Tag Archives: Oregon

garden chairs

A chair is a very difficult object. A skyscraper is almost easier. That is why Chippendale is famous.” – Ludwig Mies van der Rohe

Continuing my monomaniacal, object-specific tour of Portland gardens, which brings us around to chairs. Because I’ve always coveted chairs, all shapes, all sizes. Just ask my family. Found at flea markets, thrift shops and, yes, even curbside, we have way more than necessary indoors, so of course the obsession spills outdoors. Sculptural, practical, evocative of humankind at our very best. An unoccupied chair always strikes me as breathtakingly poignant. A single chair occupied speaks to contemplative moments, gathering strength for rejoining the fray. A group of chairs occupied, animated in conversation, is arguably the best civilization has to offer. High, low, rustic, elegant, I want them all.

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Portland Pots It Up

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.


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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.)

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impressions of Portland gardens (in the zone of filtered sunshine)


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Since returning from touring gardens and nurseries in Portland last week, I’ve been haphazardly researching what makes the Pacific Northwest so full of great gardens and nurseries. Not expecting any definitive answer, just scrounging around for clues. Portland’s enviably soft light at 45 degrees latitude that famously attracts painters and glass artists is one clue. And to account for sheer creativity, I found assorted oddball theories, including one on the geography of personality, which shows the entire West Coast of the U.S. coming up strong in “openness,” which “reflects curiosity, intellect, and creativity at the individual level,” and registering low in neuroticism. (California comes in slightly more neurotic than Oregon and Washington, with the East Coast taking the prize for most neurotic.)


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And then there was the crackpot hucksterism of Erwin L. Weber, paid for by the Seattle Chamber of Commerce in 1924 to encourage settlement in the Pacific Northwest and woo development away from California: ““Filtered sunshine — sunshine filtered thru the clouds — and only a moderate degree of intense sunshine, as exists in the Pacific Northwest, is best for all, and vital to the development of the most energetic peoples…Intense and prolonged sunshine, as exists in the greater portion of the United States is detrimental to the highest human progress. History abounds with the annals of peoples who built up empires and civilizations under the temporary stimulus of intense sunshine. But this same intense sunshine later broke down the stamina and resistance of these peoples, thus causing the fall of their empires and the decay of their civilizations.” (In the Zone of Filtered Sunshine) In his sunshine-is-destiny theory, Mr. Weber appeared to believe it was the strong sun and not the Visigoths that brought down the Roman empire.


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Fatsia japonica ‘Spider’s Web’ was seen in quite a few of the gardens, a plant that needs to be widely available in Los Angeles.


Weeding through a lot of apocryphal stories and wacky theories is an entertaining byproduct of high-speed Internet, but it invariably leads to a condition that This American Life contributing editor Nancy Updike describes as “Modern Jackass,” which involves expounding at length on a topic about which the speaker actually knows very little. So I’ll stop with the crank theories. Because there is one indisputable, geologic source of all that splendor: the spectacularly fertile Willamette Valley, which stretches from Eugene at its southern end to Portland at its northernmost. As far as I can tell from my admittedly superficial (Modern Jackass) inquiry, this valley was scoured and tumbled by massive ice movements, then filled and refilled with water up to 50 times, when enormous silt deposits were built up, leaving an astonishing depth of loam known as the Willamette silt:

During Pleistocene time, large-volume glacial-outburst floods, which originated in western Montana, periodically flowed down the Columbia River drainage and inundated the Willamette Lowland. These floods deposited up to 250 feet of silt, sand, and gravel in the Portland Basin, and up to 130 feet of silt, known as the Willamette Silt, elsewhere in the Willamette Lowland.” — from “Influence of the Missoula Floods on Willamette Valley Ground Water.”


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Great nurseries are the keystone for supporting a vibrant garden culture, and the Portland area is blessed with dozens of wonderful nurseries, including the three we saw on the tour: Pomarius Nursery, where we had the pre-tour cocktail party, Cistus Nursery, to which I’ve made several pilgrimages in years prior to the tour, and Joy Creek Nursery, also previously visited with friends a few years ago. (The last two have mail-order catalogues, by the way.)

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Commercial dahlia growers beautifully exploit the Willamette silt. Hops grow well here, too, supporting all those microbreweries.

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About 70 miles inland from the coast, Portland can get hot in summer. It can and it did. A couple days over 90 were outright sweltering.

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But generally Portland’s climate brings warm, dry summers and chilly, damp winters.
Fluctuating warm/cold spring temperatures keep the gardeners sharp and the nurseries busy.

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An occasional colder-than-average winter can bring sad losses, but all the gardens we toured were fearless in pushing zones.

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Coddling tender plants has been turned into an art form by Portland gardeners.

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Heading into Portland from the airport, my seat mates on either side of me on the MAX were respectively (a) attending the World Domination Summit and (b) a conference on plant biology.
From the outset, I knew the next few days were going to be interesting, and the exuberant, plant-rich gardens of Portland never let up off the throttle.

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(And now a word from the 2014 Garden Bloggers Fling sponsors, who can all be found here. These sponsors and the volunteer planners make the Fling one of the best garden tours around.)

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More on Portland’s gardens to come.

sunday clippings 6/22/14

Future shock for me has arrived in the guise of an orange wristband.

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Congratulations! You moved 24,995 steps, 12.07 miles, 249% of goal!Jawbone’s UP pedometer calculates all that aimless garden puttering and tallies up some surprising stats. My orange UP came as a side benefit to Father’s Day, when Marty was presented with a twin set of wristbands, black for him, orange for me. As someone with zero interest in gizmos and in constant war with remote controls, someone who still hasn’t learned all the intricacies of a smart phone, the pedometer function of the wristband has already become addictive. Every day feels so much more productive, and there’s no more remorse for not “getting out and exercising.” It also knows how many times you woke up in the night (last night only once, but I don’t remember doing so), and it logged that near all-nighter I had at the computer last week when I clocked under 3 hours’ sleep on Tuesday. After wearing it only a few days and already finding its data stream astonishing, a real Star Trek moment come true, I checked out some Internet reviews. Quite a few claim it isn’t long-lived and breaks down after a few months. We’ll see if there’s some merit to these reviews or if it’s just trolling from competitors. By the way, those stats were yesterday’s, which included a 4-mile walk to dinner and a movie, but the bulk of those steps were logged at home, in the “compound.” I call that power puttering.

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A lot of those steps were logged checking on the progress of Musschia wollastonii, which at last looks to be thinking about blooming. The perfect exposure in summer turned out to be on the north side of the house, under the triangle palm, morning dappled sun, afternoon shade. This spot was no good in winter, being in deep shade until spring. Speaking of the triangle palm, Dypsis decaryi, I’ve been thinking about attempting to climb a Philodendron melanochrysum up its trunk, image here, with that amazingly elongated “drip tip.” So far Logee’s is the only source, and shipping would be crazy expensive. Cissus discolor is another possibility, also only available via mail order.

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Lots of steps were logged to and from the watering basin, where I can quickly dip pitchers without having to wait for them to be filled up by the hose and there’s less waste. Containers are scattered throughout, with seedlings and cuttings way in the back. It’s basically a hand-watered operation here, with containers and plantings under a year old needing frequent attention. And since I change things up all the time, there’s lots in the year-old category. I’m hoping the seedlings of Hibiscus trionum for planting out late summer will survive the visit to Portland this coming July 11. Nothing makes me feel more like an obsessive lunatic than explaining how to care for the garden during a summer absence. This solar-powered soil sensor I read about in The New York Times (“Planting for Profit, and Greater Good,” June 7, 2014) would make things a lot easier on anyone volunteering for the thankless job of vacation garden duty.

Other plants I’ll be worried about while at the bloggers’ meetup are newly potted cuttings of Brillantaisia subulugurica, a plant I’d never heard of until a couple weeks ago. I was handing out fliers on Dustin’s plant sale at the local community college horticultural department, which was a debacle since it had already closed for summer. But heading back to the car, hoping the fruitless mission wouldn’t be further compounded by a parking ticket, I noticed a mass of blue climbing the chain link fence at the end of the parking lot. Too late for sweet peas, too early for late-season salvias, what could it be? In dusty dry soil, full sun, covered in enormous, comically exaggerated, salvia-esque blooms, with the distinctive lower lip pout, opposite leaves, square stems, but unlike any salvia I’d ever read about or seen. I grabbed some cuttings jutting through the fence and did some Internet research when I got home. Voila, Brillantaisia subulugurica. All the excitement of a plant hunting expedition without the bad food and sore feet. It rooted amazingly fast in water. I need to go back for photos.


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Commelina coelestis

More new things to water. I took a flying leap at this little powerhouse factory of deepest blue, Commelina coelestis, hoping it makes a big clump here with the gold-leaved tansy ‘Isla Gold.’
Locally from Annie’s Annuals & Perennials. And then I wonder why there’s so much blue in the garden this summer.

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Jennifer van der Fluit waters the succulent fence in the front yard of her Long Beach home.”

An update on the “fedge,” a living fence I blogged about here in 2010, appeared recently in The Los Angeles Times in this click-through photo gallery “DIY succulents: Tips for decorating with drought-tolerant plants.” (I’d get current photos myself but I’ve lost the address.) I’ve found that articles from paywall-protected sites can be read if the title of the article is copy-and-pasted into a search engine.

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Jennifer and Appie van der Fluit plant succulents in their 30-foot-long, 4-foot-tall chain-link fence, with a 1-foot-wide channel in between filled with soil.”

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If you’re looking for some weekend reading, The New Yorker did some great reporting on the new direction The Nature Conservancy is taking, such as partnering with corporations like Dow Chemical in an “eco-pragmatic” spirit (“Green is Good” by D.T. Max, full article available to subscribers.) Featured in the piece was Mark Tercek, formerly of Goldman Sachs and now heading up TNC. He writes about the article in a blog post here, which I haven’t fully read yet but the comment section looks explosive. As long-time donors to the TNC, we’ve been arguing over discussing this article at home. Somehow a photo of Ein seems appropriate here, who does such a good job taking care of us.

And lastly, there’s a Cactus & Succulent Sale and Show at the Huntington beginning this coming weekend, June 28, 2014.

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Such sales are where I pick up succulents like this one about to bloom. I lost the tag, but it’s possibly Senecio scaposus v. addoensis

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I’ll end with a photo of Ganna Walska in a Gatsby getup, cradling a crazed-looking cat. I bet she’d drive down from Lotusland for the Huntington’s upcoming plant sale this weekend.

(P.S. Timber Press is running a Hellstrip Contest to celebrate the release of “Hellstrip Gardening” by Evelyn Hadden. $250 is up for grabs. Contest ends July 6, 2014.)

Joy Creek Nursery

Continuing the posts on my recent visit to Oregon and Washington with some unabashed flower porn courtesy of the display gardens at Joy Creek Nursery, a retail and mail-order nursery in Scappoose, Oregon.

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(The buddleia might be ‘Evil Ways’)

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I went a little crazy with the Rudbeckia hirta photos. Fascinating differences from each one to the next were as mesmerizing as an unfolding fireworks display.

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(Gardenbook has blogged on this same visit here.)


Cistus Nursery

The second installment of my recent visit to Oregon and Washington (or How I Mispronounced Botanical Latin for Six Days While Touring Gardens and Nurseries of the Pacific Northwest).
My own peculiar zonal filter can’t help but color these posts; for example, I did feel a special affinity for our next destination, Sean Hogan’s nursery Cistus on Sauvie Island, a marvelous nursery I’ve visited a couple times before and hope to visit many times again. This sign at Cistus neatly sums up the reasons why I find this nursery so horticulturally sympatico.

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Our group represented gardens from zones 5 through 10. There was lots of overlap in the plants we admired, just differences in the lengths we have to go to care for some of them.

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And then there was the vicarious thrill from everyone’s plant choices. The dark-leaved Daphne houtteana made the transcontinental flight back to a garden on the East Coast.
Sean feels scent is paramount in a garden and I completely agree, but I killed my last daphne years ago.

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The sea hollies are a particular favorite of mine, and I’ll always remember them as one of the signature plants of this visit.
This giant at Cistus is Eryngium latifolium, which Sean said is second in size only to Erygium pandanifolium.

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Wonderful against the steely blue leaves of eucalyptus and Yucca rostrata

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It did lightly drizzle during our visit to Cistus, which limited photo-ops somewhat. Normally, Portland gets scant summer rain.
Even so, a skilled plantsman like Sean knows how to obtain a lush effect from climate-appropriate plant choices.
I’m wondering now if the blue leaves mid-photo aren’t Kniphofia caulescens.

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Towering, shaggy bamboo

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More summer-drought lushness. Genista showering golden blooms over the green flower umbels of thoroughwax, Bupleurum falcatum.
An araucaria, the Monkey Puzzle Tree, can just be glimpsed in the center of the photo.

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Brody dutifully herded us along while Sean pointed out the botanical bounty of Cistus.
I do think Brody was a tad smitten with Sue, who blogs at Idyll Haven.

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At this point in the trip, I was still under the delusion that flying plants back home to California was verboten.

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Good thing this delusion lasted until the last day of the trip, or I would have probably thrown all my clothes away in an attempt to shove a couple Crambe maritima in the carry-on bag.

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Enormous cardoons, Cynara cardunculus, legacy of a prank played on Sean by the late Christopher Lloyd, who sneakily described the gift of young plants as smallish, dainty, front-of-the-border plants.
The punchline came a year or so later: Surprise, they’re gigantic! Gotta love horticultural humor.

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(More botanical tit-for-tat: Sean gifted Lloyd’s Great Dixter with its first hardy banana, Musa basjoo, which Lloyd infamously planted where the rose garden had grown for decades.
When Lloyd ripped out the rose garden to grow tropicals, the English gardening public was aghast, and many regarded the move as heretical.
Sean must have thoroughly enjoyed the ensuing controversy.)

But enough gossip and dawdling! Three more days to go…


a week in the PNW


Day one of a week touring gardens and nurseries in the Pacific Northwest. Here’s a clue to our first stop after landing in Portland, Oregon.


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Still stumped? More clues…

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Obviously, this can only be Loree’s incredible garden (the Danger Garden), which we toured the day after it appeared in Apartment Therapy.