even bloomed during the summer, and then grew quite a bit in the fall. An occasional hummer came by, a surprise given how low the plants were when they blossomed, but it was a promising start. Still, they stood alone until cooler weather returned.

When it did, I was ready list-in-hand and we were off to local nurseries recommended by a friend. We started off at Cornell Farms since my wife’s friends had kindly gotten us a gift certificate to start us on our way, and when we got there I realized it’s just minutes from where I work. It’s also close to Ellie’s surgeon, I had almost driven right past it on the way to one of Ellie’s appointments after a wrong turn sent me astray.

For the hummingbird garden we started with a showy ‘hot papaya’ coneflower balanced by a subdued green coneflower, as well as a distinctively pretty black-and-blue salvia. We also picked up a couple each of black-eyed Susans and hostas for other parts of the garden.

The first wave of new plants from the good folks at Cornell Farms, the first picture on my blog taken with my iPhone

The first wave of new plants from the good folks at Cornell Farms, the first picture on my blog taken with my iPhone

Good pictures of the new plants will have to wait until spring, but even this snapshot shows the distinctive blossoms that give the black-and-blue salvia its name

Good pictures of the new plants will have to wait until spring, but even this snapshot shows the distinctive blossoms that give the black-and-blue salvia its name

The all-green subtlety of this small coneflower will contrast nicely with the colorful blossoms all around it

The all-green subtlety of this small coneflower will contrast nicely with the colorful blossoms all around it

Will the hot papaya coneflower survive the winter and bloom again next year? Here's hoping!

Will the hot papaya coneflower survive the winter and bloom again next year? Here’s hoping!

The black-eyed Susans were added to the wildflower garden in front to add color beneath the ever-encroaching mass of daisies. When we moved here all of the landscaping was completely overrun with weeds and this garden was the first to be rescued, but this is the first time I’ve added new plants to the survivors. When I first started pulling weeds back then, I found a golf ball buried below the plants and while not a golfer myself, decided to keep it in place in honor of my golf-loving stepfather. It now serves in his memory since he passed away a few years back, a pleasant reminder each time I work in this part of the garden and discover it anew.

The new black-eyed Susans joined the golf ball out front to add some color in front of the daisies

The new black-eyed Susans joined the golf ball out front to add some color in front of the daisies

I’m not traditionally a fan of ferns but got religion while hiking in the redwoods surrounded by the ancient plants carpeting the forest floor. We had some ferns along a side of the house where they literally can’t be seen, so I moved them beside the trillium to create my own Redwood Corner, just like the redwood forests but for the minor point that I have no redwoods. The two new hostas sit nestled in among the ferns.

One sad note is that to make way for Redwood Corner I dug up Sam’s Grove, a patch of daisies that I moved to the backyard a few years ago. They just weren’t getting enough sun and needed to be tied up to avoid falling over. Little Sam loved playing in the daisies so I was sorry to do it, but I think he will enjoy the ferns even more than his old grove.

The next week we were off to Portland Nursery in SE Portland, starting off with a white dogwood for the back to complement the pink dogwood out front. The new one is a Korean dogwood (Cornus kousa) that is more disease-resistant than our native dogwood (native to the US, not Oregon), although our biggest consideration was finding one that would fit into the space available in the backyard — that is, it couldn’t impinge upon the hedgehog field of play. Some things are sacred.

The leaves of the Korean dogwood just starting to turn red with the fall

The leaves of the Korean dogwood just starting to turn red with the fall

The hummingbird garden swelled with two new salvias, hot lips and Mexican sage, plus bee balm. A hummingbird hovered above me as I held the hot lips salvia before I even had it planted, then returned the following morning to work over all of the blossoms. I haven’t seen hummers much since, although I also haven’t spent much time out there between travel and the weather and the early approach of darkness.

The bee balm was past its prime but still gave some nice color until it finally yielded to the fall

The bee balm was past its prime but still gave some nice color until it finally yielded to the fall

We also picked up a stunning Lobelia hybrid, Queen Victoria, which unfortunately the slugs love as much as I do. It will be difficult to photograph, as even viewing with the naked eye it’s blooms seem impossibly red. Its dark maroon stem and leaves contrast nicely both with the red flowers as well as the green leaves of the surrounding plants. It was flopped over when we bought up but straightened right up until the wind and rain finally humbled it. It was still actively blooming last I checked so it should give us a nice explosion of color late in the season.

The lobelia (the maroon plant on the left) straightened up and prepared to bloom, setting a good example for the others. It has since bloomed the most violent red flowers I've ever seen.

The lobelia (the maroon plant on the left) straightened up and prepared to bloom, setting a good example for the others. It has since bloomed the most violent red flowers I’ve ever seen.

So far everything has survived despite by lack of experience, we’ll see what survives the winter. The hot papaya coneflower is the biggest risk as it doesn’t like the cold, so hopefully it will at least survive one winter so I can see it bloom. Just once is all I ask.

And I have to say, I did enjoy myself putting in the new plants even if it did keep me from hiking in the Gorge, gardening is a lot more fun when you love the plants you’re working with. You’re on notice plants-of-the-garden-I-don’t-like, sleep tight this winter but don’t say I didn’t warn you if the shovel comes digging your way come spring.

The humble start of our hummingbird garden, with the ever menacing raspberries in back

The humble start of our hummingbird garden, with the ever menacing raspberries in back

All of the plants in the lower two-thirds of the picture are new, the cape fuchsia in the lower left was transplanted from the front while the rest were purchased at nurseries.

All of the plants in the lower two-thirds of the picture are new, the cape fuchsia in the lower left was transplanted from the front while the rest were purchased at nurseries.