Water, Water Everywhere – Northwest Drainage Issues and Solutions

Here in the Pacific Northwest, we get most of our rainfall during the cooler cloudier months of the year (November-March). This means our rain water runs directly into the ground, as compared to other parts of our country, where rainfall occurs during warmer and sunnier months. This means less rain falls on the ground, because a lot of it is absorbed into the warmer dryer air, or caught on foliage.

Historically, much of the ground in the Northwest was covered by forest or grass. In both cases the soil was honeycombed with roots and holes made by moles, gophers, and other miniature creatures like earthworms. Up to three inches of naturally accumulated soil surface mulch caught and absorbed the moisture like a sponge and slowly released it over time into the soil. The foliage in the trees also absorbed a great deal of moisture, which then evaporated or slowly dripped down onto the ground.

Grass land eco-systems worked in a similar manner. Rotted grass roots and foliage absorbed and stored the rain water and released it slowly during dry season.

This natural moisture storage system worked until we started building lots of houses.

When a house is built, heavy equipment is used to excavate and to move all of the builder’s materials around the site. The holes in the soil, which used to act as conduits for the water running through the property, are suddenly squished by tires and feet and can no longer carry the water. The soil now resembles modeling clay or Pay Doh. Consequently, the water just sits on the surface of the soil. When there is just a little bit of additional rain water, it runs over the ground and is not absorbed.

Also, new house foundations and footings act as vertical dams for the surface and subsurface water. The result is the original rainy season water channeling system, which moved the heavy winter rain water through the ground, now is permanently altered.

Here are three important ways to help rain water flow away from your house:

  • Traditionally, we have prevented water from running off the roof directly into crawl spaces or creating unplanned water features in the yard by  installing foundation and roof drains, which take the water away to the street and then into streams and lakes. A better solution is to channel the water into dry wells or seepage ponds. More about that in an upcoming post.
  • Regrade the soil so that the water runs at least 10 feet away from the house. Doing this causes the surface water to run around the house to some lower point. This point could be your neighbor’s yard, a low point in your yard or the street. Again, if grading doesn’t solve the drainage issue, then installing French drains to catch the water gives you a better outcome. It may also have the side benefit of promoting good relations with your neighbor!
  • The third and most important step of all is to restore the original soil porosity.

To restore soil’s original porosity we must invite the earthworms and other small creatures back into the soil to make their holes. Creating a new habitat  for them will ultimately attract moles, who eat the worms, and also make nice drainage holes. However, most people do not want to attract moles, as they don’t like the unattractive piles of dirt they leave behind.

We can speed up the process, which on its own might take years or even decades, by incorporating at least three inches of good organic material into the surface of the soil and installing plants which strike roots and penetrate the soil to deeper levels.

Planting also helps decrease erosion. Bare soil erodes during any rainy period and especially so when it has low porosity. This erosion increases as the natural slope of the soil increases. Compost and organic mulch will also slow or halt this erosion. The plants slow down the power and drive or the raindrops and their roots help the rain penetrate into the ground. The mulch absorbs a lot of moisture and also invites earthworms and other small creatures to stay and eat the compost. While they’re there, they also pull the much down into their tiny burrows, helping us still more.











Water Features We Have Known

Water is essential to life; fills the oceans and calms our spirits in this hectic age.

Water flowing through a Winterbloom water feature also adds charm and appeal to landscapes and value to your home. Here are some examples from our current client portfolio. First, a time-lapse video of a work in progress. Our crew transformed a culvert-like water feature into a stunning addition to our client’s landscape:


Next, a Ramona fall delights the eyes and ears – right outside our client’s dining room window.

A Ramona fall trips from stone to stone.
A Ramona fall trips from stone to stone.

Finally, we started with a suburban slope and created a lovely fluid meander – here graced with autumn leaves.

From grace to grace
From grass to grace

Martin 3photo

Martin 2photo

We are Celebrating 30 Years in the Landscaping Business!

We started Winterbloom in 1983. My goal was and is to give our clients special places to enjoy with family and friends.

Winterbloom projects have been featured in Better Homes & Gardens’ Garden Ideas & Outdoor Living Magazine, Sunset Magazine and other local and national publications. It is EcoBiz certified and was given the Angie’s List Super Service Award in 2011. Most recently it was noted as one of the top landscape businesses in the Portland Business Journal.

That’s all great; however, our greatest asset truly is our employees. That’s why I threw them and their families an anniversary party at the Thirst Wine Bar and Bistro in downtown Portland. Please enjoy these glimpses into our fun.


There's a party here tonight!
There’s a party here tonight!
The menu
The menu
Phil Thornburg, Andy Coulombe, Brock Dallman, Josh DeGraff and Eric Bock
Phil Thornburg, Andy Coulombe, Brock Dallman, Josh DeGraff and Eric Bock
Miriam Bock, Samara Hand, Phil and Barb Thornburg, Winterbloom's 30th anniversary party, 2013
Miriam Bock, Samara Hand, Phil and Barb Thornburg
Kristin DeGraff and Serenity Coulombe
Kristin DeGraff and Serenity Coulombe
Dianna Weston, Mike Cvek and Dale Hickey
Dianna Weston, Mike Cvek and Dale Hickey
Cory Hand and Paul Bock
Cory Hand and Paul Bock
Andy Coulombe, Brock Dallman, Josh DeGraff and Eric Bock
Andy Coulombe, Brock Dallman, Josh DeGraff and Eric Bock
Dale Hickey, Josh and Jess Deloney
Dale Hickey, Josh and Jess Deloney

What are pollinators and why do we need them?

Most plants depend upon pollinators to pollinate them ­ to transfer pollen from the male stamens to the female pistil for fertilization and seed production. Some plants are pollinated by the wind and the rain but our fruit producing plants and most vegetables need pollinators to sustain life. Several kinds of insects, including Butterflies, moths, honey bees, bumble bees and carpenter bees, are pollinators. There are others, but these are the main ones. Here’s how it works. When Butterflies extract nectar from flowers, they accidentally collect pollen on their bodies. As they sip their way from plant to plant, they brush this pollen onto the pistils. Bees purposefully collect pollen to take it to their hives to feed their hive mates. Nonetheless, in the process of collecting the pollen they also leave some behind on the pistils. Without pollinators the trees and berries would not produce fruit. Many plants which do not produce fruit, but are still food for us humans, could not reproduce either.

How can we make pollinators welcome?

We can welcome pollinators by planting plants, whose flowers attract pollinators. There are certain plants which are much more attractive to pollinators than others.

Pollinator Friendly Plants Some easy to grow plants that produce flowers, very appealing to pollinators are:

  • Lavender ­ all varieties
  • Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’
  • Nepeta (common name is Catmints) ­ all varieties
  • Echinacea ­ all varieties

Here is a brief video interview I did on this subject as one of the Oregon grantees for the Pollinator Project:


We can also welcome pollinators by not using weed sprays and insecticides which are deadly to them. You may have heard about a recent massive bee kill-off in a shopping center parking lot. Here’s an article on that tragedy:


Want to Know More?

Consider becoming a member of the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign (NAPPC) Faith Task Force. There is a national NAPPC conference in October which can be a place for inspiration and strategy.


You can learn more at the NAPPC Faith Task Force Facebook page:


Another organization involved with preserving our pollinators is the Xerces Society:


The 9th Annual Association of Northwest Landscape Designers (ANLD) 2013 Designers Tour is June 22nd.

ANLD Garden Tour

One of the premier garden tours in Portland, ANLD’s Designers Garden Tour, will inspire you with plenty of new ideas. This year’s not to be missed tour showcases seven professionally designed private gardens on Portland’s west side. Each garden features unique works of art, selected to enhance the site. Designers and homeowners will be on hand to share their experiences and inspire you with fresh, innovative ideas that can be used in a variety of landscapes.

The designers will discuss their creative approaches to landscape design, focusing on solutions to common and unusual challenges. Homeowners will share their experience of working with a designer and how their new garden has enhanced their lifestyle.

At the tour you will find:

  • Beautiful outdoor “rooms” for entertaining and outdoor living, large and small
  • Unusual and low maintenance plants in stunning and colorful combinations
  • Kitchen gardens and spaces for urban farm animals
  • Outdoor cooking areas and places to relax around the fire
  • Stylish custom garden structures and unique water features

Garden Tour tickets are on sale now for $20 each. Proceeds help fund scholarships for landscape design students at PCC & CCC.

Purchase ANLD Designer Garden Tour tickets at:

  • Garden Fever, 3433 NE 24th Avenue, Portland, Oregon 972212
  • Cornell Farms, 8212 SW Barnes Road, Portland, Oregon 97225
  • Portland Nursery, 5050 SE Stark Street, Portland, Oregon 97215
  • Drake’s 7 Dees (across from Portland Golf Club), 5645 SW Scholls Ferry road, Portland, OR 97225
  • Dennis’ 7 Dees Cedar Mill, 10455 SW Butner Road, Portland, OR 97225
  • Dennis’ 7 Dees Lake Oswego, 1090 McVey Avenue, Lake Oswego, OR 97034

Or purchase online at http://anld.com/garden-tour/info

For more information email: ann@nickerson.net

Osmanthus—the Legendary Flower of Kweilin: Part Two

As the new owner of a landscape design and installation company in 1983, I found that many times I needed an evergreen that was not a Rhododendron, Ligustrum, Photinia or one of the Prunus. I wanted a genus that was tough, did not get diseases, came in various sizes and did not mind full sun or even drought occasionally. I wanted something that had fragrant flowers but was not messy and did not grow so fast that it overpowered clients’ or my ability to manage.

One day, I was asked to check out the plants in a back yard of an old home in the northwest area of Portland. The client wanted a landscape makeover but first wanted to know which plants to keep. All of the plants in the garden were a minimum of 25 years old and were either enormous or hacked badly. After walking around the many Yews, chopped Junipers and Rhodies, I came upon three similar plants that I had not seen before. They were lightly trimmed, about four feet in height and breadth, and had trunks of about 3-inch diameter. They were covered with buds and were just beginning to bloom. Their leaves were small, about 1 inch long and ½ inch wide, lightly toothed and evergreen. The little white trumpet flowers had a light powdery sweet fragrance during late March. I asked the clients if they were familiar with the plant. They said “no” but that it was the only plant which they really enjoyed in their garden and they wanted to keep it.

I took a leaf in to several nurseries and no one knew what it was. I looked in my books and happened to revisit the genus Osmanthus. The leaf and flower looked like the picture of Osmanthus delavayii. I was excited. Here was the fragrance I wanted in an evergreen and was not huge, even after 25 years. It was a manageable size with only light trimming. When I returned a week later the plant was in full white bloom, very fragrant and beautiful.

Next, I came across Osmanthus x burkwoodii. This is a cross of Osmanthus delavayii and Osmanthus decorus. It fit perfectly in my scheme of things as this plant is great for a smaller hedge. I have found that it can be easily maintained at about 5 to 6 feet with once-a-year trimming. In spring, it has about the same powder sweet scent as delavayii. Its leaves are bigger, about 2 inches long and about 1 inch wide and not toothed.

Osmanthus heterophyllus and its varieties came next. This tough evergreen’s fragrance attracted my attention one October in Lake Oswego while I was weeding at a house near the lake. I thought that it was a strange Holly but quickly found that, no, here again was an Osmanthus to add to my collection! Its leaves were opposite like the other Osmanthus plants and not like a Holly’s. It is a tough evergreen and its fragrance is a bit like honey and jasmine.

There are several varieties of O. heterophyllus, but ‘Goshiki’ has become my favorite. It is slow growing and the foliage develops amazing color combinations of medium green and yellow splotches with pink streaks. It does burn in reflected heat but can take full sun. The term heterophyllus means varying leaves. When it is young the leaves tend to be somewhat toothed like a holly, but as it grows into maturity it develops leaves that are smooth or only occasionally toothed and appears almost to be a different bush.

One of my favorite spots in Seattle is the University of Washington Arboretum. I have found many live plants there that I have seen only in books. I decided in the 80s that I would locate every Osmanthus in the park to see if there were other species that were special. I did come across O. decorus, O. americanus, O. armatus, O. burkwoodii, O. fragrans, O. Yunnanensis, and O. fortunei. (O. suavis or O. serrulatis were listed as in the arboretum, but I could not find them.)

Since then, I have purchased and grown all of the above species except the two that I could not find in the Arboretum. (Osmanthus can quickly be differentiated from Ilex by their opposite leaves. Ilex leaves are never opposite.) Here are a few of the species I have enjoyed:

O. decorus is a neat mounding evergreen with little white mildly fragrant spring blooms.  It is tough and drought tolerant even in dense shade. Its leaves are about three  inches long and about one to one and a half inches wide. They are not toothed at all. If I could find a good source I would use it much more often.

O. Yunnanensis looks sort of like a much larger O. decorus. It has the largest leaves of any that I have seen and is not toothed like armatus or heterophyllus. It has olive green leaves and blooms profusely and fragrantly in spring. So far, it is the Osmanthus that I think is the best small evergreen patio tree or specimen. It looks a bit like a Michelia or Parakmeria. I would use it on our designs also if I could find it anywhere but Woodlander’s Nursery in Aiken, Georgia.

O. x fortunei is a cross between O. heterophyllus and O. fragrans. I have found this to be the most satisfying Osmanthus for taller hedging in our climate. It is a tough evergreen, completely drought tolerant, hardy in shade or sun and has the most amazing fragrance on a warm autumn day. It is the fastest growing of them all but can be easily contained to 8 feet. Its fragrance to me is a mix of the jasmine and honey of heterophyllus and the jasmine and apricot mix of O. fragrans. O. x fortunei comes in two varieties that I have found:

‘San Jose’ which is a little more narrow growing and lighter green, and Natchez which is darker green and wider. They can be found at Woodlander’s, Gossler’s (Springfield, Oregon), Greer’s (Eugene, Oregon) and Heronswood (Seattle Area).

O. fragrans was the species for which I most wanted to find a hardy variety and dependable bloomer for our climate. Many varieties of O. fragrans are grown commercially in China. One of their favorite varieties, also quite common in San Francisco, is called O.f. aurantiacus. It is known in New Orleans as “Orange Tea Olive.” Its blooms are a rusty orange and very fragrant. I have had trouble with hardiness in this variety and it has never bloomed for me, but I haven’t given up on it.

Sean Hogan of Cistus Nursery here in the Portland area recently told me of some O. fragrans varieties new on the market. I am in the process of trying them out. They are purported to be hardier with an earlier bloom period.

(These Osmanthus varieties can all be found at Nurseries Caroliniana, Inc., www.nurcar.com.)

O. f. ‘Thunbergii’—supposedly longer blooming and yellow flowered.

O. f. ‘Nenjing’s Beauty’—also longer blooming, white flowered.

O. f. ‘Fudingzhu’—purported to be the most fragrant and blooms off and on all year.

My deck is finally built and I am currently pondering the exact locations where I can plant these three varieties of O. fragrans, so that their fragrance will waft up onto the deck.  Naturally, I want to appreciate their beauty also. One day I plan to make the perfect cup of Osmanthus tea and I won’t have to live in Kweilin or New Orleans to do it, I will just sit back on my deck and sip.

The Chinese are very fond of Osmanthus fragrans flowers in tea and as a perfume; hence the English Southern name of the plant, “Tea Olive.” The center for the culture of O. fragrans in China is Kweilin on the Likiang River. The name of the city means, “Forest of Sweet Osmanthus”.

—Phil Thornburg

Osmanthus, Tea and Me…the journey that led to the beautiful evergreens with heavenly fragrance

Carissa —the childhood shrub that began my journey

As a child, I loved to roam the rolling, green hills of Burundi, Africa. I generally escaped the dormitory on Sunday afternoons with the rest of the older kids under the supervision of a cane wielding, sturdy 65 year old hiker that we all lovingly called “Aunt Esther.” One of my favorite things to do was attempt to categorize and identify the plants that we saw. Of course I had no background in taxonomy or botany. I could quickly tell, though, which ones were annuals, herbs, perennials, shrub or trees; were more or less attractive, fragrant, or not, and so on and so on. Aunt Esther was an accomplished gardener, though she was not formally schooled in this vast realm.

African Holly

One of the plants that attracted me was what she called African Holly. It had lustrous green, elliptical, partly shiny leaves with tiny thorns. It was evergreen even in our driest of dry seasons. I discovered in my exploring that it particularly liked to grow near termite mounds. I was aware of this because we often caught the flying form of the termites at the beginning of the rainy season and popped them into tin cans. We then took them to the dorm, fried them up in butter and ate them as snacks. They were my childhood version of popcorn!

Another attribute of the African Holly was that it had white blooms in December while it also decorated itself with the previous year’s fruit. The berries were a beautiful red color and the flowers were very sweetly scented, reminiscent of Jasmine. We used it seasonally for decoration at home and in the dormitory during Christmas, in place of English Holly. (Although, at that time I was not familiar with English Holly so assumed that it looked like
African Holly).

Being the curious and compulsive child that I was, (I think that I had a touch of ADHD as well), I asked any adult close to me, its botanical name. Of course the slightly annoyed grown up response was, “I don’t know” or “African Holly”!

When I came to the United States at 17, this question was still on my mind. One day while haunting a nursery (which I did as often as I could to feed my spirit), I found what was called Natal Plum. I knew right then that I was close. The flower, the fruit and the leaves were almost identical to what I saw as a child, but larger in every way. At that time nurseries did not have the educational bent that they do now. No one at the nursery had the slightest idea about its botanical name, nor did they have any books about it. They acted irritated that I wanted to know. I continued to hunt and eventually found its taxonomical name in the library at Oregon State University (OSU)

in 1972. It was Carissa macrocarpa, a blooming evergreen which, unfortunately, is not hardy in Oregon. But I knew then that the shrub from my childhood was a Carissa, although I didn’t know its species. Someday I will find out!!!

Southern Holly

The years went on; I was married and we moved to Gainesville, Florida where I pursued a Master’s degree at the University of Florida. We loved to adventure on Sunday afternoons with another couple.

One day at their recommendation, we visited Marjorie Kinnan Rawling’s (author of the Yearling) birth place in Cross Creek. What a wonderful relief from the strip mall, alligator farm, madness that is much of modern Florida! We discovered a historical, preserved farm on about 50 acres of land with semi tended orange groves and lakes. There were few modern amenities. All of the trees and shrubs were the original plants or were replacements. It was a one story, warm, southern, soft and gracious white house with wooden screen-doors and a screened-in porch for cooling air currents. It was reminiscent of my childhood residences. In the yard there was a picnic table with a flagstone spot to set your a portable BBQ. (We fixed our own southern BBQ chicken, right there, on charcoal briquettes).

On either side of the front door stoop were two flanking, broadleaf evergreen shrubs. The tiny yellowish orange flowers, sprinkled inside the bush, were intensely fragrant with an intoxicating scent of apricot and jasmine. Its fragrance and tidy, nice, evergreen habit reminded me of the Carissa of my childhood! I asked the museum curator inside what they were. She said that it was an old fashioned plant that all old southern homes had. She called it Southern Holly (!) or said that sometimes it was called Sweet Olive. I decided then and there that I would find its botanical name.

It took me about three years to sleuth it out, and by then I was living back in Oregon, again searching the OSU library. Osmanthus fragrans aurantiacus was its name. I read that it was from China and that the flowers were used to scent tea. There was even a region of China that was famous for raising varieties of Osmanthus fragrans strictly for the flowers. I decided that I had to find this plant in Oregon and attempt to grow it here. I hoped that it would be hardy. But of course no one that I knew had heard of it in 1979 in Oregon, so I waited.

In 1981 I took my young family with our one year old daughter Samara to Houston, Texas to visit my parents. My father was one of the paid pastors at the Friendsview, Texas, Friend’s Church. While there, I badgered my parents into visiting several nurseries to find this Southern Holly or Sweet Olive.

I finally located Osmanthus fragrans in a Texas nursery and bought two, one for my parents and one to take back to Oregon. I removed it from the pot, wrapped it in a plastic bag and it flew with me in my carry-on bag. It was blooming and had the same heavenly fragrance. I immediately planted it in what I thought was an appropriate spot at our Lake Grove garden in Lake Oswego.

It thrived but never bloomed again. That was discouraging. One winter in the mid 80’s we had a very cold and windy period. It got down to about 9 degrees Fahrenheit and froze pipes all over town. The foliage died to the ground and I assumed that it was dead. I was terribly disappointed. The Osmanthus fragrans that I had hoped would be a hardy replacement for Carissa, turned out not to be so.

But I still had hope. I went on a hunt to find out more about this genus. I just knew that there had to be others that would be hardier. To my delight I found more Osmanthus tucked away in Bean’s Trees and Shrubs Hardy to the British Isles. My compulsive nature took over and I knew that I was on to something special.

Osmanthus-fragrans-Aurantiacus in our garden.
Osmanthus-fragrans-Aurantiacus in our home garden at last!