Friday, December 9, 2022

Nita-Jo's garden—another NPA Study Weekend visit

After touring Denise Lane's (almost) 1-acre garden, my next stop was Nita-Jo Rountree's garden, which at just under a third of an acre was considerably smaller, but still much larger than my 5,000 sq. ft. lot here in Portland. Some of you will no doubt recognize her name, Nita-Jo is an author, speaker, part of the team that makes fabulous videos for the Bellevue Botanical Garden Society and is their Vice President.

At first glance the narrow street-side planting appears to blend nicely with the surrounding gardens, until you catch sight of the tall Tetrapanax papyrifer and Schefflera delavayi and find yourself thinking, there's something different going on here... 

The driveway border...

Check out that podophyllum! It's famous, with it's own listing in the Far Reaches Farm catalogue: "Coveted hybrid Mayapple nearly impossible to find. 'Red Panda' is a seed strain from the O'Byrne's with some variability but this form from Nita Jo Rountree is the best that we have seen. Large copper leaves in spring which become infused with green as the summer wears on and very good red flowers in spring. Moist shade in rich soil = Pandamonium"

But wait, there's more! After spotting the podophyllum I turned and saw this! It's a tall—very tall—Pseudopanax ferox. I was fooled by Nita-Jo's clever placement, but she later told me it's in a pot so it can be protected if need be.

It was difficult to photograph the top of the plant—with the bright white overcast sky—but I tried. If you look closely you can see branching (fairly unusual to see on this plant in the PNW) and then... flowers!

There were flowers previously, that's when the branching occurred. Talking with Nita-Jo and later Daniel Sparler (whose garden was the highlight of the third day of NPA Study Weekend tours and will be written about, eventually) I learned it's commonly believed that after blooming this plant transitions from its juvenile form to the mature form—with a thicker trunk and less-spiky foliage. That has not happened.

Not necessarily a bad thing, as the juvenile form is very interesting!

I finally tore myself away and walked on, oh and this is where I should issue my standard NPA Study Weekend disclaimer: it was June, we had a very rainy spring in the PNW, everything was VERY green.

This is also where I should share a quote from Nita-Jo and our event booklet: I'm a flower girl, so the garden consists of primarily bulbs, herbaceous perennials, roses, and hydrangeas. While I try to mindful of creating pleasing color combination, if there is a plant I think I can't live without and there is no place for it other than next to a clashing companion, I squeeze it in anyway. 

Yes indeed, there were a lot of flowers!

But I honestly don't remember seeing anything that clashed. Then again it was raining for most of my visit so I didn't dawdle and inspect.

I also failed to make it all the way to the top of the front entry stairs to inspect that palm (yes those are raindrops at the top of the photo).

I did stop to admire the Pyrrosia sheareri though.

Now I'm making my way around to the back garden, or maybe I should say the back cliff-side?

From our event booklet: garden is steeply sloped and terraced with huge builders. The builder had to place the boulders before the house was built because there would have been no way for the heavy equipment to access that area once the house was in place. 

The slope is the back garden, there is no flat land on which to garden other than what lies to the narrow sides of the boulder terraced pathways. I did not do a good job of capturing just how steep it all is...

I left with immense respect for what Nita-Jo has created here.

She has created a dense, lush paradise on a site many would not see as "gardenable".

I loved this combo! A variegated liriope (maybe Liriope spicata 'Silver Dragon'?) and good old black mondo, Ophiopogon planiscapus 'Nigrescens'.

There's even a koi pond wedged into the hillside.

Looking down on the patio and the back of the house. Nita-Jo is huddled in the alcove chatting with visitors.

I think this is the best photo I have to show the steep hillside on which the garden is planted.

I meant to ask Nita-Jo what this amazing specimen was, I decided I needed to email her to find out, it's just that good! Rhododendron ‘Elizabeth Lockhart’ is the answer...

I know this one, the wingthorn rose (Rosa sericea ssp. omeiensis f. pteracantha).

Inspired by Little and Lewis? Or actual Little and Lewis? I'm guessing this might be bona fide.

Time to make my exit. There was a happy hour bash that I needed to get ready for! Thanks for sharing your garden Nita-Jo!


  1. I've never seen such a steep slope fully gardened like and full of so many flowering plants. An inspiration. She has a number of things I lust after but just don't have the right conditions for. But I have to admit that the photo looking down to her patio was a bit scary. It's one thing to have a house under big old trees but a steep slope like that? I'm not sure it I could do it. Too scary.

    1. Oh gosh, I hadn't really thought about the hillside giving away and crashing down on the house, yikes!

  2. Another deep *SIGH*. Beautiful foliage AND flowers. When they're surrounded by enough green, I'm not sure you can have any real color clashes among flowers. The comment about how the boulders were moved in before the house was built was interesting - I've long contemplated how I could get large rocks into my back slope.

    1. Getting the rocks back there would be hard enough, how would you even go about getting them into the hillside? Sounds very expensive and a little scary.

  3. I'm impressed with how the botanical name of wingthorn rose, "Rosa sericea ssp. omeiensis f. pteracantha", just rolls off your tongue, no hesitation what so ever... I'm breaking my teeth trying to read it :-D
    In one photo of the rocky slope you captured foxglove, blue Himalayan poppy and a massive frond of jeweled chain fern: awesome!

    1. I'm not a flower person (as you know), but even I was impressed!

  4. Beautiful garden! The foliage, Alliums, and everything else are incredible. Just luscious.

  5. Lovely garden. I'm still scratching my head over missing study weekend. Sigh.I'm a member of both HPSO and NPA so how did I not know about this ?? I'm blaming the chronic email issues I was having last year. I'm enjoying all your posts and really trying not to pout.

    1. Well that is unfortunate! I think they had tickets available right up to the end.

  6. A beautiful garden. Nita-Jo must have rock climbing equipment to access that steep hillside but the effort is well worth it.

    1. I do remember getting a bit of vertigo as I was descending from the highest point in the garden, I don't know how she does it.

  7. That took a lot of skill, time, and dedication. Impressive and first-rate.

    There must have been an Agave in there somewhere!

    1. Sad to say I saw no agave! I will have to give her a pass though since she did have the interesting Pseudopanax ferox.


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