Hartley Magazine

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The Best Garden You’ll Find in a Book

Marietta and Ernie O’Byrne are hands-on gardeners and designers

I once received a breezy Christmas letter with the advice— “Everyone should take their family to the Galapagos.” I fell out laughing. Really? Everyone? What would the Galapagos look like then? And yet, when I walk into the garden of Marietta and Ernie O’Byrne, I understand that letter writer’s impulse. Everyone should see this acre-and-a half Oregon gem.

For almost a quarter of a century, I’ve been returning to the O’Byrne’s Northwest Garden Nursery, known for their Winter Jewels® hellebores. I’ve watched the seasonal changes on their land and experienced the amazing artful and creative choices made by this intensely plant-loving couple. The garden is living and growing and dying—in the most elegant and beautiful way. Marietta and Ernie’s design sensibilities are both subtle and astonishing. I’ve written about this place for several horticultural publications.

Marietta pollinates hellebores with Gussy supervising. (Courtesy Ernie O’Byrne)

But, unlike that letter writer, I realize not everyone can see this garden. So now I’m celebrating. The couple has written a book, A Tapestry Garden—The Art of Weaving Plants and Place. It’s the next-best thing to being there. A map of the whole property on the inside cover numbers the various gardens and greenhouses—the woodland walk, perennial long border, shade garden, dry chaparral, rock garden, and conifers, plus a bounteous vegetable patch—so you can picture yourself in the different locations.

It’s as if Marietta is walking alongside you, giving you practical advice and observations—plant care; early and late-blooming pairings; how and when to divide hellebores; controlling bamboo; or what choice bulbs voles prefer to eat—all is interspersed with wry humor.  Marietta says about the voles, “We grow what can and have learned not to lose our temper (except now and then).”

Cover of Tapestry Garden (Courtesy Timber Press)

A Tapestry Garden reads like the most enticing descriptions in plant catalogs. But Marietta also mentions the failures—what dies, or doesn’t do well in their location, or just looks “ratty.” That in itself, is an education most garden books won’t deliver.

And if, after you read it, you decide to put this garden on your must-see list, you can arrange for an appointment. Visit the Northwest Garden Nursery website.

The O’Byrnes are generous about sharing their garden with others, but don’t expect a tour. This is not a public garden, so wheelchair accessibility may be limited. And with a country septic system, visitors’ facilities are confined to portable potties. That said, when you visit, you’ll have the freedom to explore on your own and discover the many fabulous delights that await you around every single turn.  Enjoy.