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Do-it-yourself gardener starts from scratch

'Gardening is intensely personal,' Thomas Aschenbrener says as he looks over the neatly designed garden in his Sellwood area neighborhood of Southeast Portland.

'I do my own design. I do my own maintenance. I do it all myself,' he says. His work is an inspiration. Especially when you learn that none of it was here three years ago, save a couple of rhodies, two trees and the hedges.

Today, the plantation-style home and garden at Drakewood, as it's called, looks like it's been here since the South surrendered.

Aschenbrener is one of six homeowners who will open their gardens on Sunday, June 1, as a fund-raiser for classroom supplies and programs at Sellwood Middle School. The tour offers ideas that will grow on you faster than the kids who benefit from your garden stroll.

A couple of my favorites from Aschenbrener's garden? First, a very formal rose garden leading to a carriage house holding up a blooming wisteria.

Of the 80 roses, 'The Edwardian Lady' is the homeowner's favorite. Aschenbrener loves the name, the fragrance and the unusual brownish satin color of the flower. Hearing that, I suggest that if he likes 'The Edwardian Lady' so much, he'd love 'Hot Cocoa,' an All-American Rose Selection winner for 2003. Too late. He's got that, too.

What can I say? The guy has great taste in plants, not to mention a wonderful sense of scale in his design.

You've got to see what he did with the a portion of a neighbor's house, which borders one side of his yard. Aschenbrener added a trellis, lattice, fake windows and a fake old door that goes nowhere. It's just to fool your eye into thinking it's not someone's laundry room but instead another garden room. Clever.

Everywhere you look, there's much more than meets the eye. You'll find whimsical ideas that are subtle. A bird cage is settled over the catnip growing in the children's garden. Of course, the cage would protect birds from cats Orson and Rita, but it works dandy to keep catnip from being chewed, too.

Several aspects of this garden tour make it so appealing:

• It gives you a chance to see inside the garden gates of six very different large homes in the historic and distinctive Garthwick neighborhood just south of the Sellwood Bridge.

• The homes and gardens are within walking distance of one another.

• All the money goes to the school, just a few blocks away.

• You'll find ideas to copy and perhaps be motivated to try some of them. Aschenbrener alone provides inspiration: Wait until you see the expert eye this so-called 'amateur' gardener trains on Drakewood.

Aschenbrener has a lot to show for his advice: 'People can do it themselves. It doesn't take a professional. The only mistake you can make is to fail to try it.'

Tickets are $20 and available nearby at New Seasons Market, 1214 S.E. Tacoma St., and Quimby's Arts & Antiques, 8535 S.E. 13th Ave.

This week's to-do list:

• Keep new plants well watered while they settle in.

• This is a good time to fertilize your lawn and seed in the bare spots.

• Prune lilac limbs and cut out the small spindly growth sprouting underneath.

Garden gossip:

• The Kids' Party and Plant Sale takes place from noon to4 p.m. Sunday, June 1, at King Plaza, 3939 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. It's a benefit for Our Garden, a nonprofit children's teaching garden in inner Northeast Portland.

'Your Northwest Garden with Anne Jaeger' airs at 7 p.m. Saturday on KGW (8) Contact Jaeger at www.gardengal.tv.