Joy of July

The garden is once again my sanctuary. The last 12 months have been a hard-fought battle of us vs. extremes, critters, disease and weather. Not that we are winning (nature always has the last laugh), but at least we have evened the score this month as I am not simply fixing catastrophes and wondering why I garden at all. When we are caught up to catastrophes and our daily chores, there is space to invent and be creative; something that has not happened for a long time. 

I love such moments and have been re-discovering my creativity, the truest connection I have with my garden. While July certainly has its share of tasks, I feel as if it has been a better balance. I am enjoying it right now, so much so that earlier this week I took some time to photograph the garden.

The annual poppy Papaver somniferum 'Lauren's Grape' has made herself at home throughout the garden, now popping up in areas I have no memory of sowing seed. No matter. They compliment a rather large amount of foliage colors (I tend towards silvers and silver greens) and are easy to yank if in a less than desirable spot. The seed heads are quite decorative and offer a bounty of seeds for baking and for packaging up and selling.

I begin the tour in the labyrinth garden. This is the edge in the evening light. A Festuca 'Beyond Blue' seedling popped up front and center.

Speaking of grasses popping up, Nassella tenuissima, Mexican feather grass does so in the gravel garden. I love its movement in the breeze and the bright green foliage that shifts to blonde as the season progresses. Super-easy to remove if needed and it has very low water requirements.

The end of the Himalayan mounds with Agastache 'Kudos Red' in full bloom. Arctostaphylos pumila is the largest shrub in this photo. I find I'm going to need to move some plants in here before they are overtaken.

Romneya coulteri, Coulter's Matilija poppy has taken hold finally. Its beauty is quite graceful, so if it decides to dominate as I think it might, that's okay by me.

Looking into the labyrinth garden with Santolina 'Lemon Queen' next to a Santolina virens in the center.

Feijoa sellowiana (syn. Acca sellowiana), pineapple guava. It was a bit worn from April snow among other weather catastrophes, but is pulling through and even threw out a couple flowers that yes, do taste like bubblegum. The petals. I made FM try one first.

The Himalayan mounds on the left, the edge of the labyrinth on the right. The rosemary on the right, supposedly a prostrate form, has been less than satisfactory in terms of the overall look. I have, thanks to the Practical Plant Geek, a dozen or so actual low-growing rosemary plants developing in the greenhouse that I might use to replace these, but that is a huge project. I may begin this autumn.

A favorite penstemon, P. khunthii has responded well to our rather crazy wet spring. Last year after heat dome it struggled, but this year is fresh and floriferous.

The southern edge of the labyrinth, Oscar the agave sits battered but proud. The rot that seemed to ensue during our incredibly wet spring has dried and he's growing. I considered removing him when he looked his worst, but scars and all -- he stays.

The mostly unused firepit surrounded by Muhlenbergia rigens and Festuca rubra 'Patrick Point'. The flagstones surrounding the pit are planted with Thymus praecox 'Minus'.

Fire pit on the right out of sight and the labyrinth ahead on the left with Acanthus mollis flanking the path.

One of many Hebe 'Karo Golden Esk' in the center, a favorite of mine. There is a lot of foliage color and texture in my garden, flowers are, as usual, a bonus.

The meadow garden does have a lot of color during the summer months. It's a bit of a free-for-all bonanza and changes a little every year. Here, Achillea millefolium rises among ornamental grasses, Veronica longifolia behind it.

Allium sphaerocephalon mixes with Knautia macedonica, creating a sea of bobbing crimson flowers. The bees go for both flowers. 

Moving closer to the house the gravel garden is being cleaned up from winter and spring damage. I lost a lot of branches of Ceanothus 'Italian Skies' to April snow, other plants rotted out but most are either fine or salvageable. Many Salvia officinalis 'Berggarten' rotted and were removed. I've broken up with them. There is curiously one left that is in high dry shade and it looks fantastic. Go figure. 

Another acanthus, this one is Acanthus spinosus with rather prickly but sensational leaves. A battered (squished/flattened from heavy April snow) Arctostaphylos 'Saint Helena' is behind it.

Moving around the corner to the top of the driveway the beginning of the retaining wall and the berm garden greets you. The left side once had a Grevillea x gaudichaudii, but, alas, the weather killed it. The red flower spikes are Lobelia tupa.

Flower detail of Lobelia tupa. There are three hummingbirds defending this right now.

Moving down along the retaining wall and berm garden, this is the view out of our front door. The shade garden is in the back under those fir trees.

Some hot color in the berm garden.

Stachys 'Hummelo' has a rather electric color and compliments the Hebe 'Western Hills' behind it. This spreading perennial is quite charming and easy.

A wider shot of some of the berm garden with a self-sown Phlomis russelliana in the bricks.

This one's for Danger Garden.

A parting shot of why I grow Stipa gigantea. It catches the light. It IS light. Sigh....I love this magic in the afternoon.

We are so lucky right now as I am quite aware the rest of the world seems to be experiencing all manner of weather extremes. We have had a fairly normal summer, even on the cool side. Even a little rain. You just never know, however, so we take the joyful moments and run with them. That's what this post is all about. We are having a lot of challenges with the veggie garden, more on that another day. It's been a rough year for food production for many friends in this area.

In other news, my garden friend Dale and his colleague Rebekah of Winterbloom landscape design came over to the garden for a visit. Here's a link to their blog post about Chickadee Gardens. 

Also I have been invited to be a part of the Great Plant Picks Committee, truly an honor. If you have not heard of Great Plant Picks, I encourage a browsing of their website. The mission statement: Great Plant Picks is an educational program committed to building a comprehensive palette of outstanding plants for maritime Pacific Northwest gardens. Great Plant Picks is one of the educational outreach programs for the Elisabeth C. Miller Botanical Garden providing a forum for sharing horticultural information with the wider gardening community.

OK, there you have it. A non profit that basically vets plants to provide recommendations to the public, specifically for the Pacific Northwest. Thank you Great Plant Picks for including me on your amazing team, it is truly an honor. I look forward to contributing what I can!

That's a wrap for this week at Chickadee Gardens. As always, thank you so much for reading and commenting, we love connecting with you! Happy gardening, wherever you are. May you experience joy in nature.


  1. Jeanne DeBenedetti Keyes11:25 AM PDT

    Glad to hear Oscar is doing better. His scars were so sad from this winter. If he has new leaves, more power to him! Love your patch of Lobelia tupa. I think I killed my lone plant this year. Seemed like it survived the heat dome but disappeared with the snow/ice events. Your hebes look gorgeous. Might have to rethink that genus. The snow and ice can be tough on hebes. Happy summer to you!

    1. We too are glad Oscar is on the mend. Too bad about your Lobelia tupa, it's such a statuesque plant. Snow and ice and heat dome spelled doom for many plants, sadly. YES for HEBES! I am SO pleased with how well they all came through all of our weather disasters. Go for the ones with the smaller foliage, they tend to be hardier.

  2. Maybe those brief periods of utter despair with a garden allow even greater joy when the garden recovers, or turns a corner in a previously unforeseen direction. I'm glad you're enjoying a comfortable summer, for however long that period may last. Thanks for sharing all the wonderful wide shots of your garden, especially the junctures between areas.

    1. Oh Kris, you are SO right. We need the dark to appreciate the light? Something like that? Even in a battered state I'd rather be in the garden than just about anywhere else, truth be told.

      I hope you have some relief from your drought soon, really. I keep seeing images online of California's drought and it's heartbreaking.
      You're welcome for the wide shots, I'm glad you like them!

  3. You are a perfect fit for the Great Plant Picks, congrats! Makes sense that one of Oudolf's picks for his northern garden would do well here too -- I'll definitely be ordering that stachys. I really prefer that Acanthus spinosus too, and your specimen is wonderful. I'm attempting to grow that in the front garden in zone 10, and it is a real eyesore! If I can dig it up, it's moving north! That Penstemon kunthii did surprisingly well in zone 10 too, what a plant. Thanks so much for your tours, I learn a lot!

    1. Gosh, thank you Denise! It's an honor, to be sure. Yes, get the stachys - I potted up a bunch if you want one! Let me know, it's so good.

      Oh, yes, move that acanthus north. You'll probably not completely dig it out of your California garden anyhow - they have a way of sticking around. Hee hee....and if you need an Acanthus spinosus, I have three in gallons potted up if you'd rather not move yours. Just sayin' ;) Would love to rendez-vous with you along the line.

  4. Thanks for the extra spiky shot! Those agaves are so good! I am relieved to see Oscar is still holding court. Hopefully he will soak up the coming heat and grow grow grow out of his ugly stage.

    So your Grevillea x gaudichaudii is gone. Damn. I am sorry. One of my two plants along the front sidewalk is gone now as well. Not because of weather, but because of the damn rabbits.

    I am thrilled to learn you will be part of GPP, that is wonderful news!

    Finally (although I fear my comment is getting too long), I appreciate your intro to this post. I just finished up a creative project I'd had simmering in my head since May, but hadn't had the time to be creative like I needed to be to do the project right. I tried to explain to Andrew why it had "taken me so long" and wasn't successful. You summed it up well. The chores, the "need to do" vs. the "want to do". Happy Gardening Tamara!

    1. Yes, Oscar is still holding court. Dale Hickey actually said he loves him exactly as he is, he had me seeing the light. Thank you, Dale!

      Gone is Grevillea x sad! OH MAN so sad. But it just died a long slow death after the terrible weather events of the last year. Funny because it survived so many other atrocities and had been there for at least years. I'm glad the ratty dead foliage is gone, I held out hope for so long. It looks cleaner with it out of there.

      No comment is too long, by the way.

      I saw your creative project on your blog...totally relatable. We've all been playing catch up for a year, haven't we? Plus with your broken ankle....Now I can say Happy Gardening to you too, Loree! :) Let the creativity ensue.

  5. Anonymous8:09 AM PDT

    Thankfully, I had no catastrophes but certainly lots of chores, and I get the "re-discovering my creativity" part. The garden is an outlet for all of that and more.
    The color of poppy 'Lauren's Grape' is delicious and goes on my 'want' list.
    I checked the Winterbloom link: a visitor's point of view of the same great garden... new angles, a different perspective... fascinating.
    Although I find your rosemary hedge looking wonderful, it may be hard to maintain. I'm looking forward to see the 'redo', though I don't envy you: it's going to be hard work.

    Congrats on the committee assignment. I love the Great Plant Picks, I save all their posters :-D

    1. Isn't the garden a great outlet for all that and more, as you say? So grateful to have it as such. Lauren's Grape is great, send me your address and I can send you seed.

      I am torn about the rosemary bushes, do you think they look ok? I might rethink it.

      Thanks for your well wishes, I love GPP too and am so honored! Cheers!

  6. Noticed your fine clump of romneya...a plant that has fascinated me for years and that I have tried 4 different times to establish. Recently I ran across some for sale and bought 2, 1 gallon pots. I've read that these plants are extremely sensitive to root disturbance and I know that they are a challenge to establish in general...any advice on how best to site and transplant my new plants? Much appreciated!

    1. Why YES I do have advice based on a fabulous post on Facebook by Ojai Valley Native Plants - it's hilarious, too. But I got lucky by planting at the right time. Let's see if this link works - if not, email me and I'll send it to you, - here it goes:

    2. thank you for this're's hilarious! AND informative. I'm going to try the potted plants since I already have them but will also be on the lookout for root cuttings!

    3. Excellent, glad the link worked. Basically for your potted plants, I'd say don't plant until dormant. My successful attempt was because I planted in fall when it was dormant and it's in rather unamended but well drained soil (on a mound/berm). Good luck and let us know how it goes, we're all rooting for you!

  7. I too find your rosemary hedge lovely and very impressive. Your whole garden is so amazing. It has all filled in in fantastic ways. It's difficult, I find, but important to spend some time looking at the garden without those intrusive thoughts about all the chores I haven't gotten to yet. It makes it easier to buckle down later and start doing the upkeep and making changes.

    1. Hello Barbara, thank you for your kind words! It IS important to look at the garden beyond chores. You are so right! Thank you for the reminder. A little down time, a little enjoy time and that helps to store up energy. OK, I shall officially rethink the rosemary hedge. Thank you!


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