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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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.

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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.

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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.

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Portland style is not your grandmother’s style.

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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.

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In John Kuzma’s garden designed by Sean Hogan of Cistus, large empty pots make dramatic sentinels.

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Pots are not just for prominent display on hardscape, but can be plunged near or into the garden where a strong outline is wanted.

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Melianthus and Begonia boliviensis

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An enormous ring pot to flaunt the tropicals.

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On gateway pillars at Joy Creek Nursery.

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If you’re very fortunate, you have a greenhouse/conservatory with wide doors to roll in your rarities in autumn. (Westwind Farm Studio)

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Pomarius Nursery’s stacks of terracotta pots waiting for a purpose in life.

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Housing an agave is a noble purpose indeed.

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Metal bins and stock tanks are a big part of Portland style too.

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Design offices at Pomarius Nursery.

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Massed hostas in clay pots.

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Massed hostas in an old pedestal sink at the magical five acres of Bella Madrona

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This podophyllum, even though hardy (I think!), warrants a container because of those sumptuous leaves.

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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.

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Bromeliads and begonias revel in Portland’s summer, but not its winter.

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Sempervivums and sedums excel at container life.

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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.

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12 Responses to Portland Pots It Up

  1. Mark and Gaz says:

    Great photos Denise, and great idea to focus on fabulous potted specimens and pots which a lot of Portland gardeners have the panache to use them so well. We agree about the last two gardens you mentioned 😉

  2. Anna K says:

    Love it, and have some serious pot envy… Great post! 🙂

  3. Kris P says:

    It’s nice to see the Portland fling from a different perspective – the themes that grabbed your attention as you toured all those fabulous gardens. In the past, I’ve picked my pots based largely on price (what’s on sale?!) and size but, schooled by my on-line exposure to gardens like Loree’s, I’ve started paying more attention to how the color and shape contribute to both the pot’s subject and the garden overall. I’m particularly taken by the potted Melianthus and Begonia shown above in your post.

  4. linda says:

    The pots certainly kept me on the go this summer in the PNW ….watering , watering in the resent heat wave .

  5. Wonderful post. I found myself able to identify most of your photos, of course now I’m wondering if the ones I couldn’t place were at Westwind (the only Fling garden I haven’t seen) or if you just managed to see things that I have not.

    Oh the danger of having Potted in my same city, thankfully that’s not an issue although Digs is within easy (daily) visiting distance…

  6. Looks like fun…I use low walls when I can (often for built-in seating that the wind doesn’t blow away), but I like how Portland’s are to show off more potted plants…not much can take small pots here, like can there. Great ideas on overload!

  7. Heather says:

    I love learning about Portland style from you and all the other attendees. Who knew our ability to grow dahlias was remarkable? Or our moss or conifers? You got some really wonderful shots.

  8. Peter/Outlaw says:

    I like the way your mind works, how you noticed and captured this part of Portland style. Pot isn’t even legal in Oregon.

  9. Hoov says:

    And I thought those low walls were just to keep mud out of the house.

    Great post! I think the title, though, will get you some readers interested only in one particular plant.

  10. Denise says:

    @M&G, and the pots kept the specimen plants so pristine as opposed to growing many of those same plants in the ground here in SoCal.
    @Anna, you and me both!
    @Kris, and that begonia does well here too except I can never get it through winter dormancy. But then it’s mostly used as an annual I bet in Portland too.
    @Linda, I think that heat surprises a lot of summer visitors. We like our preconceived notions about the cool and misty PNW, even in summer.
    @David, I really like that use of them too. Steve Martino and others do the big walls, but these low ones seem so versatile.
    @Heather, nothing about home ever seems remarkable, right?
    @Peter, I can’t keep up with what’s legal or not anymore.
    @Hoov, the title might have been slightly mischievous on my part.

  11. Lisa says:

    Wow! beautiful pictures! You are making me enjoy it all over again!

  12. Pam/Digging says:

    Nope, not my grandmother’s style — although now I think of it, she did love to plant in old tires! Those low walls had me fingering my checkbook, wondering if I could afford to add a colored wall to my garden. Answer: no. But maybe there’s another way — an Austin way — if I can put my mind to it. You’ve got me thinking, Denise, as always.

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