Wednesday, July 13, 2022

The corner project that went on and on and on and...

I've been at this gardening thing long enough to know that our interests wax and wane. It's not always full steam ahead all the time, and that's okay. However, occasionally a project falls outside that normal pattern of intense interest and casual indifference. A project that drags on longer than you ever would have thought possible, this is such a project. 

In late May of 2021 I wrote about some "found" space I had in which to garden, sharing photos like this, of the SW corner of our property—read that link to get the backstory on why this space hadn't previously been planted.
Just six days after that post was published I broke my ankle.

Two days before I broke my ankle Andrew and had gone to Vinje's Sheet Metal and bought these three pieces of ducting from their "to be recycled" pile—they were cast-offs from a job and exactly what I was looking for. The pieces on top of the ducting tubes came later (this photo was taken in late May 2022) as I was paying around with ways to cap the tubes and make a lightweight planter.

Last summer I was so frustrated that I had the vision, the metal tubes, but couldn't do anything to move this project forward for months. Once I was cleared to start walking again—in late July '21—that didn't mean I was really walking again. It took months for me to to feel sure footed enough to climb back in this corner and work on uneven ground. By then it was late fall and I had other garden work to focus on. I thought I'd be able to start working out here again in late winter/early spring of this year, but since our spring was unusually wet, I wasn't back out here working until May—a full year later!

While I could have planted a tree, or a couple large shrubs, in the newly opened corner, that wasn't what I wanted. From the start I knew I would raise the plants up on tall metal tubes (hence the ducting) to mirror the bromeliad planters behind the garage, on the opposite side of this area of the garden...
And so on May 25th, 2022, I was finally back out there cleaning up the leaves and other assorted debris (this area had been a bit of a dumbing ground, for years) and digging! Each of the tall pieces of ducting were dug into place and then three pieces of rebar pounded into the ground to help keep the ducts upright should something (balls from the neighbors yard for example) come in contact. 

Fingers crossed! 

This same method has worked for years with the bromeliad tubes, but they're shorter and not balancing a 48 pound concrete slab on top. Yes that's right, I wanted to use these tubes as pedestals, and so I bought a couple 18" square slabs, smaller versions of the 24" slabs that make up our patio.

Remember the second photo from the top? With the metal planter shapes, like the one below?  

That was my "brilliant" idea to reduce the weight load, I could use those metal pieces to hide a plastic nursery pot. They'd look planted, but they wouldn't be—so much lighter and easier to change up! However the squirrels (racoons? bears?) had other ideas, and let me know right away they'd be throwing those light pots right to the ground, even with a plant in place. Dammit.

I used plastic tubing (sliced open and worked around the edge) at the top of the ducts before placing that 48 lb slab on top.

It's squishy and a little grippy.

Slabs in place! 

Since using the metal planter covers over plastic pots was no longer an option, I went "shopping" in the garage for planters I already owned that I could use instead. I went with chartreuse pots and filled one with Platinum Beauty™ Lomandra—wondering if it would be kicked off the top within a day or two. Thankfully it's heavy and that hasn't happened yet!

I decided the shorter tube would act as a planter and hold a large pot of Hedera colchica 'Sulphur Heart', then I took advantage of the space—and a ground plane that was hidden from all but the most prying of eyes—and dug in a spot where I could tuck the not-hardy Trevesia palmata (Snowflake Aralia), making it super easy to lift in the fall and move under cover. Because I LOVE those leaves!

A friend (this guy) had given me a large clump of aspidistra that I divided and placed in the ground at the base of tubes.

Another friend had offered up chunks of an astelia she's removed, they also found their way into the mix, along with some saxifraga I divided from elsewhere in my garden and a Mahonia x sevillana I brought home from a visit to the Miller Garden last fall.

A large pot in front of the corner stock-tanks became home for another chunk of an astelia from Lance Wright's garden. A plant that had also been kicking around the garden, looking for a home, since the ankle break upended things.

But let's get back to the tall tubes and what I've decided to put on top of them! When the fine folks at the Sunset Western Plant Collection offered to send me the lomandra, it was with this project in mind that I said yes. However once it was in place, I didn't love it.

On the second pedestal I tried an Agave bracteosa. I had been considering an agave and went with this one because 1) I already had it, and 2) this agave doesn't seem to mind a bit of shade.

Then I decided I needed more pots...

And then I had the opportunity to purchase this nice variegated Agave bracteosa, so...

Out with the lomandra, in with the agave and friends! However...

Did you spot the lomandra still in the picture? Back in April when Marcia Donahue visited my garden she noticed the three tall pieces of ducting in the corner and we talked a bit about my plans for them. She observed there was actually room for a couple more. At the time I thought, "nah...that's not what I have in mind." But you know what? She was right. The space NEEDED a couple more tall planters. 

Interestingly I happened to have two metal pieces a neighbor had given me. I don't know what they were in their prior life—not ducting as they have bottoms, and a lip around the top edge—but this one worked right into the design, and all for the low, low price of free. The lomandra helps to obscure the view through the fence...

Better! But then I noticed there was a bit of an empty spot to the right...

And so the second free piece from the neighbor was pulled into service. Bonus; that keeps the numbers odd (five as opposed to four), which is always a good thing.

The final planter is holding a fabulous clump of Pyrrosia sheareri that also came from my friend Lance Wright. He's (sadly) selling his house and garden and moving away from Portland. A huge loss for the gardening community here.

The pyrrosia is magnificent.

The small pots sitting with the variegated agave were planted up with a couple of begonias, a B. semperflorens ‘Harmony Plus White' (a gift plant from last summer that I managed to over-winter without even trying), and a NOID. I didn't get a label with the second, it jumped into my cart simply because of those big dark leaves. 

I love the combination of dark foliage with the bright chartreuse.

The black pot next to the other agave was filled with a Trachelospermum asiaticum 'Ogon Nishiki'. I have a couple others of this plant around the garden and love it's crazy color combination, especially when the orange new growth is more evident.

I have considered rubbing down the concrete slabs with a little soil, to start the aging process—they're a little bright for my eyes at the moment. But I suppose that will change with time, with no help from me.

Oh and check this out... the Lomandra 'Platinum Beauty' is blooming! I knew this was a perennial, not a grass, but I was still surprised to see the flowers.

The large stock tank in front of the tall planters contains a tall Tetrapanx papyrifer (that's it's trunk you see), a pair of Schefflera delavayi (one short, one a tall stick that I hard-pruned earlier this spring), a trio of ostrich ferns (Matteuccia struthiopteris) that I'm hoping will be happy and get huge, and a lot of Acorus gramineus 'Ogon'.

I'm sure the plants in the corner will change over time, in fact I'm already thinking about changing out the pair of Agave bracteosa for a wider leaf agave that will make more of a statement. Or maybe I'll decide to plant right on the slabs, a sort of built up fern table-like planting. 
Like the project that went on and on, with no end in sight, this post has gotten to be much longer than I intended. But for now, the important thing is that after year and two months I have finally seen this project through to completion. Hallelujah!

All material © 2009-2022 by Loree Bohl for danger garden. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited and just plain rude.


  1. Now I'm thinking of my poor trevesia getting crisped in zone 10. This project came out great and really does balance the metal planters on the garage side. I've been eyeing these ducts at my local Restore/Habitat for Humanity too but am reluctant to use them in full sun -- a shady corner is optimal. Good to know you've got a tetrapanax in a stock tank! I've been wondering if I should move the metapanax out of the tank and into the ground -- maybe I'll wait til next spring. So glad you're at full putter again! (P.S. I'm hoping to get to the HPSO open Courtney garden this Saturday, even though it means leaving little Hannah with Marty all day -- maybe I'll bump into you!)

    1. Perhaps the Trevesia palmata is just between our zones then? I'm a little too cold, you're a little to warm? That tetrapanax is my oldest, I put it in there back when I was afraid to let it run around in the ground. It's been quite happy. Oh the Courtney garden looks like a good one! Sadly I don't think I'll make it but hope you have fun!

  2. Looking good, Loree. I love an elevated plant on a pipe myself. It must have been fun to finally get to working on this project after thinking about it for so long.

  3. That was a journey! As I read your post, I couldn't help thinking of the phrase "it takes a village" ;) As always, your construction work and eye for design is impressive.

    1. That would have been a great title! It's interesting to me how all of the things in the project came from so many different people, but I probably could have gone into less detail... ;)

  4. AnonymousJuly 13, 2022

    I remembered the post about the exposed corner. I'm glad you finally got to it: it's looking beautiful, 5 is better than 3. I'm sure it is very satisfying to accomplish this mission. And being that it is planted with transient plants, you'll get to be creative every year, changing things up. Did you ever consider painting the fence the color of the garage?

    1. I never would have thought it at the beginning, but you are Marcia are so right about five vs. three. I did briefly consider staining the fence(s), but since whatever I did might creep to the other side I didn't. Don't want to have the neighbors looking at a janky, multi color fence.

  5. AnonymousJuly 14, 2022

    Looks fantastic! However, you didn't mention how you got the 48 lbs slabs of concrete up on the tubes. Have you developed super strength? Too bad about Lance but will be interesting to see what he will create at his next home.

    1. Ha, thanks for asking, but yes—I did lift those slabs myself!

    2. Jeanne M DeBenedetti KeyesJuly 18, 2022

      Looks fabulous, Loree! I love the chartreuse pots with the variegated plants and gorgeous dark leaves. I kind of like the shiny tubes. They reflect all of the plants, somewhat like mirrors. But maybe roughing them up with a little dirt would look better with the matte silver/gray stock tank?

    3. Jeanne, it wasn't the tubes I wanted to color up with soil, it was the slabs, the light grey. I love the shiny tubes... no desire to tone them down.

  6. Jeanne DeBenedetti-KeyesJuly 18, 2022

    P.S. I REALLY love that Trevesia palmata (Snowflake Aralia). Gorgeous!

    1. Isn't it? A gift from Peter (the Outlaw) up in Tacoma. I wish it was hardy.

  7. Jeanne DeBenedetti-KeyesJuly 19, 2022

    Doh! Sorry, misread that about the tubes. Very cool about that aralia. And from a very cool and sweet person too!

    1. No worries! I am sure some would be disturbed by the shiny tubes ;)

  8. It's a series of tubes!

    But seriously, great job! Shows how experts play around and re-arrange and re-arrange and add/subtract to make garden vignettes look perfect.

    1. So... the internet is a series of tubes then?

  9. Wow, that's really nice! I wish I had your flare for design. I really appreciate hearing some of your thought process through the whole affair. It underscores how our visions of our gardens are constantly being revised.

    1. That's what I was trying to convey, but I think I could have done it better.

  10. Have you ever tried the blending moss in water and spraying it on things trick? I thought that might be a nice way to age those patio slabs a little faster :)

    1. Martha, is that you? Ha, kid. You reminded me of an old Martha Stewart trick. I just might try this, thank you!


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