PNW Plant Geeks event at the Point Defiance Zoo

Earlier in October, I decided to go to the PNW Plant Geeks event at the Port Defiance Zoo & Aquarium (PDZA) in Tacoma, WA, which included a botanical tour of the gardens and a plant swap/picnic afterwards. I first read about all of the agaves, dasylirions, and nolinas in the PDZA gardens over at the danger garden blog and figured this would be the perfect opportunity to get some inspiration for my own dryland plantings at home.

Preparation for the trip began with making some decisions on which plants to part with for the plant swap. I propagated way too many this year and they won’t all fit in our yard.

Plants that I've propagated
Too many plants

The morning before the event, I spent some time prepping labels for about three and a half flats of plants to give away. That sounds like a lot, but I still have about ten flats left! I tried to pick out plants that I had too many of, or that I couldn’t immediately envision where they would go in the garden. Making the cut to be given away were:

1 each of Trachelospermum jasminoides, Cylindropuntia imbricata, Garrya x issaquahensis ‘Glasneving Wine’, Rhamnus alaternus ‘Variegata’, Pittosporum divaricatum, Grevillea ‘Neil Bell’, Callistemon subulatus ‘Dark Red’, and Callistemon pityoides ‘Mt. Kosciuszko’.

2 each of Chamaecyparis lawsoniana ‘Wissel’s Saguaro’, Juniperus ‘Daub’s Frosted’, Cylindropuntia whipplei ‘Snow Leopard’, and Dyckia ‘Nickel Silver’.

3 each of Magnolia grandiflora seedlings and Hebe sutherlandii.

4 each of Mahonia fortunei ‘Dan Hinkley’, a purple-flowered Lagerstroemia indica cultivar, and Hebe cupressoides ‘Boughton Dome’.

6 each of a purple-leaved Lagerstroemia indica cultivar, Colletia spinosissima, Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Hibari’ (aka ‘Chirimen’), and Chamaecyparis lawsoniana ‘Treasure Island’.

And, last of all 9 Corokia cotoneaster and 13 Notholithocarpus densiflorus seedlings.

Writing some labels
Re-using some labels
Propagated plants to give away
Propagated plants to give away

On the way up to Tacoma, we decided to take the back roads and cross the Willamette River via the ferry at Buena Vista.

View of the Willamette River from the Buena Vista Ferry
View of the Willamette River from the Buena Vista Ferry

We spent the night near Tacoma in Lakewood, having a fabulous Salvadorean dinner at La Chele Pupuseria that evening and then a delicious breakfast at Sur Argentine Bakery the following morning. When traveling, L and I always try to find restaurants that serve something different than what we would encounter near home.

After dropping off our plants at the picnic area near PDZA, we arrived a little late to the botanical tour with Bryon Jones. In all the excitement and hubbub during the tour and plant swap afterwards, I never did get a chance to chat with him.

Here’s what greeted us as we first walked through the PDZA entrance.

Dasylirions, Nolinas, Yuccas, palms, and mysterious earth lumps! I’m guessing the latter represent termite mounds. I really, really like how well the palms integrate with the other dryland plants in this setting.

Just a few feet further was this beautiful collection of agaves. Excuse our shadows, which photobombed the scene.

My eye was immediately drawn to this tiny Maihuenia species with its very attractive white spines. I think Bryon said it was Maihuenia poeppigii, but this particular specimen has much longer spines than my M. poeppigii at home. I wonder if it’s a different variety or if it might actually be a different species, like Maihuenia patagonica? Either way, I would love to find this one at a nursery somewhere so I can add it to my own rock garden.

I don’t know what this next plant is, but it sort of looks like horsetail, of which I have plenty. It’s attractive, whatever it is. If only there was some way of keeping our horsetail at home this tidy.

I took a short detour to go see one of the bigger agaves on the premises, the appropriately named ‘Jaws’ (center). This doesn’t really give a good sense of scale, but it really was quite large and toothy.

I found myself repeatedly drawn to some shrubs that I think are Olearias (daisy-bushes). Nice architectural plants. I sort of like the fluffy seedheads and I’m a sucker for color combinations that mix tans/browns with grays and deep greens.

Some Kniphofias. I like the blue-green leaves on the first one and the large, late-blooming flowers on the second (Kniphofia rooperi). I didn’t know these could bloom so late in the season. I thought I was all Kniphofia‘d out at home, but these two made me think I could wedge in a few extras somewhere.

Kniphofia with blue leaves at Port Defiance Zoo
Kniphofia caulescens?
Red and yellow Kniphofia rooperi flowers in October
Kniphofia rooperi

One of the stars of the tour was this Wollemi pine (Wollemia nobilis), a species that was discovered for the first time in Australia in 1994. Forgive the lighting, but I just could not get a good photo. I think Bryon said they had around 20 of these planted around at PDZA now?!

Wollemia pine at Port Defiance Zoo

I’ve never seen wire netting bushes (Corokia cotoneaster) as large as this. Last spring, I took out a giant Ceanothus from the front rock garden because it had gotten too big and was too much of a maintenance hassle. This is what I replaced it with. Cool. Cool. Cool. Should be low maintenance and drought tolerant.

A monkey puzzle tree (Araucaria araucana). I’ve always secretly wanted one, but have no place to for a tree of this size and I suspect it would die over the winter in our heavy, wet clay. Little did I know that I would be going home with a seedling of one of these later in the day. What on earth is wrong with me? A fool’s hope springs eternal.

I’m not much of a Gaura fan, they are usually too floppy and messy-looking for my taste. But, some of the more dwarf varieties combined with purple salvias look pretty good. I actually liked the tall, floppy ones arching in the background. I guess I just needed to see them used in the right setting. Wish I could have figured out which Salvia that was. PDZA needs a plant list!

From left to right, Cuphea micropetala, a nice mixed shrub bed, and maybe a Fatsia polycarpa.

In the center photo is a Sinopanax formosanus just left of center. I love that leaf texture and the tan/green color combo. Guessing it would die over the winter in my yard, but seeing it makes me wonder if I could get a similar effect with a coppiced sycamore? Baby monkey puzzle tree growing up right of center. Looks like they grow fast once they are in the ground (warning to my future self).

One of my favorite beds in front of the Pacific Seas Aquarium building. Reminds me of the desert southwest.

Nearby, we spotted this evergreen Dutchman’s pipe (Aristolochia sempervirens) climbing up through a magnolia. The cute bright yellow/pink flowers were small, but unusual and quite attractive. Sadly, all the online literature says zone 8, but I wonder if it might be worth trying in our garden anyway.

We forgot the plant tour (briefly) when Tilly the anteater made an appearance. I had no idea they were this big.

One of the largest Gunneras (Gunnera manicata) I’ve seen. L and I were thinking this would look amazing growing next to our creek. We even almost bought one from a local nursery, but then we didn’t know if it would get washed away during a winter torrent and we also learned that Gunneras really dislike winter cold and wet. Maybe not the best thing to plant next to our creek, or is it (foreshadowing…)? This specimen had spikes of ripening fruit (close-up, below right).

Our last stop was to see another xeric planting where we found another one of the larger agaves at PDZA. Tour group on the left for scale and Agave Mr. Ripple on the right. That’s Bryon wearing the dark sunglasses and red pruners on his belt.

Throughout the tour, I kept seeing Colletias tucked in here and there (background center of each photo). I wish I could have gotten a better picture of the older specimens, which develop a more arching habit. These photos will hopefully remind me of their form as I decide where to plant some Colletia spinosissima cuttings that I rooted earlier this year.

This area (left) included Aloe aristata, which has reliably overwintered at PDZA. I need to find one of these to try in my own rock garden back home. There was also some sort of potentially hardy, wispy, bromeliad-looking thing that piqued my interest (but not enough to get a better, clearer photo, evidently). On the right, that luscious color combination of russet brown (seed capsules) and dark green foliage of a tree heather (Erica arborea).

Some succulents at the Port Defiance Zoo, including Aloe aristata
Counterclockwise from upper left: hardy bromeliad?, Agave parryi, Aloe aristata
Green/brown color combination on Erica arborea at the Port Defiance Zoo
Erica arborea

I didn’t get any photos of the picnic/plant swap afterwards. I was very distracted meeting new people, trying to eat a very late lunch, and fielding questions about the plants I had brought with me, all at the same time. I was happy that I finally got to meet Loree from the danger garden blog, though I don’t think I managed to have a coherent conversation with her because of all the distractions. It was also nice that I was able to give most of my plants away. I was very proud that I only brought a few new plants back with me (such restraint, you say): an Araucaria araucana seedling (!), Amomyrtus luma, and a Raphithamnus spinosus – all propagated by David Campbell from Olympia. These are a little borderline hardy for our yard, so I’ll probably overwinter them in the greenhouse to plant out next spring. All-in-all, it was a really fun event and I can’t wait to go to another PNW Plant Geek event in the future.

I’ll leave you with this parting shot of Mr. Ripple and his other spiky friends. I hope you enjoyed the tour as much as I did. If you haven’t been to PDZA, I encourage you to do so. Their plantings are amazing and Bryon Jones is a great tour guide. Tours are available here.

This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. Kris P

    That looks like a fabulous way to spend a day! I’m sure your plant offerings were well received – your propagation efforts make mine look pitiful by comparison. As to the zoo’s plant collection, I hope I can get up that way some day and have an opportunity to see it first hand. I loved the anteater cameo too.

    1. Garden Curmudgeon

      Heh…and I was feeling my propagation efforts were pitiful in comparison to the even more rare things that David Campbell brought. I was thinking they were all plain, boring plants that every plant geek probably already has. But, people picked most of them up pretty quickly, so I felt much better about it afterwards. It was a lot of fun and it was nice to meet so many people that were as passionate about plants as I am.

  2. danger garden

    It’s amazing to think that was just last month! Your photos of PDZA are great, and I enjoyed the list of plants you brought to the swap, I think most of them were gone by the time I got there. Also… I didn’t realize that any of the small ferries across the Willamette were still in operation, how fabulous! As for our conversation I remember feeling the same way. There was a lot going on that day…

    1. Garden Curmudgeon

      What a difference one month makes. 4.5 inches of rain these last couple of days to water in all of my new plants. I still have several more to go, but not until this lets up a little. It is surprising how much that ferry runs – all year round, every day of the week in a place where there aren’t any convenient bridges nearby. At the picnic, I felt bad that I was so distracted and couldn’t maintain a complete conversation. Large groups can be so stimulating and exhausting at the same time. It was worth it. I’ve met a lot of good plant people this past month.

  3. So glad you got to attend and also that you met Loree of Danger Garden fame! The plants you brought to the swap? Very impressive! I think you and I have similar plant palettes – we grow so many of the same! Someday I’d love to visit PDZA. I met Byron on a recent Zoom meeting and I would love to meet him in person, too. Say – by the way – when did you propagate Rhamnus ‘Variegata’ and other evergreen woody material? Just curious…trying to get my timing right 😉

    1. Garden Curmudgeon

      The best time of year for many broadleaf evergreens (evergreen Rhamnus, Arctostaphylos, Garrya, etc) is after a few hard frosts and the weather stays fairly cold. Around here, that’s November to January or February. Now that we are starting to get freezing weather around the Willamette Valley, I am thinking of taking my cuttings towards the end of November. Yep, I noticed too that we have a lot in common on the plant palette. It looks like we are both gravitating towards those things that do well without a lot of watering.

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