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Open day tour shows many styles

Garden Muse

'From Scenic Vistas to Intimate Spaces,' the Open Garden Tour (www.GardenConservancy.org) on Saturday, June 5, features five exceptional gardens in Cedar Mill and Northwest Portland. The two I am previewing show how steady work over the course of decades reflects the unique personality and style of the owners.

Karl Schmidt and his wife, Julie, began building their home and garden when they married in 1973. They built their handsome family home following a design that Karl created as a senior at Sunset High School, and landscaped their garden step by step, over time. This is a do-it-yourself garden.

'We don't have a big design team,' Karl says.

If a plant looks interesting, they get it and decide where it should go.

This home garden is part of their 34-acre cut-flower family farm. With Karl managing the farm and Julie working full time as a nurse, sharing the garden is a vital part of their lives.

'The yard is where we spend time together,' Karl says.

Julie mows and weeds, Karl prunes and builds. He carved the totem that adorns the entry, constructed an artful front door, and fabricated metal gates and wooden arbors to embellish the garden rooms.

The Schmidts also like to create sitting spaces where they can linger with a cup of coffee or a glass of wine. Throughout the garden, places to sit wait invitingly - occasionally a seat for just one person in a shady nook, benches beneath a tree's canopy, tables and chairs for larger groups.

More than three decades in the making, the landscape feels mature and welcoming. Fully grown trees and shrubs, massed for a feeling of unity, come together in a peaceful park-like setting.

When I visited in mid-May, vivid red and pink rhododendrons framed the spacious green lawn. A lavender wisteria climbing a sturdy arbor and a white one scrambling up a tree trunk perfumed the air all around. A generous rose garden, recently replanted for better spacing, promised summer color yet to come.

As we strolled through the garden, arbors beckoned us into smaller garden rooms: a sunny vegetable garden with raised beds, a rock garden leading down to a lake, a shade garden showcasing hostas and ferns. To see their attractive outdoor kitchen is to want one. Friends whose home was being torn down offered the Schmidts all of their kitchen cabinets and appliances. They promptly converted their grown daughters' former play area into this wonderful outdoor room, covered with a roof for use in all kinds of weather.

Karl built a memory gate holding tools from his grandmother's time - a hand rototiller, a tractor seat, an edger. Many of the plants in the nursery and garden also came down through four generations of family. It's no wonder this garden feels so timeless.

An intimate cottage garden

In contrast, Diana and Colby Lamb's one-third acre garden is smaller and much more flower-driven - colorful shrubs, perennials and ornamental vines bloom at every turn. Diana is passionate about clematis and roses, while Colby has designed and built many of the structures that support the climbers - copper trellises, wooden pergolas and rebar arbors. His handmade precision sundial is a focal point in the back garden.

At the entry, white-flowering climbing hydrangeas travel up a welcoming arch - a perfect match for the white picket fence that frames this charming cottage garden. Low hedges of boxwood edge beds in the front garden, adding a measure of formality, while hostas contribute bold foliage.

As you stroll further into the garden where the plants have their way, the picture looks like a watercolor. Narrow paths like ribbons flow beneath arbors and pergolas festooned with pink, blue, white and lavender clematis. Delphinium, roses, lilies and peonies bloom in companionable abundance.

You can take a break from the color feast by stopping at the koi pond to relax your eyes. Or pause along the way to listen to the birds and inhale the scent of old-fashioned roses wafting through the garden.

I've visited this 21-year-old garden many times, witnessing its evolution over the years. Diana has recently added more shrubs with colorful leaves, like golden spiraea and purple barberry, to simplify the maintenance. Still, some remaining perennials need staking and weeds sprout right on schedule every spring, in time for open garden season.

'It's a labor of love,' Diana says, summing it all up.

What shines through her garden is the love you will surely feel when you visit.


Coming events

• The Garden Conservancy and Hardy Plant Society of Oregon's Open Day, June 5, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m; self-guided tour of five beautiful private gardens in Cedar Mill and Northwest Portland. For complete information, including locations and descriptions of the gardens, contact www.GardenConservancy.org, 1-888-842-2442 or www.HardyPlantSociety.org, 503-224-5718. Admission to each garden is $5 per person at the entry to the garden.

• The Oregon Garden hosts 'Summer Plant Sale and Taste in the Garden,' a food and wine festival with plants for sale from Willamette Valley nurseries, and live music; 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., June 12. 879 W. Main St., Silverton 97381. $15 entrance fee includes a commemorative wine glass, three 'taste' tickets and admission to The Oregon Garden. Additional fees apply for more wine tastes and food. Proceeds benefit expansion of the Conifer Garden. For complete information, visit www.oregongarden.org or call 503-874-8100.