JJ De Sousa’s bold garden digs: Portland Garden Bloggers Fling


What’s black and white and red-orange all over? The stylishly mod yet playful garden of JJ De Sousa, that’s what. Owner of Digs Inside & Out home-and-garden shop, which I visited pre-Fling, JJ has an enviable talent for creating inviting, colorful garden rooms, perfect for entertaining, which wrap around her home on two levels. Nothing is pretentious or precious here. JJ spray-paints garbage bins orange and makes them into planters. She encases ordinary concrete pavers in gabion wire to create retaining walls. Gnomes, tentacled planters, and even flying shrimp populate her garden.


But let’s go back to the start — and JJ’s carrot-orange front gate. I visited JJ’s garden earlier this month on the 2nd afternoon of the Garden Bloggers Fling, held this year in Portland, Oregon. The carrot gate sets the orange color scheme and perhaps fools you into thinking you’re entering a front-yard edible garden.


Instead, the gate opens onto a narrow walk bordered on one side by a lush, green shade garden, on the other by a “living room” of garden benches and chairs boldly anchored by four enormous hostas in round-bellied pots. A horizontal, wooden-slat fence screens the street from view.


A few feet away, a dining table with spicy orange chairs sets the scene for front-yard entertaining.


The front walk runs arrow-straight to the front stoop, dressed up with a jazzy assortment of black and red-orange pots spilling over with chartreuse and dark-leaved plants.


The left side echoes the right, and a skinny fountain masks street noise.


Still water has a place here too — a serene vignette in a foundation-hugging bed of forest grass and fern.


But for the most part, serene is not what JJ is after, as this riotous palm planter attests.


To the right of the front door, JJ has tucked a third seating area into her small front garden, this one consisting of two black mod chairs enlivened with colorful, graphic cushions and a cylinder-style table, backed by a large tree hung with garden art, floored with dark gravel.


A tiny deck accessed via French doors offers yet another sitting nook, with planters made of bins that JJ spray-painted orange. If you ever thought your garden too small for multiple seating areas or entertaining large groups, JJ’s small garden — on a lot that’s only 77 by 127 feet — shows you how to do it. She tucks chairs, benches, and tables throughout her garden, easily providing space for 40 people at a time to circulate and converse in comfort.


A buddha head — orange, of course — glows in the shade garden.


A side fence of horizontal metal rods and wooden posts capped with whimsical, fired-clay finials runs alongside the path to the back garden.


Down-lights are attached to the fence posts to softly illuminate the path. JJ reminded me that lighting is an essential element in a garden — something I need to work on in my own garden.


The side garden is not an afterthought but densely planted with interesting and beautiful specimens.


A wood-framed, corrugated-metal fence encloses the back garden, and the gate posts rise high to support an arbor of metal rods draped with a vine. An antique wooden door serves as the gate, which opens to a shining line of white hydrangeas…


Across the path is a retaining wall creatively constructed of stacked concrete pavers bound gabion-style.


The wall supports an upper-level garden accessed via an elevated deck and patio off the back of the house. Stairs lead up between the wall…


…and a fantastic, ground-level patio with a cushioned sectional sofa and a firepit. How does a cushioned outdoor sofa work in soggy Portland, I couldn’t help wondering? Does JJ store the cushions when not in use, or cover them? I should have asked. At any rate, I love it when outdoor seating is as comfortable as indoor seating, giving you every reason to linger outside.


Ceramic “woven” side tables hold orange trays of succulents.


Graphic pillows add zing to the dark sofa. A Dr. Seussian planter holds single succulents up for inspection.


A golden barrel cactus in an orange bullet planter — da bomb!


Climbing the steps to the upper level, you get a nice overhead view of the conversation-pit patio.


To the right, here’s the garden planted atop the gabion-paver wall — a shimmery, silvery dry garden and a stock-tank pond.


This stock-tank pond just happens to contain leaping shrimp!


Yes, shrimp. Is this not one of the quirkiest things you’ve ever seen? I absolutely love it. Someone pointed out that a grevillea was growing next to it — not a plant we grow in Austin, but I’m familiar with its flowers, commonly described as shrimp-like. Delightedly I asked JJ if the shrimp connection was intentional, and she (wisely) said, “Of course!”


Another view, just because. I like the glass floats too.


The dry garden contains agave, prickly pear, blue oat grass, kangaroo paws, and a beautiful, fuzzy, silver plant that JJ told me is a new variety of something, but I’ve forgotten what. Does anyone know? Update: It’s Stachys ‘Bello Grigio’. Thanks, Alison!


Another view. The metal piranha in the background lights up at night, JJ told me.


Stachys ‘Bello Grigio’, with an agave and orange nasturtiums


Panning right, two garbage pails with silver ponyfoot spilling out create a vignette that’ll make you do a double-take. I notice JJ often uses pairs of pots instead of the usual groups of three in her arrangements.


A side view


Looking right, a low wall lined with black pots of succulents divides the deck from a concrete patio near the back door. That’s JJ in the hat.


Four pairs of pots and galvanized flower buckets-turned-planters soften a hard corner.


Pots are everywhere in this garden, tucked into niches, sitting atop walls and stairs, hung on fences, adding height to planting beds.


An eclectic assortment of small, white pots, including a baby head, is gathered on a galvanized tray.


A wider view


Whimsical garden art adds humor and the delight of discovery as you explore.


JJ’s garden goes vertical, climbing the walls of her home, with fun wall planters and trees in tall pots.


I absolutely coveted one of these squid wall planters when I was in JJ’s store, Digs Inside & Out. JJ has two, one planted up with an appropriately tentacle-like rat tail cactus, the other with a trailing sedum.


More pots


And tucked into a niche, a cast-iron squirrel and — what is that, a planted brick? Adorable!


Tawny New Zealand sedges sit like discarded toupees here and there in her patios and paths, planted, I suppose, in small gaps in the paving.


A sunny, orange garden room invites lounging at the far-back corner of the house.


But when nights turn chilly, a tomato-red chiminea stands ready to warm things up. Notice the chicken nesting boxes on the fence planted with hens-and-chicks sempervivum.


A wide view shows that JJ managed to squeeze in a greenhouse (behind the screening fence) and garden shed into her small garden as well. The shed helps to form one of the walls of this garden room.


Our group was on the 2nd bus to visit JJ’s garden, on an unusually hot day that was just starting to shade into cooler evening temps. JJ welcomed us warmly and gamely answered our questions about plants and her design. Her garden was such an inspiration for me: fun, bold yet intimate, and very liveable.


It got my wheels spinning, and I’m already thinking how I might create a few more “rooms” in my own rambling garden.

Up next: The enticingly textural and colorful Chickadee Gardens. For a look back at the spiky plant lust of Danger Garden, click here.

All material © 2006-2014 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Loree Bohl’s Danger Garden: Portland Garden Bloggers Fling


One of the most anticipated gardens on the 2014 Garden Bloggers Fling in Portland, Oregon, recently was Danger Garden, the plant-lustful playground of one of our hosts, Loree of Danger Garden blog fame.


With an adoration for spiny, spiky, and bold-foliage plants and an artistic eye for design and for container styling, not to mention the discipline to hew to a restricted but high-impact color palette of orange, lime green, black, and silver, Loree’s garden is a visual treat, with jewel-box vignettes at every turn.


Of course on this occasion there were forty jewelers with loupes inspecting and admiring each and every facet. Half our group at a time descended on Loree’s small garden, making for an elbow-jostling viewing experience. At least one blogger accidentally met an agave, spine to leg, proving that Danger Garden is well named.


And she was a total sport about it because the thrill of danger is, well, thrilling.


This was my second time to see Loree’s stunning garden.


I last visited Danger Garden three years ago, just before the Seattle Garden Bloggers Fling, to which we drove together from Loree’s house.


On that visit, the garden was all mine to photograph (rubs hands together greedily).


This time it was more of a party!


I enjoyed seeing how the garden has evolved…


…and grown since my last visit.


Some areas, like her orange shade pavilion, are as I remember them.


Others are new since then, like this container garden, stock-tank pond, and fence where a hedge once stood.


Decorative elements, like this dish planter on a pedestal (one of a trio), have also been added (click the link for Loree’s how-to).


Loree’s front garden, a sloping former lawn that she’s converted into a drought-tolerant gravel garden, was newly planted when I visited three years ago. Since then it has filled in beautifully and was aglow with afternoon light when we visited.


Giving the plants a run for their money in terms of camera attention, however, was Lila, aka Pony, companionably relaxing in the arms of Andrew, Loree’s husband and garden assistant and all-around nice guy.


And here’s the whole charming family. Thank you, Loree, for sharing your garden with the Flingers and for co-hosting a truly excellent Portland Fling!

Up next: The bold, orange-crush, whimsical garden of JJ De Sousa. For a look back at serene, green Portland Japanese Garden, click here.

All material © 2006-2014 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Portland Japanese Garden: Portland Garden Bloggers Fling


The second day of the 7th annual Garden Bloggers Fling, held in Portland in mid-July, began in the renowned Portland Japanese Garden, often described as the most authentic of its kind outside of Japan.


I had visited a few days earlier with my husband on a hot, sunny morning. It was a pleasure to see it again, and I already knew where the cool, shady places were — like under the skirt of this Japanese maple.


It’s a good garden for hot weather. Water trickles from bamboo fountains throughout the garden, offering its cooling music.


Ponds, streams, and waterfalls abound as well, surrounded by a tapestry of greenery.


While water is absent from the dry garden, raked white gravel represents the sea surrounding mossy islands. The scene, I learned, is meant to be appreciated as you would a painting, from a single perspective. You do not enter the garden but view it from a veranda.


The overhanging roof of the veranda frames the view, blocking out the tall native firs in the background and bringing the scene down to human scale.


Just as the teahouse roof does for this mossy garden


A peaceful scene


In other parts of the garden, bright sunlight beautifully illuminated the leaves of hundreds of maples like stained glass.


This glowing Japanese maple shelters a stone lantern.


Nearby a dramatic waterfall cascades into a koi-filled pond.


Wending its way across one end of the pond is a traditional wooden zig-zag bridge. Koi trail along beside you, like pets expecting a treat.


The last of the irises were drooping on their stems under the hot sun.


A garden worker was clipping the spent flowers and placing them in a basket. I asked what she was planning to do with the flowers, thinking a few might be floated in a fountain or something, but she told me no, they would be discarded. A pity — they were still quite pretty in the basket.


A covered gate marks the passage between the pond and the teahouse garden.


Sunlight was gilding the garden.


Here’s Helen Battersby, host of next year’s Garden Bloggers Fling in Toronto, on the moon bridge, taking in the view.


Pagoda sculpture


A carved image half-buried on a mossy hillside looks like an ancient relic.


The stone paths and bridges throughout the garden entice you to explore, but slowly, stepping carefully so as not to rush through the garden.


Here a casual stair of flat boulders meets a more formal, cut-stone stair…


…which serpentines down a gloamy slope between moss-draped boulders.


The stair is itself a work of art.


Moss, shrub, and tree wrap you in a green glow here.


Mossy boulders give a sense of timelessness to the scene, even as a stream trickles by and flowers bloom and fade, illustrating the passage of time.


I caught the end of a guided tour by Sadafumi Uchiyama, the Garden Curator, and immediately regretted not hearing his entire tour.


Mr. Uchiyama spoke eloquently about the purpose, symbolism, and techniques involved in Japanese gardens, giving me a much greater understanding and appreciation of the style than I’d ever have gotten on my own.


Here’s the zen garden, a garden composed entirely of stone, meant to be viewed, as with the other dry garden, from a single perspective. A wall encloses the scene, focusing your gaze on the gravel “water,” with raked ripples around seven floating stones, all seeming to point toward a tall, figure-like stone at the rear.


The scene is meant to be harmonious and pleasing to the eye, Mr. Uchiyama explained, but it also represents a Japanese legend about the Buddha sacrificing himself to save a starving tiger and her cubs, illustrating the virtue of compassion.


I’ll conclude with another glowing bouquet of sunlit leaves.


After leaving the Japanese Garden we walked over to the Rose Garden amphitheater, where we had a group picture made. Here we are, the Portland Flingers — what a fun group!

Up next: Fling co-host Loree Bohl’s spikylicious Danger Garden. For a look back at the John Greenlee-designed Westwind Farm Studio gardens, click here.

All material © 2006-2014 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.