Vern Nelson, "The Hungry Gardener", professional photographer, illustrator, and garden columnist, has been educating Oregonians for almost 25 years. His classroom is his garden. We are privileged to step into the center of his world this June as a part of the Association of Northwest Landscape Designers, 2013 Ninth Annual Designers Garden Tour. The first stop on our tour of seven West Portland Gardens, (where we will experience the minds and hearts of Northwest designers) is the garden of Mary Sherman and Vern Nelson.
Their garden is an intensively planted kitchen garden with a keen focus on low maintenance edible plants. Raised vegetable beds and espalier fruit trees provide structure for the garden, while open spaces and a new covered patio allow room for people to visit and learn about new and old ways to grow their own food. A wood fired bread oven is often the center of neighborhood gatherings and impromptu baking classes. Vern and Mary will be on hand to talk about edible gardening and share the joy they have had creating this garden together.
I have been involved working on this garden for several renditions in the past while working under Lucy Hardiman of Perennial partners. Several years after I had left this design collaborative, the client called me to request a new garden for their front yard. They were interested in tearing out all the plants and building a woodland garden incorporating large boulders. I contracted with Dinsdale landscaping to install the boulders where I placed them according to my new layout. The client worked the soils and we chose plants based upon low maintenance. A year later, the client desired to remodel their back garden creating a terrace which would integrate with their newly remodeled home.
I was pleased to work with them again and was rather impressed by the extensive changes they had made to their home. The new remodel provided extensive views from the interior into the gardens beyond. My biggest challenge would be to maintain existing garden elements integrating into a new garden space, which would be more conducive to entertaining yet, still allow for the extensive plant collections.
My husband and I have been living in this 1970's ranch house since 1994. The backyard had an old good-neighbor fence that was falling apart, a small concrete patio that only extended beneath the roof line and a large lawn area that allowed only for only a three-foot wide planting bed next to the house and the south property line. The few fruit trees it contained were unhealthy and growing sideways toward the sun. Most of the plants we had were rhododendrons, juniper, and declining photinia hedge. You get the picture! Growing up in Brazil, all those plants were unfamiliar to me, plus I never had taken care of a garden before. As a child, I enjoyed exploring my grandparent's large tropical garden, then we all moved to high-rise apartments. Houses and gardens were not part of our lives anymore. We were left with only indoor house plants, a rare visit to a busy park in the city or an occasional vacation to the country side.
The minute I moved into our Portland house, I discovered that I loved spending time in the garden. Then, I discovered the local nurseries. I was bitten by the plant bug! In need for a career change, I naturally fell into landscape design.
Gina and Regan Leon loved their Bethany home, but hated to spend time in their cramped back yard. Surrounded by tall houses, they felt like inhabitants of a fish bowl whenever they ventured into it. The entire garden was a bog. They sunk into the lawn even in high summer. The plants weren't very happy and neither was she. After ten years of disappointment, Gina decided it was time to deal with the drainage and privacy issues. Looking for the best possible solutions, she contacted Joy Creek Nursery in Scappoose. Alyse Lansing, their staff designer, met Gina and Regan at their home to evaluate the garden and bounce ideas off of each other.
Gina and Alyse hit it off right away. Gina was pleased with how Alyse listened attentively throughout the interview process and then captured the spirit of Gina's desires in her French inspired design. She also appreciated that Alyse spent a lot of time on the site overseeing the placement of boulders and plant material during the construction phase of the project. She felt comforted having an expert walking alongside her though the somewhat daunting process of a total garden renovation.