Wanda’s Brave New World

Heath and heather hillside

A misty fog sweeps in from Puget Sound enshrouding plants with a cool fall blanket.  Established shrubs and perennials rarely need watering even at the height of the summer season.

Sounds like garden paradise doesn’t it?  It is.

Regular visitors to this blog know my dear friend, Wanda F., as my second garden mentor.  When she told me over a year ago that she’d bought a house in Washington State, I broke down and cried, knowing that there was no one else locally who loved plants as much as I did.  I’ve missed her terribly.

So . . . .

Because we were already traveling to the Garden Writers Symposium in Portland, Oregon, only one state away from Washington, HH and I decided to make a stop at her house along the way.  I thought Anacortes was near Seattle, but, instead, it was like driving from Tulsa to Oklahoma City (about ninety miles and an hour and a half each way.)  Anacortes is on Fidalgo Island which I now know is part of the San Juan Island chain.

Wanda’s house is at the top of a green granite hill, and her soil is rocky and highly acidic.    The above photo is from the middle of the garden looking up toward the back of the house.  The hill is covered in Heaths, Heathers and Hebes.  While we were there, days were generally overcast with morning fog.  A chilly mist covered the hills, and I’ve never been so cold in early fall.

One of the many fuschias I saw

There is a local place where people take their garden refuse to be composted.  The finished compost I saw was a rich, dark, airy substance which seems to have a lot of woody matter in it.  This fabulous stuff, layered on top of the rocky soil provides nearly remarkable drainage and produces Fuschias like this one.

Both Washington and Oregon seem to be the land of the Fuschias.  They are so common here and so easy to grow that people think nothing of them.  I don’t know the name of this cultivar, but it was just one of many.

The only Fuschias I ever tried to grow in Oklahoma keeled over in the heat like a Southern belle with her corset laces pulled too tight.

A slice of Japan in Wanda's backyard
What a beauty!

For me, Washington State and Oregon will always be about Fuschias, Japanese maples and blackberries.  With weather I can only describe as Irish soft, all three grow in abundance.  Blackberries are actually a stubborn weed here, but the fruit from the wild ones is fantastic.  I’ve eaten blackberries everyday since my plane landed in Seattle, and that includes Oregon too.  Although I can’t grow Fuschias well, I can grow Japanese maples and blackberries.  Wanda has at least ten Japanese maples on her small hillside.  I took photos of several.  Just gaze in wonder at the size of them.  Check out the lateral branch on this red cultivar.  Again, it wasn’t labeled, so I don’t know which dissected leaf variety it is.

Rehmannia elata

Here’s the other thing I noticed about Wanda’s new garden.  She still grows a few of the plants she brought from Oklahoma.  Included are Salvia ‘Victoria Blue,’ Chinese Foxglove, Rehmannia elata, and Sedum ‘Autumn Joy.’  However, all of these plants look very different in her Washington garden than they do in my garden or her former one in Oklahoma.  The Rehmannia is growing upright instead of trailing on the ground.  The Salvia is an extremely intense blue, and the Sedum also looks very different.  We spent a lot of our time in the garden remarking about these changes in growth habit.

Salvia 'Victoria Blue'
Sedum 'Autumn Joy'

We  finally decided that it must be a combination of the soil, temperature and rainfall which made the plants behave differently.  For example, I don’t get warm fuzzies about ‘Autumn Joy.’ In my garden, it grows and flops over about the time it is supposed to bloom.  Hers is standing completely upright without any staking or cutting back.  As to the Rehmannia, I think the stems of hers are much sturdier than mine even though the plant was mailed directly from my garden to hers.  Perhaps, it is because she can grow it in the sun.  As to the intense blue of the Salvia, I can only guess at the difference in soil acidity.  I’m not certain of anything except that it was good to be with old friends, and it’s always good to see what is growing in gardens across the country.  Makes you realize that regional information is usually best.


  1. Jeanne says:

    You just solved a mystery for me! My “Autumn Joy” grew in beautiful clumps when I lived in Wisconsin, and since I moved to Oklahoma, it either dies, or it lays on it’s side and looks pathetic. I thought it was something I was doing, and now I’m guessing it’s Oklahoma. I think I’m going to dig it up, and plant something that does better here!

  2. linda says:

    Hi Dee, Wanda’s garden looks like a paradise!

    It sounds like you had a wonderful, inspiring trip.

    linda´s last blog post..Garden Bloggers 2009 Spring Fling

  3. linda says:

    I swooned over ALL your photos and will come back often…loved that heather and heath hill (did I get that right?) well, you know what I mean and the blue of the salvia….I have salvia blooming here in California but that depth of color only happens BEFORE the sun begins to bake everything for 7 hours a day!! I will have to try the sedum – I have seen it mentioned so often and think it might do well in my gardens (she hopes…said with fear and trepidation)

    thanks for sharing so many wonderful and inspiring thoughts and pictures!

    linda´s last blog post..Sunday Stroll ~ Harvest at Vulture Peak Vineyards

  4. Dee – looks like a fabulous garden. I’m glad you got to catch up with your friend, and I hope your back was okay for the trip.

    I garden in Vancouver, just a hop, skip and a jump away from Anacortes. I’ve heard it said about the PNW that things always grow twice as large as the plant tag describes because we essentially live in a temperate rainforest (visit in January and you’ll concur!) which is the ideal condition for many plants. Of course, this doesn’t hold true for things like succulents and agaves, which I’d love to grow! I guess the grass is always greener…

  5. Dee,

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  6. Hi, Dee. There is absolutely noting more refreshing for a gardener, I do believe, than to be engulfed in someone else’s garden on the other side of the country (planet, earth)…Gardeners just Get It. We have that measurable climate in front of us that sometimes completely escapes other travelers. Your yardsticks were glorious fuschia, luscious blackberry and those Japanese maples–lavishly blended, no doubt with the warm hearted friendship you obviously enjoy with your friend. Bravo! How lovely for you both. Thank you for sharing your travels! xox

    Kathryn/plantwhateverbringsyoujoy.coms last blog post..Summer in the Rear View Mirror

  7. Brenda Kula says:

    What phenomenal photos! Wow, beautiful!

    Brenda Kulas last blog post..Dangling House Questions

  8. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    Washington State is like a different world as far are gardening goes. I am glad you got to visit with your good friend and experience her garden in person. It will now be such fun to see how different your gardens are as you will better be able to “see” her garden even though you aren’t there.

    Lisa, it is a different world in so many ways. So was Oregon.~~Dee

  9. Pam/Digging says:

    God, you’re making me want to move to the Pacific NW instead of a new house in Austin. Your friend’s garden is gorgeous (after one year?!), and it’s certainly intriguing to hear how the different conditions affect the familiar plants.

    I’d almost be afraid to vacation up there. I might never want to go home.

    Pam/Diggings last blog post..Thanks for nominating Digging

    Pam, there was already the bones of a garden there. She’s just improved it. Those Japanese maples have been there awhile.~~Dee

  10. Dollybelle says:

    Your pictures of Wanda’s new world are beautiful. I hope you have more – and maybe one of you and Wanda? I always want a picture of the people too. I miss Wanda and her HH too. Did you bring home a new daylily or other new plant? 😉

    Laurie, you won’t believe this, but Wanda is getting rid of all the daylilies she brought with her. She sent me some ahead of time, and I’m supposed to give you a couple of fans. I’ll call you.~~Dee

  11. Bonnie says:

    Gorgeous photos- just stunning. Can I move out there????

    Bonnies last blog post..September 2008 Bloom Day

    Bonnie, you bet!!~~Dee

  12. Dee, enjoy your visit with your friend! I have been to Washington and Oregon and love both states. The flowers there are awesome!!

    Sherri McDermitts last blog post..Feeling much better today!

    Thanks, Sherri, I had a wonderful time and made some great new friends. I also got to see nearly everyone I met last year.~~Dee

  13. Cindy says:

    Dee, I’m so glad you were able to visit Wanda and see her new gardens. That hillside is spectacular! On my visits to the Pacific Northwest, I’ve noticed that the colors, especially blues, are much more intense than they are here. Whatever the reason, they’re a joy to behold!

    Cindys last blog post..Thank You, Thomas Edison!

    So true, Cindy. So true.~~Dee

  14. Gail says:

    Dee, It’s absolutely beautiful out there! It’s sad when our friends leave and losing a friend whose passion for plants is a deep as our own is especially hard! But what a wonderful gardening area to visit! Gail

    Gails last blog post..From The Beginning This Relationship Has Been Rocky

    Ah, Gail, but now I have all of you, and that reduces the sting.~~Dee

  15. Martha says:

    So! You are so much smarter and well-traveled now that you have been to GWA. Your friend’s garden must have been a heart warming reunion visit.

    The photos are stupendous. Can’t wait to hear more about your trip.

    Marthas last blog post..Fall Equinox in the Garden

    Thanks, Martha. As soon as I recover from jet lag, I plan to write a lot about it. The GWA convention was amazing. Wish you’d been there with the rest of us Okies.~~Dee

  16. Anna says:

    I’ve lived all over the US and you are right on! Plants do respond differently even if they are zoned for the area.

    It is nice to reconnect and see those folks in person that we admire and love. Her yard is beautiful. It gets a fog bath every day and the plants love it.

    Annas last blog post..Inspiration For My Window Shed

    Hi Anna, I do love the way you use words. “A fog bath. . . ” how nice is that?~~Dee

  17. I love the first photo, not only does the hillside look beautiful, but I can see your silhoutte as you snap the photo. Oh, the things they can grow in the Pacific Northwest that won’t grow in Illinois. Fuschias are just the start. I bet some of the difference in plant growth can be attributed to the soil. As some of us bloggers have been discussing (Carol, Frances, Gail), Sedums seem to flop with too much moisture and in clay soil, whereas my Sedums never flop, and my soil is very well drained.

    Mr. McGregor’s Daughters last blog post..The Secret of My Success with Hostas

    MMD, I never noticed my shadow on the photo until you pointed it out to me. How interesting. I think, here, the sedums flop also due to too much growth from sun. I don’t have clay, but I must cut them back to keep them flopping.~~Dee

  18. I’m glad you got to go there, Dee, and how considerate of Wanda to move somewhere the gardening is so interesting ;-]

    We have family in the Seattle area and I’ve been there at different times of the year. November and February were not too thrilling, but May, July and August were spectacular… such lovely dahlias and foxgloves, enormous cryptomeria, delicious beets and wonderful fresh onions!

    You’re so right on the brambles- keeping them under control is a major time-sucker.

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

    Annie in Austins last blog post..A Garden Blogger’s Bird Day

    Hi Annie, it was very nice of her wasn’t it? It was also so nice to just talk endlessly about gardening. She is my other half where that’s concerned.~~Dee

  19. What a burst of color! Looks like you had a big box of Crayolas. Not only colorful, it looks crisp and cool, just like fall should!

    Nola of Alamo Norths last blog post..All Things Pumpkin

    Hi Nola, my blog has been unstable all week. It’s so nice to hear from all of you. Thank you. I tried to capture the garden at its best.~~Dee

  20. Phillip says:

    I’ve never been to Washington but from what I’ve read, I want to live there! Either Washington or Oregon. I’m going to visit soon and start making retirement plans if I like it as much as I think I will. It sounds like a gardener’s paradise but just escaping from the heat, humidity and drought of Alabama would be reason enough for me.

    Phillips last blog post..September Bloom Day

    Phillip, that’s exactly what Wanda did. She and her wonderful husband visited several times, and decided to retire there. They wanted to garden in a place where the heat wasn’t oppressive.~~Dee

  21. CurtissAnn says:

    Hey, honey-bunny! Welcome home! Your description of coastal Washington weather fits the past couple of mornings here in my world. Fabulous photos! Quite a number of novelists live in Anacortes, I believe.


    CurtissAnns last blog post..Monday’s Fair Light — Life Lessons 101

    Hi Rosebud, Yes! I am finally home today. It is fun to go, but especially fun to come home. I will enjoy lying in my bed tonight. I didn’t know there was a novelists’ colony in Anacortes. Hugs back atcha!~~Dee

  22. Kathy Purdy says:

    Oh, isn’t wonderful to catch up with good gardening friends and visit their garden, too? The difference in plant growth is very interesting. I know larkspur grows as a spring plant in Austin, and it doesn’t start blooming until mid-summer here. It’s blooming right now, as a matter of fact.

    P.S. You were called a “garden luminary” in this tweet: https://twitter.com/JeanAnnVK/statuses/930422348

    Hi Kathy, yes, it was wonderful to see her and talk about gardening nonstop for two or three days. Wow, a “garden luminary?” That’s just amazing and humbling all the same. Thanks for the link to her Tweet.~~Dee

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