Violet Blue Flowers in Your Summer Garden

Violet blue flowers in your summer garden

There is something magical about violet blue flowers in a summer garden. A mass of long flowering intense violet, purple or blue flowers to see from your summer chaise is a joy. Here is a plant that I use in my garden designs that is easy care and long flowering.

Blue False Indigo – Baptista Australis ‘Purple Smoke’ is a long lived perennial so it will live for decades in your landscape. I use it in my landscape designs because it is colorful, low maintenance, fully drought tolerant, and long blooming. It has attractive foliage and interesting seed pods for fall. Clients who want color and easy care would line up for this plant if they knew about it. It looks great with ornamental grasses and has a more naturalistic look since it is related to lupine, a classic native wildflower.

Planting combinations for Portland Landscape Designs

I’ve used it in a low water parking strip in NE Portland with true dwarf pine, succulents like Sedum spurium ‘Green Mantle’, heather and black mondo grass.  In a SW Portland Landscape design I placed it to tower over a low boulder with plant companion ‘Kim’s Knee Hi’ Echinacea to the side.

Over time the plant will increase to a nice thick stand of charcoal green stems (which add to the beauty) and violet blue flower stalks.  ‘Purple Smoke’ is grown locally, other varieties and flower colors are only available by mail order.  I only use the  variety of Baptista Australis called ‘Purple Smoke’.  Don’t use the parent plant of  ‘Purple Smoke’, it is called just plain old Baptista Australis and gets too tall for most city gardens.

Plant uses

The primary use is ornamental and wildlife friendly. It’s not edible although it is a legume but it is not toxic. It’s a true native American plant.  North American Indians had many uses for this plant.  The Cherokee made a blue dye for fabric from the flowers.  The Osage made some kind of eye wash.  Others used the roots as an antiseptic for wounds.  It is not considered edible and was once thought to be highly toxic.  Modern research has changed this perception.  Read more about the plants chemistry.

How to kill Baptista: Water it every day in the summer and fertilize it heavily. Plant it in a low spot where winter rain water will puddle or sit.

Best practice:  Water deeply once a week the first summer.  The second summer water deeply but infrequently or put a plug in the drip emitter because it won’t need any water by the third summer.  I always place it with low water plants so it is easy to provide it with low water to no water. Don’t divide it. It has a tap root so dividing will kill the plant. If the clump gets too wide, take off new plants at the edge of the clump.

After the foliage yellows in the fall cut it down to the ground.  Mulch twice a year with garden compost.

Check out my Summer Watering Tips. Learning how to water properly can be a great stress reducer for you and protect your landscape investment.

 

Portland Landscape Designer loves Purple Flowers

Portland Landscape Designer uses Purple Monkshood in Eastmoreland Garden

Monkshood with Japanese Forest Grass and Hardy Fuchsia

Portland Landscape Designer loves purple flowers of Monkshood

Portland landscape designer loves purple flowers of Monkshood.  My clients have unique likes and dislikes when it comes to plants.  When they love something specific, like purple flowers, one of my favorites is purple flowered Monkshood.  Other clients are focused on a purpose such as native plants or the lowest of low maintenance plants and not on specific colors.  My job is to find the plant palette that satisfies each client’s needs.

Purple flowers

I love tall columns of  purple flowers in my Portland landscape designs.  I often use them at the back of  planting beds to break up a bare wall or visually soften a fence. It’s an easy care perennial plant with no pest problems. It flowers a long time, provides great contrast with bright green or gold foliage and adds drama to the garden scene.

Aconitum 'Tall Blue' Portland Landscape Designer plant

Aconitum Carmichaelii ‘Tall Blue’ – Monkshood at Joy Creek Nursery

I only use varieties that don’t flop.  There is no need to stake the plants if you select the right varieties and water correctly. Staking plants is a hassle and not low maintenance so I don’t use plants that require staking in my designs.

Here are the Monkshood varieties I use in my Portland landscape designer practice.

Aconitim x napellus ‘Newry Blue’ -Flowers June and July, 4′ tall and an intense purple blue

Aconitum carmichaelii ‘Tall Blue’ – Flowers late August and September at 6′ to 8′

Portland Landscape Designer loves purple flowers of Monkshood

Aconitum Carmichaelii ‘Late Crop’ – Monkshood at Joy Creek

Aconitim x napellus 'Newry Blue' - Monkshood 'Newry Blue'

Aconitim x napellus ‘Newry Blue’ – Monkshood

Aconitum carmichaelii  ‘Late Crop’- Flowers into October, is a dark rich purple at 5′ to 6′ tall

Monkshood was used for poisoned arrows

This plant has a checkered past.  In medieval times Monkshood was also called Wolfbane and was the source for poisoned arrows.  Applied to a cut, Monkshood can be deadly and all parts of the plant are toxic.  Yet in modern times it is commonly used by florists and sold by garden centers and nurseries.  In 25 years I have no first hand knowledge of anyone being poisoned by monkshood but I don’t use it in my Portland landscape designs for young families or in parking strips.

How to kill this plant: 

Plant it in full sun and never water it, (or just as bad) water every day in the summer.  Plant in a low place where winter water will soak the roots for days at a time.

Best practice:

Most resources say part shade but I have found they thrive in half day sun to nearly full day sun with a few hours of dappled or light shade. Deeply irrigate Monkshood in full sun and less in part shade.  In time most Monkshood will become low water needs.   In too much shade it will flop and will not have as many flowers. Plant in well-draining soil, water established plants deeply once a week.  Don’t fertilize beyond adding a  compost or mulch around the crown twice a year.  Fertilizer may cause the plant to grow too lushly and make the stems flop. Cut it back to the ground in winter or when the leaves have gone yellow.  Learning how to water properly  creates confidence and makes maintaining your landscape less stressful.

 

 

Portland Landscape Designer and River Life

Portland Landscape Designers floating home

After Bob transforms the single story floating house and boat tender.

As a Portland landscape designer I’m in and out of 2 or 3 homes a week.  It’s fun to see how people live so I figure it’s only fair to share how I live and many people are curious about living in a floating home.  I can also brag about my partner Bob’s amazing design/build skills by sharing the before and after photos.

Weather

There are a lot of wonderful things about living on the water but watching the river and the weather play together is the best.  Most of the time they play nicely but sometimes, like last winters snow, was quite challenging.  Too much snow on one side of the house creates a tip and after a day or two of the eggs cooking on one side of the pan everyone gets a little crabby including our cat Cracker Jack.

The best part is that everything in the sky, clouds, sunrise colors, and geese heading south is duplicated in the water.  This includes the eclipse in August of 2017.  There’s a photo that got away.  The wind typically doesn’t rock the house, usually it’s a boater going by too fast creating a wake that rocks the house, but when we have gusts and white caps, I swear I can feel the soul of the wind.    Weather is intimate down on the water.

Wildlife

We have a resident blue heron who likes to scare people at dusk by flying low and silent until he is just overhead of an unsuspecting landscape designer trudging down the dock toward home.  He makes that low gruff and very loud Heron squack.  This is followed by another loud noise or two as I retrieve my belongings from where I threw them when I was startled out of my revere.  So far I’ve never tossed my car keys in the water but its been a close thing.  Car keys go in ones’ pocket upon departure from the car.

We have regular visits by Stellar sea lions especially when the salmon are running.  They are curious and a bit snoopy.  No photos but great stories of sea lions stealing from fisher folk in boats and on the bank.

Portland Landscape Designer moves to the river

Before floating home re-design and remodel,  a sweet house waiting to become our home

I’ve enjoyed our old goose couple for many years now but haven’t been able to get a hold of her eggs for artistic flights of fancy for a few years.  We have otters who mate under our house every late spring.  This ritual goes on for about 5 days.  It is not quiet.  We have bats and mud swallows and they have a schedule for coming in the spring and leaving in late summer or fall.  The diving birds come in mid fall and stay for a good part of winter.  There are two kinds of owls and a particular owl couple who sit on each end of the marina and talk half the night.  Their hoots are mostly pleasant sounding. There is quite a menagerie and I feel so close to nature here.

Practicalities of River Life

Yes, we schlep our groceries and everything else down to our floating home with a rolling cart.  One lives very close to ones’ neighbors down here but so far its been a happy chummy place when you want chums and plenty of privacy when you don’t.  I’ve met amazing and dearly memorable people.

Blue Heron entertains Portland landscape designer

Our Blue Heron is a poser.

Once we get home we don’t want to leave so most of the time we don’t.  Why would we leave to go somewhere when we can be here?

Checking flotation.

Portland landscape designers' view of fall fisherman in red boat

My view in fall.

Growing greens above ground

Growing greens above ground

Portland Landscape Designer paints eggs.

Felix and Oscar are not pleased with their eggs.

Best of all I have a wonderful view of Sauvie Island and the river.  I’m sure the river has a very positive influence on my  life to include my Portland landscape designs.

Floating Home buried by the snow of January 2017

Floating Homes with snow

Native Plants for Small City Landscapes

Native Plants for Small City Landscapes

NW Native plant Sword fern

NW native plant Sword fern can be planted in less than ideal soil with good results.

People dream of a landscape that will need no watering.  Sometimes because they think it will be less work but more likely these days they recognize that water or the lack of it is a problem that will continue to grow.  Like the Brits in World War II they want to do their bit to help with a very real problem.

One way to have a no water landscape is to use NW native plants.  Here are some tips to help you have more success.

What size of plants to plant

They will establish better with a bigger root ball.  Expect 15 to 20 percent of your plants to fail.  Try not to take it personally.  Natives are a little more particular than other plants.  Use 2 gallon sized plants not 4 inch or 1 gallon for best results with native plants like Salal-Gaultheria shallon, Ocean Spray-Holodiscus discolor, Huckleberry-Vaccinium ovatum, Current-Ribes sanguineum or the favorite native of all, Vine Maple-Acer circinatum.

Sword fern can be smaller

If you are planting Sword fern Polystichum munitum, save your money and buy smaller plants, like a 1 gallon.  Sword fern can also be planted in less than ideal soil with good results.  It’s the only NW native plant that doesn’t need careful soil preparation.  I’ve transplanted it from my woods and had it play dead for over one full year.  It came up the second year and was back to a three foot wide fern by the third year.  Fascinating.  This plant can be killed but one would have to work at it.  It can tolerate summer water and will look more attractive watered when planted in a sunny area.  In shady areas it has looked quite attractive without a drop of summer water by the third year.

Pacific Madrone

Pacific Madrone – Arbutus menziesii
has recently been approved for City of Portland street trees.

Madrone must be smaller

Madrone-Arbutus menziesii is perfect for a no water landscape and is very picky about how and  where it is planted.  This is because unlike most trees it has a tap root so it does not thrive in a pot for long.  In the past I’ve only successfully planted a 6 inch tall plant. Recently friends of trees has found a way to grow them to about 5′ feet tall and plant them in parking strips.  They are a needed plant for hosting rare butterflies so if this succeeds it will be very exciting. Two important tips for success with your new Madrone; water sparingly the first summer, and do not ever fertilize.  After the first summer is over, never water your Madrone again.  Don’t plant anything else within ten feet that needs summer water and don’t prune your Madrone.  It’s a beauty that requires planned neglect for success.  At this time I do not have a retail source for the larger Madrone.  If you want one, buy the 6″ size at a native plant sale.  They grow surprisingly fast.

Vine Maple with Single Trunk

Vine maple with single trunk fits small city landscapes. Multiple stemmed trees will get too wide.

Vine Maple-Acer Circinatum

The most typical mistake I see in small city landscapes is multi stem Vine maples horribly disfigured with poor pruning because they got too big. Most small city landscapes are not big enough for a multi stem or clump version of Vine maple – Acer circinatum.  Instead I select a single trunk Vine maple from one of my wholesale growers.  A single trunk tree will not get too wide.

When to plant NW native plants

Plant in fall for best results with native plants.  Planting in late winter and early spring works almost as well.  Planting in mid spring or summer will require more summer watering and some natives have an adverse reaction to summer water but their roots are not established well enough to go without water for the first summer so it’s a dilemma.

Avoid this dilemma by planting in the fall or early spring.

Native Huckleberry

Evergreen Huckleberry used as a screen in SW Portland.

Evergreen Huckleberry comes in two sizes (sort of)

Evergreen Huckleberry-Vaccinium ovatum is almost like two different plants.  Planted in a sunny area it grows slowly to 4’ tall and perhaps 3’ wide.  While it will continue to grow and get a little  bigger each year, it’s very slow growing.  Compare it with the same plant in part shade to heavily dappled shade and it grows faster and is often in  the 6 to 8 foot tall by as wide.  People use the berries in muffins, pancakes and jam.  The flavor is mild from plants in low elevations and more flavorful in higher elevations.  Birds will eat them but don’t tend to use them for baked goods.

Soil Preparation

Most NW Native plants need well prepared soil.  Some need fertile soil, some need a sandy soil but almost all of them need well drained soil.  I find most directions on how to prepare soil for NW natives quite complex.  It is doable.  If you are DIY, here is a web site that might be helpful.  http://plantnative.org/how_siteprep.htm

NW Native Flowering Current

Flowering current – Ribes sanguineum is a spring pick me up for people and nectar for hummingbirds.

How to Kill your plants

Plant too deep – Dig the hole several inches deeper than the root ball of the new plant.  Plant them in the lowest area of your property.

Water them every day their first summer.  They might live a few months but will die in their first winter even if you only over watered them in the summer.

Best Practice

Dig the hole twice as wide but only as deep as the root ball of the new plant.  Plant 1” too high and bring soil to the plant.  Water carefully the first summer.  A slow soak rather than daily light sprinkles of water is best.   Mulch the plant in the fall and spring, don’t fertilize.

Sword Fern in Sun

NW Native Sword fern – Polystichum munitum has upright fronds in sun and horizontal low fronds in shade.

Mix of NW Native Plants and Non Native Plants

As a Portland landscape designer, when I have clients who want no water landscapes, I tend to mix other plants with NW native plants.  My list for a full sun area might look like this:  Spanish lavender, dwarf Manzanita groundcovers,  Oat grass, heather, California lilac, true dwarf pines, smoke tree, madrone,  Grama grass, dwarf Fountain grasses, Rosemary, Hebe, stepables like Elfin Pink Thyme.

 

Dog Joy – Shady City Backyards with Dogs

Dog joy – Shady City Backyards with Dogs

Is your small city backyard a mud pit? This blog is dedicated to the family dog. It’s time to stop getting mad at your dog for bringing all that mud and dirt into your house.  They can tell we are mad at them. They must wonder what they’re doing wrong. We don’t really expect them to go outside and not get their feet dirty do we?

Roxy laying in the flower bed

Even dogs like to sit outside and enjoy the flowers. Roxy has a synthetic lawn.

Let me spell it out.  Two scenarios come to mind.  1st   When you moved to this house, there was reasonable lawn but over the past few years (or months) you can’t seem to keep it thriving anymore.  There could be many reasons for this but my favorite is the former home owner had the lawn replaced just before she put it on the market.  2nd  A.  Trees grow and provide more and more shade as they mature.  Lawns require sun.  You haven’t noticed how much sun you have lost over the course of the entire day.  Even 5 years is plenty to change the environment in your backyard.  Sun is the number 1 food for lawns, not fertilizer.  B.  Tree roots take up an insane volume of water and transpire it out through their leaves.  Your lawn needs lots of water and it isn’t getting it no matter how much you water.   Over time your lawn has lost the two things it requires to grow and thrive.  You can replace it, you can reseed the bare spots, but without enough sun and enough water it will not thrive.

So I say give it up.  Happiness and a mud free yard await your consideration if you can let go of the lawn as you once thought of it.

You may not realize there are accommodations that can be made or that your landscape designer can create a solution for this situation.

I swear I would not bring this up if I didn’t have solutions, and this issue comes up in about half of my landscape designs each year.

Fiber ex cedar chip path

Fiber Ex cedar chips make a great alternative for a lawn and are more affordable than using a synthetic product.

Lawnless Backyard

You don’t have to have a lawn in a small shady backyard. Most dogs are perfectly happy with wide paths or areas of cedar chips. You might think this would look agricultural but it doesn’t! It’s easy to take cedar chips into a Northwest Natural or Asian Style Landscape.

Professional playground cedar chips laid 4 to 6 inches deep is very effective.  My favorite product is called Fiber Ex by Rexius Forest Products.  This application will last for a decade and is more affordable than synthetic lawn.

Synthetic Lawn

Other clients are using synthetic lawn quite happily with their pets. It looks good…you don’t need to water, fertilize or mow.  It’s easy to clean up and tough enough that even large dogs can romp and play and chase the ball.  I am installing a synthetic lawn this year on my 10’ x 10’ roof garden/balcony.  We (Daizzie and I) are both going to love the convenience and I like the look of it too.

Exercise your dog at the park

Some clients with very small backyards decide to make the backyard be for people.  We hang out with our pets in the backyard and they need a potty place or two.  Exercise happens at the dog park or on walks. Those backyard designs are all about patio, entertaining space and privacy plantings, not specific dog play areas.

Uchytil dog laying in planting box

A small area of  lawn works well for this client’s dog.

Shade grass seed

They have not made a good shade turf grass.  There are seed strains out there that say they are shade tolerant but trust me…..it’s not happening.  If the shade is very light there might be some lawns that will be thick enough for people to use but they don’t cut it for dogs to play on.

Give yourself a break from the mud and look at alternatives.  If you are like these clients you will be very happy you did.