Spring has sprung - gardening's begun (Part 1)

I've recently spent a couple afternoons getting a good dose of my favorite therapy - gardening. Spring has officially arrived! When we first moved into our North Portland home, friends and family were stunned that I enjoyed getting outdoors to "play in the dirt" of our yard. I'd never had a garden before and found it easy to get lost in gardening as an escape from my work.

We constantly have people literally "stop and smell the roses" as they walk, or drive by, our house. Quite often people will ask where I live and, when I tell them, they will react knowingly with, "Oh, the house with the garden." There will be changes and additions to the garden with the new season. With the nice weather, and longer daylight hours, I will make my way outdoors more - and my gardening efforts will occasionally find their way to this blog.

Our garden has gotten a lot of attention over the past six years. Photographers for Martha Stewart Living and Better Homes & Gardens (their photographer stopped by while the police were investigating a portable meth lab parked across the street) have photographed the garden for possible future stories. Mike Darcy did an episode of his television show, In The Garden, from our front yard in late 2004. The article below was published in the former neighborhood paper, the North Portland Press, and was written by our friend Lisa Horne.

A Garden Treasure in North Portland

Ed Cunningham and Jeff Fisher have been together for 16 years and share many of the same interests, especially travel, gardening, entertainment, art, great food and wine. Ed is a gourmet chef and avid bicyclist. He occasionally bikes to work in downtown Portland where he is the business manager for the Portland office of Holland & Knight, LLP, an international law firm. Jeff is the Engineer of Creative Identity for his own graphic design firm, Jeff Fisher Logomotives, which he has owned for nearly years. Primarily a logo designer, Jeff has worked with clients from all over the world and has written a book about the graphic design business. His North Portland clients include Coyner’s Auto Body, James John Elementary School, Lampros Steel, North Portland Business Association, Peninsula Clean Team, Peninsula Community Development Corporation (publisher of the North Portland Press), Portland Relief Nursery, and Mike Verbout.

When did you move to North Portland?

We moved to the Arbor Lodge neighborhood of North Portland in the spring of 1997 after living in a Pearl District loft for five years. The loft had a little 2" x 3" balcony which allowed for very limited container gardening. A friend called one night and left a lengthy message on our answering machine saying she had found the perfect house for us. Very early the next morning we drove up to the house and I immediately said to Ed, “I want to live here.”

Describe your house and property

Our house is your classic little 1928 Portland bungalow. The house had a history of being a “problem” in the neighborhood and the site of some drug trafficking. When we first moved in the front yard was totally unremarkable, with only a few rhododendrons, an old Peace rose, an unhealthy maple tree and an ash tree that was in bad shape. The front sloped to the sidewalk quite a bit making the grass difficult to mow and the lawn was in need of a lot of help. The back yard was in even worse shape—especially since the previous residents had not had garbage picked up and dumped everything in the back over several years.

When was your garden put in?

The crew from Joy Creek Nursery put in the hardscape (the brick wall, pavers across the median, the new cobblestone path to the porch and an irrigation system) following the plans of landscape designer John Caine in late summer of 1999. The initial plantings were installed by the nationally-known nursery in the early fall of that year. (Note: We've added and subtracted plants a great deal since then. Often becoming the "test garden" for future Joy Creek plant offerings)

What is in your garden?

Median: The trees are a Forest Pansy Redbud with purple and green leaves that pick up many of the other colors in the yard and the colors of the house. Other plants include lavenders, rosemary, thyme, various sedums, ornamental grasses, Russian sage, lobelia tupa, coreopsis, cistus, yucca, oregano, geraniums, penstemons, crocosmia, salvia, kniphofia (Red Hot Poker) and numerous types of bulbs. The large euphorbia, with the vibrant green blooms, literally stops traffic. A huge ornamental thistle always brings comments about the large “weed” growing in the garden. Roses are planted to present blooms at just the right height for people walking by to “stop and smell the roses.” Herbs planted in the median are not used for cooking due to the bed’s use by visiting dogs.

Front: The bed at the top of the wall is mounded, so from the house you don’t see the street or sidewalk—which extends the vista of our garden to the city park across the street. It also gives the upper garden some privacy. The plantings include verbenas, anemones, heuchera, alstro-emeria, climbing roses on unusual metal sculpture trellises, lavenders, fuchsia, grasses, chocolate cosmo, datura, an ornamental dogwood, lobelia, rosemary, sedum, Japanese irises, lilies, hebe, hostas, helebores, calla lilies, ferns, shooting stars, purple sage, a bay laurel, hibiscus, dianthus, diascia, hydrangea, dahlias, rudbeckia, asters, veronica, a peony, ferns, saxifraga, phygelius and potentilla. The two large spiky eryngiums at the front of the garden add a dramatic flair, as do the brilliant orange canna which grows to over seven feet tall in the summer. A fun surprise in the garden are the leeks that also grow quite tall with their round blooms. In addition, Mike Smith, of Joy Creek Nursery, and Jeff planted over 750 bulbs in the front yard including crocus, tulips, snow drops, delicate irises, daffodils and others. One benefit of the garden is that it draws attention away from the large picture windows in the living and dining rooms of the house as people pass by. The garden has been designed to attract the maximum number of honey bees, bumble bees and hummingbirds.

Side: With the north side of the house being in shade most of the day the garden is a work in progress of ferns, bleeding hearts, miniature hostas, tricyrtis and other shade-loving plants.

Back: The back garden has a dual personality with both flowers and a vegetable garden. Ed, a gourmet cook, oversees the vegetable garden with its several varieties of tomatoes, beans, peas, kale, mustard greens, collards, salad greens, squash and raspberries. He also grows a wide variety of herbs for cooking including rosemary, basil, cilantro, thyme, oregano, marjoram and parsley.

More of the North Portland Press article may be found in the blog entry Spring has sprung - Part Deux. Check out the redesign and renovation of my backyard garden in How does your garden grow?

© 2006 Jeff Fisher LogoMotives

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