Foliage fantasia in Portland’s Danger Garden

I’m baaack! Did you miss me? If you thought I’d gone AWOL from Austin’s summer from hell, well, you were right. I left early for the Garden Bloggers Fling last month, flying into Portland, Oregon, on July 20 in order to meet blogger friend, foliage fiend, and fellow agave lover Loree of Danger Garden.

Loree and I had never met in person, nor even talked on the phone, but I knew we’d hit it off, and we did. She took me on a whirlwind tour of her favorite Portland nurseries plus downtown’s Lan Su Chinese Garden on the day before the Fling, giving me a taste of her delightful, hip hometown. That evening we relaxed on her patio with a glass of wine and her adored dog Lila, aka Pony. I even got to meet Mr. Danger Garden. Both of them have art and design backgrounds, and it shows in their home decor and garden design. One word: stunning.

The back garden is the heart of the Danger Garden. With geometric, contemporary style, a concrete-paver path set in an emerald lawn (sighing over Portland’s regular rainfall and cool summer temps) leads around the corner of the detached garage. There is no bare ground; layers of foliage blend together all the way to ground level. You immediately know that the leaf, not the flower, is the star of this garden.

As you round the corner, a spacious sunken patio of concrete pavers framed by a strip of beach pebbles beckons you onward. The gleam of two stock tanks planted with a privacy screen of bamboo lightens the shady border behind the table and chairs.

Looking left from the sunken patio, you see another enticing seating area under a hot-orange pavilion with a galvanized roof. Loree uses it for shade in summer and shelters her dry-loving desert plants beneath it during Portland’s cool, rainy winters.

Loree has a LOT of potted plants. Most of her agave and succulent collection is housed in containers that can be moved for winter shelter. This vignette is composed of one of my favorite agaves, stripey A. americana mediopicta ‘Alba’, another little agave, and an orange-flowered abutilon in a shiny, steel pail.

This corner of the patio holds more of Loree’s extensive agave collection, plus a well-placed crocosmia.

Looking left, another eye-catching display. The two stock tanks in the background contain bog plants and a container pond with…

…water lettuce and duckweed.

Loree has 11 stock tanks in her garden, including this one planted with Gunnera. Lest you wonder how she pulls this off in a small garden without it seeming like a cattle pen, let me assure you they work beautifully with her clean-lined, contemporary style. Interspersed throughout her leafy borders, they shine out here and there and elevate specimen plants, contain bamboo, house vegetables, and hold water.

Multiple Agave parryi truncata underplanted with smaller succulents. I love this.

The back border of the patio. The bamboo screens neighboring houses. Stock-tank planters keep it contained and give it additional height.

Two steps lead back up to the lawn behind the house. Loree uses the low retaining wall as a display ledge for more of her succulent collection.

Golden barrel cactus, Agave lophantha ‘Quadricolor’, Echeveria, sedum, and Aeonium, with flowering sedum in the background. (Loree, please correct me if I mis-identify anything.)

A pink Dyckia is charming in a chartreuse pot.


Loree is firm in her variegated plant choices, favoring the yellow-hued ones over those with white variegation. Mixed with various shades of green, they add a sunny brightness to her borders.

I think this is a Furcraea. Correction: It’s Yucca ‘Bright Star’

A bowl planter with a colorful mix of aloe, agave, and dyckia.

Tetrapanax (?) Shredded Umbrella Plant (Syneilesis aconitifolia) underplanted with echeveria and other succulents. What is that pointillist groundcover, I wonder? The groundcover, Loree tells me, is Corsican mint.

Ligularia and hosta in bloom prove that flowers aren’t out of place in the Danger Garden, though they aren’t the stars of the show.

I covet this: Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa). It probably grows like a weed in the Pacific Northwest, but it’s much too hot and dry for it in Austin. I can fantasize though.

A ground-level, rectangular planting pocket contains more succulents.

Just look at that contrast between the Hakonechloa and the black mondo grass—yum!

Looking back toward the patio from the right side of the lawn, you see Loree’s bigleaf magnolia (Magnolia macrophylla). It really does have enormous leaves.

Loree catches up on her reading as her guest maniacally tries to photograph every square inch of her exquisite garden.

Yucca rostrata ‘Sapphire Skies’ is a sphere of spiky, blue leaves in the border between patio and lawn.

Loree recently redesigned her sloping front garden after a series of hard winters decimated some of her tender plants. Unlike her neighbors’ grassy plots, Loree’s front yard is a lawnless, gravel-mulched dry garden.

A line of black mondo grass and equally dark Eucomis ‘Oakhurst’ emphasizes the geometry of the design.

Cannas cozy up to Opuntia, an unusual combination with big-leaf playfulness.

Here’s another bit of playfulness: Loree affixed Tillandsia and a bit of moss to the dried flower spike of a Yucca recurvifolia ‘Margarita’ to dress it up.

A closer look. Isn’t this a fun idea?

‘Color Guard’ yucca’s yellow leaves contrast with the dark purple of Eucomis ‘Oakhurst’ and smoke tree.

Agave schidigera ‘Shira ito no Ohi’ stands out in a red hanging pot.

Agave bovicornuta‘s orange teeth pick up the color of the shade pavilion.

Loree doesn’t place any man-made art in her garden, which I find unusual (most gardeners can’t resist, including me). But when you design as she does, with plants as sculptural focal points, the garden itself can be the work of art.

Loree, thanks so much for your hospitality! Meeting you and seeing your garden in person was a highlight of my trip. Oh, and I fully expect to see your garden in a gardening magazine one of these days.

Coming up next: A peek at Loree’s favorite Portland nurseries, Cistus and Joy Creek.

All material © 2006-2011 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

28 Responses

  1. Darla says:

    Get out of town! I have always wondered about Danger Garden and her lack of flowers..I freakin’ wonder no more! Her grounds are gorgeous and so well thought out. I am so glad you have featured her gardens, I love every view. Most inspiring, makes me rethink some of my gardening areas!

    Her garden is making me rethink areas in my own garden too, Darla. It was inspiring. —Pam

  2. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    I do believe you two are Sisters. What an amazing garden she has. It certainly deserves to be in a magazine. I am so glad you took so many photos. She has many points of inspiration. WOW. Isn’t your friendship a blessing too. Getting to meet is great.

    We’re in the Sisterhood of Agave Nuts, Lisa! It was great to meet Loree and spend time with her before the Fling. But I missed seeing YOU at the Fling. I haven’t seen you since the Chicago Fling. Think you’ll make it to Asheville next year? —Pam

  3. Caroline says:

    Stunning is right! Love the foliage, love the pots, love the color of the hardscaping. I want that Japanese forest grass, too. May have to retire to the Pacific Northwest to get it! Thanks for sharing. (And yes, I did miss your posts!)

    Yes, I bet we’re all making early retirement plans since our visit up there. Wasn’t it lovely? It was so fun to spend time with you at the Fling, Caroline. —Pam

  4. I’m usually not one for contemporary garden design, but Loree has made it — you’re right — magazine material!!! I too am coveting that Hakenochloa, and the black mondo with it caught my eye right away. And I got an idea from the picture of the small succulent in the red hanging pot. I have an upside down pot that I can’t seem to find anything to survive in, so I might try a little succulent that I doesn’t need much water. I am amazed at how she has so many “desert” plants in a climate of frequent rain. Unfortunately the flip side doesn’t seem to work the same…we can’t grow, for instance, Hakenochloa in our almost-desert conditions. Not fair, is it!! Maybe we could grow it as a bog plant?? H’m….now there’s an idea. Might try that. How fun to meet a kindred gardening spirit clear across the country!! I am fixin’ to meet in person two gardeners I met blogging when I visit Wisconsin, and I am so looking forward to it!!

    Growing Japanese forest grass as a bog plant in a dry climate is an interesting idea, Toni. Do it! And I can’t help wondering if you’re planning to meet the gardeners at Each Little World in Madison? I met them at the Chicago Fling in 2009 and visited their garden in person last fall. —Pam

  5. cheryl says:

    Fantabulous! I’ve forwarded this to my son who lives and yardens in Portland. I will be stealing a few of her ideas myself. Beautiful photos Pam, as always!

    Thanks, Cheryl. I’m glad you enjoyed them! —Pam

  6. Loree is so photogenic. Loved meeting her at the Fling, and her garden is soothing in its clean structure with pops of color. I love, love, love the small agaves in the rectangular container. Thanks for showing us.~~Dee

    It was my pleasure, Dee. Both Loree and her garden are wonderful. —Pam

  7. David C. says:

    WOW! You really personalized Danger’s incredible garden and its residents – yowza – that should be in a magazine, with you the photographer and author. She should be a landscape designer, too – obviously inspired by her city’s getting garden greatness. (like your city under the Death Star does) The plant and hardscape combos are amazing, to say the least. Not only is this foreign to my city, but even many San Diego gardeners would be jealous.

    And so cool to put the face w/ the name, as she resembles what I pictured from her writing. Though still photos do not translate what else I imagine, her darting to and fro throughout her outdoor spaces daily, keeping things “just so”. You made my Friday!

    You’ve given me an idea, David. I do believe Loree’s garden should be in a magazine, so maybe I’ll pitch a story idea myself. Why should some other writer have all the fun, right? —Pam

  8. Alison says:

    This is such a wonderful look at Loree’s garden! Thanks so much for showing us all the pictures you took, and all the little things that you noticed that we might not have seen from reading the danger garden blog. My own garden is a pretty typical cottage garden with lots of flowers, but I do appreciate good foliage, so looking at this, I can’t help but covet some of her striking plants and combinations. I bought a dark Eucomis during Fling, and now I wish I’d bought a couple more.

    Did you get your Eucomis at Dragonfly Farms, Alison? It’s such a striking plant, and Loree uses it to good effect in her front garden. But I bet it will mix nicely into a cottage garden too, just as sculptural agaves and yuccas do. —Pam

  9. Welcome back. And, you’re back with a bang. One word for this garden…WOW!
    I usually don’t like contemporary design, either. But, this is stunning.
    Thanks for taking us with you.

    Some contemporary gardens come off as cold and sterile, with minimal plants. But Loree’s, though clean-lined and modern, is definitely the garden of a plant lover. I’m glad you enjoyed it. —Pam

  10. Cat says:

    Hmmm, so much to say! We’ll have to have lunch! Welcome back! Okay, the dog is adorable…the garden amazing! and I want to move!!!! Since there is no chance of that, maybe just a quick trip to the mountains! Seriously, what a treat to get to meet a blogging friend and enjoy her gorgeous garden to boot. Glad you enjoyed your time away. Looking forward to your future posts of the beautiful northwest!

    Lunch would be great, Cat! We can commiserate over the heat and drought and fantasize about moving—just for the summer—to Portland or Seattle. ;-) —Pam

  11. Pam you made my garden look so good! I think you and your camera are magic.

    I am so lucky you were able to visit Portland before the Fling, hanging out with you was a wonderful way to start the weekend. I can’t wait to visit you in Austin and see your garden in person (and drool over your agave collection!).

    A couple of plant names…the plant that you note might be a Furcraea is actually a Yucca “Bright Star”…the one you call Tetrapanax (?) is Syneilesis aconitifolia (Shredded Umbrella Plant). And the ground-cover that you wonder about is Corsican Mint…I wish I would have thought to have you run your fingers (or toes) over it, the smell is fabulous! I hope you can come back again someday, I’ve got still got long list of nurseries to take you too…

    Loree, thank YOU so much for making me feel so welcome AND for sharing your birthday with me. I had a wonderful time. And I would love to show you around Austin one day and have a glass of wine with you on my patio. I won’t worry about the drooling, as my agave collection is ever so small compared to yours. ;-)

    Thanks for the plant IDs too. —Pam

  12. Pam, I am so happy to see the garden of my new old friend and fellow Portlander! You did such a great job of highlighting so many of her creative touches. Thanks so much for doing this Danger Garden feature. I think many of us have been craving it.

    I was too, Ann! I feel very lucky to have been able to visit Loree and her garden in person. It was great to meet YOU at the Fling too. Next time I come to Portland I would love to meet up with you and the other Portland bloggers. You have a thriving blogging community, like Austin. Perhaps you guys will want to host the Fling one day… —Pam

  13. Jean says:

    Wow, wow, wow! I had no idea Loree’s garden looked like that. It’s just my style. And yes, it should be in a magazine. Wish I could move there and start one up just to feature it! Congrats Loree on such a beautiful place.
    Btw, I’m jealous of your nursery expeditions!

    It was so fun, Jean. There was so much to see in Portland, and my time there was very short. I can see that I’m going to have to plan another visit one day. —Pam

  14. WOW! Loree your garden is so amazing and inspiring! Black mondo and Eucomis ‘Oakhurst’ – brilliant! And all of your containers are so lovely. Love the orange gazebo too. Pam, your photos are so excellent! Thanks for sharing! I wish I could have hung out more with you two in Seattle. Glad to meet you gals though!

    I was so glad to meet you at the Fling too, Kelly! I’m glad you enjoyed the pics of Loree’s garden. It is, as you can see, very photogenic. —Pam

  15. Michelle D. says:

    Stunning photography of an equally stunning garden.
    Thanks so much for this tour of breathless beauty.
    Garden Design magazine should be beating Loree’s door down for a photo shoot and story. … and I know just the right photographer to do her garden design justice.

    Michelle, thanks so much for the flattering comment. Loree’s garden is one that presents excellent vignettes at every turn. And I agree that Garden Design should be beating down her door. —Pam

  16. vbdb says:

    Don’t know which I love the most – the dog, the garden, or the gardener.

    So jealous for the extra time you spent with Loree AND that you got to visit one of my favorite nurseries in the world, Cistus. At least we can participate through your wonderful pictures.

    The dog is adorable, the garden stunning, and the gardener delightful. Wasn’t it fun to spend time with Loree at the Fling? I’m so glad you were able to attend this year, Vicki. It was great to spend time with YOU there too. —Pam

  17. Welcome home. You made me wish to live in Seattle. Have you tried cut-rice grass available at Madrone Nursery in San Marcus ( for brightening shade in Austin? I’ve been coveting it but don’t have a permanent garden now while I’m traveling and volunteering.

    I have not heard of cut-rice grass, Marilyn, but it looks promising and I will sure check it out. Thanks for the link. I’ve had good luck with Texas sedge in my garden and seen Berkeley sedge used to beautiful effect here in Austin. More low-care grasses and sedges that can tolerate our extreme conditions would be welcome. —Pam

  18. ricki says:

    For those of us who have been following Loree’s blog, it is such fun to see her garden through your eyes…and I can think of no better guide to show you Portland. Please come back soon.

    I plan to, Ricki. Portland is a beautiful and fun city. I only wish I’d had more time (I had one day) so that I could have met other local bloggers! —Pam

  19. Denise says:

    I was so hoping you’d be covering the fling. Yes, you were missed! Wonderful photos of Loree’s stunning garden.

    Thanks for missing me, Denise! I missed YOU at the Fling. Hope to meet you one of these days. It’s going to be in Asheville, NC, next year. —Pam

  20. Becky Waak says:

    This is lovely. What a nice intro for the Fling gardens. Thanks for sharing

    My pleasure, Becky. It was lovely to spend time with you and your daughter and son-in-law at the Fling. Wasn’t the Pink Door amazing? —Pam

  21. Kathryn/ says:

    Pam, I can’t even imagine a garden venture more perfect for your tastes! You must have been delirious, especially after all the heat you’ve been experiencing. So, number one, I’M HAPPY FOR YOU! How kind of your new friend to invite you into her world. And thank you so much for documenting it so beautifully. Those photos will be drunk in by overheated gardeners over the entire country, no doubt. Perfection!

    Kathryn, thanks for the kind words! It was such a pleasure to see Loree’s garden in person, and to spend time with her on her home turf. What a wonderful vacation it was. More soon! —Pam

  22. LOVE IT! Loree’s garden rocks!

    It does, Susan. One of the best I’ve seen anywhere. —Pam

  23. Diana says:

    Awesome. Loree was so fun and her garden is stunning. You were separated at birth! Her combinations are so creative and vibrant. Her garden could have been the highlight of a Fling Day had she been closer. Thanks for sharing it with us-especially since we CAN grow those things here!

    That’s true, Diana—we CAN grow some of her beloved plants here in Austin, namely the agaves, yuccas, and other succulents she favors. Lucky us! —Pam

  24. […] a look back at my visit to Loree’s personal garden, click here. Next up, the first garden visit of the Seattle Spring Fling, Shelagh Tucker’s […]

  25. Les says:

    I am always amazed at how a different set of eyes portrays what I considered somewhat familiar. I have been following Loree for some time now, and have been amazed at what she can grow, and what she has done with her garden. But, your photos of it have taken it to a new level. I will echo the others, call the magazines!

    I’m glad you enjoyed the tour, Les. Let me tell you, Loree’s garden is even better in person. She’s created an amazing space. —Pam

  26. Cindy, MCOK says:

    WOW … I mean, seriously! WOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Fabulous design sense and plantsmanship coupled with the Portland climate equal … well, WOW.

    I know exactly what you mean, Cindy. Wow! —Pam

  27. jenn says:

    Loree – love how your garden provided just the right amount of floral grace notes for this visit. Beauty.

    Pam – Holy cow woman, you are amazing with that camera. Thank you thank you thank you for this tour. Fantastic!

    Believe me, Jenn, the pleasure was mine. Thanks for kind compliment! —Pam

  28. Stunning photos of Loree’s garden, Pam, and a narrative that pulls them all together beautifully. I’ve been lucky enough to visit the danger garden a couple of times, and your photos really do it justice. A magazine spread is definitely be in your future: demand both writing and photo control and credit!

    I would like that, Jane—something to work toward. Thanks for the lovely comment. —Pam