Oh, February

Oh, February, you tease me with fake spring. Then you throw miserable cold, wet weather, even snow showers, my way. Fine. Time to camp out in the greenhouse, my happy place I call my halfway house. Halfway between being inside on a winter's day and outside on a dreamy, warm spring day. At least I can sow seeds and pot up rooted hebe cuttings here, so there's a win for me. Truth be told, late February into March is really just about my least favorite time of the year in the garden because it's so fickle. It should be headed towards spring but it never is and I should know this by now. But hope springs eternal, and every year I succumb to the temptation of fake spring thinking "This is the year that winter finishes early." Human nature is pretty funny that way. 

But there's stuff to do! I look at all perennials and grasses that need cutting back, a winter's worth of conifer and oak debris to be cleared from the gravel paths (well, not a whole winter's worth, I exaggerate), weeding, pruning, planting, spreading wood chips and gravel and I want to get on with it. 

So, here's what's happening in the garden in late February. There are hints of beauty out there as well as a second look at the January freeze damage (insert expletives). 

For a day or three it was in the mid to upper 50's and oh, my, the bumble bees emerged. There were many visiting this Arctostaphylos 'Austin Griffiths' as there were on any blooming manzanitas. 

FM has been dutifully monitoring the daffodil progress in the orchard, carefully marking every clump that comes up with a yellow flag so as not to mow over them. It's his hobby. Anyhow, he spotted the first of the bloomers, Narcissus Tête à Tête. 

Let's check on Oscar the Agave parryi var. truncata since his move to a sunnier spot last April. He is recovering well and has grown out of most of the rot. During the freezing rain event las month FM put a plastic tarp over him and it seemed to do the trick.

My new Agave ovatifolia 'Frosty Blue' got a bucket over it for the cold since it's so new in the ground. Looks okay but some lower leaf rot.

Agave parryi var neomexicana (I learned it as simply Agave neomexicana) has been in the ground some 7 years now and seems to be fully hardy.

The last of my agaves, Agave bracteosa also looks pretty good, no effort made to cover it at all. It seems all of these are pretty darned hardy for me, but the A. ovatifolia will take a few years in the ground before I am confident of its hardiness.

Osmanthus fragrans var. aurantiacus 'Beni Kin Mokusei' looking lovely. Although it has not bloomed yet for me, I am hopeful someday I'll witness its orange red flowers. I'm pleasantly surprised at its hardiness in my garden.

Arctostaphylos 'John Dourley' on the left (can you spot the bumble bee?) and Brachyglottis greyi, both looking unscathed. In fact, arctostaphylos have been so resilient in both freezing rain and heat waves, I might just convert all my garden over to them. Not really but it's nice to have that option.

Arctostaphylos 'Harmony' on the right and A. 'Pacific Mist' on the left. The latter is a prostrate, cascading form with especially blue-ish foliage and tolerates shade better than others.

Arctostaphylos 'Howard McMinn' with, yes, another bumble bee. I'm telling you that that alone is enough reason to plant these hardy evergreen shrubs. Feeding the native pollinators in February? Check.

The foliage is a bit ratty right now, but it will soon be overgrown with fresh new leaves and hide the uglies. Plus, the pom poms! They make me happy. Phlomis russelliana, another incredibly resilient plant I wouldn't do without.

This is turning into a "most resilient plants in my garden" post! Not really, but I'm just out there photographing what looks good after our rather nasty January weather. Teucrium chamaedrys, another plant I wouldn't do without. This is before their annual late winter haircut to shape them.

Juniperis conferta 'Blue Pacific' finally spilling down the edge of the retaining wall of the berm garden.

Signs of life make me smile. Potentilla atrosanguinea 'Red' just barely emerging.

Spiraea thunbergii 'Ogon' has had the faintest of leaves for a few weeks and now it's officially blooming.

Saxifraga x geum 'Dentata' always looking smart in the shade garden.

Daphne odora 'Aureomarginata' came through the winter chill with no visible damage. I planted two Daphne 'Perfume Princess' last summer and they survived, though many leaves are kind of burned from the bad weather, otherwise they look surprisingly good for being unestablished.

Shade garden foliage featuring Dryopteris sieboldii.

Polypodium glycyrrhiza, licorice fern, makes its appearance in the cooler, wetter months. Dormant in summer, it's a fun surprise every year when it emerges.

Brunnera is coming up, such a sweet shade plant.

To my absolute delight, Schefflera delavayi looks great, no winter damage some 7 years in. Also, it hangs over the north edge of our property through a deer fence and even the passing deer on the other side leave it alone.

Chiastophyllum oppositifolium 'Jim's Pride' is happy in its tiny little shady world. Not a big spreader but its charm makes it worthwhile.

A second saxifrage this week - this one is S. 'Primuloides', another tough, evergreen spreader for shade.

Mahonia 'Soft Caress' in a pot near our front door came through the winter cold unscathed, mostly. I am grateful as so many friends in Portland who grow this had nearly total defoliation.

Hebe buxifolia, looking fine in the labyrinth garden. However, just about three feet away is this:

Hebe diosmifolia, never looked worse. This plant has been in this spot for at least 7 years and always came through winter events until now. I think it just got too cold after an up-to-that-point mild winter. There is green on it and it will likely recover, but ouch. It may come out all together. It is worth noting that only a couple hebes in my garden suffered. This, a 'Great Orme', probably 'Patty's Purple' and a second H. diosmifolia are awful.  

The rest, including the following, all look completely unscathed and have proven to be perfectly hardy for me: H. buxifolia, H. cupressoides, H. cupressoides 'Boughton Dome', H. glaucophylla, H. purpurea nana, H. 'Sutherlandii', H. 'Karo Golden Esk', H. recurva 'Boughton Silver', H. odora 'New Zealand Gold', H. 'Quicksilver', H. 'Red Edge', H. rupicola, H. 'Western Hills', H. vernicosa, H 'Wingletye', H. salicornioides, and H. 'Hinuera'. And yes, I know that they are now reclassified as Veronica. And, yes, I propagated all of them for future plant sales. Hooray!

Now for more winter damage:
More ugly bits. There are a few phygelius in this area that were completely green before the freeze. While they will certainly recover (you can't kill these things), it's unpleasant to look at them now.

Muhlenbergia rigens is normally an evergreen to semi-evergreen grass. They have never completely died like this but I am hopeful they will rebound this spring, in fact I'd bet on it.

Phormium tenax does this every year. This year it will get cut back hard to start fresh. I fully expect it to recover.

All my Diplacus aurantiacus look like this. There are green bits, especially at the base, so they will too likely regrow as they do nearly every year. It's only in a mild winter that they remain evergreen in my garden.

Baccharis pilularis has done this for the past few winters and rebounds completely. I notice a couple in the gardens at Cistus Nursery where I work that did the same thing which, to that point, they had not. 

Eucalyptus p. ssp. niphophila, snow gum, was planted in February 2020. Not the best photograph of it but you can see the leaves turned buff color, it's never done this before. It should be hardy to very low temps and has been up until now. I have hope for it, however.

Acca sellowiana (syn. Feijoa sellowiana), pineapple guava, did this early in its career here at Chickadee Gardens when it was not yet established, so this defoliation isn't a huge alarm. I'll watch it, though, crossing all fingers. It took a couple of weeks post-winter storm to do this, in other words evidence of damage was delayed.

Ending this post with something a little more cheerful, spreading of wood chips. We got tired of waiting for Chip Drop so FM had a few yards delivered and he has been faithfully spreading them to newly created garden beds and refreshing some old ones. I am so appreciative of this as I haven't been able to do much with a shoulder injury. 

Shoulder injury, what? Oh, yes. I thought my nearly two-year-old, over-use-because-of-drought-related-hand-watering injury (that I have had physical therapy for) kicked up its nasty heels. One fine day a couple of weeks ago, excruciating pain emanated from my shoulder and I could not use my right arm. At all. Visions of no longer being able to garden scared me. Urgent care, x-rays and most excellent care from The Portland Clinic last week gave me answers - turns out I have calcific tendonitis. Who knew it was even a thing? Calcium crystals form in the tendon which can cause 10 on a scale of 1 - 10 pain. The doctor said I probably have had this for a while (would explain past shoulder pain) but I did something that caused this Almond Roca-sized crystal to scrape against my clavicle whereby choice expletives spewed. But the good news is no surgery, and it will likely resolve on its own in time. It is not really known why this happens - not from diet, for example. Now I'm on the mend, shoulder has improved to almost full range of motion, so I am incredibly grateful. Now you know - crystals can form in your tendons. I only share this story because something tells me I am not the first gardener to experience this and knowledge is power. I'm just glad this happened in February; I'd be a pretty feisty complainer had it been prime spring gardening weather. Oh, February, I guess I forgive you.

And now that I'm on the mend, I guess I'd better get out there and shovel up some wood chips, rain or no. I can't let FM have all the fun! Oh, gravel, too. Maybe I'll leave that one to him this go-around.

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


  1. How nice to see signs of Spring. It helps cope with the ones showing damage. Our weather has been up and down too: super cold, back well above 0, back to super cold, etc. It will be interesting to see how everything has coped. Thankfully in my climate everything goes dormant. Glad to hear your shoulder is improving. I have partially torn rotater cuff tendons in both shoulders so I am very careful with posture and what I do as the thought of being unable to garden is too painful.

    1. Signs of spring keep me sane, Elaine. Yes, there's something to be said about planting plants that go completely dormant in winter, i.e. deciduous trees, shrubs and perennials. It seems so many of us gardeners have shoulder issues, no wonder with the amount of strain we place on ourselves. Thanks for the reminder to be thoughtful and careful with posture, that's half the battle.

  2. Your garden looks pretty good to me, Tamara, especially given the icy freezes you experienced. Even here in coastal SoCal, we get mixed signals about the beginning of spring but then it's hard to avoid letting hope eclipse a niggling sense of caution.

    I'm sorry to hear of the shoulder problem but glad that it's easing without surgery.

    1. I am pretty happy with the garden in February generally speaking, though as I type this and look out my window it's snowing like crazy. Hope is what we gardeners have in abundance. We have to or we'd never do it.

      I too am glad I don't need surgery. Whew!

  3. Amy Campion7:11 AM PST

    Yay, bumbles! Sprinter is my favorite time of year, but yes, it can be cruel. I have had shoulder pain, too. I wonder if I have crystals in my tendons? Ack. Nice to see what's going on in your garden, as always.

    1. Yay, hooray, huzzah for bumbles! There were SO MANY those couple of warmish days, Amy - it was a bumble convention and a delight to witness.

      You too could have crystals in your tendons. Sounds like a commercial. But it's a real thing, as odd as it sounds.

  4. "This is the year that winter finishes early"... ha! Those same words have gone thru my head. Oh those Austin blooms! They look so good. Mine turned brown during the January storm, so much for feeding my sad pollinators. Glad you're on the mend... there is gardening weather ahead I just know it!

    1. Don't they go through our heads every friggin' year? Has it been years since we've had a super mild winter? I can't recall. Sorry about your arcto blooms, that is unfortunate. I think mine were a little delayed as I'm a touch colder than you are in PDX which probably saved them. I hope there's gardening weather ahead, but as I type it's snowing like crazy and sticking on March 1. Not unheard of but unwelcome nonetheless.

  5. Thank you for showing your nasty bits along with the successes. I am sad that a few of our similar 2-3 year old plants aren't looking as good. I had a Eucalyptus gunnii (potted) not make it through the summer )overwater? too hot a pot? there is new growth at the soil level around the trunk though! Our daisy bush looks toast but will hope for the best. What do you do with the low agave rotted leaves? And our bottle brush is brown as can be. Lovely plants!

    1. Hi rjprice, thank you for your comments! The nasty bits are certainly part of gardening. Lately we've all had such blows to our gardens that I feel it's important to share experiences so we can plan for resiliency and joy. Your Eucalyptus gunnii, wow, no idea! My friend and former boss Maurice of Joy Creek has high hopes for my eucalyptus noting how resilient they are - so perhaps yours will spring back to life? It sounds like there's hope. Daisy bush - do you mean Olearia dartonii? If so, mine actually had a lot of foliage die off this year, first time, but I think it too will be fine. The agave leaves, I leave them until they completely dry out in summer and usually they'll be covered up by then as the agave grows but if not I cut them off when crispy and dry. Your bottle brush - it too could come back, which one is it?

  6. Anonymous2:41 PM PST

    Feel no guilt for leaving the mulch-spreading to FM: it's one of the most instantly gratification garden chore I can think of.
    Arctostaphylos and bumble bees go so well together. That's a great idea to replace struggling shrubs and trees with more Arctostaphylos! (Because one never have too many, and one can only take so much agony of winter damage).
    Dryopteris sieboldii, licorice fern and both saxifrage you featured: some of the heroes in my winter garden too. I divided Brunerea jack frost and it's volunteers everywhere I could: I get giddy when they respond to the longer days and start coming up.
    Envious of your Daphne odora. (It didn't make it in my garden).
    Happy Spring!

    1. Oh, yes, I looove spreading mulch and fresh gravel, it is very gratifying, you are right Chavli. And those brunnera. Those leaves! I had a few seedlings that I lifted and planted in other areas of the shade garden to have more. I get giddy too when I see such treasures pop up. Now if the snow would stop, I'd be more giddy. Happy spring to you too!

  7. Hmm, I for one must be a complete weirdo because I don't terribly mind our long, extended springs here in Oregon. Of course, I am comparing that to the Februarys and Marches of Wisconsin, where it was frozen solid, or to those of New Mexico, where it was windy and brown. I love, love, love seeing new flowers emerging for months on end. My least favorite time of year here is late Summer, August and September. Hot, dry, brown, smoky, and feeling anxiety about fire and water availability. I am sad to hear about the shoulder, but glad it has improved. I've got a similar winter round of browns and frowns in our garden over at Botanica Chaotica. Misery loves company!

    1. You are certainly no weirdo Jerry, au contraire. I don't mind the long extended spring, it's the snow I'm looking at out my window right now that I mind. Ugg! It seems that winter gets longer every year, that's my complaint, really. The thrill of newly emerging flowers is such a great joy. I get it about hot, dry, brown, smoky - that's certainly no fun. Browns and frowns....I might steal that. Misery does love company, Jerry. Cheers to us!


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