November, 2013 Archives


The moving of the greenhouse has given me impetus for landscaping the scrappy area surrounding it. About 10 feet to the north was a functional but quite unbeautiful shed my father built flanking a 300 gallon diesel tank.  The site upon which the green house now sits was once as a parking area for his excavator. Now, I wanted to create a space that no longer required mowing (increasing the likelihood for a rock to go through the greenhouse glass),  and that was also low-maintenance and did not block the windows. Cost is always a consideration as well, and when I inventoried the materials that I could acquire most readily and cheaply, stone and logs were high on the list.


 My choice of a rock garden also serves another purpose. Light-colored rocks and gravel reflect sunlight back into the green house and absorb heat that can be re-radiated back after dark.


The area immediately adjacent to the greenhouse proved easiest to envision.

On the south side, I am planning a slate path surrounded by fine gravel and larger rocks arranged to form pockets within which grasses and creeping plants like thyme and phlox can be planted for texture and color. I particularly look forward to the addition of Zauschneria californica (formerly Epilobium cana) or California fuschia, a personal favorite of mine from my days in Southern California that I’d acquired on the cheap at a recent fall plant sale.



I wanted to create an attractive centerpiece within a compacted strip of soil about 10 ft x 10 ft between the east end of the greenhouse and the driveway. On a lark, I selected three flat basalt rocks and one taller, sharply angled stone from my local landscape supplier and arranged them in a group to invite sitting.  I lined the work with pieces of flat slate as a transition to the driveway, and to hold back the pea gravel I hauled in to surround the rock.  However, I needed a transition to the rock garden on the south side. As I pondered what it would look like, I began to consider the story that Asian-themed gardens tell using rocks and plants to simulate mountains and forests. Using the large basalt pieces as mountains, I used smaller, but similarly sharp rocks to emulate a tumble of jagged hills that would lead into the rounded river stones that I was using for the rock garden on the south side. A low conifer on the corner will suggest a forest, and provide a secondary focal point for entry into the path.


Transitioning from one flat open area to another has been difficult. Dividing space where there are currently no divisions has been difficult, particularly where the hard, compacted soil makes planting either fence or shrub nearly impossible. This has been the greatest challenge, in part because setting sills at ground level requires digging into soil that is like concrete.


The diesel tank and former shed are/were adjacent to a small grove of Douglas fir and madrone. I wanted to separate this area from the greenhouse and derived the idea of a dry stack stone wall from time spent in New England observing aged rock walls winding through the forest. I also visualized scenes of natural rock falls in the Cascade Mountains and Sierras, and environmental artist Andrew Goldsworthy’s ‘Storm King Wall’, which winds through a forest in the Hudson River Valley.  My wall, which is currently in the construction phases, is designed to emulate a roughly-stacked pile of rock and will be planted with brightly-hued autumn fern, lined with moss, and flanked with shiny masses of Oregon grape  (Mahonia aquifolium). Originally planned to be about 12 feet long, I am now considering its extension back into the Douglas fir grove as a way to draw the eye into the trees and invite exploration.


The front (west end) of the greenhouse will feature, for ease of maintenance, a hardscape walkway leading back to the driveway.  The serenity of the Douglas fir grove suggests a sitting area, so I will construct a small (12’ x 10’) deck that extends from the level of the diesel tank north. The diesel tank, at present unused, may one day be removed, so I’ll keep the area immediately around it as a gravel pad. Between that and the deck will be an area of bark and stone with low conifers and shrubs flanking a gate and fence that will transition into the agricultural areas, to be discussed later.


Greenhouse Landscaping

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‘You just saved $125’ the cashier at a local nursery told me the other week. I’d been making the rounds of the plant sales, checking in on those nurseries that I know have discount plant areas. Those that have often discount up to 50%, but one Gig Harbor nursery offered plants at up to 75% off. I took home armloads of bergenias, bridal wreath spirea, hosta, Azalea ‘Orchid Lights’, and several other perennials. I also cruise the discounts at Home Depot, Lowe’s. The other day I netted seven large trees – a river birch, two Eastern red buds, a red maple, and two coral-bark willows – averaging 15 feet tall for less than $150.  The maple was only $5.


Many nurseries have a discount section throughout the year which I regularly check during the growing season, but the largest reductions can be found in mid-fall when most nurseries are clearing out the summer stock and getting rid of items that didn’t sell.

I’ll grant you that these cast offs are not always in great condition. I look carefully for signs of disease before I take them home, and usually I can assume that after a season of mild neglect my finds will be pot-bound, water deficient, water logged, or just plain ratty. Still, if you accept the challenges of adopting strays, the bargains aren’t bad.

I will buy showpiece plants for a price. I love colorful witchhazels and novel conifers that cannot normally be found on sale. But since my goals are focused upon the established of large groups of plants of a given color or texture, and less upon the pedigree, my approach works well for my budget.

A little knowledge of plant disease, plant care, and the lifespan of the average seed can assist with making intelligent selections.

My bargain shopping is also supplemented by propagation through cuttings taking from my property and those of willing donors, from seeds I’ve collected, and from freebies I encounter now and then through gardening groups or plant salvage programs. Once, I encountered a basket of free seed packages at an indoor plant store in Seattle. No one noticed them until I pounced upon the prize, whereupon I was quickly joined by a small group plowing eagerly through packages of herb and vegetable seeds from that season that were set to expire. Nevertheless, most of them sprouted.

In January, I’m ready to begin ordering bunches of bareroot stock from the local conservation district for about $1 a stem and grow them up in pots for later planting.

Photos from a Morning Walk in Mid-Fall

Acer palmatum, one of my sale plants, lights up an otherwise dark conifer grove off the deck.





Hamamelis x intermedia glows a deep orange.




Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Arnold’s Promise’ grows opposite the driveway from ‘Janela’ and offers bright yellow leaves and flowers in addition to a fragrant scent that carries a long way.









Heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica) leaves and berries behind the rich green of heath (Erica sp.)


Bright jewel-like berries of the aptly-named beauty berry (Callicarpa sp.)



Reddish leaves of Viburnum opulus L. var. americanum (American highbush cranberry) in the foreground beneath yellow-leaved cherries imported by my father as seed from North Carolina 40 years ago.