Monthly Archives: June 2015

Hebes for Northwest Gardens

Hebes are small evergreen shrubs from New Zealand. There are around a 100 species and about 750 cultivars. With so many species they cover a wide array of terrain and climates. In Oregon I have had the best luck with species from the cooler South Island of New Zealand. I am basing this advice off of personal experience. I keep close tabs on the hebes at my house, Joy Creek, and all around the Portland area. They grow wonderfully along the Oregon and Washington Coast and through the Puget Sound basin. I want to first look at what to look for in a plant, then go through growing conditions, and finish with the most common question, “How do I keep this alive?”

Hebe blue mist 2

Foliage:

The main attraction of hebes for me is their evergreen foliage. The variety of leaf sizes and shapes is incredible. When dealing with hardiness, generally the smaller the leaf, the hardier the plant. It has also been found that hebes with gray leaves tend to survive drought better than others. Some hebes have foliage that changes color in the colder months to provide further winter interest.

The red foliage darkens in winter.

The red foliage darkens in winter.

Hebe boughton silver sm

Bloom:

I tend to view bloom as secondary when growing hebes in the yard. This is because when chasing the showiest bloom you tend to lose hardiness. Many hardy hebes do bloom profusely but they tend to be smaller

Hebe Walter Buccleigh with title sm

Growing Conditions:

Sun- Grow in full sun to open shade. Hebes do well in deciduous shade so that they can get sun in the winter but dappled light in the summer. When grown in too much shade they tend to get leggy and one sided as and stretch toward the light.

Soil- Any decent semi well drained soil will do. I have not found them to be too picky as long as they are not underwater. They do grow much quicker in well amended soil.

I have a downspout that empties onto this all winter and it has put up with it. I would not recommend this, but it still hasn't killed the plant.

I have a downspout that empties onto this all winter and it has put up with it. I would not recommend this, but it still hasn’t killed the plant.

Water- Hebes are not excessively drought tolerant on the whole. Certain varieties are more tolerant that than others, but most like bi-weekly water during the summer. When grown in part shade you can get away with a lot less water. Whipchord types are less drought tolerant than others.

I have had this survive in very dry conditions, and never had winter damage.

I have had this survive in very dry conditions, and never had winter damage.

Pruning- Cut out dead material after heavy frosts are past. Prune for shape in early spring and give some fertilizer or compost after to feed new growth. Though this might reduce flowering in certain varieties, I don’t want to risk late season due to the likelihood of young growth being damaged in the winter.

Propagation- Hebes root very easily from cuttings. Take semi-hardwood cuttings in August to October. Leave two nodes on top and one below soil level. They can also be rooted in water. This is a great way to protect against winter losses. They can also be done through layering.

Pests and Disease- Some deer eat hebes and some do not. They are currently one of their favorites at Joy Creek. Septoria leaf spot (black spots on the leaves) is more of a problem in nursery settings than the garden. I would accept a little on a plant I purchase, but avoid anything that is too ugly.

Tips to Keep Your Hebe Alive;

1.Pick the right one. Some cultivars seem to croak every year while other similar looking ones just keep on trucking.

An ice storm is no match for Hebe 'Greensleeves'.

An ice storm is no match for Hebe ‘Greensleeves’.

2. Plant in the spring. This allows the plant to establish before winter but this also means you have to water the first summer.

3.Give all hebes some water when it hasn’t rained in months. A good deep soak goes a long way. They are from New Zealand, not the Mediterranean. I admit to babying mine a little, but there is a difference between surviving and looking good.

4. Site your plant where it is protected from cold winds. The Arctic blast coming down the gorge is death for hebes. It dries out the fleshy evergreen foliage and they cannot survive. Plant next to wind breaks or on the west side of tree, hedge, or house. Salty ocean breeze does not seem to effect them. You can grow all the hebes you want at the coast.

I kept this alive by planting it out of the wind on the west side of my house.  It survived 12 degrees with a little help from a garbage can.

I kept this alive by planting it out of the wind on the west side of my house. It survived 12 degrees with a little help from a garbage can.

5. When it gets cold quickly in November and early December give them a little extra protection from a bucket or fir boughs. Once they have been through a good frost they are unlikely to get damaged unless it is below 15 degrees. Give the same protection if there is a late frost. They often just need to be a little warmer and out of the wind. A little protection goes a long way.

Don’t give up on hebes just because one died on you, there are great ones out there.

Thanks, Andy

An Interview with Andy Stockton about Hebes

I have posted a few interviews for upcoming classes over the years and wanted to do one for the class this Sunday, June 28th. It happens to be me teaching the class, so I think this interview should go smoothly.

When did you first learn about Hebes?

It was when I started at Joy Creek Nursery in 2007. I was put in charge of arranging and restocking the shrub section. At the time we already had a large hebe inventory and they sucked me in more than any other shrub. There had been a series of mild winters and there were a number of beautiful established hebes in the garden.

Frost accentuates the pattern of the leaves.

Frost accentuates the pattern of the leaves.

Can you say why they intrigued you so much? Was it just their name?

Hebe is a fun word to say, I can’t deny it. I think what drew me in was the textures of the foliage. The leaves have a geometric pattern that is not as apparent in most other plants. It is more something that you notice up close. Every single one has the same alternate opposite leaf pattern no matter how large or small the leaf. There is such a wide variety in looks and sizes throughout the genus that it is fascinating they are all related.

Has your opinions about hebes changed over the years?

After my first year at Joy Creek I really liked hebes, but we had a incredibly cold winter that year. Many of the hebes in the garden were killed. We then had two more hard winters after that. Many of the showy hebes at the nursery died and customers grew very weary of buying them. I still have a soft spot for all of them, but I have gotten much more careful about which ones I recommend. Many of them are going to die without protection. I have accepted that.

Hebe corrigani march bloom smHow many Hebes do you currently grow at your house?

I have 76 different forms and 103 total in my yard.

Too many?

Never enough.

How many hebes have you killed?

So so many… It is all research right?

Hebe 'Dragonfly' in bloom.

Hebe ‘Dragonfly’ in bloom.

Two years ago Joy Creek introduced Hebe ‘Dragonfly’, your first introduction. How did that come about?

I found the original group of 5 seedlings in a flat of euonymus at the nursery 5 years ago. I potted them up, after asking of course, and took them home to see what they would do. After a year in containers I planted each one out in the yard. I do not know the specific parentage of the seedlings but each one was quite different. After a year in the yard I took cuttings of my two favorite and we raised them at the nursery to see how they would look. Hebe seedling #2 ‘long leaf’ was deemed the most unique of the two and chosen for introduction. The leaves reminded me of a dragonfly and that is how it got its name. I have 3 more seedlings that we are trailing to see wether they are good enough to release.

Andy and Cat

Thank you for taking time out of your busy afternoon of talking about plants and petting Yowler.

It was my pleasure, and I still had plenty of time for petting a kitty.

Getting Ideas from Public Gardens: New York’s High Line

Stachys and EmpireI recently visited the High Line in New York City. It is a beautiful garden that weaves through a part of town on a reclaimed elevated railway. It was an inspiring garden that I wanted to write about, but what would people want to hear about in a blog post from a nursery. One thought that I kept getting stuck on was, how could you translate what you see in a large and singular public garden into ideas for your own yard?. I came up with seven topics to look for in any garden and look at the High Line through those lenses.

View From the Street

View From the Street

A Sense of Place.  Every garden and location has its own personality. Much of this is out of your control. But you still get to choose how you and your garden relate to the environment around you. This can be embracing a view, framing it so that the eye wanders outwards. It can also mean enclosing your garden into a private sanctuary from the outside world. Don’t forget sounds and smells and other sensory information.

The View of Buildings from the Park

The View of Buildings from the Park

The High Line is very much a park in the city. It has open meadow areas and wooded pathways but the city is always present. I found that I was better able to appreciate the buildings and views around me, both from being two stories up but also not having to deal with traffic trying to run me over. It provided a 1.5 mile stroll through the city while somehow feeling apart from the chaos. It was still crowded and the construction noise was ever present but there is no avoiding that.

Massed grasses have a softening effect.

Massed grasses have a softening effect.

Planting Style. Every garden has a plant palate that they choose from. The site can dictate what plants can be grown, but the designer will influence what choices are made in plant material and layout.

A grove of Magnolias grow in a shady area between two buildings.

A grove of Magnolias grow in a shady area between two buildings.

Since the High Line has limited soil depth there are no large trees, but the effect of a woods was still created with 15 foot trees planted in mass.The plant layout is very informal, creating a spontaneous impression. I have read that they were trying to recreate the look of the abandoned railway gone wild that existed before it was turned into a park. In your own yard you can create cohesion using similar planting styles throughout, or add tension by having a wild meadow next to a formal knot garden.

Repeated Themes. Does your garden have a theme? The theme that stood out to me in the High Line was the contrast of hard straight lines (train tracks, lined pavers, the long narrow shape of the garden, and the vertical buildings on all sides) with a soft wild planting style. This is what sets this garden apart from any other I have seen. The contrast of these ideas is brought off everywhere.

The paths dissolve into horizontal lines in the ground and plants start popping up between pavers.

The paths dissolve into horizontal lines in the ground and plants start popping up between pavers.

Movement through the garden. You experience a garden as you move through it. Small gardens can be built with a fixed viewpoint but it is so important to look at how people will travel through your garden. The High Line is a long straight line with a curve at the end. The path is not straight nor the same size throughout. There are open straight meadows but the path will curve over the the edge and lead you through a narrow wooded section. There is a section where the path turns into a walkway over a woodland bed of ferns. With the heavy traffic, thankfully there are alcoves that go nowhere where you can step out of the flow to relax.

wide open

At some points it is wide open.

The path narrows into a tight wooded corridor.

The path narrows into a tight wooded corridor.

Plants that you Recognize.  I love being in a garden and recognizing plants that I grow in my own garden or we sell at Joy Creek. Outside of annoying my wife with all the botanical plant names, this is one of the easiest ways to get ideas for your own garden. Seeing amsonia growing between two pavers is something you could directly steal for your own.

amsonia

Amsonia softens the hard edges of the cement.

Look for New Plantings and Old. One of my favorite parts of the High Line was at the far end where they are still doing construction. There is a section where you can see what it looked like before it was turned into a park. The wild plants that seeded their way onto the tracks. This shows the inspiration that lead to the designed wild look.

There is still some of the original line left.

There is still some of the original line left.

There are also sections that are newly planted. This shows the planting patterns that will eventually lead to the look of an unplanned meadow. You can see how much effort it takes to look natural.

You can see how new plants are laid out to create a natural effect.

You can see how new plants are laid out to create a natural effect.

How is the garden being used. The last part I wanted to highlight is to look at how all the people in the garden are interacting with it. You could use the park as a elevated shortcut through the city, but what I noticed was how many people were sitting and enjoying the scenery. There were benches everywhere. The benches were not just for sitting, they were part of the look of the park.

These extremely large benches were very enticing.

These extremely large benches were very enticing.

The walkway flows up into the benches.

The walkway flows up into the benches.

Trees were planted close together to create a shady resting spot.

Trees were planted close together to create a shady resting spot.

If you ever get a chance, I highly recommend visiting the High Line in New York City. It is a singular  garden crafted out of unused urban infrastructure that has revitalized a neighborhood. Each garden you visit will teach you new concepts in gardening and inspire your own planting domain.

Andy Stockton