Monday, October 12, 2009

Plant ceanothus and stand back!

I have always loved ceanothus. It's one of those easy, evergreen Northwest native plants that looks good in almost any garden. We had a lovely deep-blue flowered one at our previous home, and I was determined to have one at this house, too. Maybe more than one. After all, I had a lot of ugliness to cover, and ceanothus is a fast grower.

Above is a view of the butt-ugly CMU wall that retains the back garden from the sidewalk along our south property line. This shot was taken the first summer we were in the house - in 2007. We hadn't yet done any landscaping, so what you see is what was there when we moved in. Note the overgrown shrub barrier obscuring the windows of the house.

Nothing has changed in this shot from early spring 2008, except there's a small ceanothus thyrsiflorus 'Victoria' I planted the previous fall located dead center on the wall, and all the plastic vanes have been pulled out of the chain link fence.

About a month later: all the big overgrown shrubs have been removed around the house to reveal the brick chimney and narrow planter boxes. Landscape work hasn't begun yet, but will as soon as the fence is painted black. The ceanothus bides its time, but only briefly.

Late summer, 2008: all the basic backgarden landscaping is complete. Parthenocissis tricuspidata and a clematis armandii are helping the significantly bigger ceanothus begin to cover the wall. Harder to see in this picture is a second ceanothus planted in the back garden near the fence. The idea (and it does seem to be working) was to minimize the fence by letting the two ceanothus grow together through the fence.

Summer 2009: A new bed anchored by the much larger ceanothus has been carved out of the front lawn. The back garden ceanothus has also grown bigger and is blurring the fence further. Both have at least doubled in size from a year ago. Did I mention these shrubs are fast growers?

Ceanothus thyrsiflorus 'Victoria' is one of the larger ceanothus varieties and could easily reach 12 feet. I'm cheering it on! I understand that they don't have especially long lives, but I hope mine keep softening and disguising the fence for a good number of years. Not to mention attracting me and the bees with their frothy blue blossoms in spring. There's a reason they're called California lilacs.

"But wait a minute." I hear you saying, "where are all the pictures of those aforementioned frothy blossoms?" Well, believe it or not, I can't dredge up a single picture of my own ceanothus in bloom. Pretty sad for a garden blogger, right?

But here's a ceanothus from an early spring walk in Southeast Portland this year. This shrub was so covered with bees it practically vibrated. And next spring, I'll remember to take pictures of my own ceanothus when they're in bloom. It's the least I can do for one of my favorite natives.


  1. Great post Jane! The fence looks fabulous painted black and I can't wait to see the Ceanothus fill in. I am declaring next week before and after (or then and now) week in the danger garden...and I was going to ask others to share pictures of their "then and now" stories, you beat me to it!

  2. Just planted 'Victoria'. The tag predicted 6', but 12' would be wonderful...guess I will need to give it plenty of elbow room.

  3. This is really nice!! I like the new garden bed as it takes the focus away from the chain link. Speaking of which, did it turn from gray to black?!

  4. Loree, I can come up with a few more then and now pics for you - no problem!

    Ricki, the general wisdom on ceanothus thyrsiflorus is 6-8 feet, but I have seen them larger. Plus many plants here in Portland seem not to have read their own plant tags, I've noticed, and often get taller than stated.

    Wendy, I'm all about disguising and taking focus away from our seeming miles of chain link fence. It's black now because we painted it last spring. It was a BIG job but if you have to have chain link (as we do) it's much nicer and quieter in black.

  5. I always enjoyed others' ceanothus so was delighted when we moved to this place and one was already here. It's in the back alley, where almost nobody sees it but me and the bees, but that's okay. I heard the short-live thing too but there are a couple of other massive ones in the neighborhood (more wide than tall) and as you say, the scent and the bee-magnetism are undeniable. I love your before/afters. I wish my own garden would undergo such a carefully planned and well carried-out transformation!

  6. I once had a ceanothus, a bigger leafed variegated ground cover variety. It was such a good performer, one of my earliest gardening successes. I no longer have any sun for one, but I've always appreciated it for its easy nature. I love your fence softening plan, it seems like its working. It's fun to see the progression of the garden over the course of the last couple years.

  7. Nice post - pictures of shrubs ..Keep Posting

    pictures of shrubs


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