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Portland Japanese Garden


Before I set off on my bicycle, I hit up some of the landscape sites of Portland. The Japanese garden was at the top of my agenda, and it’s every bit as great as I had heard. Of all the Japanese gardens I’ve visited, Portland’s is the exemplar, filled with the carefully composed naturalism that Japanese gardens are famous for, plants carefully layered, views carefully framed, everything harmonious, suffused with careful deliberate subtlety. After a while, sitting on the benches, strolling the paths, pausing at the pausing spots, I did begin to feel somewhat like an actor hitting my marks, that everywhere I paused had been predetermined by the garden’s designers and that every view I looked at had been carefully composed to take my eye to a predetermined focal point. But the effect was genuine; I felt calm and harmonious. It’s the most expansive Japanese garden I’ve ever been to, the most subtle, and the most discretely meticulous.


The above Japanese Maple might be one of the most photographed specimens in the country. It’s perfectly pruned and sited on a slight rise so that you feel yourself invited to look up into its canopy.


All the paths were great. I like the way these contrasting stones are combined, with the larger, brighter granite pieces like stepping stones within the overall path. This path led into a tea garden with all of the classic elements, but it was closed to the public while I was there, so I wasn’t able to do the tea garden journey.



A wonderfully austere bench vignette.


Another nice pathway. A warmer piece of stone subtly marks the threshold.



Everything in the garden felt distinctly un-coincidental, like the way the herringbone pattern of the bamboo fencing echoed the herringbone of the bamboo leaves growing in front of it.


It was nice to get a bird’s eye view of the obligatory zen garden. There’s a much more interesting gravel and moss garden in another part of the garden but shadows made it not worth photographing.

It was great to see everything after years of knowing this garden only from photos. I’d love to see the garden at another time of year with better light, and I’m pretty sure I’ll manage another visit within the next couple of years. To see the garden in foggy, fall-color glory, check out this post from RhoneStreetGardens last October.

Other Garden Show Gardens

Here are the photos I took during the show. I may be biased, but I thought the gardens were really good this year, with a lot of cool things to see. This first one was probably my favorite, a nautical/waterfront themed garden by McKenna Landscape. All of the wood is repurposed from old fences and decks. The seating area was great and I liked the discrete little water feature reminiscent of the bilge holes of a boat.

Terra Ferma had a great trellis built with old grape vines lashed onto a metal frame, and most of the plants around it were native.

Greenlee made a sublime meadow with grape vines, grasses, and scattered flowers. The photo doesn’t do it justice.

The water wheel and submarine were both fun.

This garden did a great job of making stormwater tanks (the black plastic drums inside the metal frames) look good. I also liked the dry streambeds designed to hold the overflow water from the tanks.

And I also liked the chairs made out of old propane tanks in the garden by the students at ASU. I sat in this white one for a while during a slow point in the show; very comfortable and one of the many nice places to hang out during the show. It was great to have seen all of these gardens get built and then to spend so much time at the show amongst them.

Garden Show Photos

Here are the photos of my display garden in the flower and garden show. I thought of doing posts during setup and during the show, but, wow, the garden show has a way of swallowing you up and not giving you a moment of free time.

Even after doing the show twice, it still kind of blows my mind that the gardens are all setup indoors on top of concrete slabs and that it all gets built during a few hectic days.

Two similar views from the side of the garden, early in construction and then during the show.

Meadowfoam was one of the plant stars of the garden. The garden also had Species Tulips, Irises, and a Western Azalea in bloom, and a Redtwig Dogwood cultivar, ‘Arctic Fire,’ that had everyone admiring the orange-y red stems.

The Western Azalea was intensely fragrant the first few days of the show.

This is the stone basin from my last post, after I polished it. I floated hellebore flowers in it.

And a photo of the fountain I made. The Irises in front of the fountain were full of flowers when we setup the garden, but I accidentally knocked them off while I was adjusting the flow of the water. I took photos of some of the other display gardens too. There were a lot of nice ones this year. I’ll probably post those photos in a few days.

Bloom Day, Early for the Show

Happy Bloom Day. This is an unusual bloom day for me because I have mixed feelings about seeing my plants in bloom. I haven’t mentioned it on this blog before, but I’m doing a display garden in the San Francisco Flower and Garden Show next month and a lot of the plants in bloom are things I want to still have in bloom four weeks from now for the show. A few are long-bloomers that I expect to keep going, but a couple are in danger of finishing too early. The biggest question is probably my two native annuals, Meadowfoam and Tidy Tips. Both of them began blooming a month ago, so I have been pinching off all of the flowers as soon as they appear. So far it seems to be working, but two months is a long time to suppress their bloom.

These are a couple of meadowfoam plants that I have given up on and am letting bloom unchecked. I have other meadowfoam plants that aren’t as far along, and the slowest ones are probably going to be the best at show time. My biggest concern is to make sure they also keep producing foliage as well as flowers.

The Tidy Tips is actually looking a lot better because of all the pinching. I decided to let this leggy specimen bloom, but most of the others are nice bushy little plants that will bloom as soon as I let them. I think the flowers will be smaller from all of the pinching, but there should be a lot of them. I keep telling them to wait; hopefully they won’t give up on me.

Other plants in the garden are doing well. Sidalcea is blooming nicely; I think it will keep going until show time. I deadheaded a Solanum today, the first time I’ve ever bothered to deadhead one of them; it should be prime in another month. Asarum caudatum is blooming, but with all respect to them, there is no way their brownish flowers will show up under the strange garden show lighting, so it doesn’t matter if they bloom or not. Mahonia repens will probably finish too early, but they’re left over from a project rather than something I intended for the show. Non-natives like the Hellebore and the Daffodils aren’t earmarked for the show, so I have no mixed feelings about seeing them in bloom. I’m not deliberately trying to exclude non-natives from the display garden, but I do want to make sure that the natives are well represented and that’s mostly what I’m growing for the show. Back in the fall when I agreed to do the show, I looked back at several years of March bloom day posts from here and from other California bloggers like Town Mouse and Country Mouse. Natives always look really good in March; even when they aren’t blooming yet, their foliage is usually at its best. This has been such a strange year, though, that I’m not confident that I know what will be happening a month from now. It feels a little ridiculous to worry about plants finishing before mid-March, but it’s better than the usual problem of speeding them up to get them ready for the show. Strange year.

I’m not sure what I have to say about doing the garden show itself. Anita and I did it once before, in 2008, though at the time we had never actually been to the show and really didn’t know what we were getting ourselves in for. We got plenty of work afterwards, so in that respect it was a success, but we finished with the feeling that we could have been smarter about it if we’d had a better idea what to expect. It’s such a strange artificial creation, and we could have done it more smoothly and efficiently if we had understood the differences between show gardens and real ones. We’ll see in another month if I actually manage to be smarter, smoother, and more efficient, but so far I’d say I’m having more fun this time. I’ve also lined up final homes for most of the plants and materials we’re using in the show, so there shouldn’t be much waste involved, though a few things like the annuals will get discarded after the show and some of the bulbs won’t be usable until next year.

The show has new owners this year who want to shift the focus of the show more towards sustainability. Partly as a result of that, we decided to conceive of the garden as a lawn conversion project. Lawn conversions are something we do pretty often, and with the crazy drought this year, a lawn to garden display seems even more appropriate than ever. It’s a little contrived to make a garden that is supposedly built on top of a lawn that never existed, but we’re going to have a sheet-mulch demonstration that should be interesting. People are often confused and intrigued when they see us covering a lawn with newspaper mulch as if we’re doing some sort of crazy landscape paper maché, so it should be fun to talk about.

The garden plan shows the concept we submitted to the jury, though the final design will end up somewhat different. I created the original concept with a partner who decided to drop out due to time constraints. I’m now doing it with a different partner, Sha-Khan Starks of Deep Rootz Design, so some of the elements designed with my initial partner are going to change as Sha-Khan and I move forward and actually build the garden. Essentially, the yoga/meditation deck and the walk-thru reflecting pool were the domain of my first partner, so now that he is out of the picture, we’re changing the big water feature into a smaller stone/water element that is more water-conserving and closer to what I personally tend to do in gardens. There are also a few other stone elements that I’m fabricating on my weekends. I’ll probably post about them fairly soon. I don’t know how interesting the garden show is to people, but it will be dominating a lot of my attention and probably this blog as well for the next month or so. In the meantime, check out May Dreams Gardens for lots of proper bloom day posts full of flowers. I have a list of what’s in bloom in my garden below.


Sf Flower and Garden Show 2013

Glade by Mariposa and John Greenlee

I was one of the many judges yesterday at the San Francisco Flower and Garden Show. It was a great chance to see the gardens without the crowds and I took photos after my group finished judging. I liked a lot of the gardens this year, though scrutinizing the gardens as a judge made it hard to get a sense of the show overall. My favorite was Glade by Mariposa Gardening and Design and John Greenlee. The stonework and plants (mostly natives) are beautiful. The nicest touch was the spotlight on the Needle Grass in the meadow. Grasses are most beautiful when they catch the light, so it was great to see that effect created indoors. Needle Grass doesn’t have the conventional appeal of more traditional garden plants, so I really appreciated that it was a focal point of the garden.

Needle Grass

A Goldsworthy Style Egg

The Goldsworthy-esque egg was well built, and the diagonal walls have become a Mariposa trademark at this point.

The Egg Again

Wall Sculpture by Jim Sudal Ceramic Design

The big award winner was Inside Out by the students from Arizona State. One of the walls did nice double duty, showcasing a giant ceramic art piece on one side and a yucca on the other, with the cast shadow of the yucca creating another great lighting affect like the spotlight on the meadow.

Yucca filifera Trunk and Shadow

Inside Out by ASU

The Water Feature from Inside Out

Wonderland by Arterra

I liked the paving and all of the design details in the garden by Arterra. The gardens at the show all reference a specific country, but the one by Arterra is inspired by Wonderland.

Wonderland by Arterra

Thai Garden by Bay Maples

The plants in the Thai garden were mostly California natives. The plants weren’t really the focus of the design, so they didn’t register for me right away, but I appreciated that it was different from what you usually see or envision with California natives.

Philippine Garden by Dan Pozzi

I loved the Philippine garden. You can sort of see in the photo that there are rusting metal bits, shelves holding old bottles and other assorted items, and laundry hanging to dry. The aesthetic is closer to my own garden than I would like to admit, but at the same time, when I sat under the awning it felt like a space that would be loved by its owner so maybe I’m okay with the similarities.

The Hidden People by McKenna Landscape

A slab of rock turned into a divan in the Icelandic garden by McKenna Landscape.

The World's Largest Succulent Globe!!!

The show has the world’s largest succulent globe by the same grower who provided the plants for the Succulent Borg Cube three years ago. It has a diameter of 10 feet, it weighs 2,800 pounds, and it spins. There are 30,000 cuttings of 11 different species: Echeverias, Sedums, Crassula, and Sempervivum. The globe is tilted at the same 23° angle as the earth, which made the Southern Hemisphere more prominent, a nice change from the usual top-down, northern-biased perspective I usually have. Even just the globe on its own was worth the trip to see the show.

Rancho Santa Ana in January

The last of the botanical gardens I visited on my trip was Rancho Santa Ana. Quite different from the Huntington, but it still has a Los Angeles sense of scale. It felt huge to me, three times the size of the Tilden native garden, with some huge specimens and the biggest clumps I’ve ever seen of a number of plants like Heuchera, Dudleya, Snowberry, and many of the chaparral plants. I had big expectations for the famed Rancho Santa Ana native garden, and it didn’t let me down.

I’d like to see this patch in bloom.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen Dudleya used as a groundcover.

Great Deer Grass meadow. I’ve seen photos of the garden’s annual meadow, but it was still dormant when I was there.

The chaparral plantings made a big impression. The mounding form and small texture of the plants was kept the same, and then the color of the foliage provided the contrast. Really effective how it all flowed together. Probably the best chaparral plantings I’ve seen.

The built forms are nice too. I liked this grape arbor above, I liked the canopy below, and I liked the sculptures throughout the garden.

Because I was gone for much of January and busy right before and after, I missed a lot of the peak manzanita bloom in the Bay Area. But Rancho Santa Ana has so many nice manzanitas, I still got a good dose.

A great garden, hopefully I’ll make it back some year for the springtime bloom.

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