Last weekend, I opened my garden to the public. I’d agreed to share my large, albeit imperfect, sanctuary, because I’d wanted to help people be social again and get things back to “normal.” But that simple yes meant months of weeding, digging, transplanting, and all else. Lots of hauling. I also stressed every night about the garden looking tidy and cheery for visitors. All this while my back slowly tightened and my body created a fiery pain I’ve never experienced before.
In the end, the tour went well. Hundreds of visitors came through and I even sold a good number of my books, including my newest, Leaf Your Troubles Behind. I got to chat about gardening all day, helping people discover cool plants while meeting plant aficionados. It was lovely. I went to bed relieved and tired.
A couple friends who couldn’t make it asked me to post photos online. So here’s how the garden looked in June of 2022.
The 3B’s Island Bed
I have a flame-shaped island bed near the house that gets full sun. A long time ago, I planted a spine of shrubs down the middle for winter structure. Then I planted perennials and low shrubs along the spine.
Each plant I chose to attract bees, butterflies, or birds. These include butterfly bush (buddleia), blue-leaf rose (rosa glauca), smokebush (cotinus), escallonia, spiraea, weigela, false indigo (baptisia), coneflower (echinacea), sage (salvia), crocosmia, and more.
I also have a border that gets shade from an oak in the morning and a blast of hot afternoon sun. At first, this area plagued me as I tried plants that I thought would work but didn’t. It was either too sunny or too shady. So I tried hardy fuchsias. They thrived without much help from me at all.
Then, to play off those deep purple and magenta tones, I planted blue star junipers (juniperus) and blue surprise false cypress (chamaecyparis). I contrasted these with a purple-leafed hyndrangea (Hydrangea ‘Plum Passion’), purple coral bells (heuchera), and fringe flowers (loropetalum). Finally, I filled in with crocosmia, Japanese forest grasses, and hostas. A gold variegated dogwood (Cornus kousa ‘Summer Gold’), pictured above in background, anchors the whole thing.
My most prized plant is my Chilean fire tree (embothrium coccineum). It’s native to the mountains of Chile and blooms in bold orange flowers. Hummingbirds love them!
My front border is mostly shady and I’ve had decent success with it outside of when the deer find my one large hosta. It’s a mix of aucuba, hydrangea, fuchsia, heucheras, and rhododendrons.
Oftentimes, when people visit my yard, they ask about my favorite hosta in the whole world. It’s not only blue, gold, and chartreuse, it’s also slug-resistant since it has corrugated leaves. It’s hosta ‘June,’ a low-maintenance hosta that needs shade, water, and not much else to look stunning.
Now, that the tour is over, I’ve been relaxing on my patio and enjoying the tidy garden. I realized that sharing it inspired a lot of folks. Several people, with sparks in their eyes, told me they were ready to dig into a new design or seek out the unusual plants they’d seen. Their excitement makes my long hours of backbreaking work worth it.
Today I’ll share a few pictures of the sunny island bed I planted to attract bees, butterflies, and birds. It’s shaped like a raindrop and a constant work in progress. Some plants perish during harsh winters or wilt from aggressive moles burrowing holes around roots. But the line of a tree and shrubs forming its backbone has mostly held over the years.
At the Tip, a Much Loved Tree
At the top of the island bed, I originally planted a purple albizia. I love this tropical looking tree with its narrow divided leaves and feathery flowers. But after one winter, the tree got verticillium wilt and promptly died. Unable to plant other trees susceptible to that disease, I went in a different direction. I’d grown an Oklahoma Redbud at my old house and so thought I’d try it here. It worked out great! This tree not only puts out magenta blooms in spring but then grows roundish glossy leaves. Its form is a lollipop and its drought tolerant. I love love love this tree.
A Spine of Shrubs
Forming the backbone of this garden is a line of shrubs. Mexican mock orange ‘Aztec Pearl’ leads into rosa glauca, which bumps up against an old rhododendron that I’ve drastically cut back, adjacent to a purple smokebush, lilac, and azara. At the bottom is a cutleaf staghorn sumac. This combo provides spring blooms, fragrance, evergreen structure, and pretty fall color. Not to mention pollinators love them all.
Playing with Perennials
Along this central hump of shrubs, a mix of small shrubs and perennials grow. I’ve chosen escallonia, spiraea, buddleia, weigela, and shrub roses. Plants with tubular flowers attract hummingbirds. Plants with flat head flowers attract butterflies. Tucked into these are geum, sedums, beebalm, phlox, crocosmia, alstroemeria, and lupines. I’ve rearranged things, removing sick plants and adding in replacements over the years. But overall, this full sun bed thrives with the activity of bees and butterflies all summer long.
The Bottom Is For Birds
The lower part of the bed is tricky. It’s near the house and therefore shaded by it in winter. This area is colder and freezes for several days at a time. I think of it as a zone 7 area now. I’ve learned the hard way that I need perennials hardy to zero degrees or even below. Thus, I’ve planted variegated miscanthus, peonies, salvia ‘May Night,’ lupines, hydrangea, and Jackman’s Blue rue. Because I grew tomatoes here for a few years when we first moved in and moles burrowed all around and the winter is extra harsh in this pocket, this area is the newest, least established area of the garden.
At its center is a birdbath that bubbles. This is a wonderful attractant for various species of birds who come and bath from time to time. A circular bed held mint and herbs until a few years ago when I renovated it and planted perennials. Now, the birdbath is on its last legs, its top spout having cracked from ice and black facade faded from the weather. Here’s a picture of the area when it was fresh.
A Walkway in Shade
I have a narrow stone path cutting through along the house in mostly shade. For this little strip, I’ve chosen hosta ‘June,’ brunnera ‘Jack Frost,’ various hellebores, ferns, and mukdenia. It forms a semi-evergreen collection of varying shapes, heights, and color. Interspersed is Irish moss, whose yellow tone brightens things up and a topdressing of bark mulch keeps unwanted moss at bay.
If you’re in the Seattle area and would like to talk plants or see the garden, give me a shout. I’ll be working away most of the summer.
Hey everyone, today’s inspirational quote comes from Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “The Raven.” If you don’t know it, you may want to check it out. It’s creepy and musical and lovely, about how a young man, who, one night while sitting by the fire, hears a raven tapping at his door. When he opens the door and the bird flies in, the bird haunts him, reminding him of his lost love, Lenore. Through the repetition of the word “Nevermore,” the raven eventually drives the narrator mad. He’s tortured not only by his lost love but also by his own mortality.