Rocking a gravel garden in the Kuzma Garden: Portland Garden Bloggers Fling


After the barely controlled excess of Floramagoria, the next garden we toured on the Portland Garden Bloggers Fling seemed, at first glance, restrained, even austere. No seating was visible aside from garden walls and steps. With the exception of a few monumental, colorful pots placed as focal points and a striking steel fountain, garden art was nonexistent. But, oh my, the plants are where owner John Kuzma lavishes his artist’s palette and experiments with an abundance of dry-climate species you wouldn’t expect to see in moist, cool Portland.


John’s suburban half-acre is one of the larger private gardens we visited, but the entry garden is modest in size. An open, gravel courtyard, wood-and-wire fence, and xeric plants like agave and nolina gave this space a very Austin look, at least to my mind. Here’s the paver path leading from the street into the fenced courtyard.


And the side entry from the driveway. A large, blue pot, left empty (such restraint!), provides a focal point from any direction.


As you enter the back garden, negative space greets you first — gravel, not water-sucking lawn. An expansive, dark-gray, gravel patio flows from the back of the house along the entire width of the lot. Bold-leaved palms, banana, phormium, and agave are planted along the margins, with silvery eucalyptus shining in the border. A straight line of black mondo grass runs like a fuzzy, black caterpillar from…


…a small, arbor-shaded patio to…


…a contemporary raised pond fed by two pipes projecting from a rusty-steel backplate.


Now you see where John’s passion lies. A dramatic foliage garden rises on terraced beds and gravelly berms behind the water feature, creating a feeling of exotic seclusion from neighboring homes, not to mention a fine view from John’s living room.


Palms, papyrus, giant cape restio (I think) — this garden is about texture, form, and bold foliage.


A smaller water feature is as simple as a lotus in a sealed, glazed pot. Mosquito dunks (available at big-box stores and independent nurseries alike) keep a still pond like this free from blood-sucking pests.


The gravel patio is largely open, but along the foundation of the house agaves and prickly pear (New World natives) mingle with Australian acacias and Mediterranean palms.


Steps lead up to an abundantly planted, almost prehistoric-looking garden. Despite its apparent lushness, John told us that his 4-year-old garden, designed by Sean Hogan of Cistus Nursery, took a hit in last December’s deep freeze.


Tammy of Casa Mariposa takes in the scene. (By the way, if you’d like to see a list of Portland Fling attendees and their blogs and locations, click here.)


This is where things really get good! Ah, kangaroo paws. How I wish I could grow you in Austin.


Spiky plants dig John’s gravelly berms, which keep them from rotting during Portland’s drizzly, gray winters.


On this large berm, John has made a trendy crevice garden for his agave collection. I’m seeing quite a few of these lately, like at Denver Botanic Gardens and, closer to home, in Shirley’s San Antonio garden.


I see a few ‘Whale’s Tongue’ agaves in there — Moby‘s cousins!


As in the front garden, John uses a big, glazed pot to create a focal point for multiple pathways entering an open space.


It looks great from every angle.


Orange kangaroo paws provide a perfect color echo amid cool-blue yucca, prickly pear, and gopher plant.


Here’s another example, with a blue pot acting as focal point for the end of a path.


More lushly planted berms


Portland has a friendly climate for green roofs, and we saw a number of them at the Fling, including this charming, sedum-planted one on a blue shed.


At the rear of the garden, a row of yuccas (Y. recurvifolia, perhaps?) was in creamy-white bloom.


Dramatic gunnera leaves


Let’s head down to the gravel patio for one last look at the raised pond and fountain.


This is a very Austin look, with the rusty metal and raw steel pipes. You’d need a metal fabricator to create this, right?


Well, I wonder. From the side I noticed that rather than a solid plate of steel, cut panels are screwed onto wooden posts to create the fountain backplate. The fountain basin itself is concrete, stained to match the steel. You’d still need someone to cut the steel plates, but this could be installed by a do-it-yourselfer, I think.


It would make a wow moment in any garden, wouldn’t it?

Up next: The romantic, wild-child, mysterious Bella Madrona, our final Fling garden. For a look back at the stunning, whimsical exuberance of Floramagoria, 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.

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.