My Garden: Behind the Scenes

Photo thanks to Josh McCullough

Photo thanks to Josh McCullough

Overall, mine is a sunny warm garden.  Like any landscape or garden it is defined or described by its: place, design and plant choices. Where these three all come together, you have a garden. Each one presents itself as, what some might view, a daunting array of options or possibilities.

What exactly do I include under ‘place’?  Certainly climate, exposure, aspect, slope, soils and the ‘history’ of gardening and ‘disturbance’ on the site. It also includes the larger surrounding landscape, the context within which it is located and the physical ‘features’ built and natural with which it will be a part.  The story of a place is important.  Place, is the major limiting factor in a garden. Gardens are also defined by the choices we make. Each choice precludes others. In a very real sense gardening is a process of limitation. ‘If this then not that’.  What we need to be aware of is that these, design and plant choices, these limitations, can either work together or compound each other when not made with awareness.  When design and/or plant choices ignore place, the gardener must overcome all of the ‘conflicts’ this choice has put in to play, or face ‘failure’.


My garden can be found at 2735 SE Gladstone St., Portland, OR 97202-3548.  Anyone can locate it on a map. From the map they could learn that my lot is on a SE corner and is exactly 50’ x 100’, the long axis running east and west. A contour map would tell them that the lot slopes down toward the west at approximately 5-6%. If you look it up on Google Earth you would find that, overall, my garden has a sunny aspect with no significant shade trees over shadowing it other than the almost 30 year-old Parrotia persica by my front stairs. You could also see that my house sits close to the east property line which allows us a larger back garden, 64’ x 50’, morning shade there, and in the long afternoons of summer, it can be quite hot! If you look carefully at the Google Earth photo you will see our stone stairs rising off the sidewalk and understand that the whole lot sits above street grade. This can tell you that there is not much chance of this being a ‘wet’ site even though we are located below the ‘bluff’ that runs north and south from Ladds through Reed’s campus and is ‘home’ to a series of natural springs, such as Crystal Springs, most of which were long ago directed into and routed away through sewer pipes. The ‘industrial’ land below us, where the Brooklyn Railroad Yard and Fred Meyer’s corporate headquarters are located, are on drained land that was once a ‘wet meadow’ connected to the slough that backed up from the Willamette River. This area was the receiver of the many seasonal and year round springs that drained the adjacent uplands. The water is still here moving, mostly unseen, below grade, causing occasional cracks to open and shift in our retaining wall. There is a story of a sink-hole opening once, years before our arrival, in the adjacent intersection. We find it easy to believe that land here is stable even though we are served with occasional reminders that it is not.

Ours is an older, for Portland, neighborhood, platted and built out with the expansion of the trolley system that at one time ran down SE 28th Ave, next to our house, and east on Gladstone. Our house was built in 1909. This is significant for two reasons, our lot was developed without a garage or carriage house as cars were not common and to take advantage of the ‘new’ trolley system; it was also a time when doing massive earth moving was a much more difficult undertaking and less common than it is today. Our soil is probably of local origin, unlike many areas of more recent development. Soil surveys describe our soil as Urban land-Latourell complex. It is alluvial soil formed on a terrace above the Willamette River through deposition resulting from the historic floods that swept periodically down the Columbia. Loamy, relatively well drained (.5”– 2”/hr) unless locally compacted, typically 56” deep. It is considered to be Mesic. (It is interesting to note here that many urban sites, such as the ones I managed Downtown for years, were built on highly disturbed, compacted and contaminated soils with as little as a 1′ cap of topsoil added, greatly limiting drainage and a plant’s ability to root and anchor itself.)

It may seem to be a contradiction to be relatively well drained and mesic but it isn’t. Being well drained refers to the excess water’s ability to percolate down through the soil profile. This is possible because gravity can pull it down through the pore spaces and openings between soil particles. So, soil with good crumb structure, soil that has not be compacted, that retains its supportive biotic life, is able to ‘hold on to’ water while allowing the excess to drain away as long as there is no layer below it that is impeding its movement. This open pore structure of a good mesic soil will also provide the air necessary for the gas exchange required by the roots of most plants. Moisture and air are required in a balance. Latourell Loam is fairly fine textured. This is important because ‘finer’ textured soils, with their smaller particle size, have more surface area, than coarser soils, for the water to adhere to. This water in turn ‘binds’ to other water molecules that are not in contact with soil particles, through water’s cohesive force, a less strong bond. Finer soils then are able to ‘hold on to’ more water than a sandy or gravelly soil. A certain amount of this water is available to plants that are able to draw it away from the soil particles…to a point. ‘Dry soil’ still retains moisture but it is bound to the soil too tightly and so, is no longer ‘available’ to the plants. Mesic soils serve as a water reserve for plants meeting their needs even when it has not rained for some time…again, to a point. A well drained, courser textured soil cannot bridge this gap for plants that demand a more even water supply. A less well drained Hydric soil is wetter throughout the year and may even be subject to periods of inundation. Hydric soils also contain less air than most plants need for healthy growth. Xeric soils are coarse and quick draining with relatively low ability to retain moisture for plants that require a steady supply. So, my soil is Mesic.

I’m a big fan of maps as learning tools. This link shows much of Portland east of the Willamette Meridan and south of Baseline that ran through old downtown Portland, in 1852, while this link does the same for the area north of Baseline. Our garden is just south of the Clinton Kelley homestead (for any of you interested, the original home stood on the property that now contains the McDonalds on Powell Blvd.) and the map shows several interesting features. Several of the springs and creeks are shown draining into a north-south running marshy area that extended all of the way down, including Westmorland Park and Crystal Springs, to Johnson Creek where it followed it east. Above the marsh ground the land was wooded primarily with Fir. The land is much changed.

Originally homesteaded on large land donations by settlers like Kelley, who were able to occupy and ‘improve’ the land, much of this area went into agriculture supplying the growing community of Portland on the west bank and then the communities on the east side. The nature of these soils have changed drastically over the years . One needs to remember that soils, defined by the base rock material of their origin, are hugely affected by what grows upon and lives within them. When that changes, the soils themselves begin to change and this can happen as soon as the land is cleared. My once woodland soil no longer supports many of the more common woodlanders that may have once been here like Trillium and other woodland bulbs. In fact I have nearly given up on growing many of these whether they are west coast natives, Asian or European. I have lost many over the years.

A mature woodland provides more than shade, its network of roots combined with the organic layer that naturally forms as a result of years of leaf drop and rot, dramatically changes the growing conditions on the ground, by literally changing the life within the soil. Add to this the fact that this network of roots draws on the available moisture in the soil competing with what you might plant on the ground level in your garden and these are very different places in deed. Add evergreen broadleaves and conifers into your woodland and you have plants pumping water from your soil year round, which is either benefit or detriment depending on what you try to do. The level of competition for water and nutrients will also be effected by the species of the trees as some are more deeply rooted while others are much more aggressive in searching out pockets of moisture and nutrient goodness. Again, mine is not a woodland garden. My plants don’t have to exist in this kind of competitive environment…and, my soil is all of the heavier and wet in the winter for this lacking. (Keep in mind that planting trees does not a woodland make, at least not quickly. Woodlands are systems that take years to create and they will become one in their own unique way.)

Another part of place is the climate and micro-climates associated with it. Latitude is not the soul determiner of climate. 45°31′12″N sets me firmly in the temperate band around the world. It determines the annual cycling of day length. A gardener needs more than that. Adding 122°40′55″W longitude places me these few miles south of the confluence of the Willamette and Columbia Rivers. I see my garden as zn 8a. Our nearness to the Pacific with its moderating force combined with the air drainage provided by the Columbia Gorge allows for the mixing of maritime and intermountain air systems that often prevents much of the cold stagnant air layers from forming here.   This stagnant winter air can chill the Valley to the south of us as well as the Tualatin Valley. Our winters are generally milder.

Iris ensata 'Cascade Crest' w/ Arundo donax 'Variegat' and friends

Iris ensata ‘Cascade Crest’ w/ Arundo donax ‘Variegata’ and friends

The winter ice storms, which the same Gorge can visit on the area, are somewhat milder here in inner SE Portland. Freezing rain requires a temperature inversion with rain falling from ‘warmer’ higher air to freezing air at the ground level.  The mixing of air layers will prevent this.  However, the same rushing in of cold inter-mountaine air through the gorge can create freezing, dessicating conditions on the ground.  Still we are somewhat protected here.  The north-south running bluff above us to the east and the 3-5% slope towards the Willamette River, as well as the hills between us and the distance from the Gorge ‘mouth’, seem to dissipate the worst of the storms. Our most severe winds tend to be generated by those storms entering Oregon from the SW with their high winds blowing up the Willamette Valley. Our garden is exposed to them. We can see the hills to the West of the River. Spring is often our time for things to be toppled or broken.

At an even more local level, our immediate neighborhood is not heavily treed, though that has been changing. Still, my street trees are small and they are Chinese Windmill Palms. These will never cast the encompassing shade that Maples and Elms can so our wide street, 50’ curb to curb, remains largely exposed to both warming by the sun as well as reflecting heat to my adjacent garden, raising the average temperatures. (Additionally, one of the Pacific Sunset Maples, serving as street trees across from us, died of Verticillium.  The other one still looks healthy.) This is the long side of my lot, 100’. The grade change along this line and the retaining wall also work to soak up summer heat as well as what heat it can at other times of the year.

Because I have lived and actively gardened here for 26 years I have grown many plants, watched many succeed while others declined or died out right.  In a world where my brain didn’t suffer a kind of memory ‘entropy’, I would know my micro-sites intimately and my plantings would be ever more finely attuned to their particular sites…but I forget and my record keeping and ability to utilize it are not perfect.  I try….

The overall result of this is that I know where my warm spots are, the places that are slowest to dry and I do not blindly make doomed decisions.  I prefer to call them ‘calculated’.


I grew up in the desert and the Cascades of Central Oregon with its broad sweeping vistas, its distinctive land forms and its palette of natives providing character and drama. It left its mark on me. Now I tend to filter all of the design elements through a naturalistic ‘lens’. I constantly ask myself ‘what looks right…what feels right?” While impressive the formal design tradition coming from Europe had no real appeal to me with its rectilineal geometry and clipped hedges. The ‘blowsy’ cottage garden look…I dabbled with for a few years. While the Japanese Garden aesthetic appeals to me, I didn’t want that kind of ‘restraint’ in my own. The scale of my ‘place’ rules out the estate/pastoral designs of ‘Capability’ Brown. I have always looked at nature’s own response as a model for my aesthetic.

Coming through the gate

Coming through the gate

A garden elicits an emotional response within us. It is an ‘experience’ and, done well, ‘resonates’ within us. There is a consistency, a ‘rightness’ to the plantings that the designer intends.  A balance between the repetition of plants and textures with punctuations of contrast, hiding and revealing, so that one is aware of the gardens ‘rightness’ but can still be surprised as one moves through it, never revealing everything all at once. A visitor should, in a sense, have to ‘earn’ the surprises, know something of how, where and when to look. Obviousness is done for impact and in a small garden puts all of your ‘eggs’ into one basket….Design should support the possibility of ‘discovery’ for the visitor. The visitor should feel ‘like’ the garden is as it should be, like a tropical garden, like a walk in the woods or a desert.  If the designer has done his/her job well the visitors experience will reflect it. These are an important part of my own aesthetic. That is what I strive for in my plantings.

A design first must acknowledge and take advantage of its place…all of the things I’ve mentioned already.  Much of them are ‘unseen’, but are at work none the less.  Land form, physical features, aspect, the borrowed landscape and the other ‘givens’, structures and mature plantings must be incorporated or the ‘feeling’ will reflect the dissonance and the experience of visitors will not be what was intended.  It might even ‘feel’ unsettling’…or wrong.

My front, 'hot garden' facing Gladstone St. Thank you Josh McCullough.

My front, ‘hot garden’ facing Gladstone St. Thank you Josh McCullough.

Along my south property line, more of a strip or two dimensional garden space, I have chosen a xeric planting theme, utilizing plants that will require little supplementary water beyond their establishment periods, though, in practice, I do more watering than is strictly necessary to maintain the plants in a more attractive state of vigor. This is the hot-dry garden though visitors will be able to find exceptions. It is dominated by the street with all of its exposure and heat of summer.

Pelargonium and Anigoanthos sharing porch space with an Agave colorata

Pelargonium sidoides, Dichondra and Anigozanthos sharing porch space with an Agave colorata (the ‘lovely’ bar across the street and the remaining Pacific Sunset Maple)

On my front ‘porch’, a 26’ x 10’ raised concrete slab, is a pot garden containing heat loving plants that generally get their once every week or two drenching during the heat of the summer and spend the winters under roof and dry unless the cold forces further protection. The ‘porch’ is ‘new’. The old one, rotten and threatening to fall off of the front of our house was removed and redesigned transforming the space into a much larger and functional space above/separate from the sidewalk. As our lot is zoned commercial we were able to build out as close as we wanted to the sloping sidewalk 6’ to 8’ below, creating what has become our most used outdoor social space.  (We built street access to our basement, we don’t have a garage, and a full apartment on one side.)

The front of our house, a one time bungalow with a modern 'beach' twist. Courtsey of Josh McCullough

The front of our house, a one time bungalow now with a modern ‘beach’ twist. Courtsey of Josh McCullough

I designed the basic layout of my back garden the first year we lived here. The curving informal ‘loop’ path, defining the edge of the perimeter beds, with its two-sitting/ activity areas providing access and circulation. Originally there were vegie beds, an apple trellis and a small lawn area that have all gone away.  While our son was small, the northwest corner was occupied by a fort I built for him on ‘legs’ installing a rope ladder like the one I made myself as a kid into my tree-fort (There were no ‘buildable’ trees on our property nor a public ‘dump’ like the one available to me from which my son could scavenge materials). The fort was later dismantled and replaced with a pagoda/pavilion structure (designed and built by Troy Susan at the Bamboo Craftsman). Its design was intended to reinforce the exotic ‘tropical’ theme. The ‘chipped’ path, now Pennsylvania Bluestone path, was several years in the making, eventually including the stairs from the street (all built by Pete Wilson Stoneworks). We replaced the old gate when we did our big porch remodel repeating the ‘pagoda’ theme and materials: bamboo, galvanized corrugated steel and structural steel, built by Troy and Madsen Fabrication, who did all of the steel work on the house.

Garden entry. Photo thanks to Josh McCullough

Garden entry. Photo thanks to Josh McCullough

The back deck replaces the too small concrete patio that chairs would regularly spill their occupants out of and, being raised slightly from its surrounding, provides an intermediate, transition space from our house. It is a formal refuge from which you launch yourself into an otherwise very informal garden. This is meant as a contemplative/ passive use garden. The small patch of lawn was removed when my son grew older (it was too small and sloping for good croquet). When we had our dog, an Australian Shepherd, we took her daily to the Park for Frisbee workouts or long walks and hikes. (Keep them busy and tired).

Over our 26 years of occupancy the back has evolved into an oasis. This is where I do regular summer irrigation (It’s on drip utilizing Techline, which has proven durable over many years except for repairs necessitated by errant shovel strikes! A Bermad ‘metering valve’ is manually turned on and set shutting off after a selected volume of water has flown through it) and hand watering (the piping runs mostly beneath the stone paths).

IMG_0659It developed as a summer garden, designed to be enjoyed in those months. Because our home’s interior living spaces do not face the garden it was not intended for winter use or, really, even viewing. I chose to pursue an idea I read of many years ago, in an article in Horticulture Magazine, that the author of the time titled, Tropicalissimo. We went on vacations to Hawai’i, I read books like Hot Plants for Cool Places and I began to think in terms of designing a garden that ‘evoked’ the feeling of being in the tropics. I began to be drawn more toward foliage and the effects that can be created by repeating and contrasting foliage, color, size, surface textures and architecture of both the leaves and of the plants themselves. In a sense flowers became secondary. I had done bedding out professionally and quickly tired of it. I wasn’t interested in large masses of uniform bloom. Instead I began to think of flowers more as accent marks, with bold colors, flowers that as individuals could corral my interest. Things that would make me look twice or be interested enough to push back leaves to expose a hidden gem. I would compose the garden color scheme with foliage and threw most of the rules of color out the window when it came to flowers. Pastels, in general, need not apply.  Other more exotic things intrigued me.  These were all ideas I was playing with at work at the same time in our downtown Parks.

Plant Choices

With this theme, this design idea, in my head I began to look at plants. Out of necessity I found that many perfectly hardy plants can work into this scheme. I could not afford to ‘wipe the slate clean’ and start from scratch.  Instead I began to edit, (the garden was mostly ‘done’ at the time so change involved removals) removing those plants that were most ‘ill fit’.  It often came down to relationship with ‘bed mates’, selection and placement. Bold, large textured foliage is central to planting a temperate/tropical garden.  We cannot duplicate the plantings and ignore this place.  Fortunately there are temperate plants with such foliage.  Interestingly tropicals often have temperate cousins who share some of these characteristics that I take full advantage of, while other temperate plants slide in…out of pure audacity.

Hakonechloa macra 'Aureola' with Hosta 'Great Expectations' two dependable plants that fit well into my back 'tropical' garden.

Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’ with Hosta ‘Great Expectations’ two dependable plants that fit well into my back ‘tropical’ garden.

When I’m shopping, I try not to just look at the plants. I always go with a list, drawn up from on-line searches, books, nursery and garden visits. I have actually walked out of nurseries without buying a plant…of course this is easier as my garden is full and the inclusion of a new plant requires the death or removal of an established plant. There are far too many choices that will not fit either my design aesthetic, or, more importantly, the conditions I can offer them. Yes, I do succumb to their ‘calls’, but not as often as I once did.

My ‘shopping’ lists may be very specific such as a particular variegated cultivar or, more broad, like a small flowering annual vines or when I was shopping for a few more broad-leaved evergreen shrubs with an eye on the Arailiaceae to ‘beef’ it up during the winter ‘doldrums’ (This has become much more important since I’ve retired and can more frequently wander the garden in inclement weather. I spent my career out in inclement weather on a must do daily basis.) Once acquired, I may modify my list as I think about the acquistions’ now much more real role in my garden. Plants that I was earlier searching out may drop off the list, because the experience of the space is now different for me. Another similar mass may add too much bulk too close to others now or the texture, may be too similar, and it doesn’t ‘feel’ right. I am big into the experience of being in the garden. Years ago, while at U of O, I took a class titled, ‘Environmental Psychology’, which looks at how space, man-made or nature, affects us as we live in and move through it.

One of my newer Arailiaceae acquisitions still looking for a home in the ground.

One of my newer Arailiaceae acquisitions still looking for a home in the ground, Fatsia japonica ‘Camouflage’

My garden contains many ‘members’ who have over time grown ‘too’ well, while others stagnated or died. It is the nature of the ‘beast’. Gardeners don’t get to shy away from death if they want to keep learning. Death forces us to look at what went wrong, or rather, what we did wrong. Not many ‘hobbies’ demand this of their practitioners. If a plant dies like the several Himalayan and North American woodlanders I’ve lost, or the many relatively hardy Begonia I’ve tried over the years, sometimes more than once, I do not always learn my lesson on the first go round, or I got the lesson wrong, it gets me looking at the particular conditions that the plant had to contend with. I do not have a ‘woodland’ garden. I have no high mature canopy nor the generations of leaf litter that accumulates beneath such a thing, nor the soil life that such conditions harbor. Site conditions matter. Plants won’t necessarily be tolerant of what might present itself on a given site. Paying attention is one of the more important lessons I’ve learned. A plant that has evolved with particular conditions over the course of several thousands of years and more will often not only do better when you duplicate them, but may be dependent upon them. The plant is not difficult per se, it simply is what it is and needs to have its needs met, not unlike a human being, only a plant cannot get up and move to where it would rather be. Being a good gardener requires that one become a good diagnostician.

My garden, being a small space, forces me to be disciplined and critical. What works? Which plants don’t provide the ‘bang’ for the maintenance ‘buck’ expended? What’s missing? The plants that draw me in, that engage me, provide learning opportunities, something I’m drawn too, often about a region’s natural history and plant communities. When I travel I find the places themselves fascinating…the geology, the climate, the populations comprising area biomes and how residents have historically fit into these places. I get excited to see a plant I’ve grown in a created landscape, growing in its native region, in situ.  The plants in my garden become more than their aesthetic total, they become a book of stories reminding me from where they came. Each carries ‘weight’.  An endangered Cycad, like Cycas panzhihuaensis, growing in its pot on my front porch carries so much more weight of meaning than a little hybrid filler/spiller like Calibrocha…but I’ll still use those when they fit.

I use annuals as fillers. Nothing can quite take the place of Coleus. Many of our ‘annuals’ come from tropical or sub-tropical climes where they may be perennial. It is only us as temperate region gardeners who have the audacity/ignorance to call them annuals. At the same time many of us look past those tender perennials because they are not reliably hardy in an average or colder winter. I’ve never understood this….we’ll knowingly buy ‘annuals’ while at the same time righteously shunning ‘tender perennials’???? Both are used for seasonal effect. While the tender perennial can often be wintered over with little extra effort.????

IMG_2619When you walk through my garden you will see particular forms, textures and colors repeat.  I am partial to yellow and variegated foliage, but nothing is out of bounds.  Silvers, hairy, prickly, glossy, ‘blues’ and dark reds, leaves with prominent veins and distinguishing margins, all have a place, always remembering that green is the great blender.  I utilize a lot of plants with narrow, grass like foliage, Iris, Acorus, various Carex to contrast with larger bolder forms, often very large, like Musa, Ensete, Canna, Hosta, Ligularia and Heliconia. I have nine different species of Palm, Chinese Ground Orchids, several different Crinum and other Amaryllis relatives, three different color forms of Calla Lily, a handful of Agapanthus varieties, Aspidistras, several Epimedium, Tupistera, climbing Alstromeria, or Bomarea, Melianthus, Podophyllum and more to add that tropical ‘flavor’. I am always looking for showy, hardy Begonia and Impatiens, adding more to family Bromeliad,….because of this, I have a fairly high rate of attrition, my desires pushing at the limits I know to be at work in my garden. There is always a Brugmansia and usually some Taro I’ve wintered indoors. I’ve discovered the Fleming brother’s hardy Hibiscus with their amazing color forms all bred from North American, tough as nails species. I’m looking for Passionflowers that can tough it out here without being aggressive spreaders and Lily family members that can add more elegance and tolerate my heavier soil. And, over the last couple of years ferns have piqued my interest for the textures, primarily, because no other plants offer them. Maidenhairs have always been a favorite…still are, but now I’ve added Pyrrosia’s, Woodwardia spp., the ‘fingered’ Dryopteris sieboldii, the Holly Ferns, Cyrtomium spp. and others. Many still sit in pots because shade is still at a premium in my back garden and my soil, remember, is on the ‘heavy’ side for woodlanders. I haven’t decided what to do yet????

Bomarea sp. with Azara microphylla Variegata

Bomarea sp. with Azara microphylla Variegata

Admittedly, I am drawn to more exotic plants, but often these are ‘exotic’ only in so far that they are not well known or they are cultivars with atypical forms of otherwise common plants. I have an affinity for Southern Hemisphere plants, especially those that come from one of the other four mediterranean regions of the world, the west coast of North America being the fifth…so I don’t really see these as being all that ‘exotic’ in the sense that they are more exacting and demanding in their requirements. In fact, these may be well suited for our gardens here. These are the regions I look to for drought tolerant plants for my sunny/drier garden along the street.

I still have a bunch of stuff to swap or sell at fire sale price. For any interested gardeners out there, I will be home painting on saturday so if any of you are interested gather any of your choice bits and we'll see if we can wrangle. Come by from 9-noon. I will be offering what's left later to others. Here's a list of my extras from divisions or 'retirement': Dyckia Red Devil Aloe Saponaria Canna Wisley dwarf Black Mondo grass Alpinia formosana Arisaema ringens Salvia??? (lost the label, from Sean McMillan, dk. purple flowers) Aloe rare plant research (Burl doesn't always label completely) Agave harvardiana (offsets from my oldest plant, 15+ years, blue form) Aloe aristata Echinocactus setispinus Agave americana medio-picta Agave scabra Agave colorata Halimium atriplicifolia Beschorneria septentrionalis Blood leaf banana Rodgersia podophylla Rotlaub Kirengeshoma palmata Trachycarpus foretunei Astelia chathmatica Pyrrosia lingua Variegata Canna Bengal tiger Crocosmia Jupiter Thalictrum black stockings Hosta Jester Bromeliad (lge. bronzy form) Filipendula ulmeria Aurea Arisaema ringens Musa sikkimense red tiger Alpinia japonica Heliconia schiedeana Grevillea Pink Pearl Eucomis sparkling burgundy Crinum bulbispermum Zantadeschia x elliotiana Flame Several of these I only have one of, none in large numbers. Must reduce pots!!!
Agave harvardiana, a purchase years ago from Trans-Pacific Nursery doing well in a previous planting in my parking strip. (Yes, Agaves are sub-tropical in that they are from a summer rain, monsoonal region, but I work them in here anyway, along with some of their relatives.

Bulbs from South Africa, Grevillea from Australia, Euphorbia and Halimium from the Mediterranean, Chamaerops, the Blue Mediterranean Fan Palm from the Atlas Mountains of Morocco or Puya dyckioides from the mountains of Argentina. These plans fit my place, their particular micro-climates and into my design and are important ‘pieces’ of my garden. They won’t necessarily work in another Portland area garden.

Butia capitata - My only pinnate, feather type, palm.  This one has been here for 5 years.  It is in a very protected south facing spot.  I provide it with no additional winter protection.  See my earlier posting on this Butia.

Butia capitata – My only pinnate, feather type, palm. This one has been here for 5 years. It is in a very protected south facing spot. I provide it with no additional winter protection. See my earlier posting on this Butia.  The steel and concrete new stairs provide access to the modern beach ‘renno’ we did to our house.  Agave parryii ‘Hauchuca Blue’ sits unprotected for the winter while my new Beschorneria yuccoides ‘Flamingo Glow’ is wrapped in fiberglass.  x Halimiocistus wintonensis ‘Merristwood Cream’ has toughed it out for several years here.

Butia capitata, the Jelly Palm, from Argentina, has performed admirably in its place by my front steps. It seems to be a rare exception in Portland. It is a defining piece of my garden under-planted here in unammended soil, slope, aspect and our house all ‘colluding’ to protect it. The Aloe saponaria, to the lower right just out of frame above, benefits as well, though the bottom of the slope is wetter. It has survived many of our winters here sometimes blooming as it is about to do this spring (I always pull a few offsets to winter inside as backups.)

Also out on the street are several Zauschneria (I still refuse to call them Epilobium) and Penstemon. Both of these genera can provide long floral performance though sometimes my old bias toward species Penstemon shows with the woody species. These are probably my first plant ‘love’, one I discovered hiking at elevation in the Central Oregon Cascades as a young person. These plants have always had a place in my gardens. Many of the hybrids now available give you non-stop color and, if the winter is mild for us, don’t even freeze back lengthening the show on the front end. I’ve grown many different Eryngium over the years too and still have nine or so. There are usually a few Mediterranean herbs around along with some chosen Kniphofia spp. This garden has always had a Fig tree. All of my other fruit trees have yielded to ornamentals over the years though the wire for my old espaliers still clings to the fence. I have Oleanders blooming for around 5 months.

Natives masquerade or hide amongst the exotics. Ribes sanguineum exists here in two forms, as a parent crossed with R. aureum in the form of R. x gordonianum beneath my Parrotia persica and the selection of R. sanguineum ‘Brocklebankii’ with its bright yellow leaves, though this plant lacks vigor and so may not be long for this garden. Mahonia nervosa, long one of my favorites, hides under, and next to, a large Mahonia x media ‘Arthur Menzies’, one of a series of hybrid Asian Mahonias, and a Cornus kousa. The native Asarum, Dicentra formosa and various ferns share space with their more exotic brethren.

IMG_2621My most recent addition to my garden, non-plant that is, is a temple bell designed, made and gifted to me by a good friend after I retired from Parks.  The kanji on it represents ‘Peace’.  We mounted it on a steel box tube post.  I’m still playing with ideas for plants ‘sprouting’ out of it’s top. Currently it is topped with a large reddish Bromeliad and a Neoregelia, with Gloxinia n. ‘Evita’ and Dichondra ‘Silver Falls’ spilling over the edge, or they will when the season progresses.  It’s 8″ square section is limiting my architectural choices…and it’s relative ‘dryness’.

This is my garden and I do with it what I want…within the limits I’ve tried to describe here. It is only one of an infinite number of possibilities for this ‘place’. We are fortunate enough to live in what a friend from Chicago once called, ‘Plant Mecca’, where any horticulturist might want to live, at least for a while. In terms of total numbers, if the gardener is willing to pay attention and make reasonable modifications, we can grow more species and cultivars here than anywhere else in the country. The gardener provides the impetus. The place provides the ultimate limits. The design is what holds it all together and gives it coherence.  And the plants…they are the icing on the garden cake!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s