Northwest Native Plant Spotlight – Indian Plum

Indian Plum, or Oso Berry (Oemleria cerasiformis, aka Osmaronia cerasiformis), is a northwest harbinger of spring, being one of our first native plants to bloom, and fully leaf out, starting late in winter.  This plant is currently in bloom now, along with our native willow trees.  This wonderful woodland inhabitant provides an early nectar source for mason bees and hummingbirds, and also later provides fruit which a number of bird species will dine on (but which are questionably palatable to humans).  Its growth habit and size makes it more along the lines of a large shrub than a small tree, since its tendency is to sucker at the base growing multiple stems, though it can be pruned into a single stem tree with work each year.  I prefer its shrubby habit (and less pruning) and it complements our natural areas well.

Oso Berry in Spring - Oemleria cerasiformis

I must say that this plant is not always extremely photogenic.  It’s hard to capture the full appeal of Indian Plum this time of year, when its white, dangling blooms hang and sway below the bright green foliage which both work to light up the bare forest floors in which they are often located.  Though their preference is for part shade, they are quite adaptable, growing well in full shade to full sun.  With at least a little shade they can handle dry soil conditions so they are a good choice for those areas beneath mature conifers where not much will grow.  These vigorous growers can also handle somewhat wet conditions in the winter and will easily tolerate clay, though they love a good woodsy, organic soil.

Being dioecious, there are male and female plants, and as such the males have better flower power and only the females will fruit.  Because of their flowery show the male plants are more commonly sold.  Disappointing if you’re wanting some fruit, as that can really draw in a lot of birds in the summer time.  I plan on finding a female this year and taking a cutting so I can start a new plant right next to the male in my yard.  Poor guy’s lonely…

Oso Berry flowers

Osmaronia cerasiformis

Unripened fruit of the Indian Plum, or Oso Berry. These will develop into a dark plum color, with a similar look to commercially-sold plums, though much smaller in size.

I only wish this plant had some noteworthy fall color.  The leaves usually do yellow a little before they drop (which happens earlier in the year than a lot of plants, since it’s one of the first to leaf out) but it’s not spectacular.  But that aside, Indian Plum is a very garden-worthy plant and a great choice for wildlife.


Rain Garden Interpretation

A stunning garden is much more than the sum of its parts.  What often separates an average garden from an awe-inspiring one is synergy; where one plant or feature is more beautifully contrasted or complemented by another increasing each other’s effect, and where there is cohesiveness and yet also enough distinction from one corner of the garden to another to entice you through it.  The fun and challenging part about attempting to create synergy is that there is no one equation to use that will deliver the same results with every garden.  Each landscape is unique and comes with its own character.

One way you can make any garden more dynamic and increase a plant’s effect though is to take into account how it will interact with nature.  Even a slight breeze will make the leaves of the Quaking Aspen perform their frantic dance, or sway the bottlebrush flowers of Fountain Grass.  A snow-laden landscape will draw out the bright red stems of the Red Osier Dogwood and accentuate the tiered branching of the Deodar Cedar.  A setting sun can bring many plants into splendor, even fading perennials such as Globe Thistle or Maiden Grass are revived when back-lit.   Rain drops can be caught in plants and hardscapes to add a shimmering quality through the garden even after the clouds have left.  Since rain is so abundant here in the Northwest I thought it would be great to have some plants in my yard that have the added quality of placing water on display.

For the most part I’ve wanted to stay away from planting anything shorter-lived than a perennial (3 years) in my garden but I couldn’t pass up planting a few Candy Mountain Foxglove (Digitalis ‘Candy Mountain’).  This is the first Foxglove to have flowers that point skyward.  I’ve been amazed at the huge amount of flowers I have on one this year and the strength of the stem; even when the flowers are full of water the plant shows no sign of flopping.

Candy Mountain Foxglove in rain

Foxglove Candy Mountain

Hostas can also be great plants for holding water.  Below is Hosta ‘Deep Blue Sea’ which is a slow-growing, but rewarding, selection.  The large, cupped leaves of ‘Abiqua Drinking Gourd’ make it another great Hosta variety for holding water, as you might infer from its name.

Deep Blue Sea Hosta and rain

And then there’s the dependable upright Sedums.  They are adaptable, easy-growing plants and their season of interest lasts almost all year.  I especially enjoy the look of ‘Autumn Joy’ and ‘Autumn Fire’ right before they bloom, when their flower buds are most prominent.  They too have some foliage that will hold the rain.

Autumn Fire Sedum and rain

The emerging foliage of Fern-Leaf Bleeding Heart (Dicentra ‘King of Hearts’) will often wear the rain in perfectly rounded beads, though a little harder to see from a distance.

Fern-leaf bleeding heart foliage

Another plant that displays water in a similar fashion is Columbine (Aquilegia sp.).  Water will often bead up right where the leaf meets the petiole or get caught in the emerging foliage.  Variegated Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum falcatum ‘Variegatum’) is another undeniably likeable plant that keeps the rain around for show.

Polygonatum odoratum 'Variegatum' and rain

The Lenten Roses (Helleborus hybrids shown here) are also more beautiful and jewel-like after a rain.

Peppermint Ice Hellebore flower in rain

Golden Lotus Hellebore flower in rain

Peppermint Ice Hellebore flower

Lady’s Mantle (Alchemilla mollis) is an obvious choice for showcasing rain.

Alchemilla with rain

Water will also pool up in the throats of our native Monkey Flower (Mimulus guttatas).

Monkey flower

Here’s a wider shot of my front yard’s “rain garden” where a few of these above-mentioned plants reside.

Front shade border

My front border in spring, on the north side of our house. From here you can see Helleborus ‘Golden Lotus’, Dicentra ‘King of Hearts’, Brunnera ‘Jack Frost’, Hosta ‘Abiqua Drinking Gourd’, Hosta ‘June’, Polygonatum falcatum ‘Variegatum’, Hakonechloa ‘All Gold’, Tsuga heterophylla ‘Thorsen’s Weeping’, and more.

What are some of your favorite plant-nature interactions?

A Garden Named Su – Plants from the Lan Su Chinese Garden

After coming home and looking through all the photos I had taken from my visit to Portland’s Lan Su Chinese Garden, I felt like I went at the perfect time of year.  Although many of the deciduous plants and perennials were just starting to leaf out, there seemed to be an emphasis on early spring bloomers (with fragrance!) and an abundance of evergreen plants as well, which kept me from feeling as though I was missing out on the full garden experience.  I’ll be honest, I actually visited the garden last year, but in late March all the same.  After not getting around to sharing my journey within the first month or two following I thought it would be best to wait to post anything until it was the same time of year again.  Besides, now I can lure people to my blog with the pitch that this post is a year in the making; did it work on you?

Outside the garden I was led in by an intoxicating fragrance.  At first I could not determine what it was but later found out it was a Korean Spice Viburnum (didn’t get a pic).  What a great fragrance.  I’ve considered adding one to my yard for that feature alone.  Walking closer to the entrance I found this bright mix of evergreen plants: Fragrant Sweet Box (Sarcococca ruscifolia, the green shrub, normally planted in some shade but here in full sun if I recall correctly), Golden Variegated Sweet Flag (Acorus gramineus ‘Ogon‘), Black Mondo Grass (Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’) and Persian Chocolate Moneywort (Lysimachia congestiflora ‘Persian Chocolate‘).

Sarcococca ruscifolia, Acorus gramineus 'Ogon', Ophiopogon planiscapus 'Nigrescens', & Lysimachia congestiflora 'Persian Chocolate'

Coming inside the main entrance there was an architecturally-appealing and inviting opening, with Apple Blossom Evergreen Clematis (Clematis armandii ‘Apple Blossom’) hanging above and in full bloom.

Clematis armandii 'Apple Blossom' on a wall

Clematis armandii 'Apple Blossom' flowers

Inside the main garden there is a huge pond.

Lan Su Chinese Garden

I was pleasantly surprised to see a Great Blue Heron in downtown Portland, looking to snatch a meal.

There were lots of Rhododendrons…

I’m not a huge fan of rhodies (maybe too commonplace here), but this specimen really caught my eye with it’s irregularly long elliptical leaves.  When backlit, these had a dramatic look.

Rhododendron leaves in light

I love Stewartias.  I’m guessing this slow-growing tree has been anchored here for some time.

I love this scene of Liriope with the lilac-blooming Corydalis and the somewhat rare, white-blooming Bergenia emeiensis.  This species of Bergenia does not appear to develop any winter color, which may be preferable for many gardeners.  You definitely can’t complain about large foliage that dark green and glossy, and on a plant that will spread nicely.  I love the stonework on these pathways as well, such an attention to detail.

Lan Su Chinese Garden

I was drawn by fragrance once again (can you tell that’s a theme here?) to this Paper Bush (Edgeworthia chrysantha).  It is a beautiful shrub in bloom and the bark and structure is also appealing.  If I was to get one in my yard I would go for the red-flowering variety, ‘Red Dragon’.

Edgeworthia flowers

Paper Bush flowers

I loved this evergreen plant with the twisted foliage.  Not sure what it is though, let me know if you do!  Certain features remind me of a rhodie, but I’ve never seen one so exotic looking, if it is.

Twisted evergreen foliage

Lan Su Chinese Garden

Podophyllum, ophiopogon, liriope

If the sun’s coming out, I will too…

Mini Podophyllum

Quicksilver Wild Chinese Ginger (Asarum splendens ‘Quicksilver’) around the base of a tree.

I loved the view from underneath this pine, with the light penetrating through the cover of needles and then dancing along the edges of these contorted branches.

Path at Lan Su Chinese Garden

Vibrant red flower

Radiant white flower

The cheery bloom of a Japanese Rose (Kerria japonica).

Japanese Rose

Kerria japonica‘s arching stems reaching for a drink.

Kerria arching over water

Intriguing red bloom

Fringe flowers (Lorepetalum chinense) doing their thing.  These large shrubs add great color year-round.

Chinese Fringe Flower & Peony

Fringe flower leaves in light

Bridge at Lan Su Chinese Garden

Chinese architecture

Dog?  Lion?  Or beast?  Poor guy has quite the short, front right leg.

Chinese dog statue

I loved the glossy green leaves of the Chinese Mayapple (Podophyllum pleianthum), just starting to emerge from its slumber.

These upright stony figures decorated the garden adding a lot of character.  I couldn’t tell if they were natural or man-made, obviously the holes are unnatural.

Rock feature with rhododendron

This was a pleasant plant grouping, with the pine and magnolia trees behind the mature Chinese Mahonia (Mahonia fortunei) in the foreground, then flanked by the cast-iron plant (Aspidistra genus) and then by the Variegated Winter Daphne (Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’), which was in bloom and offering up its wonderful fragrance.

Magnolia, Pine, Mahonia fortunei, Daphne odora 'Aureomarginata' and Aspidistra

This shot also shows the nearby Paper Bush better.  My nose was on sensory overload.

Daphne, Edgeworthia, Mahonia, Aspidistra

Daphne & Rock at Portland's Lan Su Chinese Garden

The Magnolia blooms were getting ready to open.

Pink Magnolia flowers


These Camellia blooms were stunning because each one was about the size of my hand.  Not as easy to tell just by looking at the photos here.

Red Camellia flower

Camellia through lattice

Camellia over wall

This twisted fellow was sentenced to a life in a pot, and was on display towards the end of our journey, a Flying Dragon Trifoliate Orange (Poncirus trifoliata ‘Flying Dragon’).

Twisted, thorny fellow

If you’ve been wanting to visit the Lan Su Chinese Garden, now would be a great time to go.  When I went last year they were also having a plant sale, which was on an adjacent block, and I believe it’s an annual event they have there.

Some Great Foliage from the Garden

Hello friends, just wanted to share some pics from my yard of some of the plants that are really showing off with some great foliage right now.  This first pic features the beloved Hosta ‘June’, paired here with All Gold Japanese Forest Grass, Hakonechloa macra ‘All Gold’.  Last year, ‘June’ sat there by herself and now that she’s wedged between the golden grass and the dark green foliage of Peony ‘Double White’, she shines even more as they all complement each other very nicely.

I love this tri-colored variegation found in ‘June’.

My garden is growing, adding some Jack Frost Brunnera this year.  These leaves will draw some light to the entryway on the shady north side of our house.

Another great plant with wonderful variegated foliage is this Columbine, ‘Leprechaun Gold’.  I ended up cutting down the long flower stalks however as they just couldn’t stand up in the wind we had this last week.  This plant also has great purple colored stems and the raindrops will sometimes get caught between the leaf and stem.  I love plants that will showcase rain in a special way, since it’s in such great abundance here.

Leprechaun's Gold Columbine

Below is our native Oregon Grape Holly, Mahonia, however, this is the variety ‘Orange Flame’ which as you can see derives its name from the stunning new foliage.  The green leaves below make a perfect backdrop.

Orange Flame Oregon Grape Holly

And one more plant for now, the Golden Lanterns Pheasant Berry or Himalayan Honeysuckle, Leycesteria formosa.  It has chartreuse to gold foliage and red-tinted new growth.  I’ve been very impressed with what a strong grower this has been.  The more sun it receives the richer, or more golden, the coloring is.

Happy gardening!