It’s not often I get to interview two expert gardeners while they are actually gardening. On this hot Oregon summer morning, I meet Marietta and Ernie O’Byrne, developers of Winter Jewels™ hellebores, at their wholesale Northwest Garden Nursery. Next year’s hellebore crop is already sheltered in a row of greenhouses beside the garden where Marietta and Ernie, shrouded in sun hats and armed with bottles of drinking water, clip plants and yank weeds.
Watching gardeners of this caliber work is like watching fine dancers. Every move is efficient. Better yet, their back-and-forth observations are a running stream of practical plant information. Here’s what I garnered for summer maintenance and garden enjoyment.
Deadhead precisely for more flowers. With some perennials, like euphorbia and kniphofia, you cut the spent flower stalks off at the base. With others, such the Mexicali hybrid penstemon that Marietta is deadheading, the stems are clipped right below where they first flowered. This, she says, encourages side shoots to form. “By not letting them go to seed, you get many more flowers.”
Consider the benefits of gravel. Ernie says they chose pea gravel for both mulch and pathways in this garden of heat-loving plants because the handsome sand-colored stones retain soil moisture, and block some unwanted plants. Not all, he says, “but the gravel makes pulling weeds much easier.”
Allow salvias to stand for better winter hardiness. Marietta tells me to wait until early spring before cutting back salvias. “It doesn’t look great, but the salvia stems are hollow, and if you cut them off in fall, winter moisture can get in there and rot the roots.” Prune the old stems just above where you see the new spring growth. She notes, “More of these plants are lost by rot than cold.”
Grow what you love and expect your tastes to change. Ernie tells me they used to grow dinner plate dahlias. Marietta laughs, “We got a kick out of them.” But what they admire keeps shifting. Ernie says, “I used to think, why would anyone grow green flowers?” Marietta adds, “Now we love green flowers.”
The couple seems in agreement about most garden practices, although as Marietta clips around the base of a prickly pear cactus, Ernie tells me, “We had a deal. If Marietta wanted to grow cacti in the garden, she weeds it.”
As if on cue, Marietta, from the other side of the bed yells, “Ow!”
So—sometimes even the experts get spiked by a thorn.