Tuesday, January 19, 2010

PNW Regional Gardening

The wonderful Garden Designers BlogLink postings on Regional Gardening Styles and Diversity around the country (back on Jan 6th) got me thinking about our regional gardening style here in Portland, and the PNW in general. In case you missed them here are the bloggers that participated, you'll have to go back in their archives to get their posts for the 6th of Jan:

Jocelyn Chilvers, Wheat Ridge, CO – The Art Garden
Susan Cohan, Chatham, NJ - Miss Rumphius’ Rules
Michelle Derviss, Novato, CA - Garden Porn
Tara Dillard, Stone Mountain, GA - Landscape Design Decorating Styling
Dan Eskelson, Priest River, ID - Clearwater Landscapes Garden Journal
Scott Hokunson, Granby, CT - Blue Heron Landscapes
Susan L. Morrison, San Francisco Bay Area - Blue Planet Garden Blog
Pam Penick, Austin, TX - Digging
Ivette Soler, Los Angeles, CA - The Germinatrix
Laura Schaub, San Jose, CA - Interleafings
Susan Schlenger, Charlottesville, VA - Landscape Design Advice
Genevieve Schmidt, Arcata, CA - North Coast Gardening
Rebecca Sweet, Los Altos, CA - Gossip in the Garden

The closest blogger to my neck of the woods is Genevieve Schmidt in Arcata, California with her blog North Coast Gardening. Her post for this round-up focuses on PNW natives. A hot topic these days, and one that further illustrates how I fail miserably at what the Germinatrix identified as …. ”Celebrating Regional Diversity, or – “If You’re Not In The Climate You Love, Love The Climate You’re In !!!” I’m not all that hot about native plants. There, I admitted it.

So what do I think defines PNW gardening? Well first I need to define what I mean by Pacific Northwest. Curious about what the “official” designation includes I looked it up, most websites include British Columbia, Washington and Oregon, along with some combination of southeast Alaska, Idaho, western Montana and northernmost California. This definition is a little broad when we’re talking about gardening. Eastern Washington and Eastern Oregon, all parts of Alaska and most of Idaho as well as Montana are a completely different climate than mine here in Western Oregon. So I’m going to stick with what I know, narrow yes, but that way I’m not doing a disservice to the good folks gardening in the places I am not familiar with. I’m concentrating on the Western Coast, or the I-5 corridor of Vancouver BC, down through Washington, Oregon and maybe just a bit into Northern most California. The rest of you in California are in a different (dream) world as far as I am concerned (sound like I am jealous? You bet).

My list of things that typify PNW Regional Gardening includes:

• Trees – the big coniferous ones….Firs, Pines, Spruce and the like. Grace commented on one of my posts about Fillmore, Ca, saying it was odd to see mountains that didn’t have trees on them. Trees are pretty much EVERYWHERE you look here. Our borrowed landscape will always include them. Always.
• Flowering evergreen shrubs….Rhododendrons, Azalea, Camellia. There isn’t a single garden without at least one of these, even mine.• Asian influence – I’m not talking about the strict Chinese or Japanese garden, but the subtle influence of the garden styles found in these cultures, it’s very prevalent in my PNW. This includes the yews, the Japanese maples and other evergreens that are seemingly in every other garden here in Portland. The color combinations (greens, browns and burgundies) frequently seen in our gardens also have an Asian feel.
• Besides the Asian influence we’ve also got a heavy dose of the English style. Think roses and hydrangeas that grow like weeds around here plus our threatening quantities of ivy taking over every surface that doesn’t move.
• Then there are the cool moist shady PNW standbys…the Ferns, Hostas and our native Trilliums (hey look at that I did throw in a native!)
And getting really local the things I feel make Portland gardens stand out include…
• The Portland DYOT (do your own thing) aesthetic – I read about the uproar in other parts of the country over gardeners tearing out their lawn and planting wildflowers, vegetables, or any combination of trees, shrubs and plants. Here in Portland that isn’t an oddity. It sometimes seems that manicured lawns are the odd ones out.
• Water, we’ve still got it! While I believe every one is more aware of this valuable resource and we’re planting drought tolerant plants even here in Portland we do still have ample rainfall most of the year here. So much so that many drought tolerant plants aren’t happy in our gardens, to much water in the winter months kills them off.• Brown lawns. Often when a lawn remains here in Portland there is a good chance it’s going to be allowed to go dormant in the summer. I believe this partially this is due to the desire to conserve the water resource but I also think there’s a heavy dose of peer pressure (oh, gosh…I can’t be the only one with a green lawn!) and laziness, if you don’t water you don’t have to mow! On the flip side, we enjoy a bright green fall and winter when the lawns come back in their green glory. And then they don’t even need to be mowed!
• And last but not least, zonal denial. A phrase (I believe) coined by our local Sean Hogan of Cistus Nursery. I'm not the only one up in these parts that wants to believe we are really a zone 9 and buys accordingly. It seems to be a regional epidemic!

that is my highly subjective little list of PNW Regional Gardening styles. What would you add? What do you disagree with? I’d love to hear your thoughts!


  1. I love hearing your take on regional gardening in your area, Loree. My own from-afar impressions of Portland gardens definitely include that green/brown/burgundy color combo you mentioned. Yes, I can see the Asian influence and certainly the backdrop of tall trees. I would add a contemporary, hib vibe as well, don't you agree? How about rocks? Do local gardeners tend to use rock that represents the distinctive shoreline in your region?

    Thanks so much for continuing the dialog, and for the links. I'll tweet about your follow-up to the other contributors so they can find it too.

  2. I've had the pleasure of visiting Portland only once, but even in the winter it felt very lush and green, green, green! Sounds like your abundance of moisture can be almost as annoying as our lack of it. Thanks for your insights and for the links.

  3. Hi Loree~~ EXCELLENT post! Too bad the Garden Styles and Diversity panel couldn't have included someone from the PNW. You've written a post worthy of this region's representation. I think your summations are right on target. With our moderate climate we can design eclectic gardens--combine garden design elements to good effect. And have you noticed that nothing stays small? Plants grow really fast here. I love your, "Our borrowed landscape will always include [trees]." So true!! I hadn't thought about the Japanese influence in the name of Japanese maples but yes. They are ubiquitous and so cherished by PNWers,aren't they? And water features are important elements in our gardens as well.

    I don't think I could do your essay justice by adding to it.

    Although it's possible that these are global attitudes and not region-specific, it's been my observation that there is a consensus here. We die-hard gardeners are always fluid, always looking for ways to improve our gardens. Learn about new plant species and cultivars. Trends are entertaining and viable but we're all about individuality and personalizing our garden spaces. ...Just my two bits. :)

  4. I guess my take on regional gardening is to use plants that thrive in your area without much help. Here in So CAL we can use natives as well as Med plants from similar climes. Water is a BIG issue down here, so drought tolerant is becoming cool, FINALLY! But as an avid plant lover....there are always a few things in the garden that we just have to try.....As a side note, I live just over the hill from Fillmore. Those poor mountains were decimated by wildfire a few years ago & our drought has not let the trees grow back. They are normally full of Oaks & Manzanita among other things.

  5. Great post! I totally agree, you have summed it up so well. Although I guess I am atypical in that I do not have a single rhodie, azalea or cammelia here. Otherwise, I fit in pretty well. I am trying to be a little better about adding natives but sometimes it's hard where there's something more fun-looking that is from somewhere else. I am not as much of a zone pusher as you, mostly because I am FAR too lazy to baby my plants, pull them inside and out, or really even bother with containers! I guess the word to describe a lot of gardens here would be 'eclectic'. Plus, many have moved into the world of home food crops, some tentatively, some whole hog. Growing season is dicey for some things like tomatoes and peppers, melons and other hot-weather stuff, but for others (salad greens, etc.) it's so perfect.

  6. Pam, thank you for the twitter action! That is a big confidence booster coming from you. As for the hip quotient, not so much really. I wouldn't say we are any more hip than Seattle, San Fran, Berkeley, LA or any of the other major West Coast cities or of course Austin! Although there are probably many Portland hipsters who would disagree. As for the rocks...I mainly find them used badly. You know the rule about having at least 1/3 (I think) buried? Not so much. Often they are just plopped here and there. Sorry if I sound judgemental.

    Hi Jocelyn! Yes we are GREEN, and for the most part I love it. I just wish it were more spaced out around the calendar. The dormant lawns drive me crazy! I hate the brown!

    Grace, thank you! Since I've only gardened here in the PNW (and broadening my definition up to Spokane, Wa for this purpose) I can't say I've noticed the growth rate, because I have nothing else to compare it to! Further reason for me to expand my horizons to Cali!

    Susie, yours is a good definition, and one I need to pay more attention to. The husband is getting tired of me getting depressed with the freak cold events hit. Thank you so much for educating me about the hills around Fillmore, I had no idea since this condition is all I have ever seen them in. I am sorry to hear about the fires, must have been horrible. How are you holding up under the rains?

    Karen, oh but you are such a PNW gardener, totally! And I think "eclectic" sums it up perfectly!

  7. You have pretty much aniled it, with the addition (thanks, Grace) of individualism. We have such a broad plant pallette here, that if you can think it, you can pretty much do it. You are the living embodiment of that statement.

    The HPSO open gardens program makes such a wide range of gardens available for viewing, that I think I have seen just about every style imagineable carried out here.

  8. Danger Garden, Great Post! You painted a vivid picture for me of the PNW. Here in the Northeast we receive much of our plant material from PNW growers, and many of the plants you mentioned can be found within our gardens. Thanks for the colorful tour! Scott.


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