Thursday, July 14, 2011

Mosaic Gardens

How many times do you get the opportunity to visit a garden that you’ve drooled over in a magazine? Not many right? And that is why I drove to Eugene, Oregon, last Saturday. It was a bright sunny day, which made for a lovely drive…and challenging garden photography. If you would like to see better photos of the garden you should take a moment and look at the Mosaic Gardens online journal. I can’t remember if I first saw this garden in Sunset, Fine Gardening, or Garden Design, but what I do remember is how much I loved it. The owners (the duo behind the landscape design/build company Mosaic Gardens), moved from Austin to Eugene in 2002. I asked Rebecca Sams (1/2 of the duo… Buell Steelman is the other half) why move to Eugene?...“Buell and I loved the people and culture of Austin, and we adored working for Gardens (where they got their start in the biz). However, when we knew we wanted to strike out on our own, we wanted to find a new home with a more temperate climate and better access to mountains and ocean. Having grown up in the Southeast, we were over heat and flatlands! We took a trip up the west coast, stopping at several places along the way. We loved coastal California, but when we hit Eugene, we knew we were home. We both grew up in college towns about the size of Eugene (Tallahassee, FL and Baton Rouge, LA), so Eugene felt familiar. But better!" I’ve tried to order these pictures as though you were walking up to the house and through the garden, which is a long “L” shape with the bottom of the L behind the house. I was most surprised at the size of the garden. When I saw it in print each vignette seemed expansive, but in “real life” it truly is a small urban lot. One could say (if one said such things) that it “lives large” (yuck, I didn't say that). Being a faithful reader of Pam Penick’s Austin based blog 'Digging' I am well aware of the heat and drought that Austin gardeners face. Still in my make believe (don’t actually have to live it) world leaving behind the perfect conditions for growing agaves, and other dry heat lovers, would be hard. I asked if this was the case and Rebecca’s reply set me straight...“Gardening in Austin was many, many times harder than gardening in the PNW. We battled drought, heat and voracious pests, and any smidgen of planting diversity felt like a hard won battle. Even the deer were worse there (some people here don't buy this, but in Austin, the deer would eat the hearts of Agaves - no kiddin'). So, much more of an easy and welcome change."

I really do take the wealth of gardening here in Oregon for granted don’t I? The area beyond the vegetable garden is fenced off to give their dogs room to play without having to worry about plants being trampled. From their journal: “Our dog run doubles as an orchard, and we grow grapes on the bull wire fence that separates the space from the veggie garden. The pea gravel is easy to clean, and it doesn’t track in on wet paws.” The sign in the vegetable garden explains that the soil is getting a much needed a rest this year. Last fall they planted small-seeded fava beans (which act as a nitrogen-fixing cover crop) these were recently tilled in and they’ll repeat it again this fall. Next year with the enriched soil they'll have enough veggies for the neighborhood! Close up of the dog run, not bad huh? Their succulent collection (which is cozied up against a small covered porch) goes inside for the winter months. I asked if these treasures came with up them from Texas and learned that only a few of the succulents were from Buell's garden in Austin. Others are from nurseries and botanic gardens in Northern California (they especially love the Bancroft Garden). And others are from Oregon nurseries, like Cistus, and pups from established plants on the Oregon coast (where they have a second home). Looking at all of these gems I started to wonder if I should have stuck to a single color for my containers. Most of theirs are terra cotta and the sameness of the containers really lets the plants have the spot-light. The PNW Hardy Plant Society’s Study Weekend will be held in Eugene next year… which do doubt means a chance for attendees to see this wonderful garden. In the mean time if you follow their online journal ( you will no doubt learn of other opportunities to visit…and I recommend it!

A special thank you to Rebecca for answering my questions about their garden via email! I was on a mission that day and had to get on the road to Dancing Oaks (of course more on that later) and couldn't wait "in line" to chat in the garden, as they were very popular hosts!


  1. AnonymousJuly 14, 2011

    What an excellent photo log of your visit. I am coming to agree with your observation that maybe it's best to have monochromatic pots. It's hard to give up my other ideas, but maybe it really is all about the plants ;-)

  2. So jealous! I've never heard of this garden before...will head over to their blog...definitely looks the stock tank pond!

  3. Thanks for the adventure.....FABULOUS

    I'm a terra-cotta plain pot type of guy. I have a hard time buying a glazed pot unless it is really something grand. I always think that plants standout more in plain pots.

  4. They've done all that since 2002? I'm impressed!

  5. I love Mosaic's work and am jealous that you got to walk through their spectacular space! I wish I had the discipline to do hardscaping and sightlines, too.

    By the way, do you know the name of the plant that is covered with thorns, leaves and all? Insane!

    Thanks for the virtual tour!

  6. AnonymousJuly 14, 2011

    Thanks so much for coming to the Open Garden! It is always fun to see our space through someone else's eyes (or lens). We look forward to talking in person sometime....

  7. ...still haven't made it to see the garden and hope to in the future! Thanks for the post!

  8. Great tour. Thank you for sharing.

  9. Oh how I love to visit gardens, in person or via blog posts like yours. Thanks for virtual tour to entice an in-person tour in the future!

  10. I love your visits to places around your area. Thank you! The stock-tank pond is very Austin.

    I believe the plant with the orange spines on the foliage is Solanum pyracanthon.

  11. This is my favorite type of garden, with a little something from many different habitats, truly a mosaic.

    I like cheap pots and since I work for a garden center I get to take home some really nice glazed ones that arrived chipped and we got credit for them. Though I don't want anything that will distract from the plants.

  12. I've heard of these designers through Pam/Digging and saw the photo spread in Fine Gardening, was it? (I think it won a FG award.) So it's great to read your account of a personal visit. What a whiplash to go from gardening in Austin to the PNW! They must have giggled nonstop the first year after the move.

  13. Great pictures.

    Alot of these plants look like they are really low maintenance. Which is good. And they are still nice to look at.

    Very nice pictures.

  14. There's a great deal fitted into that urban garden! I really like the combinations: It looks like they've embraced the ability to grow more temperate species but retained the spiky fun and flare of Austin.

  15. I remember this garden from Garden Design back when I was a wee lad. It's been my inspiration ever since.

  16. Another must-see garden I had never heard of before...must live long. Your account is next-best-thing to first hand.

  17. Could you tell me what is the species of Hymenocallis growing in water ?
    Amazing garden.

  18. Patricia, well it is most definitely all about the plants for me...and actually I do love the color that the glazed pots provide.

    scott, isn't it fabulous!?

    Beech Street, I think I started down the slippery slope away from terra cotta simply because I loved bringing color into the garden.

    Jean, me too!

    Shelly, Hoover had the answer for the plant you wondered about: Solanum pyracanthum. I've seen them for sale at Garden Fever and Portland Nursery here in Portland.

    mosaic, thank you for having an open garden!!

    Lauren, if you have the chance I am sure you would really enjoy it.

    Grace and Aerie-el, you are oh so welcome!

    Hoover, and thank you for the plant i.d.!

    les, oh I do love me a bargain...and chips can happen over time anyway!

    Denise, now I have a picture in my mind of giggling gardeners. I like it.

    ZZ, yes you've got a good point. They do have a lot of low maintenance plants to enjoy.

    MulchMaid, they also had a great planted area under the deck, which unfortunately my camera couldn't capture well.

    tenderleaf, you were reading Garden Design as a wee lad?

    ricki, I see a horticultural field trip in your future!

    JP, unfortunately I have no idea! I'll try and find out though and comment here.

  19. I am so excited that you got to visit Rebecca and Buell's garden! And that you were able to interview Rebecca by email. But I have to admit to now being a little more depressed than usual by Austin's weather and growing climate after reading her remarks. This is a harder year than usual because of the drought, but the heat always gets me down (like your cool, damp winters get you down), and I feel ready to pull up stakes and move to Eugene too! If only...

    Thanks for a great post. One day I hope to see their garden in person.

  20. I'm scrolling through, enjoying the pictures... noting the interesting ginko leaf...

    and then I see the bamboo on the deck, and I say 'OH! THESE guys!'

    I was introduced to them in Garden Design, and it must be more than five years ago, because I haven't taken that mag in a while.

    What a fabulous revisit! Thanks!

  21. Also, I'm very happy to see a natural pond. So many folks can't appreciate nature in it's natural state.

    Looks like that water was a bit disturbed - maybe they did some tidying before the open day and it hadn't settled yet. I'm going over to their site now to see if they have any pics of it in its regular state.

  22. I never knew mondo grass would bloom. Those are lovely little blossoms.

    Take a whiff of your hosta, if it has a sweet, delicate, elusive scent, your plant may be Royal Standard. I had these in my MI yard and LOVED them. The scent is divine.


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