Sunny day at Portland Japanese Garden


A trip to Portland, Oregon, wouldn’t be complete without seeing the city’s luminous Japanese garden. During our mid-August visit, we had to try twice because the first time, on a Sunday afternoon, we simply could not find any parking, even after circling for a half hour. Even on Monday at midday we waited in line 25 minutes at the admission booth to get in. This is a popular garden, y’all. (And at $14.95 a ticket, it isn’t cheap either, plus no reciprocal admissions.)


But for all that, Portland Japanese Garden is lovely indeed and well worth a visit.


Once you get past the entry hassles, you can relax and enjoy the serenity of the ponds, moss and gravel gardens, and light-filtering leaves overhead.


A zigzagging wooden bridge across a koi pond is a popular spot for visitors.


Colorful koi make their own fishy paths alongside the bridge.


We always make a game of trying to pick our favorite color patterns.


Spanning a larger pond, a gently arching bridge offers pretty views — and becomes one itself.


Nearby, a roofed gate leads from the sunny pond area into…


…a shady tea garden, framed here by a window on the tea house terrace.


The Natural Garden may be my favorite area. It’s tranquil and shady, and narrow winding paths lead you past ponds…


…and down a magical stone stair…


…through a glowing mossy hillside.


At the base of the stair, a diamond-in-a-square stone basin gracefully accepts a trickle from a bamboo fountain.


I love this.


Backlit maple leaves make a green canopy.


A board-and-slat fence opens under a rectangular arbor to invite you along a streamside stone path.


At the garden’s lowest point, a sheltered bench beckons…


…and frames a view.


A stone lantern leads the eye toward another stair.


Time to climb back up.


Midway up the hill, a karesansui garden appears, with stones set in rippled gravel that represent the Buddha (the tall stone) and a starving tigress and her cubs, for whom he sacrifices himself in an act of compassion.


Stone pagoda and luminescent trees


Another gravel garden, called the Flat Garden, extends just off the veranda of a large pavilion. Gravel waves ripple against mossy islands while carefully clipped trees and shrubs across the “sea” represent a distant shoreline.


The glare from all that white gravel reminds me that I’d love to see Portland Japanese Garden, and especially this space, in the gentler light of a different season. I’ve visited three times, always on a bright summer’s day. I long to visit on a misty autumn morning — check out Scott’s extraordinary photos from October 2013. Travel goals! And, heck, photography goals.


Inside the pavilion, an exhibit of Kabuki costumes was on view. Kabuki is classical Japanese dance-drama with all-male performers who wear elaborate makeup and costumes.


The exhibit, which ended earlier this month, “explore[d] the flamboyant and fanciful traditional performing art of Kabuki through an exhibition of seven authentic costumes on loan from Japan.”


Ironically, although Kabuki was created and popularized by a woman in the early 1600s, the shogunate later banned women from the stage to “protect the public morality,” leaving the stage to men — a tradition that continues to this day.


I wish I’d taken pictures of the new Cultural Village buildings near the entry, which opened this spring. But for some reason I didn’t, even though we admired the acclaimed contemporary architecture. I did take a couple of photos of the bonsai displayed outside, including this Ezo spruce…


…and Japanese maple. Lovely!


As is the whole garden. One day, though, I’m going to have to see this garden in the fall.

Up next: Sunset over the Pacific at Cannon Beach, my final post from our CA/OR road trip. For a look back at Portland’s boutique nursery Thicket, 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.
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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.

A narrow side yard lives large in the garden of Rebecca Sams and Buell Steelman


I don’t think I planned a family road trip from San Francisco to Portland just to have an opportunity to swing through Eugene, Oregon, to visit the garden of Buell Steelman and Rebecca Sams, the husband-and-wife design-and-build team at Mosaic Gardens, whose work I greatly admire and recently wrote about for Garden Design. But then again, it’s possible.

Rebecca and Buell graciously invited us to stop by and see their garden last month, even though 1) they weren’t even going to be there, 2) their garden was newly exposed due to the cut-back of a neighbor’s tree, and 3) their poor plants had just endured an unusually long heat wave with little watering. Knowing that their garden is beautiful because of its compelling structure, not just the plants, I wasn’t worried.


And I wasn’t disappointed. Rebecca and Buell’s garden is essentially a long, skinny side yard that slopes sharply downhill from their house. They tackled this difficult space by creating a series of rooms linked by axis views to focal points. Like running your fingers along a string of beads, you enter their garden via a garden room — a gravel foyer — at the top of the slope, pause, look ahead to a focal point, advance toward it, pause in the next garden room, look ahead to the next focal point, and so on.


Each focal point, like this stock-tank pond (yes, one of the inspirations for my own), draws you forward but also gives you a reason to stop and look around, enjoying the mosaic of beautiful plants that Rebecca and Buell have created.


Stone stairs lead you down into the garden. Cascading sempervivum grows in the crevices of the stone retaining wall. Above, a frosty blue conifer cascades on a larger scale.


A wider view, with Japanese forest grass flowing like water alongside the steps.


Now we’re in the pond garden, a sunken space not visible from the street. The stairs where we entered are visible behind the pond. Atop the slope, strategically placed trees screen neighboring houses from view.


Stepping back a few paces, down a short flight of steps, here’s an even wider view. The gravel path flows around the pond so you can view all sides. The narrow spaces around the pond are densely planted with columnar trees, shrubs, and perennials to create layering that makes those beds feel deeper.


And look at the gorgeous plants! I asked Rebecca to ID this combo for me. From left to right: Cotinus ‘Grace’, a sport of ‘Conica’ Picea glauca, a mystery fern (“This thing is a wonder. Gorgeous, even in drought with a blast of midday sun. We don’t recall where we got it, but we’d love to find more. If someone knows this one, please tell me!”), Rhododendron ‘Yak x pak’, Corydalis lutea, and Galtonia candicans, aka summer hyacinth (“the best plant that no one grows — we love it, and so do the hummers”).


Looking across the pond, your eye travels along a path, past a brick BBQ and the stairs to their back deck, to a chocolate-colored pot framed by a living arbor. The pot stands out against a corrugated, galvanized-steel fence.


A closer look. A horizontal bamboo fence adds an Asian flavor to this area, and white hydrangea glows alongside the path. Espaliered trees arch over the path to create a living arbor.


Past the arbor you enter an edible garden, which jogs left into a small back yard. Asparagus was blooming here…


…and grapes dangled from a wire trellis fence.


A gateway in the trellis fence allows access to another garden room — an orchard of fruit trees, anchored by an approximately 4-foot-diameter stacked-stone sphere that Buell made.


I love this.


Apples were ripening in the orchard.


Returning through the garden, here’s another look at the espaliered arbor…


…and artichoke.


Back at house level, a long, narrow porch leading from the driveway to the front door is adorned with a collection of potted succulents massed for impact.


Other potted plants add interest to the edge of the gravel “foyer” garden, with fabulous skinny conifers visible in the background, growing along the property line and creating the illusion of greater depth.


River stone as art object in the garden


Another look from the top of the garden into the sunken side yard.


Eucomis flowers


Rattlesnake master (I think) and red dahlia


How do you approach the garden from the street? Via this almost secret-garden stone stair, through touchable grasses, conifers, and perennials. How could anyone resist taking a peek?


A gravel driveway leads to a garage, but knowing they wouldn’t be parking in it, and wanting to create more of an entrance and drop the cars slightly out of view, Buell and Rebecca dug out the driveway, put in a low retaining wall, and repaved the drive with gravel so that it sits about a foot lower than the entry garden. Isn’t this a nicer spot to come home to than entering through a dark, cramped garage?

My thanks to Rebecca and Buell for sharing their beautiful garden with me! I do hope to meet them one day, too.

Up next: Our day trip along the Columbia River Gorge to see waterfalls and mountain views — a tribute to an incredibly scenic area that is now tragically on fire. For a look back at our visit to the dormant volcano and sapphire lake of Crater Lake National Park, 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.
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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.

Color-blended garden retreat of designer Barbara Katz: Capital Region Garden Bloggers Fling


Opening the summer issue of Country Gardens magazine a few days ago, I felt an immediate jolt of recognition at seeing, on pages 10-13, one of the gardens we toured during last month’s Capital Region Garden Bloggers Fling. It’s the garden of Bethesda, Maryland, designer Barbara Katz, one of the first private gardens we toured and one of my favorites.


Barbara’s front flower garden, a deep curving border around a small oval lawn, is a traffic-stopper — or at least a stopper of 50 eager garden bloggers. But just wait until you see the back garden!


But before we head to the back, let’s explore the front. My eye went straight to variegated yuccas (‘Bright Edge’?), their lemon-yellow stripes echoed by yellow yarrow, yellow-and-white lantana, and tawny Mexican feathergrass (I think) — a combo that would be at home in Austin.


A curving stone walk leads past shrub plantings to a front porch with red Adirondack rockers…


…and two plant stands with eye-catching succulent combos.


A variegated spineless prickly pear and Agave desmettiana fill one planter.


In the other, a spiny euphorbia stands tall with a paddle plant and Portulacaria afra (thanks for the ID, Diana!).


There was much to see out here, but I wanted to make sure I didn’t miss out on the back garden, so I headed along the side-yard path. No throw-away space here but rather a golden shade garden with hostas, sedge, and a redbud tree (maybe ‘Hearts of Gold’). Dark-green shrubs in the background make the golds pop.


Foliage detail


A few blogger friends stopped here to admire the plant combos too, including Gail, Tracy, and Jennifer.


Entering the back garden, where a generous stone patio bridges house and garden…


…you’re led to a small pond and waterfall…


…that stair-steps down from the top of a 12-foot slope, where a gazebo roof entices you to climb up and explore.


What an oasis…


…and not just for goldfish.


Barbara told us that she’d created this garden for clients who later decided to move. Spontaneously, she and her husband purchased the home in order to acquire the garden. She laughingly told us that in this way she was able to get a professionally designed garden — her own — without having to pay for it.


I doubt she ever sits down in her garden, but this comfortable seating area in the shade of a tall tree is inviting.


Barbara pays careful attention to color combinations, both flowers and foliage. One side of the back garden is planted with an orange, white, and purple color scheme.


Caramel-tinged heuchera, New Zealand sedge, and an orangey peach echinacea. Update: Barbara kindly identified the sparkly white flower as a catmint (Calamintha ‘White Cloud’).


Rusty orange coleus matches a rusty orange planter.


Even the garden art plays into the color scheme.


The other side of the garden features yellow, pink, blue, and maroon plants.


Which is your favorite?


Purple-leaved loropetalum and a purple-pink daylily


Now let’s climb the steps up the slope…


…stopping to admire the falling stream, which looks completely natural…


…and beautiful planters on the steps.


I enjoyed Barbara’s playful garden art, like this lizard seemingly sunning himself on a boulder…


…and this “bottle fly.”


You enter the upper garden via a perfect circle of emerald lawn, a calm counterpoint to the lush garden beds. Behind the pink hydrangeas on the far side of the circle (near owner/designer Barbara in the orange tank top)…


…a path leads to a nearly hidden stone patio and bench. Here are Garden Design publisher Jim Peterson and his wife, Val, chatting with Barbara’s husband.


Tucked amid the hydrangea blossoms, a woman’s face peeks out.


A more-traveled path beckons across the top of the slope…


…leading to a woodsy gazebo.


From here you enjoy a view of the house and lower patio and an upper pond with a bubbling fountain.


This plume poppy (Macleaya cordata) stands tall in a pot near the gazebo (see the gazebo picture, above), so pretty against a burgundy Japanese maple.


Stokes’ aster ‘Klaus Jelitto’ in full bloom alongside a shady birdbath. On her Facebook page, Barbara recently wrote that the aster is “still going strong after 22 years in the exact same spot, with zero maintenance.”


A closeup


A lilac-and-blue lacecap hydrangea harmonizes…


…as do these cute little plants growing in the cracks of a mossy stone path — rose campion?


Looking back to the circular lawn — what a stunning space!


There’s not an inch of this garden that didn’t wow me. I’m thrilled to have been able to visit.

Up next: Scenes from Brookside Gardens and a Patrick Dougherty twig sculpture. For a look back at the whimsical woodland garden of Ellen Ash, 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.
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Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

Book Giveaway! I’m giving away a copy of a fun new book, Potted, that’ll inspire you to DIY your own uniquely cool garden planters for porch, patio, or deck. Just leave a comment on my giveaway blog post to enter (click the link and comment there), and good luck! The giveaway ends Friday, July 14, 2017.

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.

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