Hellebores: A Great Choice for an Early Blooming Evergreen Ground Cover


Hellebores:  A Great Choice for an Early Blooming Evergreen Ground Cover

HELLABORES:  Can you ever have enough of them?  At ourhomeinthewoods, we have over 500, hellebores, not exaggerating, we really do.  We’re not too fussy about varieties although we have about a dozen choice varieites.  Most are what would be labeled ‘helleborus x hybridus.  Many are young and small but they’ll grow.  I saw this great photo on Pinterest that inspired me.   I love the mass of evergreen foliage and blooms.  This is part of my goal for a garden bed between our driveway and the woods.   We have other plantings mixed in with the hellebores.  There are about 300 + there now.  Many are 2 -3 years old and just blooming for the first time this year.  We have raised most from volunteers in our yard.  Starting with about a dozen varieties, in many colors, double & single flowers.  Most are pinks, whites or variations.    I planted them way to close to each other.  Why?  well, it helps to fill the space now and as they outgrow the space, I will have mature sized hellebores to transplant to other areas as we develop them.    This bed will have a very different look by the time the perennials are up and growing.


In our garden, hellebores are a beautiful, easy to grow means to an end.  I haven’t studied all the particulars about them.  I know the important things: they grow very well in our area, pests don’t seem to be attracted to them, they take care of themselves for the most part and they continue to reseed themselves at the base of the plants and provide us with many more hellebores.   One quiet evening I will learn more about hellebores and I will start with this great article by Tony Avent of Plant Delights. (one of my favorite online nurseries)  http://www.plantdelights.com/Article/Hellebore-Lenten-Rose/Hellebores/Christmas-Rose/



Fragrant Pink Flowers Attract Butterflies To Your Garden

bead like flower buds

Last year we were looking for an interesting tall perennial that would do well in a fairly sunny and pretty wet place.  We found an 4 – 5 ft tall herbaceous perennial – Swampy milkweed also known as Asclepias incarnata.  The name Swampy milkweed doesn’t give this plant a very sophisticated aire but it really has some great qualities.

It is known as a favorite of butterflies.  You can always have more butterflies.
They are attracted to the pretty pink clusters of fragrant flowers that bloom in midsummer.  The buds look like clusters of bright pink beads.
The leaves are long and slender with veining that looks almost silvery. The leaf arrangement is opposite. Swampy weed grows tall 4 – 5 feet tall and slender eventually becoming a 2 – 3 feet wide clump.  A lot of tall and slender perennials get tall and floppy, but the milkweed is self supporting and most of it has remained upright even through some pretty strong wind gusts.
Swampy Milkweed
Swampy Milkweed
They are hardy is USDA zones 3 – 6.  I love the fact that they will thrive in places other plants would be very unhappy.  We are planning to let ours naturalize where they are.  They would also be great along the edge of a pond or in a rain garden.   Clay soil and wet soil are all well tolerated.  Deer, elk and bunnies just pass them by.  Gotta love that! 
Last year we left the seed heads on the plants all season.  They dropped onto the ground below and several new plants are growing.  I’m leaving them in place and will let the seed heads mature again this year.  Hopefully we will milkweed to share next year.

from RE-CYCLE to UP-SCALE Useful Garden Art

metal barrier 1
metal barrier as I brought it home

A few weeks ago I stopped at a garage sale and picked up this metal barrier.  I was told that it was used as a barrier around a public sign at a park.  At the time I wasn’t sure how I would use it or what I would do with it, but I knew it would go in the garden.

metal barrier 2
assorted tiles

I gathered up some tiles, also picked up at a garage sale for under $2.00 and glued the tiles on the metal barrier with a very strong construction glue.

metal barrier 4
barrier decorated

All done…   I decided to use it to keep the ‘red dragon’ persicaria from falling over.  I have used tomato cages to keep it from falling over before, but I like this better.  The red dragon needs to grow into it a bit, but overall a successful garage sale find up cycled into useful garden art for a song.

metal barrier done & in place
metal barrier done & in place

Amber Jubilee – Fantastic Foliage

physocarpus amber jubilee close up

Our ‘amber jubilee’ has been in the garden for about a year now.  It’s doing great – growing with beautiful color.  Happy & healthy.  I was exited at finding this plant last year and adding to our collection of ninebarks.  We have 6 varieties now.

Usually our ninebarks are at high risk of becoming deer food but things have changed around here.  We have added an 85 lb deer repellant named Bailey to our family.  He has a very menacing bark and has chased a deer out of the yard several times so far.  If he sees a deer from the window – he jumps up on the glass and barks loudly. It’s great – he chases them away from in the house.  Go Bailey!

Bailey – the 9 month old deer repellant
physocarpus amber jubilee (about 30″ tall)

This elegant little (for now) shrub gets bright light all day and only partial sun.  It could probably take more sun than it gets but this is where we wanted it in the landscape.

I have written other posts about ninebarks.

‘Amber Jubilee’ –  http://wp.me/p2kNeQ-mN

– aB    This one discusses more about some other ninebarks focusing on Coppertina


Eskimo Sunset Maple Offers Dramatic Pink Foliage


Eskimo Sunset Sycamore Maple

Acer pseudoplatanus ‘Esk Sunset’

Eskimo Sunset is one the showiest of maples in our yard.
The variations of oranges and pinks in the leaves make this a striking addition to any garden.  Ours is planted on the west side right outside our  master bathroom.  We see it out the window first thing in the morning.  What a beautiful sight to start the day.
view from the bathroom window
view from the bathroom window
This tree is sure to attract attention.  In spring the leaves emerge orange-pink, maturing to assorted shades of greens.  The leaves are marbled, looking as though they have been splashed with creams, tans and pinks. There is a very wide variation among the individual leaves.  

some of the leaf variation
some of the leaf variation
The undersides of the leaves are purples, adding to the appeal when caught by a gust of wind or you are viewing the tree from below.  Autumn brings a prolonged color interest from this tree.
looking up at the purple undersides
LIGHT:  partial to full sun ( ours gets midday and afternoon sun )
MOISTURE:  regular watering is important as the tree becomes established.  (ours in an area that stays moist almost all year)
PRUNING:   we have pruned it to improve the shape and for flower arrangements.  It has started to grow so fast that I think we will have to be pruning for size before too long.  I think they have underestimated the full size and growth rate.  It is said that the average landscape size will be12 ft. tall, 10 ft. wide in 10 years; 25 ft. tall with age. I think that is an understatement.  I read on another site that it will get to 40 ft. 
5.6 to 6.0 (acidic)
6.1 to 6.5 (mildly acidic)
6.6 to 7.5 (neutral)
Eskimo sunset will produce an insignificant chartreuse bloom in mid spring – early summer.   Collect seeds by allowing seed heads to dry on plants. Then remove and collect seeds.  Seed does not store well so direct sow seeds outdoors in the fall.
Eskimo Sunset Maple
Eskimo Sunset Maple


USDA Zone 5a: to -28.8 °C (-20 °F)
USDA Zone 5b: to -26.1 °C (-15 °F)
USDA Zone 6a: to -23.3 °C (-10 °F)
USDA Zone 6b: to -20.5 °C (-5 °F)
USDA Zone 7a: to -17.7 °C (0 °F)
USDA Zone 7b: to -14.9 °C (5 °F)
USDA Zone 8a: to -12.2 °C (10 °F)
USDA Zone 8b: to -9.4 °C (15 °F)
Family: Sapindaceae (sap-in-DAY-see-ee) (Info)
Genus: Acer (AY-ser) (Info)
Species: pseudoplatanus (soo-doh-PLAT-uh-nus) (Info)
Cultivar: Eskimo Sunset
Additional cultivar information: (aka Esk Sunset)
It was discovered as a chance seedling by John Wills at Trelinoe, his garden in the Esk Valley, which is on the east coast of the North Island of New Zealand.
We have had our tree for several years.  It was a bit more rare when we found it than it is now.  We see them at nurseries  occasionally, though it is not a nursery staple in this area.
The vibrant leaf color commands lots of attention in this area of the garden.  We have just redone the area around this tree and have used plants that add bold foliage colors and textures that are complimentary, actaea simplex ‘black negligee’, astilbe ‘look at me’ peonia ‘Sarah Bernhardt’ and many more.  We’re looking forward to seeing all these new plants mature into an interesting, colorful and pleasingly awesome garden anchored by esk sunset.





Prunella ‘Summer Daze’ – An Unusual Pretty Pink Perennial

Our garden is at it’s best in the early to mid spring. We have been needing to add summer color and have been focusing on adding plants with foliage interest and summer bloomers.

prunella 3
Prunella ‘Summer Daze’


US Plant Patent #19,609

I bought this cute little flowering perennial from Far Reaches Farm, Summer of 2013 for $10.00. I have never seen it for sale anywhere else. I planted it in partial sun in an area that takes a fair amount of abuse, by the dog chasing his ball, by bunnies, deer and elk all looking for fodder. It sat quietly all winter and sprang back to life this spring and is now in full bloom. The leaves are green and oak shaped.

flower bud
flower bud

The flower buds are an interesting are odd-shaped affair with a dark burgundy – black whirls with tiny white hairs where the bright pink spikes of hooded blooms will emerge. The buds add an interesting texture to this plant even before the vibrant blooms spring out.

The ‘summer daze’ originated In the United Kingdom. It’s a hybrid herbaceous perennial resulting from the cross between Prunella grandiflora and Prunellalaciniata. It will bloom in from late spring until first frost, producing dense spikes of rosy purple blooms.

Flower Close up
Flower Close up
Oak leaf type foliage
Oak leaf type foliage

CULTURE: this plant grows well in sunny or partially shady areas. It also doesn’t seen to be too fussy about watering. It hasn’t received more than anything rainwater since I planted it in summer or 2013. I gave it 1st season protection from animals, by putting a birdcage over it. I don’t know yet if the animal pests will eat it. It is said to be deer ‘resistant’ I’m always a bit skeptical about that claim because the deer and elk that travel our yard don’t seem to read the same ‘deer resistant’ plant charts that I read. ‘Summer daze’ seems pretty sturdy. It clumps neatly and would be suitable in pots or in the garden. Rows of them would be stunning in a border garden!

It is said to be hardy to a zone 4 (-30). It had no problem getting through 8 degrees last winter. It can be propagated by tip cuttings however a license is required – I don’t know how easy it is, I haven’t tried it, yet.

Pacific Northwest Native Foxglove (digitalis)
Pacific Northwest Native Foxglove (digitalis)

The color of the prunella blooms tie in beautifully with the native digitalis that volunteer in our garden.

I think this is a perennial that is definitely worth growing.

Topsy – Turveys – GREAT SPACE SAVER

Our heat pump just happens to be located in the best place on our property for the food garden.  It takes up some prime real estate against the house with the best southern exposure that we have.   It is going the stay there but the space above it has just been hanging out there…. wasted.   That bothered me.

our 5 topsy turvys
our 5 topsy turvys

I occasionally attend a ‘support group’ that discusses how to successfully grow food in this area, and how to overcome the problems that come with gardening in the shadow of the a mountain in the pacific northwest.  No… really there is such a group!  We toured some houses.  One really impressed me.  This home is in  neighborhood of tract homes.  It looks like many of the other homes in the area, pleasantly landscaped from the street.  The back yard was a tastefully designed as a food garden.  Easy maintenance gravel paths with fruit trees, berry bushes , raised beds with cloches and lots of pots with root vegetable and lettuces.  It was not only beautiful but prolific.  She was successfully growing tomatoes and peppers in topsy turvys.  Tomatoes are peppers are hard to grow in this area because of our short season and wet and cold springs and falls.  She was having great success.  My goal has been to have a food garden that is beautiful and prolific all year.

topsy turvy 3I admit that I felt that topsy turvys  were a little too ‘as seen on TV’ for our garden.  Then…. I saw 3 of them at a discount store for $ 3.00 each.  Later I found a couple more new in their packages for $1.00 each at a garage sale.    Last year we hung tomatoes in the topsy turvys.   I learned several things from our moderate success last year.

1) don’t overfill with soil, leave about an inch at the top

2) make sure that you have very good solid hooks and chains, these can be very heavy

3) they are difficult to water (when they are over your head) so we put in irrigation


topsy turvy 2
3 way diverter

We attached a 3 way diverter to the faucet and bought a simple irrigation set from the local hardware store and set up a system to turn on the water and water them all at once.  Easy peasy.!


So the advantages of  topsy – turvys?

– Hang em high and the elk, deer and rabbits can’t get to them

– use irrigation for easy efficient watering

– the sun warms the roots better than it warms the soil around here

– they can be a very efficient use of space


This project probably cost us around $50.00

for 5 sturdy chains & hooks, 5 topsy turvys, soil, 5 tomatoes, irrigation system.


More later about how well they work.  I will compare them to the results compared to the  fancy new mini – greenhouse my husband built over part of one of the raised beds.





From ‘Free’ to Fantanstic – Free Grating makes a Great Gabion Garden Bench

One Sunday last summer we were on our way to a friend’s house to pick something up. We passed a house with this grating by the side of the road and a sign that said FREE. Needless to say… we backed up and loaded it up. Funny how sometimes things just seem to fall into place. Since the rock slide on our property in 2009 (http://wp.me/p2kNeQ-ma) we have moved more rocks than most people see in a lifetime. A friend suggested that we make gabions. Well we finally made one.

gabion bench watermark1
free grates by the side of the road!
gabion bench watermark2
putting the frame together

My husband can build anything. He doesn’t just build, he over-builds. He builds things to last. It’s amazing really, but I digress.

He cut the grates and wired them together.

Next he put it in place, leveled it and set it into concrete.

gabion bench watermark3
leveling the bench, then setting it into concrete.

After the concrete was dry, he removed the forms. I filled it with rocks. I used bigger ones against the grate and smaller ones in the middle. I stacked the rocks closely so there wouldn’t be movement.

gabion bench watermark4
Great Gabion Bench – Done

He had some extra pieces of ironwood in the garage leftover from building the deck. He used that to made the seat. He placed boards to fit inside that grate to keep it from sliding. It is heavy enough that it just sits on top without requiring anchors. A coat of finish and its done. Lastly – we just need to finish the hardscaping and landscaping in that area, which we are working on this summer.

Supply list and cost
grating – free
wire to wire the grates together – we had wire and didn’t have to buy any.
2 x 4’s for forms – old wood sitting around – no cost
concrete – about $20.00 (it’s a pretty big bench)
rocks – free
ironwood – leftover from other projects


Blackberry & Raspberry Success!

What a difference a year makes!  Two years ago we put in the food garden including the berry bed. Berries gone wild!
2014 - june - berry garden update 4watermark
the first year they sleep – March 2012 – new berries are just little sticks
The first year they sleep, the second year they creep, the third year they LEAP
We gardeners all have seen this in action in our own gardens.
2014 - june - berry garden update 3 watermark
– the second year they creep -2013 early summer, I planted lots of other things around the berries to cover the soil.

The berry bed is a concrete raised bed about 3.5 ‘ wide and about 15 feet long. There is a trellis and wire to hold the berries gone wild from taking over the pathways. 

raspberry flowers and berries
raspberry flowers and berries

I don’t know why we bother to read the suggestions about how close plants should be placed, but for whatever reason we keep reading and then totally disregarding the advice. At the time, it seemed like a good idea to plant double the recommendations for spacing raspberry varieties and the thornless blackberries.

2014 - june - berry garden update 2
the third year they leap! 2014

They are proving to be very vigorous.  Just how much trouble could these vines get into?  They are in a concrete bed… that’ll keep them fenced in… right?   Now – They are 5 to 6 feet tall and there are just a few hints of the raspberries looking to set up housekeeping outside of the bed.  Lots of buzzing bees are blanketing the billions and billions of flowers (ok – so billions is an exaggeration – but there are a lot!)

We are looking forward to lots of berries this year. Can’t wait to taste the thornless blackberries. More on that after the taste test.

Plant buying tip: We bought berry plants from local nurseries and Raintree. The plants from rain tree were by far the most vigorous, and they have an amazing selection of edibles. 

Growing tips: We mulched every fall with a compost / fine bark mix.  I also threw a few coffee grounds in the garden, when I thought of it. 

‘Common’ Mahonia Deserves Another Look

Today we had a brief respite between rain and wind storms. As I was strolling the yard making the pre-spring assessment of what needs to be done… a sweet fragrance caught my attention.mahonia 'charity' 2

We love to collect the rare and interesting flora, often taking for granted the ‘common’ plant materials that provide the bones of the garden. This Oregon grape is found commonly in many Northwest Nurseries. Mahonia stands quietly in the garden most of the year, going unnoticed, while adding shape and structure. In early March it come to life with blooms in whorls of delicate and fragrant yellow flowers. It was such a treat to smell the sweet fragrance and see the delicate blooms on such a study plant that I wanted to share the outstanding qualities of this wonderfully common family of Mahonia.mahonia 'charity' 3

mahonia 'charity' 1

The flowers will be replaced by waxy dark berries in grape like clusters in late summer into early fall. The evergreen foliage has an upright growth habit, with deep green, prickly leaves in arranged in whorls. In my part of the world, one of the most redeeming features to this shrub is that it is of no interest to rabbits, deer or elk, but the hummingbirds find it appealing.

CARE: In our yard we have several varieties and have used it in several places. Mahonia has thrived in a variety of light, moisture and soil situations. We may prune occasionally for shape. Our winter temperatures get down to single digits most years and wind speeds over 35 mph are not unusual. Mahonia takes it all in stride, showing few signs of wear and no signs of stress. No wonder it is among the ‘great plant picks’ collection.

We have collected several different varieties of mahonias, from common to exotic. In the back yard, in the spring….the 6-7 foot tall sturdy deep green leaves of Charity are beautifully contrasted with delicate sprays of pale pink candelabra primroses and the deeper rose double blooming perennial ’Corporal Baxter’ primroses. As summer approaches and the primrose blooms fade, they are replaced with a ground cover of dusty blue hostas and miniature ‘Twist of Lime’ hostas. To its left stands a vigorous ‘Coppertina’ physocarpus (ninebark) providing wonderful color contrast. mahonia 'charity' 4

Most mahonia prefers full sun to dappled shade, is drought tolerant once established, but also does well in our very damp weather -3/4 of the year. It prefers a well-drained soil, but will tolerate sandy sites and clay.   Most are hardy – zone 6 -7.  Some varieties are more tender: ‘Dan Hinkley’ – a small slender growing plant and ‘gracilipesis’ – with beautiful blue-gray green foliage and silver undersides. We planted this one on a hill in hopes of being able to admire the underside as it grows.

There is a mahonia choice (or two) that is perfect in any garden.