Neither Ice nor Heat: Top 10 Plants in My Garden 2009

In the garden pages of the Telegraph recently, Sarah Raven wrote about the plants in her garden that performed particularly well in 2009. What a brilliant idea, I thought. Here in Western Washington, we had terrible December (2008) and the severe, extreme and unusual cold continued well into January of this year. Then, instead of our rainfall tapering off slowly in April, May and June, the spigot was turned off for good at the beginning of May. Following close on the heels of early dry weather, we experienced extreme heat (103 degrees in Seattle – who would’ve thought?).

It was a strong one-two punch for our plants and gardens, so now, at the end of the year, I look back at what did particularly well in my garden. Here are the top performers – all well-established before the calamites began 12 months ago:

Courtesy of Great Plant Picks

Lonicera pileata – Does nothing harm this short, spreading evergreen honeysuckle with horiztonal branches and tiny glossy leaves? The flowers are unperfumed and unnoticeable, but I’ve grown to admire the purple berries that develop. Shade, sun, whatever.



Phillyrea angustifolia – What began as my “stick hedge” because of my tendency to buy tiny plants has turned into a lovely row of graceful evergreen foliage. One of my alltime favorite plants – don’t tell anyone that when I planted it almost seven years ago, I had to take a pickax to dig a hole in the soil.

Lithocarpus densiflorus var. echinoides – And anyway, it’s such fun to say the name when anyone asks. This natural variety of the Western native tall tanbark oak grows into a shrub about 5 feet high and produces fuzzy acorns. Takes not just heat and ice, but the slacker care I give the parking strip garden.

Quercus sadleriana – Sadler’s oak, a fine semi-evergreen Western shrub. My usual definition of “semi-evergreen” is “looks terrible in winter,” but this is the exception: the crisp, spoon-shaped leaves that stay on give the shrub a distinguished appearance.

Drimys lanceolata – Red petioles and glossy green leaves, always a tidy evergreen shrub. Well, OK, it did get some freeze burn on the leaves after the winter blast, but new growth came out, burned leaves fell off, and once again it is the delight of the shade garden walk (morning sun only).

Pittosporum tenuifolium – Anyone who knows me was waiting for this one. Here, I highlight two cultivars of the multi-talented evergreen shrub: ‘Gold Star’, a variegated cultivar with gold in the center of the leaf and ‘Elia Keightley’, a variegated cultivar with gold in the center of the leaf. Hmmm. The former gets morning sun and the latter all-day sun; both look good. And ‘Golf Ball’ continues to please with its slightly gray-green leaves and black stems. ‘Irene Paterson’ fabulous, goes without saying. Yes, that’s four, but I’ll give one back: I’ve killed two ‘Silver Sheen’ plants, and I don’t know why.

The list isn’t made up entirely of evergreen shrubs; here are a few miscellaneous doers:

Courtesy of Great Plant Picks



Geranium ‘Laurence Flatman’ – It will never grow up to be an enormous plant, but this diminutive perennial blooms throughout the summer with lovely lavender flowers that have dark veins running through them. I had it in a pot for two years, but now it’s at the top of the concrete retaining wall, the better to see you, my dear.

Parahebe catarractae – Slightly woody stems, sometimes keeps some of its foliage … let’s call this one a shrubby perennial. I thought it was a goner after the winter, but I cut it back anyway. Well into summer it began to leaf out, and it’s been in full bloom – little white flowers with a light lavender marking – for weeks now. Top of the retaining wall, sun.

Courtesy of Marty!

Rhododendron schlippenbachii – The royal azalea, planted in the shade garden. I swear I didn’t baby it, but did give it occasional summer water. Great flowers, wonderful fall color.


Clematis ‘Gravetye Beauty’ – I’ve waited for years for this selection of an America native to really take off. It’s a cultivar from the Texensis group, bred in France and introduced in England. That’s quite a trip. This year, it finally grew up into the neighbor’s snowball viburnum and bloomed for weeks in late summer. Cherry red, tulip-shaped flowers. Bring on that 103 degrees, it said.

I could go on, because loads more plants sailed through the troubles – Mahonia ‘Lionel Fortescue’, Sarcococca confusa, the variegated Italian buckthorn (Rhamnus alaternus ‘Argenteovariegata’. There are so many, I could write a book about them. What a great idea.


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