Waiting for autumn’s reviving touch


Whew! After writing 16 posts about Portland gardens, each containing scads of photos of summer-lush and richly blooming borders, I’m somehow ready for a return to my own Death Star-blasted garden. August is my least favorite gardening month here in Austin. I’m over the heat. I’m over the humidity. I’m over, over, over summer.

And yet there’s love, still, for the garden as it patiently — much more patiently than I — awaits the reviving touch of fall.


Last evening I strolled through the front garden at sunset, taking a closer look than I’ve done in weeks. The trio of ‘Burgundy Ice’ dyckia (two are replacements after the cold snap last winter) is looking quite sharp.


The west side of the driveway-island bed is looking good too despite my neglect. ‘Color Guard’ yucca, gopher plant (Euphorbia rigida), Mexican feathergrass (Nassella tenuissima), wavy prickly pear (Opuntia), ‘Powis Castle’ artemisia, and Vitex agnus-castus don’t ask for much except sun and an occasional deep watering to look their best, even in summer.


In the shade of the live oaks, heartleaf skullcap (Scutellaria ovata) has gone to seed, leaving a trio of Texas dwarf palmettos (Sabal minor) to strut their stuff. They’d look better if I trimmed back the spent skullcap, but oh well.


A different view. Those sabals are putting on some height this year! Turk’s cap (Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii), one of my few dependable summer bloomers, screens the street behind the palmettos.


Here’s the long view across the front garden and Berkeley sedge lawn, as seen from my neighbor’s yard (the fence runs along the property line). I think I’m going to Outlaw Gardener-up that bare spot in front of the giant hesperaloe (Hesperaloe funifera) — maybe a few colorful Mexican gazing globes?


And here’s the long view as seen from the curb: a garden of deer-resistant grasses, salvias, yucca, and herbs. The caged tree at left is a young possumhaw holly (Ilex decidua), which I’m still protecting from deer. Every day I tell myself to get out here and whack back those autumn sages (Salvia greggii) by one-third, for better shape and fall bloom, but every day laziness wins out. Maybe tomorrow.


Stepping back about 15 feet into my neighbor’s driveway, you can see how her garden and mine blend together. I planted this for her a few years ago, and we share the decomposed-granite path that runs between our gardens from the street to the fence, and which continues into my garden. (She opted not to continue it around the back of her bed to her driveway, but that could be added later to reduce even more lawn and improve accessibility.)

Taking stock, I see that the ‘Whale’s Tongue’ agave has grown tremendously, but three Gulf muhly grasses (Muhlenbergia capillaris) have not thrived. Two have been removed, and the last one needs to go. My neighbor planted a softleaf yucca (Y. recurvifolia) to fill the gap; I would not have chosen to place the yucca so close to the agave, but after all it is her yard to play in. Her salvias, like mine, need a good whacking. It’s a bit crispy and could really use a deep watering, but overall this is typical for a largely unwatered, native-plant garden in August in central Texas. Fall rains will perk it up.


I’m not sure anything will perk up this poor, gnawed-to-a-nub ‘Soft Caress’ mahonia. I received two beautiful plants from the Sunset Western Garden Collection following the 2013 San Francisco Garden Bloggers Fling. I’ve had good luck with this plant in shade, and I added the freebies to my new side garden with high hopes. From the start, however, the deer have chomped them, although they’ve never touched more-established mahonias along the front of my house. Frustrating.

Despite the challenges of August and Bambi, I know I will delight in being outdoors again soon. Just one month to go until the happy gardening month of October! How about you? Are you enjoying or hurrying along these last weeks of summer?

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

Love just around the bend at Bella Madrona: Portland Garden Bloggers Fling


For our final tour on the Garden Bloggers Fling in Portland last month, our bus stopped on a rural highway and deposited us in a field with a few pieces of rusty farming equipment strewn about. Not sure what to expect, I walked through open gates adorned with the garden’s name, Bella Madrona. Suddenly a pulsing beat and falsetto vocals filled the air. The disco anthem “Stayin’ Alive” was playing throughout the garden via hidden speakers. This was going to be a party!


A dramatic red and black garden greeted us as we entered.


Va-va-voom reds


Beech hedges, like arched Gothic columns, framed the space, creating doorways and windows, while this black pot sat like a cauldron atop a mossy pedestal.


A mysterious and romantic mood was set.


A concrete dolphin sporting a red crystal on its head? Why not?


Crocosmia and red-tinged banana leaves, along with mossy chairs, make for a lost-in-the-jungle vibe.


Intimate seating areas like this appear throughout the 5-acre garden, amid slightly overgrown, romantically tangled gardens.


Paths branch off in different directions, curving around hedges and shrubs so that you can’t tell what’s ahead. Randomly selecting the left-branching path, I came across a barn-like, ivy-cloaked guest house. Old wash buckets decorate the side.


On the porch, all manner of cast-off items are turned into strange and spooky still lifes.


Following the path onward, I paused to admire these stars set in the gravel. As soon as I got home I dug some old metal stars out of my garage and set them in one of my paths.


At the base of some steps, a series of monumental, angular arbors appeared, beckoning one downhill and into the woods.


I did not heed their call, tempted as I was by another path leading elsewhere, and I never made it back to this area in my 2-hour wanderings. How I wish I had! It led to an eerie gnome garden and high-flying swing that others have blogged about.


Instead, I walked this way, drawn by a small seating area atop a curved double stair backed by a doorway hedge.


Looking through from the other side


The terracing contained a dripping fountain of metal pipes jutting out of the rocks, which fed a small pool.


Just beyond that, a larger gathering space appeared, as well as “waterfall” steps leading up past billowing white hydrangeas. You can’t really see it in this photo, but a terraced stream runs downhill alongside the path. Heading upward and around the bend…


…my heart gave a start as I peeked beneath low-hanging branches to see what a glimmer of blue might be. I find this vignette creepily fascinating. It’s like the garden is populated with otherworldly characters that come to life after dark.


But although the sun was low in the sky, it was still light, and Aretha Franklin was belting out “R-E-S-P-E-C-T” over the speakers. I couldn’t be too spooked. Soon I came upon a tousled, English-style border, and all eeriness disappeared.


Spiky eryngium — love!


Tall pedestals along the back of the border support potted ‘Color Guard’ yuccas and add drama to the scene.


The columns themselves are set in planters made of steel rings.


More flower-border goodness


And more. I love the rich colors.


I watched a hummingbird working the border for some time and caught one blurred image.


The other side of the border was intriguing also, with a spiky, orange-tinged Solanum pyracanthum in front of a tiered metal fountain. I once tried to talk Loree of Danger Garden into this plant at Cistus Nursery. “But you need it. It’s dangerous!”


Speaking of whom, there’s Loree with Peter, The Outlaw Gardener, who’s giving me a this-is-the-life wave.


And here’s Loree again, one of our incredibly organized, generous, and welcoming Fling hosts.


Bella Madrona is the 34-year-old creation of two retired physicians, Geof Beasley and Jim Sampson. Their magical garden is regularly the site of fundraising benefits, and the band Pink Martini, which has performed here, wrote “The Gardens of Sampson and Beasley” about it. Stacks of Pink Martini’s CD Hang On Little Tomato, which contain the song, were generously donated to our group by the band when they heard we would be visiting the garden.


This skeleton affixed to the front of a truck in the driveway is perhaps a nod to the owners’ former profession? It reminded me of a similar hood ornament at Wamboldtopia at the Asheville Fling in 2012. Actually, the whole garden bears a certain resemblance to Wamboldtopia, especially in its mysteriously magical mood and cast-off-object artistry.


Wandering past the front of the house, I came across a living bottle tree.


Chunks of glass were stuck in the folds of its massive trunk, reminding me of the pig’s teeth in the wych elm of Howards End.


A carved, wooden figure wearing a tin hat, with a piercing, blue-eyed gaze, emerged from a swath of ferns.


Here’s a striking use for a steel pipe remnant.


And a wire sphere


Heading back down into the main gardens I entered a room bordered by a randomly crennelated hedge — Piet Oudolf meets Sleeping Beauty’s castle.


Secret gardens at every turn


And inviting, wandering paths…


…full of mystery…


…and beauty…


…and “danger”…


…and romance.


A cracked, hollow sphere appears, egg-like, to hatch an ornamental grass. I’m fairly certain this is a Little and Lewis piece.


How could anyone resist paths that beckon you on with curves and hidden rooms ahead?


What lies around the bend?


A boulder with glass horns and a spot to sit with a friend and enjoy the view…


…surrounded only by grasses and conifers.


A few steps down from the chairs and table…


…I came upon a golden garden around sunset.


It glowed with gold and chartreuse foliage. I felt I’d stepped into King Midas’s garden.


Continuing on, I encountered a pair of red chairs enclosed by tall…thistles?


In yet another small clearing, a sundial or clock made of chains, round pavers, and straight sections of slate reminded me that it was getting late.


Heading back, I was enchanted to find a small patio paved with bottoms-up wine bottles. I wonder where they get all these bottles?


Oh, never mind. Here’s a beautiful bouquet on a table of drinks and food set up for our group on the main lawn.


Our group of 80 bloggers, plus one very enthusiastic bus driver, gathered here for refreshments and conversation…


…sitting with friends for a while before drifting away to explore the winding paths of Bella Madrona.


What a magically wonderful way to end the Fling.

My thanks to the owners of Bella Madrona and all the other gardens for welcoming us so warmly into your delightful creations. And huge applause and congratulations to the Portland Fling planning committee — Scott Weber at Rhone Street Gardens, Loree Bohl at Danger Garden, Heather Tucker at Just a Girl with a Hammer, Jane Howell-Finch at MulchMaid, and Ann Amato-Zorich at Amateur Bot-ann-ist — for putting together such an incredible event. Thank you, thank you!

Up next: A pre-Fling drive out to the scenic, wild Columbia River Gorge and then to Cannon Beach. For a look back at the foliage-rich, xeric garden of John Kuzma, click here.

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

Garden magic and whimsy at Floramagoria: Portland Garden Bloggers Fling


As we entered the intriguingly named Floramagoria garden on the recent Portland Garden Bloggers Fling, thunder rumbled and raindrops pelted our group of 40 or so bloggers. The reasonable — and hungry — among us ran for the two covered pavilions with box lunches in hand. The die-hard photographers, however, saw the brief shower as an opportunity to get softly lit images with few people in them. You know which group I was in. Oh boy, did this garden deliver on wow moments, perfectly framed views, bold foliage, flower-power color, whimsy and naughty humor. Let me give you a rainy-day tour.


I’ll start with the most mouth-dropping view: the axis from the owners’ back door to the orange back wall. Poured concrete laid in geometric blocks widens and narrows, creating distinct spaces and slowing the foot and eye with inset beds like this grassy parterre…


…and a mosaic floral “rug.” Its colors reappear in the pumpkin-colored wall, turquoise pots and chairs, cobalt-glass fire pit, and golden and green flora.


The mosaic “rug” is a tapestry of flowers, leaves, and insects and an absolute work of art.


The enormous, mossy gunnera leaf is a Little and Lewis piece. (We saw another of these in the Lane Garden at the Seattle Fling.) In concert with bold-leaf, tropical plants like brugmansia, castor bean, and banana, not to mention a bamboo dining pavilion to the right, this area feels like an exotic garden carved out of jungle rain forest.


Temps were cool on this day, and one of the owners lit the fire pit when we arrived.


Like exotic gateposts flanking the entry to the fire pit patio, stone shrines on pedestals contain…baby heads! (What is it with baby heads these days? I saw a whole day care’s worth at Digs Inside & Out.) A mix of golden bog plants surrounds this shrine, including cattails and pitcher plants.


Carnivorous flora with questing mouths


The cross-axis running through the grassy parterre (shown in the top photo) creates a different effect, less tropical and more English-style perennial border. A covered deck, just visible at left, adjoins the house and provides a place to enjoy the garden even during the rainy months (or on summer days like this).


Gosh, which way to turn? Let’s take a closer look at the contemporary covered deck. Steel posts support a triangular metal roof, and a blue plexiglass wall provides shelter, privacy, and mood lighting.


A quick peek at the back: translucent, blue plexi panels admit light and reflect drooping conifers.


Wait — is that our Fling host, Scott of Rhone Street, manhandling a mannequin? Hmm, I guess what happens at the Fling doesn’t always stay at the Fling. But I am opting not to show the seating area of the covered deck, which was jam-packed with bloggers eating their lunches. Nope, no one wants to be photographed while chewing. Just over Scott’s shoulder…


…is a beautiful porch light — a bug with 3-D wings and antennae.


Another one. Aren’t these marvelous? Bugs are a decorative motif at Floramagoria.


As are gnomes. This one is a bit naughty.


Oh look — tentacles! I’m definitely detecting a Digs/JJ De Sousa influence here.


The view from the deck. Hefty bamboo poles, painted orange, add spiky structure and year-round color. Rudbeckia makes a cheery color echo.


Panning right, purples take over.


And here’s a wider view across the garden. That’s the tropical cabana at upper-left, which I’ll show you soon. Believe it or not, this garden is only 3 years old. The owners tore out their former, 10-year-old back garden in order to rework it with the help of designer Laura Crockett of Garden Diva Designs. That takes guts. I’d love to have seen before-and-after pics.


A metal-grate bench runs along the perimeter of the deck.


The deck overlooks a patio accessed via large glass doors in the living room.


A clean-lined metal arbor frames the view, and string lights create a party atmosphere, as does music piped through the garden. Can you imagine looking out at this view from your living room?


Looking slightly right


Painted-stucco seat walls define the patio and provide plenty of display space. More babies! More pitcher plants too.


Fiery coleus, in pots to match


In this longer view, you can really appreciate the magnitude of their potted-plant display.


Succulents and cacti in soft-blue pots are lined up along much of the wall, where the garden segues into a dry garden.


In the corner, terracotta pots add complementary orange, while chunks of slag glass continue the blue theme.


This is one way a collector can cut loose in a garden with a strong design: unify a collection with similar pots and display them en masse.


The dry garden starts on one side of the patio…


…and runs along the foundation.


An aloe in a pot to match


Spiky agave next to an olla


Turning to the left and looking down the path toward the side fence, I stopped to admire a tall Yucca rostrata. But what really grabbed me was another Little and Lewis piece (I think) by the fence.


Like an egg out of Alien, the “petals” of this floral-style container open to reveal pitcher plants tucked inside. The surrounding plants make up a stunning vignette.


More pitchers are planted in a spherical container.


And more yet


A Little and Lewis bench offers a spot to enjoy the scene.


But the star of this area is a Little and Lewis column-fountain centered in a terracotta raised pond, framed by a cobalt-blue wall. Shazam!


Vying for fabulousness is this focal-point pot in the center of the gravel garden. I have no idea what the plants are — but I LOVE them. Update: The plants are Melianthus underplanted with Begonia boliviensis. Thanks, Vanessa!


Notice the little pots of succulents and sea-green slag glass alternating around the base of the container.


In all its wide-view glory


Big moments like the focal-point pots, fountain, and cabanas may elicit the most oohs and aahs, but numerous, smaller details are what really add personality to Floramagoria, from pots tucked here and there…


…to fun tiles set in the paths…


…to plastic dinosaurs rampaging among the beetles and ants. Even with a collection of high-brow art like the Little and Lewis pieces, the gnomes and dinos indicate that the owners don’t take themselves or their garden too seriously.


It’s a place of discovery and delight.


A greenhouse gives the owners a place to overwinter their tender plants. But is there room for them all, I wonder?


During the warm, dry summer months, it’s a place to display a few treasures with the doors wide open. A working chandelier is dressed up with tillandsias tucked among the crystals.


I like this glass pyramid paired with steely blue eryngium.


Astrantia and Japanese forest grass, two Pacific NW plants I lust for


The back side of the cobalt wall is painted mossy green and hung with staghorn ferns.


An enormous Douglas fir or redwood (not sure which) puts this garden in deep shade. Hostas, ferns, and other shade plants complete the woodland look. Quirky art like a hanging UFO and Marcia Donahue “necklace” add personality.


Is this a birdhouse?


Colorful bug paver


You can enter the tropical pavilion, at left, from the shade garden.


A spacious seating and dining area is sheltered by a bamboo-framed roof. Over the table hangs a striking metal light fixture.


The hosts generously provided us with cookies and lemonade here.


Fun, fused-glass bugs crawl over chunky wooden spheres in one corner of the cabana.


Heading out through the tropical, colorful garden, I catch Barbara of bwisegardening snapping some shots too.


Behind the deck in the side garden is one of the funnier displays at Floramagoria: a wooden duck “diving” into a succulent-planted birdbath.


In the window of a rustic garden shed, a curious chicken peers out.


Inside, a tidy display


Bouquets in glass jars add a cheery note.


This is a happier phrase in Portland than in Austin, I think.


The rest of the side yard is devoted to beekeeping and edibles in stock tanks.


Glass bees on stakes surround a yellow beehive.


Out front, it’s another world entirely: naturalistic rather than formally designed, serene rather than quirky, green rather than colorful.


It’s very beautiful too, of course, but you’d never know what awaits you in back.


Every space is gardened up, including this side strip along the driveway.


A modest but patriotic front entry and grilling station


I adored the metal art found throughout the garden.


This metal ribbon reminds me of Scott’s metal pieces at Rhone Street Gardens.


One last glimpse of a colorful vignette from the back garden, and it’s time to end this lengthy virtual tour. Floramagoria was one of my very favorite gardens on the Portland Fling, full of personality, color, wit, and strong design of both plants and hardscape.

Up next: The surprisingly xeric, experimental, and contemporary garden of John Kuzma. For a look back at the inviting, art-filled Dancing Ladies Garden of Linda Ernst, click here.

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