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.

Read This: Hellstrip Gardening book review and GIVEAWAY

I don’t know what people called the strip of grass between street and sidewalk before Lauren Springer Ogden coined the term “hellstrip” to describe it. But it can surely be hellish to maintain, drying to a crisp in hot climates, contaminated with road salt in northern climates, treated by passing dogs as a toilet, subject to utility company digging, with soil compacted by garbage bins, people exiting cars, and even the occasional errant vehicle. It’s really a wonder that anything will grow there.

Many homeowners spend way too much time and money trying to keep lawn alive in such inhospitable conditions. Others throw up their hands and spread a layer of river rock or gravel across the entire strip, hoping to reduce maintenance but often creating a weed-friendly or barren heat island along the curb — not the curb appeal most of us want.

Photo by Joshua McCullough

Less-lawn crusader Evelyn Hadden, an author and speaker from Minnesota who recently relocated to Boise, Idaho, takes on this nebulous public-private space in her new book, Hellstrip Gardening: Create a Paradise Between the Sidewalk and the Curb (2014, Timber Press). Considering that the hellstrip is only a small portion of the average yard, this is a meaty book. Part 1 offers in-depth looks at a dozen curbside gardens, and Hadden performs her usual magic trick of including images of gardens from a range of regions — which I know from experience is not easy unless you do a lot of garden-based travel or have a generous photo budget. Photographer Joshua McCullough is credited for providing most of the images, and they are lovely, as is the design of the book — i.e., plenty of eye candy.

Photo by Joshua McCullough

Part 2 addresses the challenges involved in gardening along the street, from tree roots and HOA rules to car damage and utility maintenance. In Part 3, Hadden offers design solutions specific to curbside gardening, including the types of plants to choose (non-precious and self-repairing) and using berms or rain gardens to address noise or drainage issues. The final section, Part 4, is a generous list of hellstrip-worthy plants organized usefully by showy flowers, showy foliage, culinary or medicinal uses, and four-season structure. As with any plant list geared to a country as geographically and climatically diverse as the U.S., only some of the plants will be applicable to central Texas gardeners, but it’ll get you thinking about the types of plants you might use.

Photo by Evelyn Hadden

Hadden’s emphasis throughout the book is on gardening sustainably, with less water and minimal or no chemicals, encouraging each of us to do our part to create more beautiful, runoff-absorbing, wildlife-friendly spaces. She’s realistic in her assessment that curbside gardens are generally more work to keep up than plain old lawn, but she points out the many benefits they provide in return: community beautification, crime reduction, wildlife waystations, runoff filtration, and more.

The only quibble I have is that many of the gardens covered are not, strictly speaking, hellstrip gardens between street and sidewalk but front-yard gardens as a whole. It often reads, therefore, more like a front-yard gardening book rather than one tightly focused on curbside conditions. Still, there’s plenty of hellstrip to go around, and the extra coverage of entire front yards is a bonus for those looking to garden up little-used lawns. This is, after all, a topic near and dear to my own heart!

I’m happy to be able to offer a copy of Hellstrip Gardening, courtesy of Timber Press, to one lucky reader. To be entered, simply leave a comment on this post. One comment per person only. Giveaway is limited to U.S. and Canada.

This giveaway runs through Monday, July 14, at 11:59 pm CT, and I’ll announce the winner here on Tuesday the 15th. Check back next Tuesday to see if you won, and good luck!

Update 7/15/14: Congratulations to #51 commenter Chris! He’s the lucky winner of Hellstrip Gardening. Chris, look for my email.

Disclosure: Timber Press sent me a copy of Hellstrip Gardening for review. I reviewed it at my own discretion and without any compensation. This post, as with everything at Digging, is my own personal opinion.

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

Drive-By Gardens: Lawn-gone curb appeal in Crestview, Brentwood and Allandale

Driving through the north-central Austin neighborhoods of Allandale, Brentwood, and Crestview yesterday, I noticed a number of face-lifted ranches and bungalows, freshened up with paint and/or reasonably sized additions and eye-catching, lawn-reducing landscaping.

Let’s start this Drive-By with a charming, painted-brick ranch with a lime-green screen and front door — so fun! I feel sure the concrete walk must be new, despite its aged color, because original, builder-grade walks of this era are typically arrow-straight and as skinny as a Victoria’s Secret model. Where front walks are concerned, voluptuous is better! (You decide about the models.) This walk is broad enough for two, curves invitingly, and widens near the door to the width of the tiled front porch.

Modern, linear lines are introduced with the straight limestone edging of planting beds on either side of the walk. The beds fill in the curves and simultaneously define the remaining lawn as modern, rectangular swaths. Lemon-lime ‘Color Guard’ yuccas echo the door color; bulbine and four-nerve daisy add even more sunny gold and yellow. Note how the yuccas are planted in a loose triangular formation, leading the eye across the walk and toward the door. The bulbine is planted along a diagonal line, as are the two large softleaf yuccas, creating a sense of movement from curb to door. The beds are mulched with Texas Black gravel, which complements the gray-green of the house.

This house, on a busy street near a busier intersection, achieves a sense of separation and privacy via a low, concrete-block wall and a sturdy screen of large agaves. A smattering of low, flowering perennials, grasses, and a couple of ornamental trees soften the scene. Set back from the heat-reflecting street about 8 feet, the reduced lawn offers its cool, green lushness to front-porch sitters.

Another home along the same busy street has a higher wall and a gate, which create a private courtyard for the owners. Modern concrete pavers, puzzled together, flow seamlessly from the courtyard to the public front walk. While not curvy, the walk is generously sized and inviting. Red yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora) adds color on either side of the gate, and white roses and datura add cooling white blossoms and fragrance day and night.

This corner garden along another busy street is a head-turner with blazing-red cannas and salvias, billowing grasses, and colorful pots. The generously proportioned garden eats up half of the front lawn and is more gorgeous, interesting, and attractive to wildlife than a lawn could ever be.

For comparison, I happen to have “before” pictures because the owner was one of my very first design clients back in 2006. She already had a collection of lovely plants but wanted some order and definition. I drew in a strolling path through the garden, working around a large shade tree that is no longer there, and suggested groupings of plants for impact.

One more “before” image

She was already an experienced gardener 8 years ago, when I worked with her briefly, and her care and attention to detail are obvious. These days, groundcovering plants like Mexican feathergrass, pink skullcap, purple heart, and ferns are massed and repeated to draw you along the path. A bench attracts your eye as it follows the winding path, which gives definition to this large, corner-garden bed. Where the shade tree once stood — perhaps where its stump remains — she’s placed an eye-catching trio of pots filled with annuals, with groundcovers filling in (and hiding the stump?) at their feet.

What a lovely gift for the neighbors who walk and drive past this highly visible corner.

I appreciate when readers share good Drive-By addresses with me, as my friend Shelley did recently. She’d spotted this meadowy sedge lawn, and I had to go see for myself. I love the texture, and I bet the owners are enjoying not having to mow more than a few times a year. I bet they see savings on their water bill too.

This last house caught my eye not because of any big, lawn-reducing garden but because of a single, beautiful gesture: a thoughtfully constructed garage arbor, with two pots of morning glory vines clambering up either side, their purple blossoms a perfect complement to the green of the house. Notice too the trio of concrete pavers — Baby Bear, Mama Bear, and Papa Bear sized — that align along the driveway to make a simple, modern bridge between the drive and the front porch. Nicely done!

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