Tag Archives: Portland

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.

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.