Envisioning the Tropics

30 Jul

Seattle is definitely far from the tropics, but the end of July and the beginning of August marks when gardens in the Northwest take a tropical turn. With a steady increase of warmth, the tropical perennials that we treat as annuals take on a whole new life: with a new reinvigorated faith that there is in fact a plant god – they have stopped sulking and are doubling/tripling, in size. Temperate plants from climates that are supposed to experience a ‘real’ summer are also putting out most of their growth now too. If the gardener remembers to provide a steady stream of water, August through September is the garden’s second crescendo here in Seattle (the first being spring). The greens of the garden are full and lush, fuchsias are dripping with blossoms, dahlias are beginning to put on a show, reblooming roses are at it again, chrysanthemums will be in bud and bloom in a few more weeks, on and on the list goes. As usual garden life doesn’t always go according to plan, so at this time of year my garden begins to grow a bit weary from the dryness of summer.

One plant that is handling my inconsistent watering well is Solanum marginatum that I bought from Far Reaches Farm last autumn. It only drops one or two lower leaves if I’ve forgotten to water it for about a week, which when I think of it, is rather polite. Unfortunately, this tender shrub is only hardy in Zones 9 and up, so I had to overwinter it.

I love the contrast between its soft white fuzz and sharp spines, which are all over - really.

I love the contrast between its soft white fuzz and sharp spines, which are all over – really.

Also, some bee action has caused one flower to produce a fruit! Hopefully it ripens before I leave, so I can harvest and share the seeds.

What a juicy looking fruit with interesting green marbling/veining!

What a juicy looking fruit with interesting green marbling/veining!

Another plant that I overwintered as a houseplant (by the way also gets mite-y like the traditional ones) is Gardenia jasminoides ‘Frostproof’. Within the last week it decided it was time to bloom. I bought this mini-shrub for half the price at work, since it was declining and looking sad. It still isn’t looking quite like the ones at work, but it is covered with buds and I couldn’t be happier! Everyday a single bud will unfurl completely by night fall. I strategically placed the gardenia in our entryway where the slightest breeze will greet us with the rich, buttery perfume.

I love how the narrow, slightly twisted petals, gives the flowers a waterlily like form.

I love how the narrow, slightly twisted petals, gives the flowers a waterlily like form.

Also by our entry way, Grevillea victoriae ‘Marshall Olbricht’ has begun setting buds for autumn. I am impressed with this Australian shrub: all it asks for is a little bit of water in the summer and in return it blooms from autumn into winter. Plus it has survived two winters out in the open in a terracotta pot. Definitely a keeper!

I won't get to see these buds in bloom, but hopefully my family will appreciate them.

I won’t get to see these buds in bloom, but hopefully my family will appreciate them.

Another plant that has done well for me in its container (actually, it has done better in the container than in the garden) is Tricyrtis formosana var. glandosa ‘Blu-Shing Toad’ from Edelweiss Perennials. When I planted two in the garden two summers ago they were constantly being mowed down by slugs and shredded into a million pieces by tunneling chipmunks.  I threw in the towel and decided to try one in a large container. I’m glad I did, because it really has exceeded my expectations. The growth it put on is quite miraculous and almost no slug bites to speak of either!

Wouldn't you say this is a happy toad lily?

Wouldn’t you say this is a happy toad lily?

Look at all those buds ready to pop!

Look at all those buds ready to pop!

Here is Agapanthus inapertus ‘Nigrescens’ just beginning to bloom. With its upright leaves and dark, brooding, introspective flowers, I would have to say that this is my favorite agapanthus.

The flowers are a deeper, purple-black in person.

The flowers are a deeper, purple-black in person.

Oh here is another plant that I adore: Dryopteris sieboldii. My coworker turned me onto this fern and I can’t get enough of it! (Thank you, Vivian!) Though this species is mainly tropical, it is hardy here in the Puget Sound. However, I am 700 feet up, so just to be safe I’ll keep it as a houseplant come winter.

I love its saber shaped fronds!

I love its saber shaped fronds!

Oh, and another thing I can’t get enough of? The new growth on my Schefflera brevipedunculata. Is it truly hardy in zone 8? No one really knows. (Dan Hinkley thinks so.) It’ll be brought in with the houseplants and tender things alike for the winter.

Nothing like fuzzy, white new growth to set my heart-a-flutter.

Nothing like fuzzy, white new growth to set my heart aflutter.

In the Front Garden, I’m trying Agastache foeniculum ‘Golden Jubilee’ for the second time. I got my first plant from Annie’s Annuals last September when I was visiting family in San Francisco. (Clay tolerant and anise scented – how could I say no?) I planted it late and it didn’t really get a chance to establish fully, but it was still a great grower. When spring rolled around, it started to sprout, but every day half of it would disappear. At first I thought it was slugs, then cutworms, even evil magic, but my antidotes weren’t working. Then it came to me: root weevils. By the time I figure it out, it was too late. It was so tired (and jaded) from regrowing over and over again that it gave up the ghost. This spring I bought a new one and planted it in a different section of the bed. It’s growing and blooming quite happily right now! Hopefully, it will be established enough to outgrow any problems next year.

The soft lavender flowers against the bright chartreuse leaves is electric!

The soft lavender flowers against the bright chartreuse leaves is electric!

Remember ‘Karmijn de Sonnaville’ just developing in spring? Look at her fruit now!

I've been waiting to taste this for years! Hopefully they will ripen in time...

I’ve been waiting to taste this for years! Hopefully they will ripen in time…

The newly planted Veronica gentianoides ‘Pallida’ in the Long Plot is reblooming for me. This low groundcover has fleshy lance shaped leaves that are arranged in a pleasingly tidy rosette. During summer tall wands of fragile, porcelain flowers sway in the softest breeze, lifting the whole garden from its heavy cloak of green. Ah, to have a nice swath of it fluttering in the warm summer air would be soothing.

Isn't this charming? I love the faint, delicate blue veining on the petals.

Isn’t this charming? I love the faint, delicate blue veining on the petals.

My ‘Julia Child’ rose is blooming again. There are already globs of blossoms here and there, but  there are more buds on the way! She is such an easy and care free rose with a tough constitution. More importantly, who could resist those anise scented, butter yellow flowers? What more could you ask for?

This might be my favorite rose...EVER.

This might be my favorite rose…EVER.

Down a bit from ‘Julia Child’ is a bright combination of plants that worked out better than I imagined! I love how the fading flowers of Astrantia ‘Abbey Road’ is really setting the gold flowers of the Crocosmia Gerbe d’Or’ aflame. On the other side, the hot-blooded flowers of Fuchsia magellanica ‘Aurea’ really meets the intensity of the crocosmia, and the bronze leaves of the crocosmia snuggling up to the chartreuse leaves of the fuchsia is a wonderful contrast.

I really like the bruised purple astrantia against the shining gold of the crocosmia.

I really like the bruised purple astrantia against the shining gold of the crocosmia.

I hope that the fuchsia grows tall enough next year, so that it’s flowers can mingle and dangle with the crocosmia flowers.

Look at those hot, burning colors together!

Look at those hot, burning colors together!

Further down the Long Plot is where it starts to take on a tropical look. About a little over a month ago, I planted Woodwardia unigemmata in an empty section at the base of the helwingia. It’s happily growing and throwing up new beautiful fronds! The fiddle heads were a redder color earlier in the season when it was cooler, but I still love that elegant, almost metal-like, new growth.

Isn't that bronze-y red just delicious?

Isn’t that bronze-y red just delicious?

To the right of the fern Helwingia chinensis and Fuchsia magellanica ‘Riccartonii’ fit right in weaving through our native Indian plum, lady ferns, and woodland strawberries. I love how this leafy corner looks! The different shapes, textures, and colors of the leaves really play off of one another quite well. I wish photographs didn’t have the tendency to flatten gardens, because this section is really layered and wonderfully light in person.

This is my little lush and jungly bit of the Long Plot.

This is my little lush and jungly bit of the Long Plot.

Further down is a new plant I got in early July at Justin’s garden festival of Growing Steady. Rubus lineatus is a slightly tender, suckering shrub from China with beautifully pleated leaves and a shimmering white undersides. I hope this one makes it through the winter and ultimately grows into a nice large shrub, because it needs to hold its own growing behind a native goat’s beard.

The silvery pleated underside of the leave is pleasantly soft and lustrous.

The silvery pleated underside of the leave is pleasantly soft and lustrous.

I’ve also been doing a lot of repotting. Like for instance, on the left I potted up a small rhizome of ginger that decided it was not going to be chopped up and cooked. I’ve learned that ginger makes a great houseplant. It might be because it is naturally found growing in warm, bright shade in the understory of the tropics – which is some what like a sunny windowsill. It’s also nice to have a ginger plant around because the leaves and flowers release a sweet ginger fragrance if brushed. Fun, right? And the plant on the right is a cutting of a scented geranium my friend gave me before heading off to study monkey vocalizations in China. I know it looks a bit tired from transport, but it is quite alive and very springy. This one smells of citronella.

Just freshly potted up.

Just freshly potted up.

Sorry it took almost a month to write again, but since this is my last week of work I (hopefully) will have more time to write about what’s happening in the garden. Here is a photo of the Long Plot now. Talk to you soon!

Here is the Long Plot in mid-summer.

Here is the Long Plot in mid-summer.

P.S. I’ve submitted the first portion of my visa application and bought my ticket to the UK – I can’t believe I am leaving in 5 weeks!

2 Responses to “Envisioning the Tropics”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Anthesis | Terry Gardens - August 2, 2013

    […] to bloom. It looks like the Tricyrtis formosana var. glandosa ‘Blu-Shing Toad’ read my last post and decided bloom yesterday! Tricyrtis are naturally found growing in the understories of forests […]

  2. Dog Days | Terry Gardens - August 20, 2013

    […] here is Fuchsia magellanica ‘Riccartonii’ blooming for the first time for me as well. In every way, this fuchsia is half the size of the […]

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