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Designer sees garden all the way through

Garden Muse

Often, garden designers complete their work on planing a garden, then they're out of the picture. But Sarah Smith had a very different experience. Here's what happened.

In December 2007, when her parents, Don and Janet Hinrichs, moved to a home in North Portland, Sarah gave them a garden design for a housewarming gift. The couple hired D and J Landscape to install the hardscape in April 2008. Meanwhile Janet, an expert gardener, began making lists of plants she loved. She bought quite a few, planning to plant them herself that summer, after she had them all assembled.

But nothing went according to plan. Suddenly that June, Janet died unexpectedly from complications during an appendectomy. Despite this shock, Sarah, Don, and many of Janet's gardening friends wanted to honor her wishes by going forward to finish the garden.

'More than 25 friends turned out to plant the garden in one day,' Sarah said. But it wasn't easy. Many of the plants Janet had chosen were weavers and self-sowers that would spread quickly. That would have worked for Janet. As a devoted, skillful gardener, she would have known how to weed and thin out the eventual overflow. But now that Don was in charge of the garden everything was different - he was not a gardener. Sarah knew she'd have to simplify the design to make it easier for him to care for the site.

To complicate things further, Janet's friends were very generous.

'On planting day, everyone brought plants from their gardens - one of everything!' Sarah said.

In order to tie it all together to help the design flow, Sarah added some trees for architectural background: a crape myrtle, a stewartia and a 'Little Gem' magnolia. For year-round interest, she selected several evergreens - in addition to the magnolia, she brought in two 'Red Tips' podocarpus, and six dwarf 'Pin Cushion' convexleaf hollies. Repeating some of these plants created unity.

For focal points Sarah chose columnar evergreens - two 'Sky Pencil' hollies and a 'Green Spire' euonymus. These striking spires are like living exclamation points.

'That was a hard day for me,' Sarah recalls. Beyond managing 25 volunteers as they planted the garden, she was careful to include only plants that would be easy to tend.

'I kept looking at the lists and thinking about the requirements,' she said. 'Plants couldn't be huge, as the garden is small. There could be no runners or self-seeders, and the plants needed to have reasonable water requirements.'

The day that friends and family planted the garden in memory of Janet proved to be very therapeutic for everyone. But that was not the end of the story.

'One of the big twists is that in October 2009 the house was sold to a new owner,' Sarah said. She asked if they'd be willing to be on a designer's garden tour, and in return, offered to teach them how to maintain their garden.

'They have experience gardening; however they were unfamiliar with many of the plants in the eclectic mix planted in their new garden. In helping them make the garden their own, I filled in bare spots with lower maintenance plants,' she said.

What began as a present to her parents has evolved into helping a busy young family learn how to care for their garden. 

This is the smallest garden of nine that will be shown on the Behind-the-Scenes Garden Tour hosted by Association of Northwest Landscape Designers on Saturday, July 10. But it has the longest story!

'As a designer, you create these gardens and might not see them again,' Sarah concluded. 'This has been a treat - to continue to work on it so that this new family can continue to enjoy it.'

Eight more instructive gardens

The Association of Northwest Landscape Designers' tour features designers' own gardens and gardens designed for homeowners in North Portland, Northeast Portland, and Vancouver. Nine garden artists will show and sell work.

Each garden will demonstrate possibilities to consider for your own garden. A stylish kitchen garden and columnar apple trees lining a walkway will give you ideas for including edibles. Other interesting elements include an eco-roof, a rain garden, a Sunset Magazine award-winning pebble mosaic and a metal and glass pergola.

You'll see gardens friendly to dogs, wildlife, grandchildren, birds and butterflies. You'll learn how designers created privacy for a corner lot, transformed a wild ravine into a lush garden with an Asian flavor and turned small spaces into inviting gardens.


Coming events

Behind-the-Scenes Garden Tour, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., July 10. Tickets $20, may be purchased at www.ANLD.com, Garden Fever (gardenfever.com), Cornell Farms (www.CornellFarms.com), Portland Nursery (www.PortlandNursery.com) and Yard N' Garden Land, (www.YardnGardenland.com). Proceeds from the tour will benefit scholarship programs for landscape design students at Metro area community colleges.