Monday, June 10, 2024

Eight months of Mondays in the back garden (Part One)

If you're a regular blog reader you know I hate winter—and since autumn is basically the opening act for winter, I can't help but also lump it into the "dislike" category. It's too bad really, because on it's own autumn can be rather beautiful, even I can admit that. 

So in an attempt to mentally separate autumn from winter I started taking weekly photos of the back garden early last October. I thought maybe I could pinpoint the moment when my feelings about the garden changed, when winter took over and things fell apart. I suspected that moment was much later than I realized. Of course, what I didn't know when I started the project was that we'd have an extremely mild winter, all the way up to January 12th when record cold arrived and winter hit like a sledgehammer. There was no fuzzy hard-to-define moment of change, instead there was a solid—deadly—line. 

So I forged on, thinking maybe I'd call the project complete once we took down the shade pavilion greenhouse walls, or when Clifford (the big-leaf magnolia, M. macrophylla) broke dormancy? Maybe when the patio furniture was back on the patio? 

In the end I went for a full 34 weeks, taking (nearly) weekly photos from 7 different spots in the back garden. I ended up with just over 230 photos. I'm not going to share all 230 of them, but I am going to run this series all week. Today we'll look at two views; the back garden entrance and the orange wall, the north boundary of the upper garden. For each image I'll include the date, and what stood out to me about that particular photo. Here we go!

The back garden entrance on October 16th 2023, a few of Clifford's fallen leaves serve as a reminder of the season.

November 6th, more leaves. Clean up happened at least twice a week for a few weeks.

November 14th, the maple leaves are from the south-side neighbor's tree. The polycarbonate panels are now in place to keep the agaves dry.

December 6th, the cement piece in the far corner is new, a taboret à la David Culp.

January 1st, the New Year! Things are looking much the same. A little more trimmed up and tidy. Winter was proving to be the mild dream we'd been promised with an El Niño winter.

Until it wasn't, January 17th. I missed Monday and took this photo on Wednesday, which was Day 6 of the storm. I couldn't open the gate to get it out of the photo because it was frozen in place. The foliage is frozen at an odd angle because the wind was hammering us at the same time the temperatures dropped and frozen precipitation started to fall.

January 22nd, 11 days after it started and we still had ice/snow on the ground in places. Such is life in NE Portland near the Columbia River Gorge.

February 12th, blue sky! Palm fronds are missing (broke off in the wind) and the Metapanax delavayi foliage (top left of photo) has started to die off.

February 19th, that same foliage (the Metapanax delavayi) is now falling, it would continue for the next 2-3 months. This is an evergreen shrub that was burnt by sub-freezing winds.

March 25th. When I started this photo-essay I was hoping to capture a "this is winter!" moment, and not with an historic storm. However this photo says "this is spring!" to me. Things have flipped and there is life in the garden again, I've taken the winter covers off the in-ground agaves (we won't talk about the fact so many agaves died anyway, 12F and below freezing day and night for 5 days was just too much).

April 15th, blue sky and bright green lawn!

April 29th, So many plants are up and looking good. The Metapanax delavayi is leafing out again.

May 13th, harsh sun and shadows and lawn that needs to be mowed, but you can see the staghorn ferns are starting to emerge from the basement and get a nice hose-down (on the ground in the shadows).

May 27th, my garden is once again a place I want to spend time in, and not just working!

June 4th, the final shot of this view. Things are wet as we just experienced a heavy rainfall in the days prior. 

Here's the second view of the series; the orange wall, the north boundary of the upper garden. Our house on my right, the patio on the left and our garage behind me. October 9th very jungly!

November 6th, golden.

December 6th. The Edgeworthia chrysantha 'Akebono' (far right) has almost lost all it's leaves, the Passiflora lutea climbing on the palm trunk has died back, and the hakonechloa (Japanese forest grass) has gone golden.

January 1st, the New Year. There had not yet been a killing frost in the garden. 

January 8th. At this point we knew a change was coming, we just didn't know how bad it was going to be.

January 17th. There's a Pseudopanax ferox under the tall insulated cover next to the palm, and an astelia under the black pot. The edgeworthia is bent under the weight of the ice.

January 22nd. The waiting game begins, damage doesn't show up right away on a lot of things. 

February 5th, the large leaves of the Rhododendron sinogrande (in front and to the right of the palm) are starting to take on an unhealthy hue.

March 5th, by now I'd cut back the volunteer sword ferns and (along with the kill-back of evergreen ground cover) the ground is looking so bare, on a positive note the flower buds on the edgeworthia are starting to open.

March 11th, plants are starting to emerge and I'm starting to play around with ideas for containers and plantings for the spring.

March 25th, another shot that says SPRING! 

April 29th, the Lysimachia nummularia (creeping Jenny, ground cover) is quickly covering the bare soil again (in many winters it stays almost evergreen) and I've been buying plants which are staged in place making the area look much fuller than it is. On the far right the big leaves of Rodgersia podophylla have emerged.

May 6th. The tall palm was trimmed up a few weeks back, and the fronds on the palm out of frame on the left are gone, also trimmed up due to winter damage. The Pseudopanax ferox just to the left of the palm has been dropping leaves for months, I feared it was a goner but I am happy to report that as of June 6th it started to push out new growth towards the top. 

May 13th, I'm feeling behind now as I haven't yet planted the things I bought to go in this area and we just had a couple of 90 degree days!

May 27th, some of the new plants are in the ground here, but not quite all. You might notice the staghorn fern on the far right, hanging from the Albizia julibrissin 'Summer Chocolate' and there's a plant missing on the right of the palm trunk. I moved the Sinopanax formosanus that had been there (scroll up and you'll see light green leaves that are now missing). 

I decided I hated it there and so I moved it to the west side of the patio behind the bamboo tanks. I feared it was probably going to die in the move, but it's actually looking pretty good.

June 4th, THIS is what I'd been working towards... things are as they should be again *sigh* another summer in the garden...

To be continued on Wednesday with more views!

—   —   —

To receive alerts of new danger garden posts by email, subscribe here. Please note; these are sent from a third party, you’ll want to click thru to read the post here on the blog to avoid their annoying ads. 

All material © 2009-2024 by Loree L Bohl. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited and just plain rude.


  1. The January 17th photos really are a stinging slap in the face! Although our climate is much milder (and our winters could be described as nonexistent except that they signify rain), I experience somewhat similar regative response to late summer, especially when we've had a scorching heatwave (or two) or an extended period of excessively warm nights. Maybe I'll follow your example and track those events, although I admit my fingers are crossed that we'll manage to avoid a horrible summer again this year.

    1. I feel like you've done something similar with your quarterly wide-shots. It's amazing how the garden has responded to our rain this spring. On the whole I think we're actually a little behind, but we've received some late in the season compared to the last couple of years and it shows.

  2. AnonymousJune 10, 2024

    I find it a very rewarding way of looking at a single garden view through the seasons. Most likely a lot more difficult to wait months for the weather to warm up and plant to revive themselves, but in this post it's quick and gratifying. Does it help you in any way to feel different about autumn? How is Rhododendron sinogrande doing now? Your astelia came through nicely (aided by the black pot) and the palm leaves make spectacular shadows on the orange wall!

    1. Ha, yes, definitely not quick in real life! This spring was agonizing waiting for things to show signs of life (and of course some still haven't). I am afraid that I still dread autumn, because of the unknown of winter just beyond. In that way this project did not do what I intended. Recovering from our brief winter nightmare took so much work this year. All of the Rhododendron sinogrande are currently pushing out new leaves.

  3. This is a brilliant idea. I'm glad you hung in there for half a year. We should all do this in our own garden.

    1. I do recommend it, it's an interesting exercise. I think next time I would do close-ups though.

  4. It is interesting that I feel the same as you only about spring/summer here in Phoenix. I always loved especially spring (I'm from Central NY), but now I start worrying about what will happen in summer and which plants I will be losing in the record heat we have lived with in the last few years. I love that you made the decision to record what was happening in your garden last fall and winter. A great idea!

    1. Your summers are becoming brutal Nancy, I cannot imagine anything living through that.

  5. LOVE this so much! Very informative and educational. Great details!

  6. This is a fabulous idea. *Your orange wall is such a great backdrop. The January before/after is still a shock. I really like the golden leaves Fall picture. Looking forward to more.

    1. Painting that wall orange was a very good thing to do! Of course that golden leaves photo was helped by the blue-sky and sunshine. It wouldn't be nearly as nice with clouds and grey.

  7. Oh my gosh, what a fantastic project. Documenting your garden like this can be so helpful. It also explains so much in terms of weather extremes. Great story, Loree. Sorry you had to re-live the horrors of the January freeze/storm all over again.

    1. It really did feel like reliving it, minus the frozen toes and fingers.

  8. I'm glad this is just part 1. Seeing this series, I really appreciate the lines / quick changes in plants and lighting when the season shifts. Or seasonal hits in the case of your January 17, anti-Loree season!

    1. Ya, it was pretty damn extreme. Definitely anti-Loree. And to think Andrew talks about moving to areas that are Zone 6... NO!

  9. And Schefflera delavayi soldiers on through all of it! And I now have one of your seedlings in my garden! Wow, what an imperturbable plant, it looks flawless every - single - day...except a little bigger, with even more luxurious foliage.

    I don't know how you feel about Dichondra Silver Falls but I had some live through this winter outdoors in the ground and I'm thrilled!

    1. It was remarkable how little it cared about the cold, I've got another in the southwest corner (in a large stock tank) and it did well too. That's crazy news about the dichondra! I've never successfully overwintered it here.


Thank you for taking the time to comment. Comment moderation is on (because you know: spam), I will approve and post your comment as soon as possible!