I’m so lucky to have landed in Portland, Oregon as my home base. Not only is it a town filled with gardeners, but it’s a town filled with garden tours. One of the ones I look forward to each year is the Green on Green tour, which is a benefit for Albertina Kerr; who provide programs and services to children and adults with developmental disabilities and mental health challenges, empowering them to live richer lives.
There are three gardens I want to share with you here that I really loved. The first one is a garden I’ve admired for a long time.
A little back story:
When I first moved here seven years ago, I was new to gardening and, of course, new to this climate. I grew up in coastal Connecticut, then lived in Maryland, London & San Francisco before moving here. Except for Connecticut, I lived in small apartments, some with very little light. I had a small, struggling house plant collection, but no garden or garden access in any of those apartments until San Francisco. There, in the last place I lived before moving to Portland, I started to get the gardening bug. But as a renter, there wasn’t much I wanted to invest in besides some patio containers. So I started experimenting in pots with plants I remembered from my childhood, like hydrangeas, with very little success. I knew I wanted to find a more permanent place I could really let loose, and I tried to keep a lid on my burgeoning plant passion until we owned a home of our own.
In retrospect, I squandered an opportunity to grow some amazing plants there, but I had no idea what I was doing at the time. And the same was true when I started my garden here in Portland (in December 2008), where I live in a 1901 bungalow on a 50×100′ lot. Knowing that what I wanted to achieve was far outside of what I had the capability & understanding to create, I started researching & learning … I read whole collections of books from the library, I started touring local nurseries to see what was on offer, I took classes, and I turned to the internet. And one of the first blogs I found there was Danger Garden.
Danger Garden is also in Portland, Oregon, and since that first discovery of the blog it opened my eyes to what’s possible here. Danger Garden introduced me to plants I’d never heard of, nurseries I’d never gone to, and a way of gardening that is forever inspirational. So when I found out that this garden I’d followed for years online was part of this year’s tour, I was so excited. So excited to see the garden, and to meet the gardener!
My husband is game enough to come on garden tours with me, and when we pulled up on the right street & I caught sight of the garden, he was great enough not to make too much fun of me when I gleefully exclaimed, “THIS IS IT! THIS IS IT!”
Let’s get started on the tour…
Apologies to the woman in the blue top. This is what you see as you approach. It’s a gardener’s nirvana of plants for dry climates. You may be thinking, “But Kate, Portland is only a dry climate for approximately 30% of the year!” And this is the beauty of Danger Garden — it’s a garden that takes the idea of what you might expect to find in our neck of the woods, and turns it on its head.
Apologies to the man in the white top. The approach to the front door is just marvelous — the dark house color with crisp white trim and the pop of the green door perfectly set off some expert plantings.
I was particularly drawn to the planting to the right of the front steps. That combination of amsonia hubrichtii, the canna lily, the agave, the euphorbia, the opuntia and others is just spectacular. (apologies for the bad photo)
One of the things Danger Garden is known for are the container plantings, including these great hanging containers. These two give you a quick taste of what you’ll find in the back garden, and continue the modern design aesthetic you find throughout the garden.
Moving into the back garden there’s one great view and vignette after another. And the plants. Oh man, THE PLANTS!
There are so many plants, so wonderfully combined. The color palette is relatively restrained with pops of orange throughout. The planting is foliage focused, and the textures are everything you can think of — from spiky to fuzzy to chalky to glossy & everything in between. And there’s just about every shade of foliage available, with an emphasis on the blues & silvers, dusky purples & bronzes, and many shades of green.
And these aren’t plants you see every day. These are rare, unusual, and exquisite.
The hardscaping is also great — clean and modern with a focus on concrete and gravel/stones. Pea gravel and lawn provide open spaces that allow you to explore the garden fully, and also provide places to sit and relax.
Here is another wonderful vignette of planted containers. I love that all the containers can be mixed and matched and combined in various ways throughout the year from the vast collection. This allows for new combinations to be experimented with, favorite plants to be enjoyed up close, and for plants reaching their peak to be brought to the front while others who have past their prime (or haven’t yet hit it) to be put in a less prominent spot.
There’s even a generous container pond, providing much needed water to local wildlife, and a cooling view on a hot day.
The shade of the magnolia macrophylla was great in the mid-day sun, and the tree formed a great role as a pivot point between one area of the back garden and another.
The garden tour was happily filled with curious people, so there are some things I didn’t get photos of, like the wonderful shade pavilion, which you can see in this photo tour Danger Garden did as a year-in-review. And I encourage you to explore the Danger Garden site to see many photos not only of this garden, but many others too — it’s updated frequently and is filled with wonderful content.
I was lucky enough to meet the gardener herself, who was lovely and gracious in the midst of what I’m sure was a stressful day. Her passion for gardening and the garden she created is palpable, and I was so happy to be able to tell her how wonderful it is to see it, and her, in person.
Thank you, Danger Garden, for opening your garden, for being a constant inspiration, and for continually working to expand what is considered possible in our Zone 8 gardens!