I remember first learning of Xera after moving to Portland through their unique and wonderful plants stocked at both Portland Nursery and Garden Fever — they were often plants that were new to me, and they had the most captivating label descriptions. And then at some point they had an open house at the nursery down in Sherwood, and while visiting I was transfixed and became a lifelong customer. Now we’re lucky enough to have a Xera retail nursery right down the road from me!
Not only are Greg and Paul (Xera’s co-owners) incredibly knowledgeable and helpful, but they’re also a little bit no-nonsense, which I really appreciate. They’re going to encourage you to try new plants (to you), but all of those plants are are incredibly well tested for our climate (cool, wet winters and hot, dry summers) and with simple directions will do well for you. They’re not going to put up with a plant that needs lots of babying, and their knowledge of what does well in our climate, and our climate itself is vast.
I’ll also confess here that I have a soft spot for silver-leaved plants, lots of texture, foliage-driven design and minimal water use, and Greg’s garden is full of wonderful ideas for all of this.
We’ll start in front of the house where the front garden is a rockery with a gentle slope. Many Portland homes have a similar slope in their front gardens because when the streets were dug out, the earth was mounded up on either side and the houses were built on that, and I always love to see how people approach this. Depending on the height, some use boulders, some use retaining walls or terracing, and some just embrace the slope as Greg has done here.
There’s evergreen privacy along the front porch to provide some shade using leptospermum and arctostaphylos, and much of the rest of the front includes hebe, fescue, euphorbia, sedum, and callistemon — along with some particularly wonderful agave bracteosa ‘Calamar’. It’s packed with plants, which is my favorite approach, and the color palette is beautifully soft and washed out in the late summer.
I imagine there are some spring-time treasures in there too, so I hope to visit again one day at that time of year. Looking towards the path along the left side of the house you can see the crispy flower heads of penstemon and sedum at this particularly hot and dry time of year, but also how this xeric design is soft and meandering. I so often see xeric landscapes associated with hard-edged, modern design with lots of hardscaping (also good!), but it certainly doesn’t have to be that way, and I love it when it’s not. His neighbors are pretty lucky to have a view of this year-round.
And the hellstrip — it’s a masterpiece! We have a particularly narrow hellstrip (just 1.5′ wide, or so) and I regularly stop my car while driving around to appreciate ones I see that do a good job of making such a narrow space look great. I could look at this for hours — I love the bronze and silver combo — and I imagine there’s lots of gold in there earlier in the season from the callistemon viridiflorus ‘Xera Compact’ and euphorbia. Greg was telling me how it makes him ornery to water in summer, and when you see how beautifully these plants perform without any water, and in such a difficult spot, I completely understand that sentiment.
Moving around the right side of the house, up the driveway, we start to see some opuntia — which I imagine are a sight to behold at the end of the porch when flowering.
There are also boulders placed strategically throughout the garden — either to retain soil/gravel, or to provide visual anchors and to break up the plant material, often with similar, tiny leaves. There are also lots of plants beloved by bees and hummingbirds, and this garden must be a magnet for them.
Moving around the back you come upon a shade structure with a killer bell, which very nicely plays off of all the soft blues and silvers in the garden. That frothy plant in the back on the right in this photo is asparagus, which is beautiful in addition to being delicious. There are also gorgeous artichokes there, showing that the food you grow can easily fit in with you garden design without being segmented off somewhere else.
A little further along is this begonia, which in its saturated color is such a stand-out, and clearly a much-loved plant. When those azara microphylla along the back fence get bigger, that’s going to be a wonderful evergreen screen that isn’t too dense — and the scent when they bloom will be intoxicating (it probably already is).
Moving across the back garden there’s a lovely, faded stump as a focal point. Also of note is that the garden space isn’t very big, but it’s broken up into perimeter beds and island beds that are filled with such interesting plants with a cohesive color palette that it seems much bigger than it is, even if you don’t know much about the plants themselves (meaning you don’t stop every 2 feet to get absorbed in what’s growing together & how).
I particularly loved this vignette, and how the eryngium have held onto their purple color even when completely dry. Also, that Cupressus glabra ‘Blue Ice’ is a stand-out plant for me and I hope to include more of it in future gardens I design.
This garden is such an inspiration, not only because it’s beautifully designed and contains unique and wonderful plants, but also because it’s designed perfectly for our climate, which is Xera’s whole modus operandi. As our summers here become even more hot & dry in the future, seeing examples like this of what can be done with hardly any supplemental water makes me want to work even harder to use less. Bravo!