Archive for the ‘Shrubs’ Category

Good Luck Charm

I’ve heard that in Japan it is considered  good luck if you plant a Heavenly Bamboo (Nandina domestica) like this one next to  your  doorway and it grows up above the top of your door frame.  This bamboo –  (not a real bamboo – it’s in the Barberry family, with Oregon Grape, Barberries and other Mahonias) –  is 11 feet tall, one of the tallest I’ve ever seen.  The door is on a porch that is 4 feet high – so the plant is 7 feet tall at the porch level and is just above the doorway.   Since we have such good luck here in this home we figure this may be a true thing.  Might as well be, eh?  Good luck is always welcome…

However lucky they are, the berries are unfortunately not good luck for the birds.  They’re poisonous to them, and to us as well, so don’t eat them or expect the birds to.  They know what they doing!   They’re so pretty on the plant anyway, who would want to remove them?  Except maybe to bring them indoors to brighten up your living room with a floral display!

Good luck to you and yours,



NW Flower and Garden Festival

As I mentioned in my last post Louie and I spent several hours the other day at the NW Flower and Garden Festival.  It’s celebrating its 30th year as America’s largest family-owned garden themed show.  It’s truly amazing!   There are a number of of demonstration gardens, which are what I’ll be showing you here.  But there’s also a huge marketplace with hundreds of vendors selling all manner of garden products, as well as miscellaneous show type stuff.   There’s also a large plant market with a number of specialty nurseries who offer miniature conifers, bulbs and tubers, even Japanese maples.  I could only handle it for a few hours before sensory overload hit and we had to leave.  But I got a lot of good pictures and I want to share them with you here.

All of these gardens were created by dedicated teams of volunteers in just the 72 hours preceding the show!  Incredible!  Of course none of them would make it outdoors as planted – they’re not meant as literal gardens themselves and their job is to showcase various themes and styles rather than an actual garden design.  They move in literally tons of rock, soil, mulch and of course hundreds of plants, ranging from a few inches to 20 feet or more tall.  I always get a lot of ideas for my own garden, but of course it’s already so over-planted I don’t really have room for more.  But next year I’ll plan ahead better and get some bulbs at least.  But then the reason we go is just to enjoy the sights.  I hope you do too!

OK, thats about it.  It’d be nice if I’d been able to remember each display, but I didn’t have writing materials and it would have been too hard to remember each one anyway.  But I hope that just the designs themselves will be satisfying for you, as it was for me.  If you have a garden show in your area please do find time to go to it.  You’ll be supporting a good cause and be able to see some amazing garden displays and get your own ideas for your garden at home.  It’s worth the trip.

Happy Viewing,


Winter Foliage

There aren’t many flowers blooming in the garden in Winter, so we look to the ones with colored foliage to give us some interest in the garden this time of year.  A couple of these change color with the cold during the change of seasons, but most of them are colored all year long.  But they’re especially valued in this otherwise rather drab season.

This Cryptomeria elegans is one that changes from a lush green in summer to this lovey purple in winter.  It’s one of the fastest growers in the garden.  It’s only 8 years old and has grown over 20 feet in that time.  The bark is a beautiful reddish brown that adds even more color to it.  It’s one of my favorite plants in the garden all year, but it’s especially nice now.

From one of the tallest plants in the garden to one of  the smallest.   This is a small patch of Black Mondo Grass (Ophiopogan planiscapus “Nigrescens”).  It’s this lovely black all year long, one of only a few black plants I know of.  This clump is by the back gate and under a weeping purple beech.  You can’t see them much in the summer, tho what you can see goes well with the purple beech.  So this is their time to shine.  The silver globe is an old cannon ball we painted,  just for fun.  Art is everywhere…

Here’s’ a large one that is easily recognizable  – a Colorado Blue Spruce (Picea pungens “Glauca”).  A common enough plant but its blue is so beautiful all year it’s a treat to have all the time.  It’s in the front yard and provides a nice focal point to the corner of the garden.  It gets big and it’s very prickly – the specific name “pungens” mean sharp, so I’ll have to prune it carefully so we can walk by it safely.

This is another small one – a Morgan’s Chinese arborvitae (Thuja orientalis “Morgan”).  I didn’t even know there were arborvitae in Asia so this was a treat to find in a nursery when I was looking for a yellow plant to provide some bright color in the front yard.  It won’t grow to be more than 3′ x 2′ and it’ll take it years to get that big.  That’s OK because I love dwarf conifers and have a lot of them.

This is another one that changes color with the colder weather.  It’s a Heavenly Bamboo (Nandina domestica “Moyer’s Red”), and not only offers us a beautiful color change but also these lovely bright red berries.  Unfortunately they’re not good bird food but they sure are nice eye candy.  This is at the corner of the entrance to the yard so it gets viewed all the time by passers by.  You can see it a block away.

This one shows two plants in one shot, really three if you count the tiny Iris reticulata by the Blue star Juniper (Juniperus squamata “Blue Star”) at the top of the picture.  The juniper is always this nice blue but the one in the front is the really cool one to me.  It’s a Toffee Twist Sedge (Carex flagillifera “Toffee Twist”) and it’s gotten to this size in one year from a 4″ pot!  We step on its leaves all the time so it stays “trimmed”, and that seems to work OK.

Here’s another nice blue one.  It’s a Snow White Lawson Cypress (Chamaecyparis lawsoniana “Snow White”).  It’s a nice columnar plant and it works well at the corner of the yard by the gate.  It grows very slowly and will only get 6′ tall they say, and it’s almost that tall now, so I think it may get bigger.  It’s also blue all year, even in the shade where most colored plants won’t color well.  It’s very soft to the touch and has upright branching, as opposed to the shaggy downward branching of the species.

This is another one that changes color in the fall and winter.  It’s a PJM Regal Rhododendron (Rhododendron “PJM Regal”) and turns this nice purple in winter.  It’s an early bloomer and will be in bloom in the not too distant future.  It has wonderful bright pinkish purple flowers that stand out nicely against the dark green of the pyramidal arborvitae behind it. It’ll get 5′ tall in time.

One of the few golden plant we have, this is a Daniellow Western Red Cedar (Thuja plicata “Golden Spire”).  It grows a foot and a half a year and will get to 20′ in time.  It’s a cultivar of the most useful tree of the Pacific Northwest, as far as the native people were concerned.  It’s their “Buffalo” as far as the many uses they had for it.  The species is a huge tree and covers miles of land in this area of the world.  It’s very cool to have this as a reminder of the big ones.

One last blue one.  This is a Sawara False Cypress (Chamaecyparis pisifera “Baby Blue”) and will get to about 6 feet tall, which it almost is now, so it may get bigger.  It’s at the corner of what I used to call the Heather bed, but the heathers mostly died in the big freeze of last winter so I dunno what to call it now.  Just a nice planting bed I guess.  Some spider mites or something bad got into it last year and we lost the back half of it, but I was able to cover it up with other branches.  A sweet, soft little plant.

So that’s it for now.  I have more but they aren’t big enough to show off yet.  Maybe in a few years I’ll do this again.  Probably.  It’s so nice to have these colorful creatures in the garden now to bring some winter cheer into our lives when we walk in the garden during these days of grey and overcast skies.   I hope you enjoyed seeing them and that I gave you some ideas of how to color up your own winter garden!

Colorfully good wishes,  Steve

Welcome to Our Home

I really did mean to publish this when I took it back in October.  But life was too busy then and I just never got around to it.   But it’s a nice image of the entrance to our house and I wanted to put it into the blog, so here it is, a bit late but still beautiful.

From the left the plants here are:  the Coral Bark Maple (Acer palmatum Sango-Kaku), turning its lovely golden fall colors here.  It’s only about 7 1/2 years old and has grown really fast.  I trained it to be narrow at the bottom so we could still walk past it to the steps and into the garden to its right.  It forms a nice arch to enter beneath.

Next to it is a cultivar of the Austrian Black Pine called an Oregon Green Pine.  It’s been here for 8 years and is expected to get twice its present size.  It has beautiful white candles on it in the spring.  It forms the other half of the arch to walk under to get into the garden.

The tree in the back is a Korean Butterfly Maple (Acer tschonoskii ssp. Koreanum).  It’s only been here for 3 1/2 years and has grown about 8 feet in that time.  It turns this beautiful reddish orange fall color and is the first tree to change color.  It’s also the first tree to leaf out in the spring and the first to lose it leaves in the fall as well.  Balance I guess.

Below it is a gray green Pfitzer Juniper (Juniperus chinensis “pfitzeriana”).  It’s one that Louie planted over 30 years ago.  It’d be huge now but I keep it cut back so we can walk the path and drive into the driveway.  Louie wants to dynamite it but I’ve got him to hold off so far with some selective pruning.  They do get large tho, and it’s going to be a constant chore as time goes on.

Above the juniper is a hedge of Pyramidal Arborvitae (Thuja occidentals “Pyrimadalis”).   Louie planted these over 30 years ago as well and they were only in gallon cans then.  They form a dense screen across the front of the garden so that it’s very private inside it all.  It’s a peaceful place to hang out in any time in the year.

The ones at the far right are a line of Heavenly Bamboo (Nandina domestica “Moyer’s Red”).   They’re interspersed with Oregon grape across the front of the garden and were some of the first plants I planted here in 2008.  The nandinas turn this amazing purple red in the fall and winter and you can see the colors from way down the block as you drive towards us. They have brilliant red berries on them in winter but they aren’t edible, even by the birds.  Go figure…

That’s the entrance to our home.  We hope to see you coming up the walk one of these days to visit.  You’ll be very welcome here.  Cheers!

Hummer Heaven

This is a Mahonia x media “Charity” and it’s a haven for the hummingbirds.  In the middle of Winter it’s hard for the little guys to find good food, but this is one place they can always get it.  It’s not uncommon to see several of them at one time on this bush.  Later on the flowers will turn into blue berries that are treats for other birds. All in all it’s a good plant for the bird lovers among us, tho it’s not so friendly to people.  It lives along a path to the greenhouse with the ferns and you have to be careful or it’ll stick you badly.  Still it’s so beautiful that it’s worth the risk.  It grows pretty fast too.  It’s been in the yard for about 6 years and is 8′ tall.  It’s in the Berberidaceae family, and is related to the barberries, various Oregon grapes and the nandinas.  It’s a cool family with lots of colorful plants and many of them have good food for the birds as well.  Check it out and enjoy!



This is the plant most folks think of when they speak of a Daphne. This is the classic Daphne odora “Marginata”, perhaps the most fragrant plant in the garden. When it blooms the whole front yard is filled with an intoxicating fragrance that permeates the air from the driveway to the hedge and up to the front porch as well. It even reaches out into the street at times. It’s truly amazing. I wish I could put a smell-o-meter on this post so you could experience what they smell like. These bloom in late Winter – in February and March when not much else is blooming and certainly nothing as fragrant as this plant. It’s one of my favorites in the whole garden. They’re native to Japan and China, as so many beautiful plants are…


This little gem is called Daphne “Lawrence Crocker” a hybrid between D. arbuscula and D. collina. It’s native to the Czech Republic and Slovakia. What a treat it must be to find this perfect specimen in the forests of that region. This is special plant that blooms so often it’s got flowers on it early in the spring and then blooms again later in summer. It’s in bloom now in fact and this picture was taken in April. You have to bend down on your knees to really smell this one, tho you can get a whiff of it standing over it sometimes. Here you can see it surrounded by our native Bleeding Heart and Wild Ginger.


This is the largest growing one I have. It’ll get to be a 4 or 5 foot ball. Its called Daphne transatlantica “Summer Ice” and is a hybrid of garden origin. It’s the one that Really blooms a long time. It starts in early spring with its first flush of flowers and then it begins again in June with another set that will last for weeks. It’ll keep flowers on it for months actually and they smell almost as strong as the Odora.  The two plants are only 5 feet apart on opposite sides of the garden in the front yard so we have a plethora of fragrance in that area for months on end. This plant is only about 3 years old so it grows fast. Next to it is another fragrant plant – a Sarcococca ruscifolia – that blooms even before the Daphne odora in January. We have a Very smelly front yard! 🙂


This last one isn’t fragrant at all really – maybe just a touch. But that’s not why we grow it. It’s for the lovely foliage and the wonderful mounding  habit it has. It’s called Daphne x Rossetti, a natural hybrid from the Pyrenees Mountains. It’s a bit crowded here with the foxglove that volunteered to grow next to it. I love their flowers so I let them stay, usually. This is a small plant that won’t get more than about 12 inches tall and wide. It’s been here for a couple of years now and has grown wonderfully well. It may not smell but it’s still a beautiful little Daphne.

As you may know Daphne was a figure in Greek Mythology. She was a Naiad, a type of female nymph associated with springs, brooks, wells, fountains and other bodies of fresh water. She was pursued by the god Apollo, whose advances she spurned. He got mad, as those male gods tended to do, and so she had to be rescued by her father, the river god Ladon, who turned her into a laurel tree to save her. Daphne means laurel in Greek and the way it associates with her comes from a plant called a “Laurel Daphne”, or “Spurge Laurel”. Today Laurel is associated with the Bay Laurel (Laurus nobilis) which is the plant whose leaves crowned the victors of the original Olympic Games, and are so good to cook with.

There are some 50-100 species of Daphne over the world, mostly in Asia, Europe and North Africa. They are known for their fragrance and poisonous berries. Lovely to see and smell, but don’t eat the fruit…!! Now where have I heard That before???

Stop and smell the flowers…



Nandina domestica, also known as Heavenly Bamboo, is a medium sized shrub that grows a bit like bamboo, thus the common name. But it’s actually in the same family as Barberry – the Berberidaceae. It can grow up to 8 feet tall, or more, with a spread of 4-6 feet given room. It grows in a fountain shape and the way you prune it is to lop off the tallest canes from the ground up and let the new ones take over, which they will do rapidly. This is a fast growing plant and this variety – “Moyer’s Red” – turns a lovely reddish shade in the winter.

The red berries follow the flowers you can see in the following pictures. In some you can even see a few berries. They are a common plant and in some areas are considered invasive, but not here in Seattle where we are. This is one of the few plants we have more than one of. Mostly I try not to repeat myself, but a line of them was too attractive to miss, so we did that as you’ll  see below. All the plants you’ll see are almost 8 years old, and are some of the first plants I planted when I moved in with Louie in 2009.


This is a shot of the front of the yard, as seen from the street. This is the first view people have of our garden. As you can see the Thuja pyramidalis behind the Nandina are about 16 feet tall and make a nice backdrop for them. In between them we planted Oregon Grape, also in the Barberry family. They have small purple berries on them now that are pretty good to eat, but are a bit sour so they’re best for jelly and such.  The Nandina berries are poisonous and even the birds tend to leave them alone.


This one is right by our front porch. It’s at least 8 feet tall, and there is a legend that if the Heavenly Bamboo gets taller than the door jamb that it protects the home.  This one will do that pretty well I’d say. It has a lot of flowers on it now and a few berries left over from last season. It frames the entrance to the house and provides interest all year round with its various changes.


This last one is by the door of the garage and is well over the door jamb, so I guess the garage is well protected. I did a little bit of fancy pruning on it to air it out some and give the form a chance to show itself off. You can see a couple of little reddish new shoots coming up thru the neighboring foliage at the bottom. I’ll let them grow and in time they’ll replace the taller canes now growing. It never turns very red because it’s in a north facing area and just doesn’t get much sun at all.  The ones in front do much better at changing color because they get so much more sun.

I’ve known Nandina for some 45 years of gardening and have planted so many of them in landscapes I really couldn’t begin to tell you how many of them I’ve put in the ground. They used them a lot where I grew up in central California and are in fact pretty overused there in places. I almost grew to dislike them when I worked there doing landscapes, but I’ve overcome my prejudices as I’ve gotten older and away from that business end of things. Now I just plant what I like and am happy with them.

I hope you enjoyed seeing some of these plants in various shapes. They’re nice plants for narrow spaces or for screening, and to provide that Asian flair for the garden. They aren’t hard to find and  there are many varieties, from small mounding shrublets to this tall natural form I’ve shown you. Some turn blazing red in winter, some don’t. All in all it’s a very versatile plant for many gardens.

Happy Growing!


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