These gardens have inspired me
- Barbara Ashmun
- Portland Tribune - Features
No matter how many times gardeners tell me they've been to my garden and loved it, I still feel overcome with pleasure.
Maybe they had fun, like the two neighbor families who recently picked grapes while their five boys battled with swords made of Florida grass canes. Perhaps they were inspired to try something new in their own garden that they saw in mine, such as an island bed or a grape arbor. Or maybe they felt more adventurous about following their own passions after seeing my informal drifts of roses and hydrangeas billowing amid dahlias and fuchsias.
My garden becomes more meaningful when it touches a larger circle of people. I wonder how many other gardeners get to hear the ripple effect of their own places. I know that a long chain of gardens influenced me as I slowly found my own style.
I first encountered Faith Mackaness's garden in Pacific Horticulture's (www.pacifichorticulture.org) Spring 1979 issue. Her lush perennial borders jumped off the page, enticing me to call her.
'Come on up,' she said, and gave me directions to her Corbett garden. Thus began a series of pilgrimages to Faith's garden, where I learned how to plan a perennial border. She patiently spelled the names of favorite penstemons, showed me how to stake delphiniums and told me where to send for seed. I visited often, breathlessly following Faith around while scribbling notes and clicking my camera. Faith is gone, but her garden lives on, both on the original site, in her visitors' memories and in the gardens she inspired.
I tasted my first fig, dripping with sweet nectar, at the Mukilteo garden of Voni Artiano. Serendipitously, soon after, horticulture teacher Herb Orange taught me how to root fig cuttings by laying them horizontally in a box of damp sand. Now a 'Desert King' fig grows in my garden, and I think of Voni and Herb when the fruit ripens.
Driving around in Hillsboro in the 1980s, I saw a hand-lettered sign announcing 'Peonies for sale.' I turned into the driveway and followed the sound of screeching peacocks into a wonderland. Turquoise birds strolled around as if they owned the place, and an older woman in well-worn garden clothes was weeding. Ruth Kaufman put down her trowel and showed me around her garden.
When I recognized Phlomis russeliana blooming, her face lighted up. Another plant nerd friendship was struck, and I traveled to her garden over the seasons. There, I saw my first autumn crocus (Colchicum) in bloom, pink and radiant. It took me years to track down bulbs, and now when they bloom, I think fondly of Ruth.
The Elk Rock Gardens of the Bishop's Close (www.diocese-oregon.org/theclose) in Dunthorpe was another treasure I discovered in the 1970s. That's where pink Viburnum fragrans blooms in January, with sheets of yellow winter aconite and purple crocus. Drifts of burgundy hellebores beneath a camellia grove inspired me to grow masses of hellebores to cure the winter blues.
Butter yellow winter hazels (Corylopsis) blooming in February, with a carpet of blue lungwort is another sight that remains etched in my memory, and those plants, too, now flower in my garden. The parrotia trees I first saw at Elk Rock, turning shades of orange and red in autumn, have also become favorites in my garden.
In 1986, a visit to Bressingham Gardens (www.bressinghamgardens.com) in England changed my whole idea of gardens. Huge island beds bursting with perennials punctuated the green lawn. Beyond the floral color schemes, attention was paid to foliage shape and color, texture and form. I tried to capture the riveting combinations with my camera, while also making notes about the many varieties of bellflowers, pokers, aconites and asters.
Back home, with those images in mind, I began laying out circular island beds in my own garden, reducing the lawn by half. To this day I'm refining those islands, replacing old varieties with more vibrant hybrids, and adding shrubs and clematis to thicken the layers.
Heirloom Roses (www.heirloomroses.com) in St. Paul, Oregon, is where I went to learn about roses. Each year, John and Louise Clements developed more beds, until eventually their demonstration gardens flowed out into a sea of color. So many varieties of roses were represented - heritage, rugosas, shrubs, ramblers, hybrid musks and more. Before long, I planted more than 100 roses in my own garden. My heartfelt thanks to the Clements and all the many gardeners who've infused me with the love of gardening.
Winter Pruning: Learn Which Plants to Prune in Winter and How Much to Prune, 1 p.m., Nov. 14, Al's Garden Center, 1220 N. Pacific Highway, Woodburn. Registration not required, free seminar. For more information, call Patty Howe, 503-726-1162.