Take a walk on the garden side
'Life began in the garden,' says a unique sign hanging upon a trellis at the entrance to Mike and Linda Darcy's home garden in Lake Oswego. And for the couple, their large garden provides a space to spend time together, solve problems, enjoy being outdoors and appreciate art.
On Saturday, June 16, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. the Darcys' garden - along with six others - will be on tour with The Garden Conservancy's Open Days Program as it debuts in Clackamas County. The public will be able to visit two gardens in Lake Oswego, three in West Linn and two in Oregon City.
Admission to each garden is $5, which supports the expansion of the Open Days Program around the country and helps build awareness of the Garden Conservancy's work of preserving exceptional American Gardens.
As the host of 'In the Garden with Mike Darcy' each Saturday morning on KXL 750 AM radio for 26 years as well as his TV show by the same name on Comcast 14, Darcy addresses a variety of lawn, garden and landscape topics, and visits amazing local gardens. Darcy will broadcast his radio show live from his garden as the tour begins.
So what does the gardener's garden look like?
The Darcys' yard is a collection of plants and art. Different areas of the yard are informally designated as unique spaces - a Peter Rabbit area, shady spot with vegetable garden, hidden back patio and twisting and turning pathways.
Nurturing an interest
Growing up in Tucson, Ariz. and working at a local nursery in high school, prepared Darcy for his degree in horticulture. Since moving to this home in the early 1970s the garden has expanded to reach all areas of the property.
'Many homes - if you look at the front - you have no idea what's going to be in the back,' Darcy said. 'They can be nondescript in the front and 'wow' in the back.'
Helping Darcy get that 'wow' factor is Linda - a lover of art.
'It's like people that like antiques or art. If you love it, you'll find a place for it. Mike's a plant-a-holic and has been since I married him 40 years ago,' Linda said.
The couple often brings back something for their garden on each trip, such as the Spirit House from Thailand, which is supposed to bring good fortune to the home and is located near the entrance to the garden. Large pots filled with foliage were hand-picked in Vietnam.
'We've (also) gone to England, Ireland, Scotland and southern France. It's just nice to bring something back for the garden,' Darcy said. 'I ship lots of things.'
Hidden within a shady spot is the Peter Rabbit area. The couple used an iron gate from a house being torndown to create this secret garden. Hop-scotch stepping stones lead to the free-standing gate and rabbit statue. This is where their grandchildren play.
Nearby, a kinetic sculpture from Seattle spins around slowly from a slight breeze. A few chimney pots from London looking like something from the movie 'Mary Poppins' are scattered amid greenery. The short decorative pipes are used at the top of chimneys to increase ventilation to the fireplace and reduce smoke.
Windows - another save from a nearby house being demolished - provide a transparent look between this area of the garden to another area, characterized by shade and pathways.
Filbert shells make up the pathway and crunch when stepped upon. The Darcys said they enjoy the surface because it was simple to install - there's only dirt below them - and hardly any weeds pop up. The Darcys designed this shady area beneath mature oak trees to intrigue visitors. The paths twist so you have to keep walking to truly see what's up ahead: a hidden patio and natural area.
'We've had rehearsal dinners back here and lots of garden parties,' Linda said.
A statue of Saint Fiacre - the patron saint of gardening - oversees the garden, and just looks interesting standing there.
Red-leaf banana trees, seasonal blooms, Acacia pravissima and Feijoa sellowiana - pineapple guava - look lovely and blend with Darcy's casual attitude that, 'not everything will make it each year. Just enjoy it while it's here.'
Some tour-goers will notice unique items from the gardens on display and gather ideas that they could incorporate into their own outdoor spaces. Others perhaps haven't started a garden at all. Darcy said that getting a garden started can be easier than we think.
'Go for it and don't be afraid. Don't make it more complicated than it is,' Darcy said. 'It's good to have an idea of what you want and draw kind of a plan yourself so you have the right feel for what you want.'
Perhaps a vegetable garden? Oriental garden? Rock garden?
'Draw a rough sketch of what you want. Start simple, don't make it overwhelming. Don't make it stressful. It should be peaceful,' Darcy said. 'We had a lot of big leaf plants damaged by hail, or a late freeze. We don't have control over it.'
While gardening within the peacefulness of a crisp morning, Darcy said he is in his element - watering his plants with a cup of coffee in hand. He said that while over the years he has learned much about gardening and plants, his garden has also taught him a lot about himself.
'I can enjoy quiet and that's OK. It's OK to be somewhere that's quiet,' he said. 'We hear humming birds and other birds chirping. The humming birds are very territorial.'
Darcy has also learned how to be patient. Every plant won't make it each year; some flowers take time to bloom and show their true colors.
'Just because (gardening) is my profession, doesn't mean I do things right all the time. I make lots of mistakes; I plant tall things in front. You learn with gardening. If you make a mistake you can correct it. Just replant it and that's OK.'
Since 1995, The Open Days Program has shared private gardens with the public. The Program is America's only national private visiting program operated through volunteers.
daysprogram.org or call 1-888-842-2442 for more information about the tour.