Garden Muse
by: L.E. BASKOW, Walking through the garden Betsy Harvey created made Mary Ruhl decide to buy the West Slope house before she even set foot indoors. Ruhl’s garden is one of nine on an upcoming tour to raise funds for two public gardens.

Like a colorful quilt, the West Slope Community Library grew from a series of modular units that were pieced together.

One of its small buildings was bought from Tektronix Inc.; another came from the Oregon Zoo. And the library's latest set of bookshelves was built by inmates of the state penitentiary.

Before you even open the door, the Southwest Portland library welcomes you with an entry garden maintained by the neighborhood Fir Grove Garden Club. Inside, friendly staff and volunteers are eager to help. Four activity groups for children, from infants through school age, and a book club for adults make the library a popular gathering place.

To fund the garden's maintenance and also help the nearby Raleigh Park Elementary School learning garden, hardworking neighborhood volunteers organized the first Raleigh Park Garden Tour, featuring seven private and two public gardens.

If you drive through the Raleigh Hills neighborhood, you'll catch glimpses of pink dogwoods and flowering cherries behind walls and fences. But even if you're on foot, enticing front yards only hint at what lies behind the homes. To enter the garden gates and enjoy every detail, buy a ticket for the tour on May 19.

Mary Ruhl's garden glimmers with rain when I visit her on a chilly April afternoon, but a rhododendron hedge bursting with huge pink and red flowers warms me right up. She's raking leaves from beneath these tree-size shrubs that screen her home from the road.

Five years ago Ruhl and her husband moved to the 1/3-acre site, downsizing from an acre. Still, the work of reclaiming the garden was colossal.

'I'm working with Betsy's legacy,' Ruhl says. She's speaking of Betsy Harvey, who created a cottage garden on the lot 15 years ago. Harvey terraced the steep lot with stone walls and developed a series of long, undulating borders packed with perennials. A stucco garden shed so charmed Ruhl that she decided to buy the house before she even set foot indoors.

But in the five years between Harvey's ownership and Ruhl's, a nongardener lived in the home and the garden languished. When Ruhl moved in, reclaiming the garden was a huge job.

'The stone paths and stairs were full of plants and weeds,' Ruhl says. She uncovered paths that were completely obscured, pulling out knee-high greenery blocking the way to the front door.

'The happiest plants had invaded every bed,' Ruhl says.

She removed Dutch iris, daylilies and butterfly bushes.

'I took out truckloads of crocosmia,' she adds. 'I'm slowly editing the garden.'

Still, the garden has such great bones, it's a joy to reclaim. Two mature beech trees, copper and green, form a majestic canopy. In the shade below, ferns, Solomon's seal, bishop's hat and hostas flourish. A mature Cotoneaster franchetii, pruned to the shape of a small tree, makes a sculptural accent against the home's stucco walls. Purple wisteria drapes down another wall, wafting fragrance along with numerous scented daphnes.

Curving grass paths and stone walkways take you through the garden, beside beds filled with peonies, irises and cranesbills. Views of the sky and the borrowed landscape of neighbors' big trees make the garden feel spacious, while tall evergreen hedges provide privacy.

A purple lover's garden

Private and cozy are two words that leap to my mind when I arrive at Linda Anderson's garden.

Anderson will open both her home and garden for the tour, and both are inspiring. Generous windows in every room look out on the garden and bring light into the house.

With the help of a landscaper, Anderson divided the garden into several rooms. A woodland garden is laden with feeders - Anderson delights in watching birds and squirrels.

'I don't want anything too manicured,' she says. 'If it doesn't work, I take it out.'

Purple is Anderson's favorite color, and she uses it with abandon - a purple door and purple hose are just the beginning. Her living room and dining room are painted eggplant purple, and Anderson is clad in purple from head to toe. In the garden, purple hydrangeas, clematis, irises and asters satisfy her love for the color.

'For me, purple is a very powerful and spiritual color,' Anderson says.

Her interest in spirituality is reflected in a covered meditation shelter in the garden. She can sit there comfortably in any weather. Sculptures of the Buddha and Kuan Yin set the mood, embodying the theme of the garden, which is peace.

Other garden events

• Villa Garden plant sale, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Tabor Heights Methodist Church, 6161 S.E. Stark St., free admission. For information, call Carole Rapp, 503-652-5518.

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