Dancing Oaks Nursery and Gardens

Road-tripping plus friends plus plants makes for the best kind of adventure. For the bit about the plants, make that one of Oregon's best independent small nurseries, Dancing Oaks Nursery and Gardens in Monmouth. While they do offer mail order, to visit in person is worth the trip out to this bucolic part of the state in the coastal foothills in the central Willamette Valley. It has been over 10 years since my last visit, and that was actually one of my very first blog posts. You may revisit the very clumsy post here

This trip was about my friends Anna and Gina - the three of us worked together both at Drake's Seven Dees years ago as well as many more years at Joy Creek Nursery. Needless to say, we're all passionate about plants. So into the Gina-mobile we loaded and headed out for a long but fabulous day at a very special nursery.

The memory I had of the last Dancing Oaks visit in August 2013 was of the surrounding countryside, the amazing eremurus meadow and jaw dropping selection of plants for sale. There were dogs, chickens, greenhouses and fountains. Now my memory includes all of that but additionally, and primarily (now) it is arctostaphylos. Oh my gosh. I've never seen such beautifully grown and so many arctos in my life. Fred and Leonard, incredible horticulturists, have collected and grown the largest variety I have ever seen, including many yet unnamed selections they plan to introduce. They are also expanding the dry gardens to incorporate hundreds more in what will literally be acres of arctos. 

Here then is an all too brief visit to Dancing Oaks Nursery and Gardens, including oodles of arctostaphylos in the second half of this post.

A wide shot of the edge of the meadow and arctostaphylos area in what encapsulates a vision of beauty in my eyes. A little wild, a little tame, meadows with shrubs and trees sprinkled throughout.

Baptisia and verbascum in a border near the pavilion.

After I scooped my jaw off the ground I managed to ask Fred if this was indeed Lonicera crassifolia. Yes, yes, it is. 

Sidalcea campestris, a plant I have and adore, has spread to form the bulk of a charming meadow, the one that I remember seeing many eremurus or foxtail lilies all those years ago. They are still in there but flower much later in the season.

I believe this is Gladiolus communis ssp. byzantinus.

A wider shot of part of the meadow with gardens in the background. Many unusual and fantastic trees, shrubs and perennials fill this garden.

A garden island bed near the meadow includes a variety of native and dry-loving plants.

Dichelostemma congestum or ookow lily is a native bulb that does well in dry meadows and is perfectly adapted to our wet winters.

Perhaps a thermopsis? The pale yellow flowers I find appealing.

This lovely oak, Quercus pontica, Armenian oak, is petite at only 10 or so feet in height at maturity.

Road through the property (I heard something along the lines of over a hundred acres) up to the house with surrounding coastal hills.

Chamaecyparis lawsoniana 'Wissel's Saguaro', a real old-school wheel, manzanitas and foxgloves on the edge of the meadow.

A wide shot at the edge of the meadow with mixed plantings of trees and of course arctos. I think I spy a eucalyptus in there.

This is a nursery, after all, with many hoop houses in which to shop. Sadly I did not manage to photograph much in the way of the shopping experience even though we were at the nursery for about six hours. We took our time with Fred who generously took us around the newest arctostaphylos fields (more on that in a moment), ate our lunch, visited with several gardening friends including Jerry of Botanica Chaotica (thank you for the dried apples!) and Grace and Heather. In other words we were immersed in the experience.

There are many areas in which to sit, take a break and have some lunch.

The areas surrounding the pavilion feature water lovers and a few fountains.

Osmunda regalis, royal fern where it's happy in a lot of water. Gunnera manicata behind it.

Fountains disguised as containers.

Gina, head road trip posse member, enamored with the trees. We all were, come to think of it.

A rather amazing cercis or redbud, perhaps 'Carolina Sweetheart'. Please chime in if you know.

Plantings around the pavilion (on the left).

And now for the arctostaphylos, commonly known as manzanitas. There are many and I do not know the names of some (as I mentioned, many are simply inventory numbers at this point) and, frankly, I don't know that much about this incredible genus. What I do know is that they are versatile, evergreen, an important source of pollen in the off season, adapted perfectly to winter wet and summer dry and have been standouts in my garden. I jokingly said a while back perhaps a garden solely comprised of this one genus is in my future, it's not that far off from the truth if other things keep dying. West Coast gardeners, these are for you.

I recently received the Dancing Oaks newsletter in an email that highlighted their work with arctos. If you are considering a dry garden, they have some great advice. The following is directly from the newsletter from mid-April:

If you are thinking about starting your own dry garden, you might be tempted to start by putting down a bunch of beautifully amended soil, as we did. Dear friends, this was only helpful to our weeds! It turns out that our dry garden heroes can out-compete in our dry, clay-filled, lean soils. From a design perspective, we landed on Arctostostaphylos, also known as manzanitas, as the quintessential dry garden shrub. No other shrub can offer the diversity of both habit and foliage, the changes throughout the seasons of both bark, foliage and the desirable bloom time of December-April. Early bloom time is a much needed resource for birds and pollinators. This shrub does it all. You can find it as a groundcover up to a large shrub. The habit can be dense or more open to enjoy the bark more. The foliage color ranges from deep emerald green, olive tones, bright green, sage, and silver. The foliage can be shiny or matte, with tiny leaves or leaves that are up to 3 inches wide. The new growth can be fantastic shades of orange or red. This is not a static evergreen shrub, Manzanitas exhibit changes through the seasons offering blooms in the winter or early spring, berries in the summer, different shades of foliage between the new and the old, either smooth bark in winter or peeling bark in the summer. 

In 2023, we planted out over a hundred new manzanitas in the manzanita expansion project which increased our dry garden by 50%. Many species and cultivars are old industry favorites from California, but many are from our own selections, gathered as cuttings on trips to California over the decades. Stay tuned or better yet come see what we have planted in our gardens! We are excited to share many new selections with you in the coming years.

When it comes down to caring for these amazing shrubs, we do indeed have some tips. It is helpful to give them a bit of elevation if at all possible. We often make small 1 -2 ft berms to help with drainage. While we do plant manzanitas straight into our winter soggy fields as well, more survive without super wet winter “feet”. Do not overwater in the summer, we water our newly planted manzanitas only once or twice a week in the heat of the summer for the first year, after that, they are on their own. For pruning, it is important to know that they do not resprout from old wood. Be cautious and prune mostly following the start of new growth and the last bit of bloom. While we do some pruning all year round, a good rule of thumb is if you need to prune off something that requires more force than small hand-held clippers, wait for the summer. It is helpful to prune up the lower branches of these plants for added air circulation. Manzanitas often get some degree of winter fungal “spotting”some cultivars and species are more or less prone to it. Air circulation around and under the shrubs can help combat winter spotting. We recommend either covering the soil with coarse mulch or more desirably, companion species, low ground covers such as Ceanothus ‘Centennial’, Eriophyllum lanatum 'Takilma Gold', Aster ericoides var. prostrata 'Snow Flurry’, Epilobium canum 'Everett's Choice', and Pacific Coast Native Iris hybrids. Or you can always plant another manzanita!

Arctostaphylos manzanita 'Upstanding'

Arctostaphylos patula 'Siskiyou Pink'

Arctostaphylos manzanita 'Elizabeth McClintock'

A sea of arctostaphylos among lupine and verbascum.

Arctostaphylos glandulosa ssp. glandulosa

Arctostaphylos columbiana 'Blue River'

The color is outstanding. Of course Fred mentioned the name on this spectacular plant, but it now escapes me. 

Notice all the differing foliage colors and textures. Some are hairy leaved, others smooth. Some have extremely silver tones and others reds. Arctostaphylos are certainly varied and I for one have never seen a more lovely collection so well grown.

Flags represent newly planted arctostaphylos. This whole area will soon look like the photo above, dense with plants. It takes about two years to really fill in according to Fred. The trick is great drainage and air circulation. They don't do anything special to the soil except berm it up for berms and swales then plant the manzanitas on the top of the berm, keeping its roots freely drained. I will definitely be coming back in a couple of years to see how they are doing.

An example of a berm on the right with a slight swale on the left. They will outcompete the weeds in time. Fred likes to mulch with wood chips. He also likes gravel but says weeds are an issue, less so with wood chips.

A tapestry of gorgeousness in my eyes.

While I am not versed on all the different species within the genus of arctostaphylos, I appreciate them so much. Maybe one day I'll take a deep dive into researching them and really learning the differences within each species. For now I can tell you that my socks are blown off by this collection so lovingly collected and tended to by Fred and Leonard. They were all so healthy and obviously in a great setting with lots of sun and air circulation. The pruning is excellent also, they have a fantastic crew taking care of not only these but the gardens as a whole.

Their focus as of late is adapting to our ever increasing dry season and planting that which is resilient to the shifts in our climate. Native plants play a large role in this effort. Perhaps like me this is also in the forefront of your mind as we garden on into the future.

What was my haul, you ask? I was very restrained as space is filling up around here but I purchased Arctostaphylos columbiana 'Windy Point', Geum triflorum, Penstemon cardwellii x rupicola, Monardella villosa 'Russian River', Coniogramme emeiensis 'Golden Zebra', Parablechnum novae-zelandiae, Jasminum officinale 'Devon Cream', Viburnum x juddii and Baccharis magellanica.

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! We hope you can get out to Dancing Oaks Nursery someday and if you are too far away, their website is a bounty of information and gorgeous photos - perfect for online shopping. Yes, they ship. Hooray! Thank you, Fred, for your generosity of time and spirit and thank you, Jerry, for your flexibility and meeting us! It was a great day spent with friends and plants.

Happy gardening!


  1. It's only been 3 years since my last visit and I need to get back! I'd planned a visit last year but then the soaring temperatures kept me away (as you might remember since your fabulous FM picked up plants for me). Someone needs to start a blog called "acres of arctos" and Parablechnum novae-zelandiae! Wow. Jealous.

    How wonderful that in addition to fantastic plants you also saw so many friends! Did Jerry, and Heather and Grace just happen to be there too or did you plan a meet-up?

    1. Acres of arctos would be great, yes. We each bought a Parablechnum n-z and were thrilled to have found them. Jerry planned to meet us - actually we were going to go to visit his garden but we were at the nursery so long we ran out of time!

    2. Anonymous9:31 PM PDT

      Thanks for your wonderful article about Dancing Oaks and Gardens 🙏 Since you were here last we added Gardens to our name. It was a pleasure to share our passion for Arctostaphylos but I think you are a kindred spirit.
      Well you’ll never guess what I did today. With the rain coming I took the opportunity to plant and amount the new plants were of course more manzanita
      Cheers, Fred

    3. The highest compliment, "you are a kindred spirit" - thank you Fred! And again, thank you for your warm hospitality. We walked away feeling so good having spent a perfect day among plant friends. We will be back!

  2. Jeanne DeBenedetti Keyes4:25 PM PDT

    Oh, yeah, love all those arctos! So many different leaf and flower colors/shapes. I particularly like the blue/grey leaved ones. Those wide shots are amazing. Such lovely companion plantings. Debbie Teashon (rainyside gardeners) and I had a wonderful tour of the Arctos with Fred last summer/fall too!

    1. The arctos are SO varied, it's amazing. A great resource to be able to see so many in one place and compare. I'm so glad you got to see the arctos with Fred, he's so generous with his knowledge and time.

  3. Wow. It looks more like a botanic garden than a nursery. In fact, it looks better than my local 87-acre botanic garden. Thanks for sharing your trip.

    1. It feels like that - a botanic garden and with the new dry garden expansion project, it will be even better.

  4. Anonymous1:48 PM PDT

    I would have thought it difficult to improve upon Dancing Oaks of yore but there you go...turn your back for a few years and Voila! Thanks for this updated tour & commentary.

    1. Oh, Ricki, I know! You are so spot-on. Voila. A magical place indeed.

  5. That is timely advice, planting on a a slight elevation. I assumed I would have to geoengineer the site, and that's not going to happen, but a 1-2 elevation is doable. I'm going to try this with 'John Dourley" in the front garden, where planting 'Ghostly' on the level was not a success...So funny, when I saw that sidalcea meadow I asked for a plant, and they had none in stock, so I asked if they would dig one up for me. Cheeky! They seemed slightly taken aback but agreed to dig one out of the meadow. I'm just another crazy customer these long-suffering nurseries have to deal with. Love this place!

    1. Fred's advice for a simple berm/swale and wood chips is something we can all do, indeed, for planting arctostaphylos. 'Ghostly' has been tricky - it sulked and hated my garden until Heat Dome then it went KAPOW - it wants so little water and really hot conditions. And cheeky you, Denise! I LOVE it. I'm not surprised they did dig one out for you. It's so good - I have it sort of naturalized in my "meadow" (SO small compared to Dancing Oaks') and I push it on people all the time. If you ever come over I'll push more on you, too ;)

  6. Anonymous7:34 AM PDT

    I absolutely love the first photo of this post! Many shades of gorgeous green, speckled with yellow and silver.
    Like Loree, I think "acres of arctos" is a phrase that should not be lost: maybe it can be used when their huge collection of Arctostaphylos becomes the best on the west coast.
    After seeing checkermallow in your post last year, I bought one at a farmers market. It made it through winter with a flush of green leaves. JOY.
    Waiting to see where the Parablechnum find a home in your shade garden; it's a wonderful purchase.

    1. Chavli - do you have the Parablechnum n-z? I just planted it yesterday in front of the new pavilion. I hope it's happy there, I understand they need a lot of summer moisture. It's within easy reach of a hose so is kind of ideal in that sense.

      Yes, let's keep "acres of arctos" alive and well. I think Fred and Leonard are well on their way as they keep planting in the arcto fields - it shall be an ongoing garden, me thinks.

      I'm so glad your Sidalcea c. is doing well! Let us know when it blooms. Mine are just past their peak and are still beautiful. Cheers!

    2. Anonymous6:29 AM PDT

      I've long felt I need to list of all the ferns in my garden, but I'm pretty certain Parablechnum isn't among them :-D I'll enjoy this one vicariously though you.

    3. Sounds like a plan, Chavli!

  7. Needless to say, Dancing Oaks is one of my favorite nurseries. We are fortunate to live so close. Fred and Leonard have a wonderful crew and I have been more than happy to join them on their botanizing trips to find more manzanitas. It's fun to see their place through your eyes - always new details that I miss. Gardening with others is the best. Glad to spend some time chatting with you, Gina, and Anna!

    1. You are so fortunate to live so close. How exciting you get to join on such trips. Fred's generosity and warmth was the icing on the cake for us. Gardening with others is the best and not a common occurrence. So glad to have done garden-y things with you!

  8. Anonymous10:45 PM PDT

    Oh boy - you took some great photos, T! It was such a fun trip, and I'm so glad we went! It was impressive from beginning to end - even though I spent way too much time in the shade house. That Lonicera is insane...

    1. It WAS such a fun trip. I'm assuming this is Anna! Hee hee....that lonicera is crazy. Literally scooped my jaw off of the ground for that one.

      You didn't spend ENOUGH time in the shade house. Wow - you have the BEST eye, Anna - I should have bought more and gone for it like you did and hung out with you. I'm so happy you got what you did and had the best haul around and wow - got them all planted. Impressive.


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