The Best of July

Just today FM declared July is exhausting. I agree. While he is extra-busy building a new chicken coop (post to come!), there is always watering, weeding, maintenance of paths & greenhouse - plus it's the beginning of food-processing from the veggie garden. Pickling beets is next weekend. The extreme heat late last month did a number on everything, conditions that are beginning to show in sometimes subtle ways such as a pause in some of the crops we grow, likely due to blossom drop from the heat. Needles from our fir trees are dropping like snow and we cannot keep the shade garden well-watered for the thirsty trees take it all. Critters are abundant (skunk family, anyone?) and the hens have stopped laying eggs for a while in protest of the hot weather and commotion caused by new coop construction. Despite all that there are still some lovely moments in the garden and I aim to share those with you now, especially plants that fared very well in our recent waves 'o heat. 

The garden as a whole is frustrating right now because it takes so much of our energy and I am not able to do the fun chores such as make adjustments I wish to accommodate its growing size, so things look overgrown and weedy. Just no time. When watering chores subside (and most of this is a dry garden - it has simply been THAT dry this year), I look forward to digging in and making changes but for now I must put my Buddha cap on and say I love it as it is. Here we go.

View of the house looking through the edge of the labyrinth garden, a very dry area that I water by hand when it does need it. FM usually uses a sprinkler in the shade garden, but I don't want overhead water on some of these arctostaphylos and other dry border plants so I hand-water. It's a labor of love.

First up, clematis. I joke that I am not a clematis person and the irony is I work for one of the most well-known nurseries for clematis, Joy Creek. I have succumbed to their charms (some of them) such as this Clematis 'Romantika' that really doesn't require a lot of extra water from me.  

This one is a seedling and this is the first year it has bloomed. I waited four or five years to see what it would become, I think I'll keep it. Kind of sweet. Looks like it has some viticella blood in it - which makes sense as I do have Clematis 'Minuet' in another part of the garden some 300' away. This one is decidedly more purple. You just never know with plants - the surprise is half the fun, right? This is in the dry garden.

One last clematis for this post, Clematis x durandii, a rather drought tolerant non-clinging vine that does just fine in the dry border.

The arctos are doing their sexy bark exfoliating thing. This is Arctostaphylos 'Saint Helena', one of my favorite plants in the garden.

A little closer in, that wonderful bark.

Arctostaphylos 'Sentinel' in a field of creeping thyme.

Brachyglottis greyi, a broad-leafed evergreen plant that really thrives in dry environments. The flowers are bright yellow daisy like blooms that are not a big hit with some gardeners as they are a bit on the gaudy side. This shrub is worth growing, however, if you are looking to add xeric plants to the garden. Plus, it adds texture, sparkle and a nice form when contrasted with other green leaved plants.

A dream of a penstemon, Penstemon kunthii. This is an evergreen sub-shrub for me in this climate, but it does look a little tired by spring. I do prune it back a little to clean it up. When the heat turns up this thing goes into overdrive and is a blooming machine well until the first frost of the season and often beyond.

Cynara cardunculus or cardoon flowers. This cardoon is self sown and never receives supplemental water. The blooms are smaller this year than in years past, likely due to our extremely dry spring.

Monardella villosa, a native coyote mint that is a little evergreen shrublet, tough as nails with no supplemental water.

Zauschneria californica, syn. Epilobium canum, California fuchsia that likely receives some summer water from potted plants up above it on the deck. Even without summer water it is an excellent plant to add to the dry garden and looks great.

Bouteloua gracilis 'Blonde Ambition', another dry border grass that floats. FM calls it the "eyebrow plant".

Artemisia frigida, prairie sagewort

I have several agastaches or licorice mints it turns out. They do well for me, mostly, especially this one Agastaches 'Apricot Sunrise'.

Agastache 'Black Adder' is a new addition to the garden, I love the dark flower bracts in combination with the purple petals.

Agastache 'Firebird' is a second new addition to the garden, I seem to go for colored flower bracts with harmonizing petals. 

Stipa gigantea flowers floating. They have been especially beautiful this year and receive very little summer water, perhaps a bit from surrounding plants but not much. If you have room for these they are totally worth the garden real estate.

Origanum 'Kent Beauty' drapes gently over the side of the retaining wall in the berm garden.

Native Achillea millefolium and non-native Achillea ptarmica 'Angel's Breath' with Allium sphaerocephalon bombing the photo. These are all in the meadow area and are allowed to self sow, some more vigorously than others. They are all popular with honey bees and other native bees, especially the A. millefolium, our native yarrow.

A path through the labyrinth garden with dry border plants along the way including Teucrium chamaedrys (flowering in purple), Hebe 'Red Edge' on the right and behind it Agastache 'Apricot Sunrise'. The Miscanthus sinensis 'Cabaret' in the center never receives extra water, nor does the Cotinus 'Pink Champagne' behind it. All these plants play incredibly well together, including the Acanthus mollis, far left. 

Around the seldom-used fire pit, creeping thymes, Muhlenbergia rigens and Festuca rubra 'Patrick's Point' all contribute to the dry garden theme. The self-sown Nicotiana 'Hot Chocolate' seedling on the far right just does its thing with no supplemental water.

Acanthus mollis portrait. This plant is semi-evergreen for me and gets better every year. I realize many gardeners despise this plant for the old saying is once you plant it you will never rid yourself of it. In other words, if you try to move it it will come back in its original spot from roots left behind. It must have reached some kind of water table below surface because it rarely receives supplemental water and it is so happy here in seemingly dry high overhead shade with blasts of sun here and there.

Veronicastrum virginicum 'Album' near the birdbath where it is sure to receive a little of the runoff which it craves in very hot weather. 

Penstemon sp. (chiapas x Hidalgo), a very fine penstemon from work that is, no exaggeration, 6+ feet tall in the gardens at Joy Creek Nursery.

Dahlia 'Georgia Peach' (marketed as Dahlightful Georgia Peach). Whatever. I liked the flowers and got them half price at a nearby nursery. I love the colors and they brighten up my deck.

An unknown Phormium tenax variety adds structure to a rather fluffy area.

The oceanic goddess planter that lives outside in the summer has brightened up our deck considerably. 

Echinacea purpurea seedlings from Echinacea 'White Swan'. I keep threatening to move them but they seem so happy here.

Rosa chinensis 'Mutabilis' lost all of its flowers during the heat wave but is now reblooming.

Digitalis ferruginea seedling

A sedum telephium seedling that has rather handsome foliage

Eryngium giganteum, Miss Wilmott's Ghost
That's a lot of plants to go over. There are hundreds more but these caught my eye this week and are noteworthy for their endurance through the record temperatures and dry year we've experienced.

I think that as the year presses on more decisions will be made regarding drought tolerance and removing some water hogs. I don't see us getting wetter in the future, I think this is here to stay. On that note, better to be adaptable than to run around stressing ourselves out trying to accommodate plants that once thrived here in the Pacific Northwest but no longer hold that title. Hydrangeas, I'm looking at you.

That's a wrap for this week at Chickadee Gardens. As always thank you so much for reading and commenting, we love hearing your thoughts and what you are up to in your gardens. Happy gardening!


  1. I’ll be so sad to have to remove hydrangeas! Even my hardy fuchsias got fried a bit in the earlier heat wave but they’re recovering, to the delight of the hummingbirds. I agree we have to face the reality of a hotter, drier climate here in the PNW but it’s hard to let go of some of my favorites. I’ll keep hand watering too and mulching everything with whatever I can get my hands on I still hope to see your garden in person some day; you inspire me in my fledgling efforts. Getting smaller plants established in this drought and heat is no joke!

    1. Thank you for your comments, Gayle. I know, it's very hard to let go of some plants whether they die or you remove them. You do what's best for you. Glad the fuchsias are rebounding - at work they really took a hit and the flowers have been really small this summer. They are recovering but it's taking a few weeks.

      I hope you can come visit sometime! So glad to inspire, hopefully my mistakes will be useful to others. We're all in this together!

      And yes, new plants in the ground when it's this dry and hot is no joke....not for the faint of heart.

  2. Despite the miserable heat you experienced earlier, your garden is looking terrific, Tamara. I love the Penstemons and Agastaches and hope to add more of those to my own garden this fall in advance of (fingers crossed) our winter rainy season. I was forced to abandon Hydrangeas with my current garden (except for a very small one in a pot in my lath house). If next year's annual rains are as bad as they were this year (4.10 inches), I expect I'll be dropping a lot more species, even among those in the so-called drought tolerant category. Severe drought, combined with fast-draining sandy soil, is a killer :(

    1. Thank you Kris, once again for your encouragement and kind words. Every time you talk about your garden it puts it all in perspective for me - 4.10 inches is no joke. Ouch. It will be interesting to see what all of us end up with after a few years - you especially with severe drought and super well-drained soil. Keep us posted what works for you.

  3. Weeds? What weeds? I'm right there with you - this time of year it always feels like all I can do is wait out the summer and try to keep things alive. I'm always surprised to find Agastache rupestris hybrids/selections doing well in dry gardens; in my garden I've found them to be rather thirsty plants - daily wilting in weather like this. Perhaps I should try again if I can find a spot with slightly slower drainage than my usual, which I would call super-extra-fast.

    1. Right...ha ha! What weeds? All those things we want to do are on hold for the watering circus. Interesting for you about Agastache rupestris - I know we discussed this on Facebook. What works for me is keeping them well-watered the first year then if they survive the winter I let them go and give them room. Mulching helps - and as I mentioned at work the ones on the tables need afternoon water daily in the summer to mimic their natural cycles of monsoon rains in New Mexico and Arizona.

  4. I love Monardella villosa. Such a gorgeous, easy plant. I'm still trying to get Penstemon kunthii established. So many lovely plants in a fabulous garden, Tamara. Thank you for sharing.

    1. ME TOO Grace, so easy and cute and gorgeous. I hope Penstemon kunthii works out for you, it's really a wonderful plant.

      Thank you Grace! :)

  5. Yes, where did I misplace my Buddha cap? It’s so funny about our so-called “dry gardens,” how much attention even they need in July. Really enjoyed this look at what is striking you now and your poetic photography!

    1. SO TRUE, Denise. So true. Gardens (at least what a garden is in our mind's eye) require our attention.

      Thank you for your kind comments. I can say the same about your amazing photography, Denise. For certain. Cheers.

  6. You have a huge variety of plants that are thriving despite the heat. Especially love those tall Penstemons and wish they would be hardy here. We have a few pretty, short natives and the barbatus types love it in my garden. My husband has frequently said something similar to FM. With all the handwatering that is required I am inclined to make some changes too. Definitely more shade trees. Hang in there, it will get cooler all too soon


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