Iris germanica 'Hello Darkness'

Gardener’s Log – May 2023

There are some notable things for May. The first is the weather, which continues to change beyond belief. This month we were, on average, 4° F warmer than last year. While that is quite remarkable, it pales into comparison when we talk about rainfall. Last year we had 13.22 inches of rain during May. This year 0.51 inches and most of that was in a few hundredths here and there. There was no significant rainfall all month. I have never had to start watering the garden in May before!

The second thing of note is that while my back continues to get worse, I have found a garden helper – Mary – who has been doing some amazing work helping to get the garden back into a semblance of order and enabled me to make progress on a few project, including one in which Mary and Jesse both helped make a huge advance.

Fairy Garden Progress

The most notable change has been in the Fairy Garden. I built a cover for the large water storage tank so that it is now safe for people and should stop critters getting in there. For those small ones that do, I have a little wooden ramp to help them get back out. While it is just a bit of wood at the moment, I will construct something a little better later.

Fairy Garden waterfall
Fairy Garden waterfall

With that done, and plants planted and barked, the whole area is looking more finished. The spill rocks for the stream have been mortared in place and the pipework finished. There are two valves controlling two water insertion points. The one at the top will likely become a small bog area and I hope it looks like an artesian spring that erupts from it, while a larger amount of water comes in just before the waterfall. Its entry point is hidden by one of the large basalt boulders. Those will get mortared in place as well and the bottom covered with the rounded river rock. The reason for so much mortar is that I have had problems with raccoons in the past who have managed to shred the rubber liner.

Other Progress

The new portion of deer fence was planted. Six vines have been placed along here, which is rather dense, but this has proven to be a difficult area for plants given the amount of moisture that the neighboring pines suck out of the soil. In part it is an experiment to see what survives. There are two Honeysuckles, two Jasmines, a Kadsura and a Periploca.

The final update is some planting in the native area. With Mary having cleared out a portion of it, many plants have gone in. Again, it is quite densely planted, but they will have a much better chance at survival in the ground than in pots. Most of them will be fine being moved later if necessary. The area is anchored with one of three vine maples that are destined for the whole area. This one is the purple leaved ‘Burgundy Jewel.’

Native Garden
Native Garden

Perhaps I should say a word about my definition of native. I am fine with cultivars so long as they provide the same level of interest to wildlife as the species would have. I am also willing to go slightly out of bounds in where a species originates. Northern California natives are fine in my book because in a warming World, these are likely to naturally spread here over time anyways. Finally, I have included some plants like the Pacific Coast Hybrid Iris. They still attract pollinators and provide a food supply, but do add some additional interest to the planting.


A trip into Salem gave us the opportunity to visit a garden and nursery located in the northern outskirts of the town – Sebright gardens. This is a highly focused nursery that specializes in Hosta, Ferns, and Epimedium. The gardens exceeded our expectations, and a full report is available here.

Sebright Gardens
Sebright Gardens

What’s in Bloom

One of the welcome blooms during May are the two Dogwood trees (Cornus ‘Venus’). Normally, the large bracts are seen from the underside. We see them from above from the house. It has large bracts that open up yellow, turning to cream and then white. They are tinged with pink as they fade. The display usually lasts for a month, but this year may be shorter because of the lack of rain.

Cornus 'Venus'
Cornus ‘Venus’

The Iris are one of the spectacular blossoms of late spring, and for the first time, Hello Darkness lit up Tuxedo Lane.

Iris germanica 'Hello Darkness'
Iris germanica ‘Hello Darkness’

While flowers are often the most obvious plant spectacle, there are frequently other more subtle things of beauty. Case in point are these growth buds of the Callistemon ‘Dark Red’. I find these almost as beautiful as the flows themselves.

Callistemon subulatus 'Dark Red'
Callistemon subulatus ‘Dark Red’

Weather Summary

As already stated, the amazing thing about the weather this year is the almost total lack of rain for May. This, along with being 4° F warmer would make you think it has been a good month. Apart from two days when we were well over 90°F, warmer even than Portland on those days, the onshore breeze has been almost constant. This normally happens in June and July, but started early this year. That is probably the reason for the warmer conditions because it sets air temperature to be the same as the water temperature, keeping the nights warmer.

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