Strolling into danger — Danger Garden, that is

Every three years I manage a trip to Portland, and each time (2014 and 2011) I’ve been fortunate to visit the garden of my friend Loree Bohl — fellow spiky plant lover, the prolific blogger of Danger Garden, and a collector-gardener with an incredibly artistic and meticulous eye for detail. The way she combines foliage and texture, her disciplined yet bold use of color, her artful arrangements of containers and natural ornaments, and her obsession with stab-you-in-the-shin-if-you’re-not-careful plants have me crushing on her garden every time I see it.

I enjoy Loree and her husband, Andrew, as much as the garden, which ironically almost cost me my planned photo shoot at the golden hour. We arrived late one afternoon in mid-August, and after introducing our husbands and my daughter to each other, we headed straight out to the sunken patio to enjoy a beverage and catch up.

It was lovely talking with them, and time slid by until Andrew stood and announced he needed to walk the dog before dinner. I jumped to my feet, saying something like, “Oh my god, I haven’t looked at the garden yet!” Loree laughed, and I belated turned my attention to the garden I’d been sitting in for an hour, and oh, it took my breath away again.

The pitcher plant saucer planters by the stock-tank pond grabbed my attention first. And just look at that big, beautiful Agave ovatifolia while we’re here!

I believe Loree added these fairly recently, using her trademark invention of poultry-feeder covers as planting saucers atop galvanized steel posts. Yellow-green glass chips and chunks of slag glass, seashells, and frosty-gray tendrils of Spanish moss, with mouthy pitcher plants rising cobra-like above, give these striking planters a Lotusland vibe.

Panning right, Sammy the Yucca rostrata dominates the scene — my, how he’s grown in 3 years — and Loree’s collection of agaves in silver and chartreuse pots adorns one corner of the patio.

A closeup. I covet that Queen Victoria agave at middle-left and the ‘Sharkskin’ at back-right.

They’re all fabulous.

More! Just imagine — Loree totes all these into a covered shelter each fall, to protect them from Portland’s wet winters, and brings them out again in spring. A lazy gardener, she is not.

The low concrete retaining wall along one side of the sunken patio makes a perfect display perch for smaller pots.

These white pots remind me of cookie cutters. I like how they show off the star-shaped forms of the agave and red aloe.

An orange shade pavilion houses the potted succulents in winter, when Loree and Andrew enclose it with plastic sheeting corrugated plastic panels. But in the warmer seasons it’s a charming hideaway for two with a view of the sunken patio.

Playing off the orange pavilion, Loree adds orange and contrasting charcoal pots to the mix. Gah, everything is perfect! How does she do it??

Hanging planters bring the garden to eye level under the pavilion, as do more of Loree’s saucer-and-post pedestal planters. The vintage Danger sign is attached to the metal planter via magnets.

A red Circle Pot from Potted elevates a bromeliad and tillandsias.

A wide view. On the upside-down galvanized container by the orange table…

…Loree arranged a still-life of poppy seedheads, tiny plants, and a few other found bits.

Loree is even more crazy for galvanized-steel stock tanks than I am. They shine out from shady nooks throughout her garden.

This arrangement adorns a shady gravel garden to the left of the pavilion.

Steel pipe remnants (duct pipe, maybe?), turned into planters, are mixed in.

One acts as a pedestal for an exquisite fern-and-moss arrangement that seems to be planted in mounded soil (surely not!) atop a square concrete paver. Update from Loree: “The plants that appear to be planted in mounded soil on a concrete paver really are! It’s a method of planting called a fern table. I wrote about it at Danger Garden.”

Pipe planters with a rich assortment of shade lovers, plus more Spanish moss cascading down the side.

A chartreuse Circle Pot hanging from a big-leaf magnolia beckons you along a concrete-paver path out of the sunken garden.

Below, details of another succulent-pot arrangement — look, a funnel planter! — stop you in your tracks.

Looking back toward the patio — so many cool plants and such lushness

The garage wall, painted a rich brown, shows off another beautiful arrangement: two saucer-and-post planters and a piece of wire mesh framing two pie-pan planters (at least that’s what I call them; I have three from Target in my own garden). Below, a mix of chartreuse and emerald foliage.

Begonias and silver ponyfoot

Maidenhair fern

A vertical piece of cattle panel acts as a trellis, supporting a jungle-like vignette of bromeliads, tillandsias, and Spanish moss.

Loree has a knack for offering up plants like exquisite gifts. Here you go! Look at this!, they seem to say.

This part of the garden retains a tiny, geometric lawn — a bit of openness that offsets the densely planted beds surrounding it, and a green echo of the paved sunken patio nearby.

Bold-leaved agaves and palms mingle with more saucer-and-post planters that hold smaller plants up for inspection.



A burgundy grass stands tall in a ribbed silver pot alongside a pincushion-like agave.

There are flowers in Loree’s garden. They’re just not the main focus.

Rose of Sharon and a chocolate mimosa add height, but notice the echoing colors below, along with chartreuse Japanese forest grass.

Exiting the back garden through a steel cut-out agave gate…

…you see an intriguing mix of agaves and tomatoes in a narrow bed along the driveway.

The front garden is planted dry-garden style, in gravel, with sun-loving spiky plants galore. A concrete walk leads diagonally from the driveway to the front porch, giving visitors an eyeful of bold plants with leaves of powder blue, emerald, chartreuse, and burgundy to almost black.

A whale’s tongue agave shines amid green and dark-leaved plants that echo the rich-brown hue of the house. Hot-pink bougainvillea adds a major dose of flower color.

Whale’s tongue agave (A. ovatifolia), my fave

Euphorbia ‘Ascot Rainbow’ in center, with sea holly (Eryngium maritimum).

We can grow this combo in Austin: whale’s tongue agave, beaked yucca (Y. rostrata), and gopher plant (Euphorbia rigida).

The glowing mahogany bark of manzanita, curling up like wood shavings

Yucca desmetiana ‘Blue Boy’, black mondo grass, and ‘Seafoam’ artemisia

What a garden! Loree, thank you for the lovely garden visit with you and Andrew!

It was wonderful to live a little more dangerously for an evening.

Up next: The Lan Su Chinese Garden in downtown Portland. For a look back at the Columbia River Gorge, waterfalls, and flower farms, click here.

I welcome your comments; please scroll to the end of this post to leave one. If you’re reading this in a subscription email, click here to visit Digging and find the comment box at the end of each post.

Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

Get ready for fall garden tours in Texas! The Garden Conservancy is sponsoring Open Days tours in Fort Worth on Oct. 8th, San Antonio on Oct. 14th, and Austin on Nov. 4th.

Get on the mailing list for Garden Spark Talks. Inspired by the idea of house concerts, I’m hosting a series of garden talks by talented designers and authors out of my home. Talks are limited-attendance events and generally sell out within just a few days, so join the Garden Spark email list for early notifications. Simply click this link and ask to be added.

All material © 2006-2017 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Cornerstone Sonoma showcases conceptual gardens in scenic wine country

It wasn’t easy, but I finally visited the gardens at Cornerstone Sonoma in Northern California, which have been on my bucket list for years. Due to my own poor planning, I first missed them after the San Francisco Garden Bloggers Fling, when I rented a car to explore up to Stinson Beach but inexplicably forgot to push on to Cornerstone. Doh!

Determined not to repeat that mistake, I planned a visit to Cornerstone during a family road trip from San Francisco to Portland earlier this month. We arrived on a beautiful, sunny day in time for lunch and then poked around in the market’s charming shops along olive-lined lanes. As the midday heat eased, I headed eagerly to the gardens — where I learned to my dismay that they were closing in 5 minutes for a wedding! As we were escorted out by staff, I watched the bride, adorable flower children, and elegantly dressed guests heading into the gardens and glowered.

Foiled? Not hardly! The next day, while my husband and daughter went zip-lining among coastal redwoods, I drove an hour back to Cornerstone for a quick visit before my hour-long return trip to pick up my family. Was it worth all that trouble? Yes! Let me show you what it’s all about.

Mediterranean Meadow by John Greenlee

Cornerstone’s gardens consist of 9 small conceptual installations created by landscape architects and designers. Each plays off a particular theme, idea, or mood. Inspired by the International Garden Festival at Chaumont-Sur-Loire (also now on my bucket list), the Cornerstone gardens were designed to be temporary and originally numbered 20. However, to accommodate the relocation of Sunset’s test gardens in 2016, they were whittled down to the 9 that remain today.

Ornamental grass expert John Greenlee designed Mediterranean Meadow, a billowy meadowscape accented by two striking sculptures: an openwork steel sphere by Ivan McLean, which allows glimpses of the swaying grasses and golden hills beyond…

…and a stacked-stone ovoid with bands of terracotta and white.

In the distance you see a tall steel mobile sculpture…

Time Killer by Diego Harris, which is currently for sale if you have a large space in need of a special something.

Peeking through a window in its steel base, I spotted another artful installation…

Daisy Border by Ken Smith. Cornerstone’s website explains:

“Composed of classic daisy pinwheels — a common garden decoration on American lawns — the border is at once artificial and natural. Made of plastic, it nevertheless registers sun, rain, and wind.”

I like the contrast between the colorful, toylike pinwheels and the muscular agaves and tawny grasses in the next garden.

Garden of Contrast by James Van Sweden and Sheila Brady

Designed by the late James Van Sweden and by Sheila Brady, Garden of Contrast is maybe the most famous of the Cornerstone gardens. I was happy to see this one! Toothy green Agave salmiana reach up to touch the dusty-green leaves of olive trees, while tawny Mexican feathergrass sways in the breeze below. Three species of plants, all of which grow in Central Texas, planted to perfection!

As Cornerstone describes it, “This design offers a new paradigm for the American Garden. The garden’s ground plane, a plant tapestry[,] combines texture and form, color and scent, while a canopy of olive trees adds a third dimension that changes in color and opacity as the seasons advance.”

In springtime, wine-colored drumstick alliums and orange California poppies thread through the grasses and agaves, adding sparks of seasonal color. I’d love to see that.

I couldn’t get enough of the contrast between muscular, stiff-leaved, saw-toothed agaves and feathery, pliable, strokable grasses. Actually I stroked the agaves too.

This agave is a monster at over 6 feet tall. Behind it, a diagonal line of rosemary bisects the garden, separating the sunny, grassy side from the olive-shaded, woodsy side.

Under the olives rests a huge steel-and-stone sphere, also by Ivan McLean, who writes:

“Noyo cobbles are the name of locally, Sonoma County area, found stones, 4″ to 8″ or so in size. It took 2 yards to fill this 60″ sphere, about 6,ooo pounds. It’s placed in a garden whose theme is ‘contrasts’, so you have the sphere made from squares and rectangles filled with round stones and a very heavy sculpture looking very light, at least that was the idea.”

In the Air by Conway Cheng Chang

I imagine plenty of engagement photos have been taken in the romantic and heart-adorned In the Air garden, designed by Conway Cheng Chang. Rebar arches help vines clamber over billowy, sedge-lined paths on one side.

On the other, a geometric arbor supports a cloud of white roses, and interlocking steel hearts playfully divide the garden in two.

Hearts and sedge

Love must be in the air.

As Cornerstone describes it:

In the Air intends to be playful and critical, spontaneous and composed. Air penetrates and circulates through all living organisms. It fills the in-between spaces and supports human life and emotions. The garden was created to reveal the form of air and in doing so help us understand and appreciate it.”

Purple clematis

And another purple clematis

Small Tribute to Immigrant Workers by Mario Schjetnan

A memorial to Mexican agricultural workers, Small Tribute to Immigrant Workers is the creation of Mario Schjetnan.

A maze of walls — red-painted plywood, corrugated steel, and rock-filled gabion — seems to reluctantly allow entry, each with photos and text about the dangers faced by migrants desperate to cross the border to find work.


A simple shrine hangs on a gabion wall, offering a place for prayers.

On the other side of the wall lie plots of edibles symbolizing the agricultural fields of California.


Eucalyptus Soliloquy by Walter Hood and Alma Du Solier

Towering eucalyptus trees line the roads in Sonoma, and Eucalyptus Soliloquy pays tribute to them. A gabion wall stuffed with eucalyptus leaf litter and a trellis screen of pinned eucalyptus leaves line a long path toward a view of a pond.

Cornerstone says, “The Sonoma landscape features eucalyptus windbreaks that divide field and vineyard. Eucalyptus Soliloquy is a conversation between distant groves and a built landscape of borrowed trees, orphan leaves, branches and seeds.”

Rise by Roger Raiche and David McCrory

Rise, designed by Roger Raiche and David McCrory, is one of my favorite gardens at Cornerstone. Its iconic steel culvert tunnel makes a playful path through the garden and seems to shrink you, Wonderland-style, to childlike dimensions as you pass through.

See what I mean? Cornerstone says:

“Rise is a celebration of color, texture, diversity, light, space and life. The plantings and landform, modeled on a natural landscape, are exaggerated to enhance the sense of separation from reality. Likewise the pipe exaggerates the sense of transition from one world into another.”

Walking through, you get a porthole view of a neighboring vineyard.

But the garden itself transports you to a tropicalesque jungle of dramatic foliage.

Sizzling! Later, Loree Bohl of Danger Garden asked me if I’d seen the Marcia Donahue garden at Cornerstone. I immediately knew she was referring to this distinctive garden.

Donahue’s artwork adorns the garden, like this tree necklace and some of her ceramic bamboo sculptures (previous photo).

More of her bamboo, at left of the tunnel.

Flowering fuchsia adds its own bright adornment, like dangling earrings.

Rise overlooks a large rectangular pond that stretches invitingly behind several of the gardens.

As you approach, hedges frame a view of the pond and ornamental grasses that overhang the far side.

Waterlily circles seem to skip across the water, echoing the rhythm of the tall grasses.

Beyond that, rows of grapevines establish their own rhythm, leading the eye to distant hills.

Bai Yun (White Cloud) by Andy Cao and Xavier Perrot

Bai Yun (White Cloud) is hard to photograph but absolutely mesmerizing in person. Fluffy clouds of wire mesh, suspended by metal posts, drip with hundreds of raindrop-like crystals over a desertscape of prickly pear and white dunes. Shadows are surely an intentional part of the design as well.

Such creativity!

You can’t help musing about drought, the preciousness of water, and gratitude for rain when you look at it.

Serenity Garden by Yoji Sasaki

Along a straight main path, narrow paving strips extend on either side into a green lawn in Serenity Garden. Cornerstone says, “Each element in this garden has been carefully selected for its effect, particularly of its ability to point to or register the ever-changing aspects of nature — shadows, wind, borrowed scenery and material texture.”

I wasn’t moved by this garden, but I did stop to appreciate the rough bark of the pine trees along the back hedge.

Birch Bosque

On the other hand, I loved this bosque of birches in the garden next door. I have a thing for bosques. I find the simple geometry of tree trunks, open space, and (usually) a hedge enclosure to be very soothing.

This garden lacked signage, and it’s not included in Cornerstone’s list of gardens. A little online sleuthing told me that it was formerly a garden by Topher Delaney called Garden Play. The original blue-striped wall and rope balls no longer exist, and an enclosing hedge now frames a view of a vineyard (previous photo).

That settles it: I am going to have a bosque of my own one day. But what kind of tree, I wonder?

Pollinator Garden

Another garden not listed on Cornerstone’s website, as of this writing, is a brand-new space that I believe was labeled as a pollinator garden.

A barn-like structure (wedding venue?) with a central hallway frames it nicely.

Bright with coneflowers, salvias and more, it’s sure to be a hit with insects, birds, and people.

Children’s Garden by MIG Incorporated

The last Cornerstone garden is a children’s garden by MIG. I was struck by the fact that this kids’ space is largely organized around a mini vineyard. Starting ’em young out in wine country!

A few colorful playhouses and birdhouses on tall poles add a little kid flavor.

But really, this space is all about the grapes. Which is an appropriate way to end a post about a garden in Sonoma.

Up next: The picture-perfect Sunset Test Gardens at Cornerstone Sonoma.

I welcome your comments; please scroll to the end of this post to leave one. If you’re reading this in a subscription email, click here to visit Digging and find the comment box at the end of each post.

Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

Get on the mailing list for Garden Spark Talks. Inspired by the idea of house concerts, I’m hosting a series of garden talks by talented designers and authors out of my home. Talks are limited-attendance events and generally sell out within just a few days, so join the Garden Spark email list for early notifications. Simply click this link and ask to be added.

All material © 2006-2017 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Long views and classic garden rooms in Brinitzer Garden: Capital Region Garden Bloggers Fling

Much as I love my contemporary-naturalistic garden, and enjoyed puttering in my flowery cottage garden before that, my next garden — whenever and wherever that turns out to be — is going to be more like this one: smaller, with formal garden rooms laid out along axis views, and planted mainly with evergreens for less seasonal maintenance.

This beautiful and classic garden belongs to Arlington, Virginia designer Scott Brinitzer, and we saw it on the second day of touring during the Capital Region Garden Bloggers Fling in late June. We entered the garden via this long gravel path, drawn in by a striking focal point: a potted purple cordyline in a dusty blue pot in front of a pumpkin-colored shed door.

You can see the same pot in this photo, pulling double duty now as a focal point viewed from a spacious stone patio off the back of the house. Framed by a low hedge of clipped boxwood, feathery clumping bamboo, and panels of gray lattice fencing, the pot works like a visual magnet, drawing the eye into the next space along the L-shaped gravel path that connects various garden rooms.

I might have mirrored the lattice panels for additional privacy, but leaving them open provides more air flow, which is a plus in a Southern garden.

I love the color choices, which give a contemporary edge to the classic design. (Compare with the door’s previous incarnation in blue, as seen in Scott’s portfolio pics on his website.)

Here’s the opposite view, looking away from the shed toward a small circular patio and a pair of white Adirondacks. This pathway is a double axis, with carefully considered views that pull your eye toward focal points in each direction — an effective design technique for directing the movement of people through a garden and making the most of a small space.

The circular patio acts as a visual pause at the end of the path…

…as well as a turning point for a pathway to the driveway.

The old garage still sits at the end of what was once a long driveway. Scott told us that he kept part of the driveway up by the street and converted the rest into a water-permeable gravel path and garden, helping to cut down on water runoff from his property. Yes, that makes it a water-saving garden!

Heading back to the stone patio, wire chairs take up very little space, visually, as they cluster around a lion’s-head wall fountain.

I love how the fountain is cloaked with moisture-loving moss and softened by a clematis vine. A yellow hosta echoes the yellow-themed container planting at left…

…filled with ‘Color Guard’ yucca, variegated Solomon’s seal, and (I think) ‘Moonbeam’ coreopsis.

Lion’s-head fountain and purple clematis

Other patio pots contain caramel-colored plants, for an interesting change of pace.

New Zealand sedges, I think

Enveloped by the garden, the house is shaded by lovely trees, which Scott planted in his own and his neighbors’ yards as part of a streetwide beautification effort. A swooping wall of concrete aggregate encloses the front garden and the front porch — the creation of the home’s former owner.

Built-in urns are planted with a variety of succulents.

Scott’s dog, a cute Norwich terrier named Kobe, hung out with us as we toured the garden and enjoyed the wine and snacks the owners generously provided.

He seems pretty happy living here, doesn’t he?

Up next: My visit to the Smithsonian Gardens and U.S. Botanic Garden on the National Mall. For a look back at the pollinator-friendly Casa Mariposa garden of Fling planner Tammy Schmitt, plus a winery and garden center visit, click here.

I welcome your comments; please scroll to the end of this post to leave one. If you’re reading this in a subscription email, click here to visit Digging and find the comment box at the end of each post.

Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

Get on the mailing list for Garden Spark Talks. Inspired by the idea of house concerts, I’m hosting a series of garden talks by talented designers and authors out of my home. Talks are limited-attendance events and generally sell out within just a few days, so join the Garden Spark email list for early notifications. Simply click this link and ask to be added.

All material © 2006-2017 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.