Hartley Magazine

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Cool Ideas and Hot Plant Picks

I recently attended a three-day plant-o-rama—a garden study weekend sponsored by the Hardy Plant Society of Oregon. Each morning, all 500-plus of us (some from as far away as England) gathered at the University of Portland to listen to horticultural stars like designer Nan Sinton, landscape architect Bernard Trainor, and edibles expert Jack Staub. Afternoons were spent exploring private gardens around the city.

Plant vendors from Northwest specialty nurseries—among them Cistus, Collector’s, Joy Creek, Log House Plants, Gossler Farms and Dancing Oaks—offered their wares. The buying was fierce. (See hot plants below.)

Here are three outstanding ideas I took away from the conference.

Garden every inch, from alley to curb. Fergus Garrett, who asked to be introduced simply as “The head gardener at Great Dixter,” said he was seeing this trend all around Portland. It’s true. Interesting gardens were sprouting on every street corner—with very little lawn in sight—and when the plants sprawled outward, the sidewalk got involved as well.

Single colors create bold displays. Thomas Hobbs, author of Shocking Beauty, showed photos of his new Vancouver, BC condo where he experiments with monochromatic choices—all silver or all orange—and puts together exciting arrangements of leaf form and texture. Wowie.

Design with your heart as well as your eyes. Linda Crockett, Portland landscape designer, talked about making decisions for our gardens, based not only on practicality but on feelings. For instance, you might choose words like “sharing,” “warmth,” or “friends,” when thinking about an outdoor living room. These words would affect your design. You might create seating in a smaller space than first planned, surrounding it with large plantings for a more cozy feel. Adding feelings to our choices and our gardens become more specific and personal.

And now, here are plants that were leaping off the sale tables. Over-winter tender ones in a greenhouse.

  • Acer circinatum’Burgundy Jewel’– Rare red-leafed maple also shows red stems year round, to 12 feet, Zone 7-9.
  • Arisaema flavum – A small Jack in the pulpit, with yellow hooded flowers, for moist shade, Zone 5-9.
  • Clematis vitacella ‘Justa’– Good for containers, this 3-foot vine, and small gardens, with light blue flowers, Zone 4-9.
  • Michauxia tchihachewii – A 5-foot tall biennial, (self sows for more) with fabulous white flowers in summer, Zone 7-9.
  • Penstemon ‘Blackbird’ – This 3-foot Great Plant Picks selection shows off deep burgundy tubular flowers, Zone 7-9.