Category Archives: Garden Tips for Spring


Plant Densely, Tread Softly


Bark dust is not a groundcover. It is a type of mulch. Its purpose is to deter weeds and reduce evaporation. It is temporary until new plants cover the soil. Groundcover plants eventually knit and cover the bare earth holding moisture for themselves and the planting layers above them.
Layered and dense plantings provide habitat, visual interest and shade. If you prefer a more sparse planting arrangement keep it simple with 2 or 3 shrub varieties, well spaced, but with a dense groundcover. Dense plantings are beneficial to the soil, their roots breaking up clay and encouraging beneficial microbial activity in the soil.
Just as medical science has uncovered the good bacteria in our bodies, soil scientists have discovered wondrous activity underfoot. Soil mycorrhiza is a fungus that has a symbiotic relationship with plant roots-it is an important part of soil and plant life. A soil wasteland of bark dust with little in the way of plant life is basically dead soil especially if it has been tilled, scraped or re-graded. Tilling exposes soil mycorrhiza to air and heat destroying the soil’s microbial life.
It can take years to renew damaged soil but it can be done with the proper compost and plants. Letting leaves lie can help build better soil. Ground beetles and sow bugs feed on dead leaves breaking them down into smaller particles that enrich the soil. Salamanders can slink unseen under damp leaves. Fallen leaves provide cover for nesting bumblebees.
As with the vast unknown under our oceans and in our heavens, beneath our feet there is a whole other world.


‘The Soil Will Save Us” by Kristin Ohlson

“The Know Maintenance Perennial Garden” by Roy Diblik

A Garden Design Review

rain gardens, bio-swale, concrete walls, permeable pavers, grasses, archtectural slabs, cedar decking, pvc decking, native plants, parking IMG_3573 OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Meihoff Garden-This garden will be featured in ANLD’s Garden Tour June 28, 2014.
Donna Giguere provided a complete redesign of our property (hardscape and plantings), helped us find a landscape contractor, and assured proper installation in both the front and back yards. We live in a 110-year-old house in the inner city of Portland. Donna’s design struck the right balance between a clean, modern look that still complements the historic architecture of our home and neighborhood. Our contractor, Patrick Handley was very skilled at working with a variety of materials used to create this garden.
One of the major problems was that we often could not find street parking near our house. We are avid bicyclists and own one car. We needed to carve out a parking space in our 38 foot wide lot that met the city setback and looked nice. The parking space created a steep slope that required retaining walls and rainwater mitigation but it looks great. We also added a ramped path for the ease of moving bicycles and trash cans.
In the backyard there were 2 trees, dead sod, and a dilapidated deck. That was it. A place to BBQ, dine and relax was desired. The new deck provides a cooking space. The patio addresses dining and relaxing by the fire-pit. The large gas fire-pit, centered on the kitchen doors, may also be viewed from the kitchen. A gravel space is for relaxing in the hammock under the great magnolia tree. A Mondo grass lawn provides a cool place for the dog to sprawl.
Some features of our new landscape are all of the rainwater is handled on-site through the employment of a rain garden swale, drywells and a permeable paver parking space. There is no lawn and the plantings are low in maintenance. This garden clearly displays how much versatility can be created in a small space.
The style of the garden in the front yard is a fusion of Modern and Craftsman. A bio-swale, the absence of lawn, the simple planting style and plant selections are a considered Modern element. The dyed and molded concrete walls and acid etched concrete steps are reminiscent of an older time to meet the style of the 1908 home.
In the backyard most of the garden elements are clean and geometric evoking a Modern Style. Rustic elements do intersect though as seen in the rough stone corner of the fire-pit and the Craftsman Style gate. The deck, created of 100% Timbertech PVC with cedar flows into the yard. The deck has multi-purpose platforms that can be used for seating, pots or for serving. The very old large trees (sycamore maple & saucer magnolia) and the borrowed view of the brick condos neighboring the garden add a sense of history.
We like that our garden has year-round beauty with leaf color and textural variations to create interest. For ease of maintenance, perennials are at a minimum. This is a garden for serenity. Small grasses are a favorite. We appreciate anything that flowers in the winter such as the Camellia sasanqua ‘Shi-Shi Gashira’espaliered against the back fence. A few blueberry bushes and evergreen huckleberries provide some nibbles. With the tall close-set homes and large trees there is not much sun in this garden. Beside the front porch there is enough sun for a small vegetable garden. Notice the “lawn” in the front parking strip of Leptinella squalida (brass buttons). This works well as long as it is confined.
We are truly happy with our new space and love to relax and entertain there. I have recommended Donna to admiring neighbors and friends and will continue to do so.

Mother’s Day Gifts-A Plant That Endures

We often give blooming plants for Mother’s Day but if its a pot of tulips or a greenhouse forced lily or mums, after a while they wither away and look downright sad.  What about small plants that will look good in a pot year after year? She can also plant them out in the garden when they outgrow their pots.  Some of my all- time favorites for the Pacific Northwest are: Heucherella ‘Sweet Tea’ , Lonicera nitida ‘Twiggy’ and Carex oshimensis ‘Everillo. Put these 3 together in a large patio pot for year-round color and interesting textural  contrast. This combination can take some shade so if she has a covered patio, all the better.

In a sunny situation you might try a Yucca ‘Bright Edge’ with Sedum ‘Angelina’ and Sempervirens ‘Old Copper’ (hens & Chicks). This combination can withstand extremes so if she forgets to water they’ll be sure to survive.  Again, she’ll have year-round interest and textural interest.

Go ahead. Impress your Mom!


Top 7 Garden Ideas For Portland This Spring

What easy and practical gardening tasks can you do to spruce up your garden this spring?

1-If you have a lawn edge it, especially along the planting beds. Alternatively, get rid of your lawn. If you have trees remove any lawn beneath them-they will perform better.  For shaping your lawn, large broad curves and/or straight lines work best. Think of a distinct shape like a bean, oval or a rectangle. Little jogs and small shapes look messy.

2-Work on your pathways initially by accessing their lines-do they make sense?  What is their purpose? Are they for traveling quickly, taking out the trash or for leading the eye and creating a serene walk? Where will they drain or are they permeable? Paths may be  gravel with edging, stone, concrete, pavers or tree grindings. Gravel paths should be at least 30 inches wide-I recommend 1/4 minus (with fines) and nothing else. Here in the Pacific Northwest the most available gravel will be crushed basalt rock since access to large quantities of granite gravel is difficult and expensive here.

3-Widen your beds! You’ll have better air circulation and less pruning. Planting beds should be at least 36 inches deep, unless you have a structural obstruction. If your beds have to be skinny, select plants that stay small.

4-Remove the plants that are not performing well. If you have tried to revive them for 3 or 4 years and nothing is working, relocate them,  give them away, or turn them into compost. Try a native plant in their place. Native plants aren’t perfect either but they do take less care and if sited correctly, thrive on neglect.

5-Create a planting design in layers. There should be a tree canopy, large and small shrubs, lower plantings such as perennials and ground covers. Access the plants’ mature size yet be aware that by planting densely you will be deterring weeds (less sunlight reaching the ground) and preventing evaporation (reducing irrigation).  Using native plants will attract native pollinating insects and birds. You’ll be doing something good for our fragile ecosystem especially if you live in an urban environment.

6-Clean up the patio and outdoor furniture or find something new to you. Site a bench for the best view or create a meditative relaxing spot for your own “time out”. A few outdoor pillows here and there will brighten things up.

7-Mulch your beds for weed suppression and water retention. Mulch can be a variety of materials depending on your gardening style. The most common mulch is bark dust-hemlock bark does not have slivers. You may also use compost as mulch-it will enrich your beds but may not suppress weeds as well as other mulches. Tree grindings from the chipper work well too but they are fresh and do pull nitrogen from the soil-a gardener that I know uses mushroom compost under the grindings to offset the nitrogen loss. 1/4 ten (washed) gravel makes a good mulch especially for plants that hate wet feet such as heaths and heathers.

Get outside!