Saturday, October 15, 2011

New Blog!

Visit my new blog I'm trying out on Tumblr.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Willow Fence Finished!

Willow and Red Twig Dogwood Fence with Little Red Shed in the Background.

Fence Creators

Fence Helper

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Garden Projects at Edgefield

   I began working at Edgefield (McMenamins)in Troutdale, in December of last year. I was hired on as the assistant manager in the Gardens Department. Believe it or not, but McMenamins employs a staff of 6 to manage and maintain the grounds, which includes a 1/4 acre vegetable garden. The gardens are densely planted with a designer's eye, and a collector's sensibility; overflowing borders with rare and unique plant selection. It really is a garden lover's paradise. Though most patrons wouldn't even know it.

   I wanted to update this blog regarding a few projects that are either in progress or already completed.

   The first project I was able to complete were two brick pathways behind Blackberry Hall, which is the larger of the indoor entertainment venues on property. A couple of soggy gravel pathways lead to an outdoor meadow where a lot of the weddings in the summer take place. These pathways desperately needed to be hardscaped. We used some of the materials we had on site, some left over pavers from a previous project, and some brick from salvaged from an old building in Portland. The paths turned out great.

Most recently I finished out a small stone and pebble area in spa garden. A towel/robe rack was installed last year but the floor was left dirt, and with heavy use throughout the winter it turned to mud pretty quickly. We wanted to use the same flagstone that was used around the soaking pool but we only had 4 or 5 small pieces left and a flat piece of old mortar that looked like flagstone. Mexican Beach Pebbles were used to fill out the rest of the area.

Lastly our most ambitious project comes in the form of a fence. Not just an ordinary fence; a fence around the pond garden at one the most hallowed areas at Edgefield:  The Little Red Shed.

The fence we envisioned was not going to be a traditional fence, but something more naturalistic, a bit whimsical, and artistic, and yet perfectly functional and lasting. Knowing we had numerous willow and red twig dogwoods on property that are pruned every year we decided to stockpile these prunings as materials we could use to weave a fence. We used round posts, same as the ones in the vineyard, placed 6 to 8 ft apart that gently curve around the back side of the pond linking up with The Little Red Shed. Here are some photos of the project in progress.

Later in the spring we will be doing some new planting around the pond edges and along the fence, so I'll be updating the progress of this project as it continues. 

Monday, February 14, 2011

The PNW: a climate with a gardening identity crisis.

After reading Timber Press' "Guide to Gardening in the PNW," and after a year of trying earnestly to understand our unique climatic situation here in the Willamette Valley, I have to honestly say that I am still mildly puzzled about this regions most appropriate method of planting is. The way I see it there are two schools of thought, or two methods to one's gardening madness.
   The first is the old-school PNW style which takes advantage of our cool, wet, mild winters, and naturally rich soils. After all, 8-9 months out of the year the weather is, well, wet and cool, and the soil is the soil, and there's no way around that without changing it with costly and labor-intensive amendments.  So then why not garden like its England, with brilliantly lush borders, and tightly clipped yew hedges?  Why not plant flowering dogwoods and delphiniums? Why? Well, welcome to the second school of thought:  The Mediterranean Garden.
   Here in the Willamette Valley, though it does feel like the UK at times, those 3 months out of the year when the sun blazes down on our pale, pallid faces we are decidedly not Nottingham. We are, say it with me, "A Modified Mediterranean Climate."  And that says it a perfectly crafted synechdoche, that 3 month period between July and September though just a part of the whole, captures the whole in its truest sense. And yet what puzzles us gardeners, or at least myself, is that besides our beloved native plants there really isn't a distinctly comparable climate on planet Earth, which can make gardening all the more confusing. Don't get me wrong the Pacific Northwest is a wonderful climate to garden in. The wholesale nursery business wouldn't be what it is today if it wasn't, but it is one with a nebulous philosophical foundation.Which, when I say nebulous, I mean there really is no right way to garden. Which leads to lots of differing opinions and grey answers. If you choose the way of the Brits, or our East Coast brethren, you will generally grow plants that live long, generally prosper, but unless you are only growing prairie grass, it will need constant inputs, (i.e. fertilizer, compost, pruning, deadheading, etc....). Not only is this method labor intensive it also tends tends to be fleeting, and prone to long periods of aesthetic dormancy (i.e. most deciduous woody plants). Oh, and when the glorious sun comes shining down, don't expect to sit out on the patio and soak it up. If you haven't paid for an expensive irrigation system you'll be spending your free time watering all those thirsty, thin-leaved aquaholics. Don't worry, thankfully here in Oregon rain is just around the corner.
   If this doesn't sound appealing you can choose the Mediterranean way, mixed with some native plant favorites and you will be rewarded with minimal maintenance, little to no watering, and year-round performance and visual appeal. What's not to love!?! Well, for one many dry-garden plants are from warmer, milder climates, and though are climate is mild, the freak cold snap which seems to happen every few years will wipe out many or our borderline hardy plants (i.e. The Great Phormium Die-off), and secondly and most importantly most Mediterranean plants are adapted to soils much leaner than our clay-heavy loams, with periods of rain that last 6 months, nothing too far north of that, which usually means 6 months of dry. Plants that are tolerant of drought tend to go through a period of dormancy in the summer when it is dry and hot. So when in July when the rains have finally tapered off a dry-garden plant would have already have closed up shop for the year. Not so here, and the plants respond by growing and growing some more. Seems innocent enough, right?  More growth equals good, right?  Not really.  These plants tend to be short-lived anyways, partly due to their fire-prone origins, so there growth needs to be measured.  Rich soil and rain into July just means that a 20 year life spans is cut to 8 years, and 10 year life span is reduced to four.  You know the saying "too much of a good thing."  That is exactly what is happening here. Feed a human being too much candy and junk food and watch their health deteriorate.  Give a plant more than what it needs and watch it perform bountifully, just don't get too attached.
    So what do we do?  Which path do we follow?  Well as in most things, it is all relative.  So it really depends on your specific site conditions, aspect, soils, drainage, etc.  And most people can get away with multiple methods for one landscape. It takes an understanding of your site, and its seasonal patterns over the course of a year.  Much of it comes down to a personal aesthetic. A style perhaps. I personally have a natural affinity for xeric plants, and thus I gravitate toward plants that are greyish cast, small-leaved, sometimes spiky. My compromise for short-lived species is too try and thin out soils (with gravel) that are water-retentive or rich. I figure its easier to amend soil to make it lean, than to continually add organic material year in and year out. I also like to design using berms which makes a natural fit for xeriscaping. If you are lucky enough to live on a slope, preferably facing south or east, just remember how, well, lucky you are.

  Another thing to remember:  there is no right way to garden. Just a lot of wrong ones.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Oak Street Church design

  Most people have never heard of Piet Oudolf.  Even in the horticultural trade maybe 1 out of every 10 people I encounter are familiar with the Dutch designer.  Well, if you are familiar with his work, you know that his perennial and ornamental grass compositions are like rich symphonies of incomparable combinations.  He and a few other designers have championed a plant-focused design movement employing many of the wildflowers that inhabit the prairies of North America.

   In this design, along the sidewalk strip of a church in Silverton, I pay homage to Mr. Oudolf, though Piet would probably never use blue fescues in his designs.  Oak Street Church is a community-focused church, and wanted a landscape that was vibrant, diverse and low-maintenance. We achieved this using Oudolf's method of garden design.

   What really makes this design standout is the length of the border.  A good 70 feet long and almost 8 feet wide this border allowed me to create a perennial drama of color, with Echinacea, Liatris, and Russian Lavender providing the action, while ornamental grasses such as Calamagrostis 'Karl Foerester', Deschampsia, Pennisetums and others lend structure, texture, and context.  Without the grasses this design just looks like a mess.  With the grasses it achieves a "wild" look without feeling out of control.  Grasses not only provide structural  balance, but also provide a soft earthy, golden colors that help accent the bold injections of perennial color.  Also, their visual texture helps make the composition more palpable, breaking up the perennials into visually manageable groups. 

   Less is More.  Limiting the number of perennials to four (Echinacea, Sedums, Liatris, Lavender) allows the design to be wild and bold.  If we cram too many different perennial species in here we get visual overload.  Too many colors competing against each other. But with only four different species, all planted in bunches for maximum impact, our eyes can travel the length of the design without feeling overwhelmed.

   Lastly, this design is also incredibly easy to maintain, provides ample pollen and nectar sources for our native bees, and needs minimal water during the summer.  I think Piet would approve.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Irving Street Kitchen patio

   A few months back I was asked to design the planters at a new restaurant in the Pearl District.  The restaurant, called Irving Street Kitchen, was in the process of getting a facelift, transforming itself from its previous manifestation as Bay 13; a cold, metallic-heavy, industrial designed airplane hangar.  The inside was already vastly improved with rich reds, and lots of rough wood, but the outside was still very nautical and shiny, aluminum and concrete being the common elements.

   The cantilever that covers the loading dock or patio as Irving St. Kitchen now calls it keeps the sun from pouring down onto patrons, but also limits the amount of available sunlight, yet because of all the reflective material on the patio the area remains very bright.  I chose plants that prefer part sun, and maybe even pushed the boundary on this requirement.  I wanted to use neutral tones with soft textural grasses to make the patio area feel more relaxing. The more earthy tones of grey-green and tawny-brown of the grasses flowers convey softness (a contrast to the metal), without the color contrast of bright flowers or foliage.

   We chose a Coral-bark Japanese Maple for the entrance, planted with Black Mondo grass as a more dramatic entrance piece.  The more lipstick red of the bark echoes the brick red of the bar inside.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Front yard update

I finished installing the front yard.  I went with pavers for the two access paths, mounded all the beds, planted drought tolerants and covered everything in 1/4 minus screened (clear) gravel.  Here's what it looks like.

July 2010 (jeffry)
access path

Initially these plants will need to be watered throughout the summer, but with the mulch in place it won't be more often then every two to three weeks.  By next summer they won't need any supplemental irrigation, possibly once or twice just to keep looking good.  As far as maintenance its just weeding.  The grasses, Sedums, lavenders and others will be pruned once in the late winter or early spring.  This is called a low-maintenance garden, not a gardener's garden, but still beautiful, and without the time, cost, and resources of a traditional lawn and border front yard. Sit back and enjoy.

It's definitely a Mediterranean look as of now.  I'm going to wait until the fall to plant a sorely needed tree.  When the temperature rises past 90 degrees a little shade goes a long way.