Our Vine Maple: a native plant reborn (Acer circinatum)

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The original tree is on the right. The new growth is that on the left.

Time to introduce my ugly vine maple, a tree that only this gardener can love and I can’t even tell you how old it is, but my guess is that it’s close to 15 years old now.

When we visit gardens, it’s easy to say that something looks bad, or even that it’s ugly. Many visitors will see this soon and say that it’s unattractive and maybe that it should be put out of its misery. I myself am a believer in plant-driven design, and this tree doesn’t look as if it’s in the right spot, but there’s a reason it’s so ugly, and that has to do with the additional light that poured in after the Doug fir was removed, and the shape it was already in. It was leaning and that just looked bad.

But, as the mentors of my childhood would have said, that’s the lazy way to think. Let’s not just jump onto the ugly train. Let’s dig deeper. What’s going on here!?!

The original tree was planted at least 15 years ago when it was part of the understory beneath the 7-headed Doug fir tree that was removed because it was dangerous.

Vine maples can lean and sometimes they lean hard and FAR. This one started to lean and it was stretching towards the light. It grew quite tall. After the Doug fir was removed, for years, it fried. Last summer it started to fail but I chose to hold off on cutting it down since it appeared to be regrowing, redirecting even the root growth. I wanted to observe what was going on and why.

This spring, it has very noticeable and strong new growth. I’m thrilled, but it means rethinking the area again.

I look forward to watching the new growth grow. In the meantime, it is likely that I will remove the old trunk soon.

The new growth looks good. The old trunk and its branches are alive, but it is clear that the organism wants that side to die as its energy has been focused elsewhere. In the wild, with a bit more time, the old trunk would just snap and break as it became more brittle.

I kept this tree going on purpose. It’s called a vine maple for a reason, and if you’ve never thought about it, well, it’s the only maple capable of layering itself and its behaving more like a shrub than a tree. Layering that can root is more like a vining shrub. While that is not what is happening here—these are much more like new shoots—it’s clearly a tree that has a different way of being in the natural world.

It’s for these reasons that I kept it around. Before I had several umbrellas for shade, it was a shade tree in summer. From indoors, it blocks my view of the neighbors’ homes for many months each year. I enjoy native plants, so I will keep this experiment going. (Yes, for the record, that tree needs water and it is in my more heavily watered garden zone.)

There are other trees planted near it that I’m hoping will grow more soon to help support more of a canopy, but a few of the other trees are struggling too. The strong winds from the east via the Columbia River Gorge are hard for trees in this area. So many of mine are always leaning because of the wind.

But that’s another post so more on that in the months to come…

HPSO and the Garden Conservancy Open Day Tour Preview (August 29)

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This morning fellow garden bloggers and I were invited to visit 3 of the gardens that will be included in the HPSO and the Garden Conservancy Open Day Tour. The event will take place next weekend (Saturday, August 29th) and proceeds will be split between the HPSO and the GC.

Years ago I participated as a volunteer for the Garden Conservancy at one of these events and ever since then I’ve wanted to help out again so I was really excited to be given the opportunity to tour today so that I could share the event with you here.

Following are some photos and impressions of what visitors can expect to see. I hope you sign up and can help to make the event a big success! (Only 3 of the 5 gardens were open to us for this, so I’m not going to be able to describe them all to you, but this is what we did see.)

The Lead Garden: Winchester Place Garden

(Zachary Baker & Leon Livengood)

This is the garden with Southern charm and a focus on detail. I think it’s safe to say that the theme was carried well throughout and while fairly formal, it’s still very welcoming and cozy. I could easily have lounged around sipping on my preferred drink of gin & tonic all day if I’d been allowed to do so. I still cannot carry off Southern charm but I’m not going to stop trying. Just don’t let me get all Truman Capote if you know what I mean. This lady does have her limits.

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Having added my own water feature this month, I was charmed by this one. They really can set the stage for your garden and for some are just the right element. This one gave off plenty of noise and it fit perfectly in its space. Being surrounded by Buxus was more than ok with me too. Since I enjoy Italian gardens so much, it will come as no surprise that I am a fan of boxwood and what it can accomplish in a garden setting. (There even had a mini hedge around a tree in a pot: brilliant.)

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A Tagetes and its friend.

All of the gardens were floriferous today. This one no more or no less than the others. Despite the heat we’ve had and the horrible smoke were experiencing from forest fires taking place in our region, the flowers were out and today they were smiling and for a time I was smiling along with them.

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Espaliered Camellia, Pachysandra ground cover, and statuary that’s on loan from a friend.

In addition to the spot-on brick walkway, there were many other fine details in this garden that transported me from where we were and I really think they did an excellent design job.
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The planters on pedestals really did the trick—and the iron fencing and gate too.IMG_3413

Plant combos everywhere were at their best today. IMG_3419

As we left my group paused at this unusual Japanese maple in the front yard. We were told by the owners that it happily grows out straight and flat with little training.

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Lastly, the lovely large maple tree in the front yard is something I overlooked in my intro. Although it’s not a mighty Southern Oak or Magnolia it does a great job of giving off a similar impression.

The Mitchell Garden

(Christine & James Mitchell)

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Our second stop is a lovely garden on a corner lot with a large grove of Doug firs at its back. When you drive up, the first thing you notice are the lovely conifers.

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But don’t let that first look fool you, there is color here—lots of color and blooms. They’re all very well choreographed as the mixed beds blend and grow together and as one area transitions into another. IMG_5160

Out back there is even an area for Agave and their friends. Surrounded by other lush foliage plants you won’t be fooled into believing that this is a desert. The transition is done well with a seating area and walkway. IMG_5154

This garden for me was lush and textural. Additionally, there was plenty of open space and seating areas for family. IMG_3392

I very much enjoyed the texture and color though with attractive plant combinations. IMG_3383

Simplicity was there too so your eyes could breathe. IMG_3371

And the Cleome in the front garden—it was my eye candy today.

The Prewitt Garden

(Nancy & Gordon Prewitt)

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The third garden has been lovingly tended to by a husband and wife for many years. As a matter of fact, they’ve been gardening together since their relationship began and I can think of nothing more romantic.

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Cornus sanguinea ‘Compressa’.

Like the house I grew up in, this family garden has been through many changes over the years. This is a hands-on place.

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The owner made this table after getting a piece of plate glass from a friend. IMG_3338

Along a fence I found this old succulent project. It’s clear that the owners are always adding new things and experiment with new ideas and plants. This place is crafty and I liked it a lot. IMG_5144

The edible area was large. Honestly, all of the gardens were large, but this lot had a very large area with raised beds dedicated almost exclusively to berries and vegetables.IMG_3340

My favorite bed was the asparagus bed. It’s the largest I’ve ever seen and it gave me asparagus envy.

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Bouteloua gracilis ‘Blonde Ambition’.

With a little of that here and a little of that there this garden was a pleasure to relax in and it too felt like a place where family could gather and where a gardener (or gardeners) could find pleasure in their gardening tasks no matter what the season.

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I hope this was a decent introduction to what I hope will end up being a lovely day next weekend! If you go, come back and tell me about it. I’d love to hear your thoughts and thanks again to the garden owners who let our group in a week early.