There’s so many reasons for plants to spend some or even all of their lives in containers. Aside from the practical reasons — fine-tuning sunlight, better drainage, more moisture, less moisture, special soil mixes, protection from chewing and digging creatures, the ability to shuttle plants indoors where a cold winter will be inhospitable and/or deadly — all these good and sensible reasons aside, containers provide strong graphic and framing opportunities that many of us find hard to resist. And it’s not like our infatuation with pots is new — the oldest pottery found in China dates back almost 20,000 years, so I’d argue that we’re just yielding to an age-old, irresistible impulse that impels us to seek out empty vessels brimming with so much potential. The gardens of Portland we toured exploited this graphic potential like nobody’s business.
Euphorbia ammak would not survive the Portland winter were it not for the portability of the freckled chartreuse pots in Craig Quirk & Larry Neill’s Floramagoria garden designed by Laura Crockett. A perfect example of the gorgeous joining hands with the practical. I love this soft color that blends so well with plants. (A year or so ago I found a pot with this same glaze at Rolling Greens in Culver City.)
This is the deal that tender plants make with Portland gardeners: If you pot me up, if you pot me up, I’ll never stop.
Something else that blew me away in the Portland gardens was the striking use of low retaining walls, some functional for grade changes, some built just to spatially define the garden.
These simple low walls bring amazingly clever opportunities for staging pots and providing frame-within-a-frame effects. Join graphic design instincts with a love of architectural plants and you get Portland style. Boldly emphatic, relying on repetition in color and shape of containers to bring form and coherence to a barely under control plant lust.
Portland style is not your grandmother’s style.
Retaining walls are of course for seating as well as for staging plants. We saw lots of potted Begonia boliviensis, seen here in the Ernst/Fuller gardens.
Pots are not just for prominent display on hardscape, but can be plunged near or into the garden where a strong outline is wanted.
Melianthus and Begonia boliviensis
An enormous ring pot to flaunt the tropicals.
On gateway pillars at Joy Creek Nursery.
If you’re very fortunate, you have a greenhouse/conservatory with wide doors to roll in your rarities in autumn. (Westwind Farm Studio)
Pomarius Nursery’s stacks of terracotta pots waiting for a purpose in life.
Housing an agave is a noble purpose indeed.
Metal bins and stock tanks are a big part of Portland style too.
Design offices at Pomarius Nursery.
Massed hostas in clay pots.
Massed hostas in an old pedestal sink at the magical five acres of Bella Madrona
This podophyllum, even though hardy (I think!), warrants a container because of those sumptuous leaves.
Aloe plicatilis will need protection in a Portland winter, probably more from the rain since it’s hardy to 20 F, but the winters have been packing some surprises lately. This fan aloe is obviously a fairly mature specimen.
Bromeliads and begonias revel in Portland’s summer, but not its winter.
Sempervivums and sedums excel at container life.
Containers can take some of the sting out of trialing new summer annuals like Gomphrena ‘Pink Zazzle.’ If it’s a flop, simply whisk it off stage and out of sight.
And we’re not done with pots yet. There’s two gardens where, for me, Portland style reaches its apotheosis in the use of containers. Loree and JJ, I’m looking at you…
JJ Sousa’s shop Digs Inside and Out would be where I’d shop for pots if I was a Portland local. Here in Los Angeles, that gem of Atwater Village, the retail and mail-order resource Potted, is the place to shop, home of the famed Circle Pot and also one of the sponsors of the 2014 Fling.