Top (weirdo) Trees (or bushes pretending to be trees) for Small (and tiny) Gardens


Friday, July 11, 2014

It seems like there a lot of these "Best Trees for Small Gardens" lists but I have two problems with them:

1. They are so ho-hum. I do love a well-placed Japanese Maple but there are so many other cool options.
2. Their definition of small is not really that small. What if you have a truly tiny garden? I have some ideas!

So here's a list of some of my outlier favorites. Honestly I have very little tree knowledge (and if you live in the tropics or the desert, you're on your own) but play along with me...

Chain-flowered Redbud (Cercis racemosa)

My newest tree crush is Cercis Racemosa growing here in NE Portland. It reportedly grows to about 20'. The pink dangling catkins on this tree make me think of Chinese paintings. Cherry blossoms? Pfff. These are TO DIE FOR and give way to long flat purple pods, also pretty cool looking. I passed on some seeds I collected from this tree and my garden blogger friend Ann at Amateur Bot-ann-ist is going to attempt to germinate them. Good luck Ann--the world needs more of these pink darlings!

Wedding Cake Tree, Cornus controversa 'Variegata' 

I love to say the name of this one--it sounds like a Harry Potter Spell. Cornus controversa 'Variegata'! Poof! It gets its common name "Wedding Cake Tree" because it grows in tiers like a cake and in the Spring it is covered in frothy white flowers. Doesn't it look good enough to eat? This specimen in my yard is 8 years old and it's about 12'. I fell in love with this tree when I saw it in a photo in The Jewel Box Garden. It's excellent for lighting up a dark corner, especially on an overcast Spring day.

Edgeworthia chrysantha

Next up, blooming here in its Dr. Seuss sunshiny glory, is Edgeworthia chrysantha. I guess some of you would call this a shrub, but maybe that all depends on the size of your garden. It can take some light pruning so you can make it look a little more tree-like if you prefer. Mine always gets tons of suckers that need to be trimmed. I used to be a snob for this edgeworthia over the red blossomed Edgeworthia papyrifera ‘Red Dragon’ (the blossoms ARE bigger on the yellow version) but I have been won over after seeing my Mom's recently planted 'Red Dragon' showing off in a big way. 

Chinese Parasol Tree (Firmiana Simplex) at Brian's Botanicals

Tropicalisimo with huge leaves over a foot wide! Chinese Parasol Tree can grow up to 40 feet but its trunk remains slender and the foliage is at the top (hence the name) so you can easily grow things under it and it has a small footprint. It can be invasive in some areas of the South but in the Pacific Northwest it seems very well-behaved. 

 California Lilac (Ceanothus) at Yerba Buena Nursery

If you start them young you can prune California Lilac into some pretty extreme shapes--I even had a lollipop once but then I moved it to a new location and it died on me. I'm currently trying another one, a variegated variety. Hope to share some photos next year--it's pretty promising! This is a great plant with shiny leaves that are EVERGREEN and in the Spring it's covered in little blue flowers which the bees love. There's the common dark green variety, several variegated forms, and even a black one called Tuxedo! 

 Black Lace Elderberry (Sambucus Nigra) at the Royal Botanical Garden Edinburgh

My love for this tree/shrub knows no bounds. It's just a knockout in so many ways! It has black foliage that makes Japanese Maples green with envy (or should that be black with envy?) and tufts of heavenly smelling pink flowers--such a beautiful hew that looks almost orange at times. I'm not a lover of pink in general but something about this one just does it for me. You can make cordial out of the flowers or wait for the berries, also edible. It's an AMAZING foil for chartreuse plants. It does need some pruning every year or it turns into a giant Cousin It pretty quickly, but that's its only fault, and who among us is perfect? 

Golden Spirit Smoke Tree (Cotinus coggygria 'Ancot), photo from The Oregonian 

Hot damn, look at that! TWO smoke trees, the common purple variety AND the "Golden Spirit" which is like a beam of light. This is another potential Cousin It but it can be pruned into a small tree. In my experience it needs full sun if you really want to see some glowing chartreuse foliage.


The Perfect Portland Gardener's Smock...


Wednesday, April 23, 2014

comes from Cornwall, of course. I've been coveting one of these traditional smocks for years and they've just introduced a WAXED cotton version which I think is the universe telling me buy! Buy! How perfect is this for gardeners in the Pacific Northwest? I seem to do most of my heavy garden work in the wet and muddy Spring. Peeping Toms take note: I often end up stripping down on my front doorstep before coming inside after a Spring gardening session. And how cool and jaunty is this big collar? I love a big collar. I'd look so cool in my garden OR on my yacht.

Cornwall is also home of the "cream tea" (if you're like me you like the sound of that before you even know what it is). It's an afternoon tea of hot scones served with clotted cream and jam. Oh yeah. Can we get a Portland food truck for that?

Food Works Farm


Thursday, April 10, 2014

Last Spring I had the opportunity to visit Food Works, a youth-run farm on Sauvie Island that pretty much blew my mind. What these kids are doing is so inspiring. What first started as a tiny 20′ by 20′ neighborhood plot by some parents aiming to keep their kids out of trouble in a low-income housing development in North Portland has grown into a full-fledged youth employment project now in it’s 12th year.

Food Works sells produce at farmers markets and to restaurants. They have a CSA. They sell their food at the associated Village Market, Portland’s first non-profit healthy corner store. The crew donates produce and volunteers at hunger relief organizations. They give public cooking demos to inspire and educate people about using fresh produce. And they do it ALL with very limited guidance or help--they have just a couple program supervisors--but have remained the driving force behind all their activities. Amazing.

Well hello there


Saturday, February 8, 2014

And...she's back! I didn't mean for that to be such a long intermission. This happened...

And shortly thereafter, this happened...

And meanwhile in the garden, this happened...

And that's just one view--there are many more soggy, rotten, unpruned, undivided, unprotected, and generally abused areas in my garden. Any plant that survives come Spring is getting a medal and a giant heaping of compost.

Needless to say I have been gardening mostly in my head this past year and I am eager to get my boots on and get digging again as soon as possible. The whole north side of my house needs some major attention. Now that most everything is probably dead it will be a perfect time to finally amend the soil to provide better drainage. And then, well, some plant shopping will be in order.

How are all your gardens growing? What are your dreams and plans for Spring? What pages are folded back in your seed catalogs? What plants are in your shopping carts? Isn't this pretty much the most exciting time of the year for gardening when you really think about it? In my current Winter dreams, as every Winter, the Summer garden to come is the most resplendent, exciting, and of course, well-tended garden I've ever had. What is yours looking like?

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day, March 2013


Friday, March 15, 2013

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day has woken me up from a Winter nap. I didn't really think I would have enough flowers to warrant a post but I was surprised by what I found when I went scouting. It really is amazing weather we're having here in Portland. I spent a good hour reading in a t-shirt outside today. I think Spring is really here!

Catkins count as blooms right? The Harry Lauder's walking stick is in his glory and singing his funny tune right now. 

So tall and proud and chirpy. My grocery store daffodils are the first to open and my grocery store primroses have been blooming all Winter. Well, this one has at least. Looks like I need to get some Sluggo over there. 

My Edgeworthia, the star of my garden, has me worried that is has some sort of soil-born disease or something. For the last couple years it has been having leaf die-back in the early Summer and now something weird is going on with its blooms. Only a few lower suckers are blooming and the rest of the buds are still closed tight. Fingers crossed that they will still open to look like these glorious pompoms. 

I fall in love again every Spring with euphorbia wulfenii. I just love that fresh looking chartreuse green.

This is my first year growing broad windsor fava beans which I planted in the Fall and they are such a trip. I love the glaucus folliage and the flowers are really amazing. Kinda creepy in a way. 

My neighbor's flowering quince always spills into my yard, for which I am very grateful. I always help myself to some branches to bring inside. 

The cutest! I cherish the cheery little Oregon violets (or Evergreen Violets “Viola sempervirens”). Aren't they adorable? And they make a very well-behaved and tidy groundcover too when not in bloom. 

This is my favorite primrose and it looks like the slugs are rather fond of it too.

This confused flowering quince which I bought at Cistus Nursery a few years ago has been blooming since Fall. Go quince, go!

The diminutive Tête-à-Tête Daffodil is one of the first to bloom of the species. I divided a small clump of these last Fall and they are coming along nicely. 

My Cowslip Primroses are just beginning to peek their heads out. This variety has done really well for me and for some reason the slugs don't bother them as much.

And it wouldn't be March in Portland without huge swaths of Witch Hazel. I can't wait to cut a giant bunch of these for my bedroom. 


Be sure to head over to May Dreams Gardens to see what's blooming in other garden bloggers' gardens and a big thanks to Carol for hosting!

Ice Gardening--3 Outdoor Activities For Snowy Days


Monday, February 11, 2013

I'm slowly coming to terms with the fact that we are not likely to get any significant snow in Portland this year. There have been a couple pretty days when we had some snow fall but never enough at my house to make a snowman. These projects will have to wait until next year and I will admire my blooming crocuses now as consolation.

I think these little frozen capsules are so enchanting and what a great project for kids. Taking time to gather materials to encapsulate in these glassy frames is a great way to stop and look at the natural beauty of Winter. There is always something growing somewhere. It just takes a little more time and careful observation to find the beauty. 

 Ice Lanterns at Artful Adventures

Building off of the icy artwork idea, Artful Adventures shows us how to create an ice lantern using an ice cream tub. This can actually be made in the freezer any time of the year which has my mind racing with all sorts of ideas. How beautiful would some ice bowls with encapsulated violas be for a Summer tea? 

Snow Lantern at Viking Kids

I just love this Scandinavian tradition of stacking snowballs to make a cave for a lantern. They look so magical and I'd love to see a series of these scattered across the landscape.

What are your favorite Wintertime outdoor activities and how do you get enjoyment out of your garden in the Winter? I'd love to hear about it in the comments! 

My Favorite Spring-Planted Bulbs


Saturday, February 9, 2013

Spring bulbs won't be shipping for a few months yet but smart gardeners know to get their orders placed ASAP or risk the disappointment of missing out on that coveted heirloom variety they are dying to try.

Here are some recommendations of things that I have grown and loved or things that are on my wishlist this season...



We are in dahlia heaven here and many of the world's finest varieties are grown right here in Oregon. Portland's Swan Island Dahlias is America's largest dahlia grower, selling over 350 varieties and their prices are great since you are buying straight from the source rather than a reseller. I'm really fond of the dark-foliage varieties as well as the collarettes (they have an orange and red one named for Winnie the Pooh!). Each year they introduce new hybrids. From their 2013 introductions I'm particularly excited about Ice Tea. I love the tidy shape and the nuanced shades of pink and salmon.

Dahlia Ice Tea from Swan Island Dahlias


Talk about bang for your buck--tropical flowers AND striking architectural foliage AND incredible single-season growth. Cannas are really easy and great for pots or in the ground. I dropped the ball on growing them the last few years but I really, really want to try this upright (and to 8'!), dark-foliage variety from Brian's Botanicals. Incredible, right?

Canna Intrigue from Brian's Botanicals


My first lily, the classic white Casablanca, has multiplied so much by my porch that it's becoming almost overwhelming to sit there when they are all in bloom. While I think the Oriental Lilies really are the most luscious, I wish I had more room for some of the statuesque Trumpet Lillies which always make me think of John Singer Sargent's Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose. 

Regale "Album" Trumpet Lily at K.Van Bourgondien

Elephant Ears

I can't live without the speckled lime and black Colocasia Mojito and I'm dying to try this new introduction from Brian's Botanicals Colocasia Red Eyed Gecko. Can you imagine the stunning high-contrast combinations you could create with burgundy and black and pink?!

Colocasia Red Eyed Gecko at Brian's Botanicals


Poor gladiolas, they are so out of style these days just like irises and yet so lovely and indispensable as cut flowers.  It was Old House Gardens that got me to see the light. I fell hard for their tropicalisimo Starface.

Gladioli Starface at Old House Gardens


I always regret not having these in my garden when they bloom in Portland in late Summer and hopefully this is the year I rectify that. They are just so graceful and pretty. I'm just starting to learn about the different varieties (including some doubles for those who like things blousy!). The variety Richard Ahrens looks particularly nice--it starts off pink and fades to white with a contrasting yellow center.

What are your favorite Spring-planted bulbs or what are you eying for this year? I would love to hear! 

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