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Saturday, June 20, 2015

Portland Garden Schooling in Texas Succulents

We've had an incredibly wet year so far. After a long period of drought where we begged for rain, the heavens have answered with storm after storm and days of endless gray. It's so wet that it's like I'm living in Portland again.

Except for the humidity.  

Except for the heat.  

Except for the gargantuan mosquitos.

Okay, so it's not like Portland.  

But it IS wet and while many of my plants have gone gonzo (clearly, I don't water enough) others have drowned. I've had more than a few succulents rot in planters and in the ground, plus the winecup and black footed daisy aren't that happy, which brings me back to Portland.

Last year I visited my old home town as part of the annual Garden Bloggers fling and was really struck by what a funny bunch we gardeners are. We're never satisfied with the native plants and attributes of where we live, but instead lust after what we can't or have difficulty in growing. Here in Austin my friends lust after hydrangeas, azaleas, hostas, lilacs - all the things that are ubiquitous in Portland. And the PDX gardeners? They grow succulents. (I just got back from Toronto and their passion?  Lantana. They overwinter it in greenhouses.)

But I digress. Succulents in Portland? With all that rain? I'm not talking about the sedums that hug every rock face, but agaves and prickly pear and other cacti.  I think back to my own unsuccessful attempts to grow winecup, evening primrose, and other prairie flowers in my wet clay soil. Growing succulents in Portland just seems a crime against nature.

But the gardeners are doing it and with fantastic results. Not only that, but they taught me a lesson on how to appreciate these great plants and how to use them in the garden whether in the ground or container. Both Portland and Austin are in zone 8, so many of the same plants that grow on the roadside here can survive in Portland - with some modification.  

Drainage is the key and with that comes some creative use of space.  

To grow these in the ground takes some serious soil replacement.  Loads of aggregate, sand, and other porous materials are used as life preservers.

But I also like how they hung those plants on walls and combined them for visual interest.  It's  a forehead slapping moment for me. Why am I fussing with plants that fry in pots when I should just jam in an agave? I had to go to Portland to learn that.

And while I love grouping herbs and other flowering plants  for a profusion of bloom, my dog seems to think they all need treats buried in them. If I switch to cacti my problem will (hopefully) be solved. (Note, she still dug up one of my succulents that didn't have thorns.)

And where else should you be growing "hens and chicks" sedums beside an old chicken feeder?

I love it that I have to travel back home 2.000 miles to be taught how to grow succulents.  And today when I look outside at the remnants of Tropical Storm Bill graying up my Saturday, I have to smile at yet another mashup of Portland and Austin.

Except for my heat rash.


  1. I hope you have success with your cactus/dog problem. I was all ready to change over to desert gardening when the weather said 'all change'. Many of my natives have died due to too much rain. I'm just praying for my cactus in the ground even in well draining soil. There are some tough plants out there but afternoon shade will be what they desire when our temperatures soar.

    1. I need to improve the drainage on a couple of mine. I was lazy when I planted them! The ones that I planted in my gravel pathways are doing great and seem to hold up to the heat. *fingers crossed*