When transplanted Californians and avid gardeners, Penny Letson and Bruce Gardner, purchased their home in January, 2009 they were excited about the prospects of exploring the wide ranging plant palette afforded by growing conditions in Portland. They envisioned creating a garden rooted in the northwest naturalistic genre paying homage to people, plants, birds and pollinators while exhibiting their passion for color, texture and form.
Their oversize lot slopes steeply from back to front. Their first winter on the property revealed a multitude of drainage issues. The area closest to the house was inundated with standing water from water coursing down the hill. Even with remediation water plagues the site.
A previous house, situated at the top slope, had been razed making room for the new dwelling. The whole site was rough graded and concrete blocks, debris and rubble from the demolition percolated to the surface during construction.
Faced with a plethora of challenges they began a dialog with Lucy Hardiman and Susan LaTourette of Perennial Partners about designing a garden that showcased their aesthetic and dealt with the issues presented by the topography. The back garden was the first phase of a long term plan.
During the hiatus between the design and buildout of the back garden Penny and Bruce mowed and weeded the property charting sun and shade and learning more about the climate and soil conditions. They also joined the Hardy Plant Society, haunted nurseries and plant sales, amassing a huge collection of plants to be included in the planting scheme.
Garden construction was delayed until summer 2014 when Landscape East & West began grading, installing patios, placing boulder retaining walls, stairs and walkways. A dry creek bed flows down the hill ending at the terrace wall. Beautifully crafted stone placement orchestrated by Susan is the hallmark of the garden. Decomposed granite, chosen for its permeability, surfaces the patios. Planting commenced in autumn with the assistance of Custom Yard Construction who also installed irrigation and moved forward with the rest of the project.
The vagaries of Mother Nature were apparent during the record heat in 2015 as the majestic multi-trunk cedar, the focal point of the back garden, exhibited signs of heat exhaustion. Valiant attempts to save it were futile and it was removed in September 2016 leaving a gaping hole in the garden exposing the understory of shade lovers to full sun. Those plants found repose under the stately and venerable sequoia in the front garden while a plethora of sun lovers bask on the slope now anchored by an Acer griseum.
2016 was a busy year in the garden with the development of the front garden where collections of dry land and drought tolerant plants vie for attention with a collector’s rock garden. Inside the fence new raised vegetable beds dialog with shrubs and perennials. A wide driveway extension links the front and back gardens offering easy access for maintenance.
Gardner’s Repose is a testament to long term planning, phased development, patience and the understanding that garden making is an ever changing and evolutionary process.
Lucy Hardiman is the principal of Perennial Partners, a garden design collaborative, distinguished by innovative hardscape, playful planting design, and creative approaches to problem solving. She is on the Great Plant Picks committee a regional education and plant evaluation program for the Pacific Northwest.