2023: The Year in Review

 Here we are, embarking on 2024 full of hope and promise. The garden does that, gives one hope and promise despite the grim news we see on our screens. I'll take a garden any day over a phone or computer, but still, it's a time of year when I do like to take stock of how we and the gardens have fared this past year. I note any projects, observations, complaints and develop an overall sense of what the themes of the year were. I am thus reminded as I look back through a year's worth of photographs that 2023 was fairly lovely as far as the garden and weather were concerned and we, mostly FM, took on several decent-sized projects. Ready? Here we go, it's a long one:

Buddha faces east greeting the winter sun underneath Arctostaphylos 'Austin Griffiths' among a sea of Ceanothus gloriosus. January starts off quiet with muted colors and plenty of wild birds. I would say our ongoing efforts to create a year-round garden full of evergreens and winter interest have yielded decent results.

Cupressus arizonica 'Blue Ice' shines on even the dullest of days.

Carex conica 'Snowline' is always sparkly and pretty. In the shade garden where it does exceptionally well, it brings a lightness to this dark area perpetually covered by Douglas firs.

Though so many shade garden plants are dormant in January, the mossy path brings me joy.

Arctostaphylos 'Saint Helena' and her muscular trunk.

A windswept image of Ozothamnus 'Sussex Silver' fronted by Phlomis russelliana pom poms. I learned that although Ozothamnus are generally forgiving of dry conditions, two of three (O. 'Silver Jubilee') died almost to the ground this year, though it might not have been drought induced. Perhaps just too wet of a spring. I cut out the dead branches and they are both resprouting from the base and will be fine, though smaller. 

My official Chicken Tender (as he jokingly calls himself) talking to one of the speckled Sussex hens we brought home in autumn 2022. We also added five very pretty golden laced Wyandottes to the flock this year. Sadly we lost three hens in 2023 - it happens. We currently have 19 hens and one very fat turkey.

Red branches of Acer palmatum 'Sango Kaku' against bright green Hebe 'Karo Golden Esk' make me happy. Any color this time of the year is most welcome.

Clematis cirrhosa ‘Wisley Cream’ bloomed nicely in January, though had a rough summer. It received a good prune this autumn (to clean it up, it was a little out of control) and now looks lovely once more.

This is the month our 2500-gallon cistern arrived. FM installed it by attaching it to our downspout. It was completely filled within three weeks of installation and that's just from runoff from the portion of roof visible in this photograph. We used the water for several months in summer downhill from the cistern, for at this point gravity is the only way it works. We are considering adding a pump to be able to bring water to other parts of the garden but for now it does the job, albeit slowly. That's Annie guarding our water supply.

Rhamnus alaternus ‘Variegata’ kept doing this after snow events. While this doesn't kill the plant it certainly isn't good. I opted to prune its top branches, giving it more width than height and so far it has worked.

The edge of the "meadow" was a haven for birds and I imagine small critters all autumn, winter and early spring. It gets cut back a little later in spring.

Another of FM's small projects, a step was made from bricks on this weird little slope by my garden shed. It now feels solid and is safer than a slippery gravel slope.

Dramatic lighting across the landscape. Off in the distance is Washington state - the Columbia river is in there somewhere, though you can't see the water from our property.

Oemleria cerasiformis, osoberry, is one of the first plants to bloom and the hummingbirds are very happy about it. This multi-stemmed shrub/small tree is repeated throughout our hedgerows to provide for wildlife. Its bright foliage is a welcome color so early in the year.

Another early bloomer is Edgeworthia chrysantha, a shrub that forms buds in late autumn.

On a snowy March morning I watched this Cooper's hawk from our living room window.

April was the beginning of FM's large projects. Oscar the agave was no longer happy here, he had straightened out and was getting too wet causing some leaf rot. Here FM jostles Oscar into position to be moved to a drier site.

This is the site of his new home before the declining Ceanothus gloriosus was removed.

Ceanothus gone on this super sunny south-facing area.

Oscar in place and the first layer of gravel applied. We'll revisit this newly renovated area in September's photographs.

FM built raised beds for our raspberries; very successful this year.

Ribes were blooming all over the place in April - here is Ribes odoratum, clove currant that has, as one would expect, clove-scented flowers.

Ribes x gordonianum is a cross between Ribes odoratum and R. sanguineum. The flowers really read more coral orange than this closeup photo would indicate.

For the clean white look, Ribes sanguineum 'White Icicle' is a lovely addition to the garden.

Ribes sanguineum in my experience has quite varied shades of pink in its flowers. These native multi-stemmed shrubs are adaptable and pretty and an early pollen/nectar source for insects and hummingbirds.

Also in April we had a group plant sale in N. Portland, additionally I donated plants to the House of Dreams spring plant sale. I plan on doing both again in 2024 so stay tuned!

FM went into overdrive with projects in May with lots of grass removal and extension of garden areas. Here is the "before" shot of a very sloped grassy area that was difficult to mow and usually riddled with mole hills.

After the torturous sod remover was used to take up a large area, quarter-10 gravel was applied quite thickly. I have since planted a few hebes and wildflower seeds in this area.

Another large area of sod that was removed was on this southern edge of our property. We wanted to tie all of these disparate plants together into a more cohesive feeling of purpose. 

After sod was removed and arborist's wood chips applied.

May is also when flowers get going in earnest. Here Penstemon davidsonii, a small evergreen native penstemon, becomes the talk of the garden when visitors come.

Speaking of visitors, 2023 stands out as a year when we had a lot of folks wanting to see the garden. We also had a photo shoot in July for an upcoming book on low-impact gardening and several garden groups come through. There was a lot of juggling between projects, visitors and caring for the garden as a whole, so many chores were put off until this autumn. Hopefully 2024 will be the year of more balance and better time management for us both. We're still learning!

Fremontodendron californicum grew by leaps and bounds in 2023. Originally purchased in 2015 to plant in what was to become this, our new garden, it struggled for several years. Finally the mole activity that caused it to fall over a couple of times settled down and its roots took hold. I think it grew four feet in one season.

An update on another garden project, this area that was planted in autumn of 2022 that we refer to as the crow garden. Plants are settling in and I continue to mow around them until they fill in. Plants include Eriophyllum lanatum (the yellow flowers), Dorycnium hirsutum, Teucrium chamaedrys and Madia elegans

While June is definitely the most floriferous month of the year here, I did not take many photos because we were just so damned busy. But I do remember thinking to myself "If I don't take a picture of the Diplacus aurantiacus 'Jeff's Tangerine' I'll regret it."

A path off of the driveway leading to our back porch looks especially nice when the Callistemon viridiflorus is in full bloom.

Another favorite among garden visitors was this Dianthus deltoides 'Flashing Light', a mat forming carnation with very tiny flowers. This is such a great little front of the border plant for full sun and good drainage.

Kniphofia thomsonii is my favorite of the genus. Here it is backed by Sidalcea campestris in the meadow garden.

Philadelphus lewisii, mock orange, is in its prime this time of the year, perfuming the air along our carport. This multi-stemmed deciduous shrub does have an unsightly time of the year when its leaves can look rather spotty, but it always grows out of it the next year. I find if I prune out some branches from the base of the plant to open it up for air circulation it helps.

Stipa barbata with its silky flowers are nearly at their prettiest this time of the year. In front of them is Muhlenbergia rigens before it sends up it spiky, long flowers.

Contrasting foliage colors on the edge of the labyrinth garden is just as exciting to me as flowers.

We grew potatoes for the first time with much success. They were fun and quite easy, we'll do it again this year.

This was the year that calendula flowers took over the veggie garden. Oh my gosh they were and are everywhere! All from one packet of Calendula 'Radio' seeds and one packet of Calendula 'Strawberry Blonde' seeds a few years ago. We have quite a range of colors from these two varieties.

While I know there are large populations of insects, birds, invertebrates and vertebrates that visit our garden, this month I was inspired by my friend Amy Campion to take an inventory of what I could find. It was a lot of fun and realized I have a lot of native pollinators in the garden. Here is a link to a post I wrote about my findings.

A female leaf-cutter bee visiting Cephalanthus occidentalis.

Pacific tree frog in a planter by our front door. We have many of these creatures in the garden year-round and are very happy to host them.

In a small raised bed next to the greenhouse I grow flowers for small bouquets and a pop of color. I grew many dahlias from seed which surprisingly form rather good-sized tubers within one growing season. I also grow sweet peas, dill, snapdragons and cosmos in this little box of fun.

Sweet Pea 'Old Spice' given to me by a friend has the most delicious fragrance and was incredibly floriferous. I saved seed and hope to grow it again in 2024.

But not everything was sweetly scented and easy. My Lobelia tupa once occupied the entirety of the soil area seen in this photograph - it died back to this small clump that also eventually died off. To fill the gap immediately, FM built a small totem from tree segments for a temporary fix. The Lobelia kind of traveled to the lower left and will hopefully come back next year. I have since removed the wood and planted a small shrub.

This is about as beautiful as Stipa barbata gets and is luminous and fantastic like this for about a week. Totally worth it.

FM with our boy Hobbes who turned 18 in July. He's being carried around, which he loves, when his legs tire out.

August is typically the hottest month for us. While we did have at least one heat wave it was nowhere as bad as in years past. Here is Agapanthus inepterus ssp. pendulus 'Nigrescens' among a white flowering Oenothera lindheimeri (syn. Gaura linderheimeri) and Echinacea 'White Swan' in the berm garden, something I look forward to every August.

The edge of the meadow garden with a few tall Digitalis ferruginea sprinkled in. While many flowers have finished blooming by this point, asters for example, are just beginning and penstemons keep the show going, too.

The shade garden fared well in 2023 and I didn't have to spend hundreds of hours watering. My recent autumnal updates of removing thirsty hydrangeas and replacing them with more summer-dry tolerant plants will hopefully make it even more low maintenance in the years to come. There was a fair amount of vole and critter damage, but I hope my recent plantings in those areas will at the very least hide damage even if the voles continue on in their efforts to plow up a super highway through our garden.

Another foliage forward image with grasses, hebes, maples, ceanothus and more around the gravel garden on a rather hot summer evening.

A view looking east across dormant grass with FM's newest garden bed on the right.

More foliage on the edge of the labyrinth with Cotinus 'Pink Champagne', Miscanthus 'Cabaret', Olearia 'Dartonii, Hylotelephium spectabile 'Stardust' as well as hylotelephium seedlings.

Also in August we pickled about one million jars of beets.

September was, by all accounts, fairly uneventful in the weather department. This is looking north through the labyrinth garden with a Salix eleagnos var. angustifolia in the center. I see all of my photos here for September are of the wider landscape, perhaps telling that as perennials mature for the season and start to "go over" and form seed heads and textures, that the landscape is sort of knitted together. In other words, individual plants might not be as interesting as the whole larger picture.

The meadow garden shows signs of aster color as well as a few Eschscholzia californica and Epilobium 'Solidarity Pink' sprinkled in. Grasses are also in full bloom giving a frothy wild look.

Grasses in the labyrinth garden catch afternoon light.

April's project of removing a Ceanothus gloriosus and replacing it with Agave parryi var. truncata (Oscar the agave) was successful. More gravel was added and a few volunteer Verbena bonariensis add some color. I planted Cosmos 'Rubenza' and Agastache 'Kudos Red' as well as some Delosperma cooperi. Overall, I am much happier with this scenario vs. a ratty plant on the edge of dying. It was hard work and a commitment to do so, but gratefully with FM's muscles we got it done.

The very unused fire pit area.

The edge of the labyrinth garden with hazy September light.

The Acer palmatum 'Sango Kaku' is beginning to show signs of a shift in color.

While September is usually a very busy time of the year here with harvesting and processing of food from the veggie garden and orchard, we were busy preparing for our England trip and so such chores had to wait.

But these birdhouse gourds grown in summer 2022, as seen in the garden in March 2023, needed to be turned into this before we left:

Some 50 gourds that spent the year drying were hand-sanded, holes drilled for chickadees and nuthatches, cleaned out, holes drilled in the bottom for drainage and air, wired for hanging and coated with two coats of bird-friendly waterproof stain. Here they are hanging in our garage drying after the second coat of stain was applied. The deadline was to get these to the House of Dreams cat shelter for their holiday bazaar to raise money for this fantastic non-profit shelter. Whew, mission accomplished and most of these went to the bazaar, all of which sold. Thank you to all of you who purchased them, by the way, the kitties thank you!

The end of September and beginning of October were spent in some pretty world-class British gardens. Here, FM strolls through the Oxford Botanic Gardens. You can read more about our visit here.

We also visited Sissinghurst Castle Garden. 

And my favorite of them all, Great Dixter. You can read about our visit in two posts here and here.

When we returned, we did so to some of the best autumnal foliage show in recent years and a lot of rain. But we were refreshed and invigorated and ready to take on delayed garden projects. 

Most of what I photographed is from the beginning of November. The show continued on well into early December. The meadow garden and the several Amsonia hubrichtii were especially golden. 

The east end of the berm garden still looked fresh in November.

The center of the berm garden did, too. The red foliage is Itea 'Henry's Garnet' and the plant spilling over the edge is Juniperus conferta 'Blue Pacific'.

Technically FM rented the sod cutter and took up grass in October, but the new bed pictured here was finished in November. I had been saving plants especially for this area including Rhamnus californica ssp. tomentella, Eriodictyon californicum, Ericameria nauseosa and more. It extends the bed that FM had removed sod from in May so now it runs all the way to our gate. As plants grow they will create more of a screen on this, the southern edge of our property, thereby enclosing our garden a little bit more.

Pops of color on a cool November day.

The veg garden had been put to bed, but it's fun to see the fading corn stalks we leave standing for a while. The little platform is where we sprinkle sunflower seeds for the crows and whomever else wants some, usually white crowned sparrows who live in the nearby labyrinth garden in winter. We thus call the new extension in the foreground the crow garden.

Helianthus 'Lemon Queen' often has pretty good autumn color.

A photo taken from inside on what turned out to be a lovely November day. We had many such days and got a lot of chores accomplished such as two gigantic batches of applesauce which were canned as well as sauerkraut.

December was pretty wet with a total of nearly 9". Still we were outside often dealing with leaves, chickens, mulching and more. Pictured about in the center is Grevillea 'Neil Bell' whose prune job earlier in the year proved to be successful. A large portion of the downward side of this shrub had broken away but was still attached to the main plant. I left it in place and it did indeed heal, though it was lopsided. I pruned the down side by a few feet and the plant righted itself, you would never know it had been damaged. 

We had a decent persimmon crop which was fabulous, especially since we had virtually none in 2022.

Grevillea 'Neil Bell' flower, yes, in December.

Muhlenbergia rigens, Clematis c. 'Wisley Cream' and deck lights make for a wet but pretty December scene.

Moody fog.

Miscanthus 'Malepartus' is so upright! I love this grass. Even now in early January it is standing straight up like a soldier.

FM's bed mulched with arborist's wood chips and a sculpture in there by our dear departed friend Michi Kosuge.

I close this post out with an image of a newly expanded bed on the southern edge of the labyrinth garden. FM removed more sod, added bunches of gravel and now I have tons more square footage for sun-loving, drought-adapted plants. It is exciting to think of what this area will look like in spring and in years to come. 

It is a new year, however, time does not come to me in beginnings and endings if endings imply a stop, a break, a pause. It's a cyclical thing. It doesn't pause. Case in point, we're planting in January. Working on cleaning up the veg garden in January, too - repairing walls, weeding a little, mulching. While it's nice and neat to wrap things up as year's end in December, the reality is that I don't know when the end is. And that is, I imagine, by design. The garden gives us rhythms that we are now familiar with and enjoy. I can only hope we continue to find pleasure in our "work" for years to come, that it's one very long and wonderful experiment. This year has been a lot of work but the weather cooperated and we look forward to seeing the fruits of our labors come to fruition in the coming months. Anticipation is half the fun in gardening, after all.

While there is so much more I could have added to this post (there are thousands of photographs of beautiful flowers and birds from which to choose), one must keep it within bounds. But stay tuned for 2024 as we continue on our adventure here at Chickadee Gardens.

That's a wrap for this week at Chickadee Gardens. Thank you so much for reading and commenting and for sticking with us this past year. It's been a pleasure. From all of us - FM, myself, Annie, Hobbes, Sweet Pea the Turkey, all 19 hens and all the squirrels, birds, reptiles and insects, Happy Gardening and Happy New Year, whenever you celebrate!


  1. Happy New Year to you too! You've both accomplished a lot and I've enjoyed the year-end review. Best wishes on whatever new projects that you decide to tackle.

    1. Thank you Jerry! Happy New Year to you both as well and - ditto on the new projects front....I think you have some fun things up your sleeve this year! I'll be watching your blog!

  2. It must be very satisfying to look back and see all that has been accomplished this past year especially after the challenging season before. Having followed you for some time I can see how the shrubby/ woody bones are maturing to great affect. I often look back to see where we began with our garden and where it is now. Lots of fun. Love your comment about there really is no beginning or end. So true in a garden. Fingers crossed 2024 brings great gardening weather.

    1. Hi Elaine, the year in review is satisfying and an important exercise for me to put it all into perspective. I'm SO glad you can see the shrubby/woody bones - that was always the goal and I guess as gardeners we "see" it in our mind's eye well before it comes to fruition so I'm thrilled when others get it. It's so fun to look back at one's garden and be wowed by progress. We often sell ourselves short. Yes, fingers crossed for a mild and lovely 2024 for us all!

  3. Anonymous9:02 AM PST

    Happy new year! It was so great to see your beautiful garden this past summer and I’ve been loving your English garden tour photos too. I hope you all have a wonderful year in 2024 and your garden continues to thrive. What a beautiful inspiration.

    1. Happy New Year to you as well! I'm glad you enjoyed the English garden tours, they were such an inspiration for us, we are lucky to have been able to go. Happy new year to you in 2024 as well and thanks for commenting!

  4. I often say that your garden is beautiful in all seasons and posts like this prove it! This one reminded me how envious I was/am about your 2500-gallon cistern. If only more people realized how much rainwater can be collected from roof surfaces - and it only I had room for bigger tanks as even in my drought-prone climate I could collect more than the 475 gallons I can currently accommodate. It was lovely to see Annie and Hobbes as well.

    1. The cistern. Yes. I want about 5 of them now. I can't believe how quickly they fill up and it goes to show how much rainwater can be collected, I'm glad you point that out, especially for your part of the world. I wish you had room too, I think/hope that future building projects (generally speaking for California?) will include some kind of water collection systems perhaps underground? I don't know but it's more important than ever. Thanks for the Annie/Hobbes shout out, those monkeys love the attention ;)

  5. Jeanne DeBenedetti Keyes3:09 PM PST

    Gorgeous photos, as always! I particularly love those sublime summer photos, and the misty early winter photo with the lights around your deck! Beautiful. It will be interesting to see what you put in the new beds. I have converted over some sunny, grassy areas too. I've got to move a few blueberry bushes to this new area but I am also going to plant a few veggies. Any of the PNW annuals/perennials that do well mixed in with cucumbers, tomatoes, zucchini? Recommendations? I do have my non-native favs like zinnias and nasturtiums. Happy New Year!

    1. Thank you Jeanne for your kind compliments. I am still considering what to put in the newest gravel bed, I'd love some heat loving natives (Penstemon cardwellii, for example), so that's the aim. Ooh, PNW annuals that do well with veg? I'd say Eschscholzia californica but they are often perennial, not annual. Limnanthes douglasii is a FAB native that just dissolves by summertime, Gilia capitata - that also comes to mind as does Clarkia amoena. Check the Xera Plants website, they might have some good ideas. Happy New Year to you and yours!

    2. Jeanne DeBenedetti Keyes9:27 AM PST

      Good ideas on using limnanthes, eschsholzia and gilla for my new sunny beds. Yeah, Xera is an excellent source for info and plants. Most of my garden fends for itself when it comes to getting nutrients, i.e. leaves/debris go back into the beds, sometimes yearly compost. So, going back to feeding veggies will be a thing.

  6. So inspiring! I am going to be poring over these photos in the coming months as I try to solve a few problem areas in my planting areas. Any ideas for underneath maples (Corvallis)? I have a stand of them that I have populated with daffodils so it's pretty in the spring, but extremely dry shade the rest of the growing season! Maybe I just let it go... a natural break for the eye. Thank you for your inspiring posts and hopeful plantings. I'm learning a lot!

    1. Hi Daphne, I hope that your problem areas are easily solved. Under maples - I would say Geranium macrorrhizum (it's so easy, I have it under maples here and it does really well and it forms small colonies in time), if it's shady then Oxalis oregana or Polystichum munitum (sword fern). I have Ceanothus gloriosus growing under an Oregon white oak and it's really happy - in full sun, though. Ajuga is often grown in tough spots though can be aggressive if too happy. Thank you so much for your kind words, it's people like you that keep me going on this blog! Cheers and happy new year!

    2. Thank you! Great ideas. Ajuga is already everywhere in my yard (which is OK) so I might try transplanting some of that!

  7. Anonymous8:19 AM PST

    As a fan of winter gardens, I was happy to read that "ongoing efforts to create a year-round garden full of evergreens and winter interest have yielded decent results". I enthusiastically agree and it's exactly what your photos demonstrate.
    Sod removal projects are my favorites: these newly defined or connecting areas will get better with each passing year. Less mowing, more time for 'Chicken Tender' to hang out with your boy, Hobbs. I love that photo.
    I've gone through the entire post twice, one day apart, and photo 74 took my breath away both times. It is testament to your capable design skills and the reason why fall is my favorite season.

    1. Oh, Chavli, thank you for your sweet words. I appreciate it so much! Your enthusiasm means a lot to me. Sod removal has been really rewarding (though hard on FM's shoulders!) and they already look better now that the wood chips have mellowed in color. Photo 74 - I'm amazed you counted! I had to count down to find the one myself, I really like that angle in the garden too. Cheers and Happy New Year!

    2. Anonymous9:38 AM PST

      Here's my trick: I click once to enlarge the image and it shows "74 of 85".
      I hope it works similarly on your end. Chavli

    3. cool, thank you for the tip! :)

  8. That photo with the gourds is fabulous, what a project! A great collection of photos of your inspiring garden, thank you! Fingers crossed this upcoming cold isn't too drastic and damaging.

    1. Howdy Danger, I'm thrilled you responded to the gourd pics....wow, what a project indeed. I've done them for a few years and they are pretty fun - though a long process (over a year to dry). Yes, fingers crossed for a mellower-than-predicted cold event. Happy New Year to you and Andrew!

  9. Anonymous3:31 PM PST

    I really like these end of year posts you do. Everything is looking great. I remember that berm garden above your patio area and what it looked like when you moved in. Really impressed with how it looks now!
    This is the second time you've mentioned the firepit that isn't getting used. Are you hunting at future changes?

    1. Thank you so much, Anonymous! The berm garden has oddly been one of the most challenging areas to garden so thank you for your observation and compliments, they keep me going! Yes, well - the fire pit is likely to stay as it is (it's really well-build by FM with kiln bricks). And though I love a good outdoor fire, they are kind of polluting and often provoke migraines for me. I think we will probably keep it as it is for when the apocalypse comes and we have someplace to cook our marshmallows, though.


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