Monday, October 10, 2022

A garden is more than the sum of its plants, it's all about the relationships (Front Garden Tour 2022, Ch 1)

The front garden has never been a space I spoil with luxurious care. Most of the current plants went in the ground early in 2011, so they’ve had ample time to become established. Other things have been tucked in over the years and watered as needed—until they too got their roots settled in. Last summer was an unplanned test. I broke my ankle at the end of May, had surgery mid-June, and wasn’t walking again until early August—there wasn’t much watering. This summer continued that trend. Life happened; I was tending to other things. Sometime in August I realized we'd had absolutely no rain, and I hadn’t watered at all. Plus it was a hot summer, historic yet again.

All of this is to say, the front garden has operated largely on its own—and it has done marvelously. An important note; the front garden was designed to look mostly the same no matter the time of year. There are small seasonal changes, but no flowering perennials that need care. It's generally the same in July or January.

I did finally make the time to give everything a good long soak on Friday, September 9th. We were facing a hot and windy few days with very low humidity, it seemed like a good time. It was the first chance I'd had in a long while to really stop and look at the plants, each of them, and give thought to how they were doing. I took these pictures just a few days later, thinking that instead of my usual "annual tour" with highlight photos of the garden, I'd share my thoughts as they were when I spent several hours watering and evaluating. This is going to be a long, two-part post, but hopefully interesting. 

Yucca filamentosa and Yucca filamentosa 'Color Guard' in the hellstrip. Each year I cut out the dying bits that bloomed—to keep the clump tidy—other than that these plants require absolutely nothing from me. 

We're following the path I take when watering, so after that establishing shot from the street, we head back up to the plantings next to the front door. If you look closely you can see the hose coiled on the far left.

A wider shot. After years of trying to figure out what I want from this spot, I think I've finally achieved it. Obviously agaves are the answer. That's a big Acca sellowiana (pineapple guava) in the pot to the left of the steps.

Besides this area getting lots of sun and having pretty good drainage—key for the plants I'm growing here—it's also visible from the house when the wooden door is open and we're looking out the glass security door, as we do in the wet winter months. 

Looking towards our driveway now, to the left of the area shown above. The golden lawn and red Toyota belong to our neighbors to the south. The large structural plantings here are (L) Fatsia japonica and (R) Edgeworthia chrysantha 'Nanjing Gold'. The yellow-splashed foliage in the front is Leucothoe fontanesiana 'Rainbow'. Blooming just above it is Indigofera amblyantha. 

Standing in our driveway now (with my back to the street) and looking up our sidewalk. Normally I would try to take these annual "tour" photos on a day with a blue sky, lord knows we've had plenty of blue skies this year (!). However I didn't aim for pretty with this photo-shoot. I didn't tidy up or try to make sure plants were ready for their close-up. I just went for "a day in the life" style of documentation. You get what you get, a rare cloudy day made for no-shadow photos.
Our Fatsia japonica was one of the very first things I planted back in 2005. We made a trip to the orange big box and there it was, looking exotic to my Eastern Washington gardening eyes and reminding me of the time I spent living in Seattle. I loved it for years, but this year—all summer long—I've been considering it's removal. Now that I've got Holman (my newly adopted Yucca rostrata) and he needs a sunny spot in the ground, well it might be time. Naturally that means even more changes here as a Yucca rostrata isn't going to provide the shade the fatsia does.

Fatsia view from the driveway...

This spot is a good one for agaves, aloes, opuntia so it will be fun to expand on that theme. The brown moss on the cement blocks will turn green again when the rain returns.

I'll miss the branching structure of the fatsia, but mostly I'll miss the birds that love that plant. 

We've moved backwards now, retracing our path up the sidewalk and arriving by the front steps, my back is to the front door as I take this photo. The large poof-ball is a Dasylirion wheeleri. The hypertufa pots are ones I added to the garden last autumn. They've been a great addition.  Oh and I should mention, all the containers and a few thirsty things along this sidewalk have been watered over the summer. I'm not a that lazy!

Believe it or not I gave that rosemary a severe haircut last spring, it's filled back in completely hiding the pot the Agave 'Mateo' is in.

I love this agave! It stays in place here year-round. 

As have the other containers.

You might remember my story about the guy who pulled a pup off an Agave 'Blue Glow' in a McDonald's parking lot in Azuza, CA and handed it to me?—I grew it on a bit and planted it out in the garden last spring. Fingers crossed it's still looking good next spring.

There are two dasylirion planted here, and believe it or not there used to be a third, in the middle! They were so small when I planted them I couldn't imagine space would ever be an issue. Now there's a Chamaecyparis lawsoniana 'Wissel's Saguaro' squeezed in there.

Which brings me to the title of this post and something I think about often: a garden is more than the sum of its plants. The compliments and contrasts, the support, the hidden discoveries. Many—but certainly not all—of these plants have been growing together here for over 10 years. The relationships they've created are why I love this garden more with every passing year. The cramscaping that I've done means maintenance is greatly reduced. I prune, I yank things that are no longer earning their keep. It's an evolving ecosystem that is very much alive with all forms of life. Heck I've even created the perfect place for bunnies to hide. Ugh.

This agave (a pup from this one) was also newly planted this spring. Yes it could get ginormous, but I'll deal with that when it happens.

Speaking of ginormous, these Agave ovatifolia 'Frosty Blue' continue to gain size. Planted from a one-gallon container and similarly sized decorative pot in 2013 they're now nearly 4ft wide and 2.5ft tall.

Yes that's our north side neighbor's driveway, our houses are very close in this 1940's neighborhood.

As much as everything has grown, there's still a path for the mailman to use—if he dares.

Did you notice the ugly spots? During our wet spring they were folded in around the cone, the center of plant and I feared there was going to be serious damage.

Thank goodness as the plant grew over the summer the new leaves unfolded with no problems.

As I type this the Mahonia gracilipis flowers have opened (just tiny little yellow things) and the hummingbirds are feeding. I even saw one use the agave as a rest stop (carefully).

It's kind of comical to me how thin this Yucca rostrata (she's known as Alberta) trunk looks now that I've got Holman hanging—here—he's a chunky boy!

Almost perfect, just a few old leaf scars.

Turning now to the hardy orange (Citrus trifoliata or Poncirus trifoliata) which is directly opposite the agaves across the "mailman pathway". 

A bit of the Poncirus trifoliata, cordyline foliage popping back up where I cut it back this spring, Mahonia nervosa and Callistemon 'Woodlander's Hardy Red'.

The Mahonia nervosa foliage turns a lovely purple color in the cool months, I love it for that.

Looking up the north side of our house/property. It's a thin line as you can see, the neighbor's driveway borders closely.

Volunteer Euphorbia rigida and Verbascum olympicum, along with a planted Fothergilla gardenii 'Blue Mist'.

Verbascum olympicum

The Euphorbia rigida could not care less about the lack of water, the Imperata cylindrica (blood grass) however is not so happy.

Walking further up the neighbors driveway to check on the dry, oh so dry, patch of Adiantum venustum, which is looking really good. 

I recently listened to an old episode of "Let's Argue about Plants" from Fine Gardening, the subject was ferns and they talked about how delicate this plant is. They didn't seem to know that it is one tough plant, able to withstand lots of abuse, including lack of water. 

I am still confused by this brown patch though. I thought it initially came from hot exhaust from a power tool one of the neighbor's hired helpers used. That doesn't seem to be the case however, as the problem has persisted.

I am all the way to the end of their driveway now and looking at the south wall of their garage (page back up six photos and you'll see the front of their garage) which is the north wall of my upper back garden—painted orange this summer. You'll see that wall when I do the back garden tour—hopefully next week.

Their garage is behind me now, as I make my way back out to the front garden.

Instagram kinda goes crazy whenever I share this combo of Euphorbia rigida and Artemisia versicolor 'Sea Foam'.

Finally, this is where I will stop for today, to be picked back up on Wednesday—but before I go I'll share a tidbit Andrew overheard while he was working on a siding project. A lady and a small boy were walking by. Lady: this is the most amazing garden in the neighborhood, Boy: Ya, it's my favorite, Lady: it reminds me of Florida…(what!!??!!)

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


  1. Florida?!!! The pieces of your front garden fit together beautifully. I think I "need" to try Yucca 'Color Guard' - I bet it wouldn't get the summer sunburns that my lighter-colored Phormiums do. I like your Dasylirion wheeleri better than my D. longissima too. It'll probably sound odd to you but I'd no idea that a Fatsia japonica could grow into a small tree - maybe I'll plant my 'Camouflage' plant out after all.

    1. Right? I still scratch my head about that one—but since I've never been to Florida perhaps I should just assume she knows more than I do? Yep, fatsia want to be big, especially here in western Oregon.

  2. I read this post once and will read it a second time to assimilate it all. What you've created eludes so many people: Something that looks great year round, and needs very little maintenance OR watering. It's something I can only dream of.

  3. That was so much fun! I have been reading your blog for probably 10 years. This is the first time I could completely picture the layout of your front garden. We live in Temecula, CA. Our front garden also requires very little irrigation. We have lived here for 27 years. I like your description of the plants having relationships with each other. I never thought of it that way, but yes, I would say my front garden plants know each other.

    1. Thank you for reading and commenting! It's reassuring to know long time readers are still finding me, Google has changed so many things!

  4. You're so right - a garden is much more than the individual plants within it - your selections seem to sing together. You were clever to intentionally create the front garden to be relatively static, low maintenance and low water. Such a great juxtaposition with the higher maintenance parts of the back garden - I still can't get my head around totally disassembling a display and bringing it inside for the winter!

  5. It probably reminds them of Florida because it looks the same all year-though yours is about a million times more interesting than any garden I've seen in my numerous trips to that state ! This post will prompt me to go back and revisit my photos from the first visit I made to your garden. And Artemisia 'Seafoam' ? I had to remove it when I had my old dry-rotted pergola demolished and it is now impossible to find. Looking forward to the next chapter !

  6. I love your comment about how much you love your front garden more and more each year. Usually we only see the warts not all the beauty that's been created. Bet the Florida comment was based on mistaking the yucca for a palm and the Fatsia does look tropical with it's big leaves.

  7. Jeanne DeBenedetti-KeyesOctober 12, 2022

    Looking fabulous, Loree! I love that shot where you can see the branching of the fatsia, and also the branching of the two Manzanitas closer to the street. It will be interesting to see what you add in that spot to compliment Holman. Maybe another Manzanita? Eucalyptus? Glad to see your agaves recovering from the wet spring. I have noticed that my adiantum has dead spots too. Seems like it happens after those 100 deg. days, with intense sun hitting a spot or two? And yes, my adiantum is no shrinking violet either. It WILL take over the world! Bwhaha!


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