State of the Garden: Early Autumn

 Several 80-degree days for this first week in October, huh? The normal is one such day in the entire month, but we're in for at least seven in a row. It's been record after record of weather-related phenomena this year. Okay, I say, so that's how it's going to be. 

While I await rains to start on the Great Fall Rearrange, the chores mount. Lots of pickling, harvesting, roasting, freezing in the veggie department. We've had a decent harvest, after all, although the timing is crazy and not everything was successful (onions, what happened?). Black beans, however, were incredibly delicious and a surprise that I can grow them in the Pacific Northwest. A sign perhaps of what I should look to grow in the future. Most chores involve regular irrigation rotating day to day (two acres is a lot to cover), tending to hens and Sweet Pea the turkey, the cats, etc. Waiting on the "garden chores" list are three pages of smallish projects, all set to go in motion as soon as the rains start.

I have a damaged shoulder from hand watering so much. No exaggeration. And this is a dry garden - that is to say it was planted with primarily drought-adapted plants but they've gone through so much stress these last few years that everything needs a helping hand. So the watering continues but is tapering off as I continue to dance the Pagan rain goddess dance. I think because I have so many established Douglas fir and maples on the property mine is a drier than average garden in an already summer dry climate, so my challenges and changes are quite pronounced.

There will be a big reckoning once the rains begin and I can plant again. Many water hungry plants are going away and being replaced with dry loving alternatives. But before that happens I like to take stock and record what it looks like now. Here we go: 

In the center of the labyrinth, a stand of Solidago r. 'Fireworks' stands out. What a great perennial if you have room for it. A definite pollinator attractor with glowing, late-season color.

It is pretty stunning, really. Even with "naked" lower stems. It stays reliably upright if given enough sun. Very drought-adapted, up until this year I did not provide supplemental water, and even now just a couple of times. It would likely have survived this summer without.

Looking towards the meadow garden with many asters in full bloom. Many are our native Symphyotrichum subspicatum (Douglas' aster) or crosses with them. A few are named cultivars and all are loaded with pollinators. These rarely ask for summer water so they stay.

This is likely Symphyotrichum novi-belgii 'Winston Churchill' and its color really stands out.

A lot of tawny colors, seed heads and general fluff this time of the year in the meadow. Not much water need here.

On the other side of the meadow area is a dry gravelly garden with Erigeron 'Profusion', Thymus 'Pink Ripple', several hebes and a few digitalis seedlings. Very low water needs but I did hand-water a dozen times or so over the summer.

Carex flacca has a lovely texture and color. This is in mostly sun but also does well in part shade and dry shade at that. It gets a comb through and clean up in spring, but is otherwise low maintenance.

Oscar has rebounded nicely with the black mushy parts of the leaves drying out and healing. New leaves continue to form on the inside and I'm seeing pups 10 feet away. I think I'm in for a colony of Oscars (Agave parryi ssp. truncata).

The edge of the meadow garden with plenty of Amsonia hubrichtii, Anemanthele lessoniana, allium and asters. It required very little water, really only the couple of new plants I added last autumn needed supplemental water. This is likely due to the fact that the soil is completely covered now so the foliage helps to shade the soil below and keep moisture in. I'm guessing, though.

No green lawn here, by golly. A path looking eastwards towards the meadow on the right and a gravelly garden on the left. The Cornus nuttallii, our native dogwood is the tree in the grass. It is so spectacular in spring; however, it is not doing well. Probably infected with anthracnose, we don't have any solutions other than to leave it. We lost another of these trees this spring in the western woodland but are leaving it as a snag for wildlife.

The firepit, unused for over a year, is still a cool focal point. The bed around it planted with Muhlenbergia rigens and Festuca rubra 'Patrick's Point' has been especially fine.

Alas, alas, the Arbutus menziesii or Pacific madrone did not make it. The dead branches were removed and this is what remains. It's such an attractive bark that I wanted to leave it for a while as a kind of sculptural element. After speaking with Paul Bonine at Xera Plants about it, he and I both think it was likely a victim of verticillium wilt. Boo hoo!!

Persicaria affinis is a low-growing spreader (polite, mind you) whose flowers shift from cotton candy pink to brick red with multiple shades occurring at once. Very charming and fairly low water. This has spread a little more as surrounding plants that died are removed.

From the southern edge of the property a view of three Cupressus macrocarpa (either 'Donard Gold' or 'Golden Pillar' or both) given to me several years ago by Nathan Champion of Champion Acres Nursery. They are gaining size and giving presence to this part of the garden and helping to shelter my little plot of land. I don't really think I've watered these ever besides when they were initially planted.

A more illustrative photo of Muhlenbergia rigens or deer grass and why I have a love affair with this native West Coast grass. I may have to plant more of this in other areas of the garden.

A few heat lovers in there. The gravel garden in general has done well this past year.

For fun I want to show how this otherwise low-growing Dorycnium hirsutum or hairy canary clover uses a callistemon as a support to climb through. I like the look, actually. All of these plants have done very well even with hot reflected sun off of our metal siding and south facing. This is where the Atriplex halimus lived until it died a horrible death this spring, but I replaced it with another and have my fingers crossed. It lives behind all of this drama.

Straight ahead is the labyrinth garden, starting to show signs of the end of the season.

Just for fun. Berberis jamesiana gets larger and more magnificent every year. These yellowish berries will turn to a deep raspberry color soon.

Ceanothus gloriosus is fabulous, but this year I've had a lot of die off in places. After thinking about all the different areas it's planted in and slightly differing conditions, I have come to realize that I never irrigated this patch and another. Plus, mole activity has been an issue and large branches die off left and right. It will recover most likely so I'm not panicked nor am I going to remove it, but it's a lesson that they could handle a little irrigation from time to time.

I am breaking up with Rudbeckia hirta. I planted it here (the previous owner had a clump near the house when we moved in, I moved them to the labyrinth garden and they gladly spread around) 6 years ago when I thought they were a drought tolerant perennial. That is not the case, they are the first to wilt when the weather warms and the soil dries. It will be a pleasure moving these to a heavy clay soil in the chicken yard where, if they make it, great, if not, we tried. I will put gravel in place of these (this is one of many clumps) and maybe plant agaves or something along those lines. Buh-bye rudbeckia.

Ceratostigma plumbaginoides mixed in with a small Myrsine africana. This little area has been lovely and the plumbago has been especially happy in this sunny/high afternoon shade area under an Olearia 'Dartonii'. I have another patch in full sun and it definitely prefers some shade to look its best.

Moving around to the front door and berm garden, this symphony of hot pink and oranges makes me happy this time of the year. The penstemon on the right is supposed to be Penstemon 'Razzle Dazzle', which it isn't, but it's been so vigorous and floriferous that it stays. Its color is much lighter than 'Razzle Dazzle' but it is still lovely. Hesperantha coccinea 'Oregon Sunset' (syn. Schizostylus coccinea) are the star shaped flowers on iris like foliage. This perennial likes moisture year round so this is the only place that really has it - in compacted soil at the base of a berm. It is very happy here. 

Another aster, this is Symphyotrichum ericoides 'First Snow'. Low growing with short foliage and abundant bloom, it is well visited by bees from September through October. 

Wide shot of a chunk of the berm garden.

More of the hot colored area in the berm garden with shade loving plants on the left that continue on for several more feet.

Top of the berm garden looking east. It's hot, dry and crunchy out there. It would be more so had we not watered as much as we have this summer.

Moving on to some shady areas, Podophyllum 'Spotty Dotty' has had a rough summer. I mean she still looks okay, but that's due to the hundreds of gallons of water we threw on her. It's almost the dormant season anyhow, so we're backing off and letting her go flat. 

Never asking anything from me by contrast is Helleborus foetidus which looks better every year.

This scene here will look markedly different in spring. All of the Hakonechloa macra 'Aureola' will be dug up and sold or transplanted to heavy clay soil in another shady area. I cannot keep this watered enough, I mean every other day it wilts. It is in a really tough spot under Doug fir trees and struggles. It comes out and some other drought tolerant replacement will fill its shoes. Even the Oxalis oregana (not pictured) has gone completely dormant in some areas of the shade garden that didn't receive enough irrigation.

So. What if I never irrigated the shade garden? Ever? Greg Shepherd of Xera Plants and I had this conversation the other day. He is experimenting with just this notion to see what survives. He said he's prepared for the summer dormant look. That's something to consider. Am I? What would die? I keep the shade garden on crutches all summer with irrigation. I mean nothing is particularly water hogs (no Ligularia, for example) but the soil is changing, the temperatures are changing, it's not the same as it was even 10 years ago. Our plant palette is shrinking. I mean we can grow tons of incredible material still, but artificially on irrigation. Besides the environmental impact of water use of this kind, my arm and my time and my well-being are seriously compromised by how many hundreds of hours were spent this past summer just dealing with water. Maybe I am ready to experiment a little and let some plants go dormant (or just go) because the alternative is not sustainable.

I'll have to ponder on this over the winter and make some changes. Of course, I will document it here to share my findings.

A micro-environment of shade lovers by the front door. Maybe this is the way to do it? My little "fern table" put together last autumn has filled in nicely.

By the front door, a selection of part shade loving plants at the end of the season that are easy to keep watered in little pots.

**News Flash** on the chicken front, we adopted five Speckled Sussex hens a few weeks ago! They are so wiggly that it's difficult to get a still shot of them. No one could replace our dear departed Frida the Speckled Sussex but five little girls might be as close as we will ever get. They are super friendly, if I sit down they will crawl all over me and even perch on my head. We are smitten and they have recently been introduced to their big sisters and are fitting in beautifully, roosting with them at night and hanging out together all day. We got lucky. 

A parting shot of my shed porch where I hope to spend a lot more time this autumn with a glass of something good and a relax with Facilities Manager enjoying the garden, a happening that has been sorely missing this summer. 

It's been a tough time for my garden and many others. I mean most of it still looks pretty good but there is some serious rearranging going on in my little brain that you will all just have to tune in for updates. I for one will be relieved when we enjoy a little rain. Amen to that.

A huge THANK YOU to everyone who came out to my groundcovers talk for the Master Gardeners of Columbia County and also to those of you who came out to our pop-up plant sale in Portland last weekend. We appreciate the support and love meeting you in person. If there's a plant you are after and I didn't have it, send me a line and you can always come out our way and browse the greenhouse for treasures. 

That's a wrap for this week at Chickadee Gardens. As always thank you so much for reading and commenting, we love hearing from you all! Happy gardening wherever you are.


  1. As always your garden and your documentation are impressive! Also I am so sad to have missed your pop-up. Not because I needed anything, but because I haven't seen you in FOREVER!

    Now about water. I am sad to learn your shoulder is giving you trouble. I have an issue with my lower back/hips when I hand water a lot, evidently I stand awkwardly, even though I try not to. I watered the front garden thoroughly by hand once this summer. Once. The back garden and a few containers out front got more water (much more in some cases) but once I realized it was August and I hadn't watered, I decided to just see what makes it. Granted most everything is drought tolerant AND very established, but we will see. I noticed the other day that Mahonia 'Charity' has some yellowing leaves. It's on the north side of the house and in the rain shadow so it didn't get as much of that spring soaking as the rest of the plants did. Your shady table plantings are delightful!!!

    1. I am sorry to have missed you! We are two busy people it seems. Let's connect soon.

      You understand about watering injuries. It sounds so weird but it's a thing, apparently. So many people have commented on it, and I thank them all for the concern.

      So once on the front garden, that's something to pay attention to. I'll be interested to see about your back garden and what fares well with your no water approach as we head into the second week of October with no rainfall (or very little).

      Thanks for the shout out to my little shady table! Love those guys.

  2. I'm beginning to believe that gardening in the time of climate change means a long period of experimentation - and a higher level of acceptance of plant losses. Your garden will be wonderful in any case because you're an exceptionally savvy gardener. I'm sorry to hear about your shoulder injury and I hope adequate rest will soon put things right again. I got a clearer sense of the burdens of hand-watering myself recently as we dealt with an outdoor watering ban and then with water leaks, which continue despite replacing 100+ feet of copper pipe we thought was the source of our problem. At the moment, a smaller garden I can hand-water as needed is looking like a better option than an in-ground irrigation system.

    Congratulations on the additions to your brood.

    1. Experimentation is the word of the day! And to describe me as a savvy gardener is so cool, I've never been called that before and I love it! As are you, Kris!

      Your watering woes continue and for that I am so sorry. I need to put mine in perspective and appreciate what you and millions of Californians are going through. We're all rethinking this gardening art on some level, I suspect.

  3. So much autumn loveliness! Especially love that snowy white aster. And love pink and orange combos! I'm on clay soil so I might have to try Rudbeckia again. So, pray tell, what do you use to comb out your Carex? A rake? Is there such a thing as a garden comb? Inquiring minds etc!

    1. Thank you Caroline! That aster is one of my favorites and it is SO cool! I'm glad to hear I'm not the only orange/pink lover. It's a cool color combination, one FM and I used for our wedding, actually. Yes, if you have heavy clay rudbeckia might work. I love the autumnal look of it and the pollinators it supports but it just is so unhappy in a dry garden. Oh, I use a metal tined rake for the "comb out" of the carex. Garden comb...that could be a new thing.

  4. I always enjoy your blog posts and seeing what's happening in your garden. So sorry to hear of your shoulder injury. I hope you can take it easier and heal. I also find hand watering therapeutic and educational (I can keep in touch with each plant and what it needs) but not at the cost of our bones and muscles.
    One of my favorite things in your garden are the subtle splashes of orange, copper, pink, and red among the silvery foliage.
    Climate changes seem ever unpredictable and moving quickly. Even in my humble and ever-crammed 90% container garden, I'm noticing what plants are less happy now than in the recent past and moving a few of them along. Trying to keep a couple shrubs alive from a neighbor who moved out in the spring, using kitchen gray water.
    There's so much to learn and new habits to cultivate from "gardening in the time of climate change."
    Best to you and FM as you ease into Autumn.

    1. Howdy Yohanna, so lovely to hear from you! Thanks for the shoulder care, I've been easy on it these past two weeks or so. If the rains would start that would be most appreciated and helpful.

      I'm glad you understand about hand watering, and alas, I may need to rethink my approach and at the very least lessen it.

      Interesting about your observations of your container gardens. Keep them up, we'll all need the Big Conversation and figure out some solutions to this water issue. Your use of grey water is commendable! Cheers and Happy Autumn to you and yours. Hugs! xo

  5. Yay to new chicken friends -- and growing black beans! That's a surprise. Carex flacca is one I haven't grown yet and judging from your report and photos must try. I wonder if using a sling/immobilizer might help your shoulder heal? Thanks again for these detailed reports -- so helpful. Best to you and FM.

    1. Hi Denise, yes - Carex flacca is pretty flexible and useful. Worth a try! I'm surprised how good it looks for such a long period of the year (as mentioned, it does get a comb through with a rake once or so a year when it looks ratty). The hens are a welcome addition and bring us a lot of smiles. Best to you as well!

  6. Your posts are so fascinating and informative. I appreciate them, so thanks. S. Oregon has the same problems, only worse. It's been around 90 every day here, which is strange and unpleasant for October.
    Someone in a book, maybe? said that if you want to practice dry gardening, then stop watering and whatever lives, grow that. I'm doing that here and there and gradually expanding.
    Verticillium wilt! I'm so sorry. My garden is verticillium central and I have to be very careful what I plant. Most of the drought tolerant stuff seems immune, and maybe as the yard dries out the disease will go away. I'm very jealous of your Berberis. I have a 5 year old one which I successfully moved away from a spot where it was frying and it has doubled in size. I have yet to see a flower. The leaves don't look like yours. When I inquired right after I received Far Reaches said as a seedling it might look different at first but would change as time went on. It hasn't. The leaves are quite barbed and pointy like holly leaves. Maybe now that it is happy, I'll get some berries and can tell for sure. Isn't the Fireworks goldenrod a lovely thing? When you get close it smells good too. The only problem is it spreads a lot, but the roots aren't too hard to dig out.
    My favorites in the hot gravelly areas this year are Teucrium aroanium which blooms and reblooms with sweet smelling flowers and looks great every month, no matter what, and the gaillardias and Zauschnerias. Annual euphorbias (snow on the mountain), gaillardias, and the gomphrenas have needed no water at all, growing in gravel. They all look happy when it's 105.

    1. Hi Barb, thank you for your thoughtful comments! It's good to compare notes as gardeners and helps us all. 90 every day? Oh man, while I do love summer the dryness of the soil is shouldn't be quite this bad but it is. Sounds much more severe for you in southern Oregon. Stopping watering and whatever lives - that idea is drastic and a good one. I may employ it, but a few things are getting a little water until the rains do start. I'm sorry about your verticillium wilt too, what a drag. Interesting about your experience of drought tolerant plants being more immune, that's a good cue. Well I'm trying to propagate the berberis, if I'm successful I'll send you one. Barbed leaves are not on mine, it sounds different as you point out.

      Yes, I love Solidago 'Fireworks' - sooo good. I will have to pay attention to the scent, I've never noticed it before. Teucrium aroanium sounds and looks fantastic, I'll have to seek it out. Great list of heat tolerant plants, Barb. Thanks for the suggestions!

    2. Wow, your offer of a plant is really kind! Thank you, but I went out and examined mine closely, and it kind of looked like the new growth has leaves that are more rounded, with fewer points. Perhaps it was previously so stressed out that it made more points! My imagination possibly. Anyway, I've invested 5+ years in this plant so I hope it'll make me some berries.
      BUT, I have a friend who moved to Hillsboro. That's close to you right? Sometime if I get up to see her I'd love to see your garden, if that is possible.

    3. Oooh that's great, you have definitely invested in this particular plant so I understand. Yes, Hillsboro is very close to us - do come out! Give me some notice but you are always welcome!

  7. Unfortunately the weather irregularities are issuing an urgent wake-up call to what we can grow in our gardens. In a wet Spring dry summer those that survived show how resilient they are. We have also had an incredibly dry hot summer and I have had to spot water a number of plants that have never needed it before. Re: R. hirta- I have several that self seeded, from a container, in cracks along the driveway and between patio stones. They have been spectacular this summer and have not received one drop of water. You might have a spot similar to this where they would do well.

    1. Indeed, Elaine, well said. I fear that some plants may just up and die from the stress of too much cold and wet this winter to too much heat and dry this summer and autumn.

      Interesting about your rudbeckia - I'll have to ponder that. I think we'll move ours to heavier clay, I think part of the issue is the soil they are in. Good information, thank you!

  8. Anonymous7:10 AM PDT

    Your fall garden looks great, Tamara. Thanks for sharing another insightful and informative post.
    I'm sorry to hear about your shoulder! From personal experience, shoulder injuries are stubborn. (If only I more diligent with my physical therapy exercise routine...)
    Bummer about your Pacific madrone, it's one of my favorite trees. But to balance it out, you've succeeds with the 3 Cupressus macrocarpa.
    Kind of shocking about the Rudbeckia... I've just picked one for a dry sunny spot, which may turn out to be a bust right off the start. In the wide shot of the berm garden my eye caught the seed heads of Jerusalem sage: stunning! (More drought tolerant than rudbeckia?).
    How do you feel about sword ferns? They are quite hardy in dry shade and could be a good substitute to Hakonechloa grass. They aren't very exciting, I know, but I love them anyway.
    If one is going to have Agave pups, A. parryi is a good one to have: it has a spectacular silvery-blue color and most elegant black spikes.
    The fern table and shady "pot spot": it looks gorgeous and must be very satisfying. I am a big fan of miniature gardening. Not as demanding as a multi acre garden and easier on your shoulder too.
    "Welcome" to the hen addition. It's nice to see the family expands.

    1. Hi there Chavli! It sounds like you have shoulder injury experience? I have a feeling many gardeners do. I will be better about taking care of my body after this. What a wake up call!

      Yes, the Phlomis russelliana (Jerusalem sage) is amazingly drought adapted, I highly recommend it. The sword ferns are suffering - we have a lot - but I am hopeful they will rebound after this week's (predicted) rain. I have some ideas to replace the Hakonechloa - Waldsteina or something along those lines, the sword ferns in the same vicinity as the Hakonechloa m. are really fried. This is a super tough spot. For the record, I love sword ferns, they are an important part of our garden.

      We're happy about the Oscar the Agave pups - bring it on we say!

      Thanks for all your comments and yes, the new hens are a kick in the pants, a lot of fun and very sweet. They have the ability to make anyone happy by hanging around them for 5 minutes. Cheers!

  9. I have stopped getting blog notifications from those who use Blogger. I stopped getting yours so I believe you use it??

    1. Hello Sallysmom - yes, it's true, I use it and Blogger stopped with email notifications several months ago. I tried to warn folks but it has been a while. They threatened to do it last year but put it off until randomly this year. I don't have an alternative at this point for email notifications, however I do announce on my Facebook as well as Instagram pages each time a new post goes up, perhaps that would help? So sorry for the trouble.


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