Lush, tranquil and colorful are all words to describe Helena and Dan Wagner’s garden in Clackamas, just off Sunnyside Road. But the only way to experience the sumptuousness of their creation is to see it in person, and the public is invited to do just that from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. June 18, as part of the Association of Northwest Landscape Designers annual garden tour.

PHOTO BY DICK TRTEK - Helena Wagner shows visitors to her Clackamas garden an abutilon, a scarlet-hued Chinese plant that resembles an upside-down rose.Their garden marks the first time a site in Clackamas County has been honored by the ANLD, Dan Wagner said.

Tickets for the tour are $25 and include visits to six other private gardens in the Portland metro area. This year the gardens are all on the east side of the Willamette River.

The tour, one of the largest in the area, is a fundraiser for the ANLD scholarship fund to benefit budding landscape designers who attend local community colleges.

For tickets and descriptions of all the gardens, visit

Transforming a garden

PHOTO BY DICK TRTEK - A gravel pathway leads visitors through Helena and Dan Wagners garden; the site will be featured in the upcoming Association of Landscape Designers annual garden tour.“I am excited to see all the gardens. What better way to show off what we do as designers and what we create in different styles. I am amazed at what the garden tour has become,” Debbie Brooks, president of ANLD, told the group of more than 30 people who gathered in the Wagners’ garden for a media tour June 8. Their garden was the first stop before the group moved on to visit all the other sites.

After she was introduced, Wagner said, “I think we just skipped spring and went straight to summer.”

Her 10,500-square-foot garden, she told the group, was “10 years in the making. It was hard work, but it was worth it.”

She noted that when she and her husband moved into the house in 2003, there were no trees, just a big backyard and a vegetable garden.

“It was pretty bleak. The first three years we had a vegetable garden, but every winter I was looking at nothing,” Wagner said, adding that soon she began seriously studying what she wanted to have in her garden.

The site, she decided, should showcase all four seasons, with edibles and something blooming year-round. Wagner also wanted it to have pathways that she could walk around in her house slippers, and she wanted the garden to be Asian-inspired to reflect her Korean heritage.

In 2005, Wagner said, she began to plan what kind of layout she wanted to craft the garden of her dreams.

“After we got our first water feature, the garden evolved. It is never the same, because I move plants around. I worked in the corporate world for 30 years, so this is a kind of therapy. I have a passion for plants, and this is my creative outlet,” she said.

Luckily, her husband’s hobby is woodworking, and a garden without creative embellishment is “just plants,” Wagner said, pointing out that Dan Wagner made all the lattice work, wooden structures, benches and raised-bed garden boxes.

“I really appreciate him,” she said.

Eclectic mix

Where there were none in 2003, now stand 11 trees, including persimmon, Asian pear, several apple trees and conifers. The edibles are incorporated into the garden in the back, including strawberries, blueberries and lettuce, while a full vegetable garden in red cedar boxes occupies the south side of the house.

“When you have just a vegetable garden ... when the season is over, it’s gone. The vegetable plants themselves have a beauty in their season, so why not mix them in the midst of other beautiful plants in the garden — plants that bloom beyond the edibles season, like kale or strawberries as a ground cover,” Wagner said.

Familiar calla lilies, roses and hydrangeas share space with more exotic varieties like a red tiger banana tree; abutilon, a Chinese plant with red, striated bell-shaped flowers; and the amusingly named kangaroo paw plant and bear’s britches.

One of Wager’s favorite plants is a variety of St. John’s wort.

“I love it, and the bees love it,” she said, adding that the flowers are yellow, the berries are pink and in the fall it turns dark.

Wagner submitted her garden to the ANLD tour committee once before and was turned down, because some committee members thought the site was too far away.

“But the chairperson this year fought for it and said it was worthwhile to drive out here,” Wagner said.

She thinks her garden was chosen because it is an Asian garden, larger than most, and has a variety of different things integrated into it, including four pieces of Jenny Ellsworth’s art.

Ellsworth, who is no stranger to using a blowtorch, is an Oregon City artist who creates private and public sculptures using mostly found materials.

For Wagner’s garden, Ellsworth “created Asian-inspired art using found material. [Helena] gave me a theme, and I researched and found it quite moving to create the style she was looking for,” she said.

“My favorite pieces are in the front yard — the three with circles captured in a square grid. The group looks great as you enter her garden,” Ellsworth said.


Obviously all this beauty takes hard work, so how much time does Wagner spend in the garden?

“That depends on a number of things, [like] the season of the year and the time of day. The garden is my passion and a place for my creativity,” she said.

Wagner interacts with her plants on a daily basis, some days just watering, and other days spending hours.

“It is all a joy and brings me closer to God. I feel like an artist, and my canvas is the Earth and the plants are my paints, and it is always changing. I am always ‘editing’ the garden in various seasons of life,” Wagner said.

Her favorite spot is the waterfall, which she finds soothing, as she drinks her morning coffee.

Dan Wagner, who calls himself the “hole digger and pot carrier,” said he has two favorite spots, one near the waterfall and the other on the deck, where he can survey the entire back garden.

“Early in the morning, we have a scrub jay who has been coming here for years. He’s our friend in the garden,” he said.

The garden has been featured on other garden tours, he said, noting that visitors enjoy the “layering, textures and colors” his wife has put together.

Also, “it is a peaceful, calm garden that inspires people,” he said.

Choosing sites

Amy Whitworth, the garden tour’s publicity chairman, said that each year designers submit gardens to the tour committee a year in advance.

“The selection committee tours each garden to see if the garden meets the criteria of having enough parking nearby. If we can fit enough people into the garden — where it is geographically, as we like to cluster them together — and, of course, the beauty of the garden,” she said.

This means “the gardens have to be ready the year before the tour and the year of the tour,” Whitworth said.

Wagner said people should attend the tour to see a “very wide variety of styles of gardens, a wide variety of plants and flowers, various types of structures, walkways and garden boxes, and art from featured artists in the Portland area.”

The garden tour will inspire visitors who will take away many ideas for their own spaces, plus, with the scholarships for young landscape designers, it is for a good cause, Wagner said.

She added, [Attendees] “should be encouraged to start at our garden, the first one on the tour, because tickets will be sold here. The ticket itself is a 12-page, self-guided tour [booklet] with all directions and information on each garden. It’s $25 to tour seven beautiful gardens on Portland’s east side.”

Tour the gardens

What: The Association of Northwest Landscape Designers annual garden tour

When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, June 18

Where: Seven Portland metro-area gardens are included on the tour. The only one in Clackamas County is Helena and Dan Wagner’s garden, located at 13364 S.E. 124th Ave., in Clackamas. The $25 tickets may be purchased at this site; this includes a map and detailed instructions to the other six gardens on the tour.

More: To learn more about the Wagners’ garden, visit Visit to learn more about the tour. See Jenny Ellsworth’s art at

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