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Thoughtful Plant Selection for a Carefree Garden

Discovering the Allure of Chickadee Gardens

I had a design client email me a picture from a Better Homes and Gardens magazine with the message: “This is what I want.” As I poured over the beautiful photos of a garden photographed in the fall, the bright yellow leaves and tawny grasses possessed a golden quality that drew me in. I squinted at the fine print below the photos: “Chickadee Gardens, located near St. Helens, Oregon.”

This was something I just had to see for myself. So, on an overcast June afternoon, my husband Dale and I headed to Chickadee Gardens, crossing our fingers in the hope of warding off the rain. The gardens, nestled in the hills above Highway 30, were quite a trek from our Tigard office, but it turned out to be well worth the trip.

Tamara’s Thoughtful Approach to Plant Selection

Chickadee Gardens is a private garden belonging to Tamara and David. As well as being an avid gardener, Tamara is a well-known local garden blogger. After moving back to her native Portland from the Bay Area in her early 30s, she began experimenting with plants in her mom’s backyard. In 2015, Tamara and David purchased their new home with the surrounding two acres, and Tamara’s journey with Chickadee Gardens began.

Tamara’s approach to plant selection is nothing short of remarkable. She has thoughtfully curated a diverse array of plants that thrive in her varied microclimates, with a focus on self-sufficiency during the long, dry summers and resilience to the wet winters. Her aesthetic is loose and almost wild, incorporating the use of multiple canopy layers and a generous helping of native plants – an echo of her time volunteering with the backyard habitat program.

Embracing the Quirks and Character of Oregon

As we meandered through Chickadee Gardens’ system of crushed gravel paths, Tamara proudly showcased her abundance of unique plants that had us oohing and ahhing. From the cream-colored California poppies to the Van Gogh lavender, the big root geraniums to the ghostly Podophyllum, every corner of the garden held a delightful surprise.

Exploring Chickadee Gardens is a beautiful reminder that a drought-tolerant garden adapted to our climate can still be lush and full of beauty throughout the seasons. Tamara’s journey to her garden is a reflection of how so many people in the gardening community, from such a variety of backgrounds, come to find solace in plants and the earth, and their gardens tell their stories.

Discovering the Joy of Roses in California

As a child, I avoided planting hybrid roses in my garden and couldn’t appreciate my neighbors’ roses, given the effort needed to keep them healthy and attractive. Admittedly, Michigan’s humid summers encouraged the spread of all sorts of diseases and not a few pests. After nearly three decades in California, however, I’ve developed a love for roses of all types. Here, they can be disease-free without all the preemptive chemical sprays necessary elsewhere, if care is given to select those that are best adapted to the location in which they will be grown.

I only have three roses at the moment, two of which came with the garden. Mermaid and Golden Showers survive and flower well with no attention, high on the slope of my east-facing garden. I tire of the thorniness of Mermaid, but cherish her pale lemon flowers. Though I’m less enthusiastic about the color of Golden Showers, its persistence is much appreciated – it flowers nearly year-round and provides the uphill neighbor with plenty of cut flowers and colorful hips.

Selecting Plants for a Tough Portland Front Yard

A classic Rose City Portland bungalow with a tiny front yard presented a unique challenge for my clients, Julia and Bruce. The large trees to the south blocked sun and used up water and nutrients, leaving little for other plants. Julia and Bruce had dealt with the greedy tree roots by installing raised beds for veggies in the front, but then their new Friends of Trees street trees had grown to the point where the veggies were not getting enough sun. The raised beds created a barrier and made the walk to the front door too narrow.

Our landscape design needed to solve these problems. We removed the raised beds and created a welcoming path from the driveway to the front walk, wide enough to accommodate strollers and for easily extracting children from car seats. The plants we selected had to be able to thrive in this hostile environment, with limited light, soil filled with greedy tree roots, and little maintenance.

Brunnera Jack Frost, a shade plant that can tolerate quite a bit of sun, was one of our choices. Closer to the sidewalk and more sun, we selected more “between plants” – full sun plants that can tolerate some shade. Black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia) are a perfect example, as they don’t require 10 hours of direct sun to thrive.

To create a focal point for the front entry and the picture window view, we planted an Arbutus unedo Compacta, or Dwarf Strawberry Tree. This large shrub or small tree provides year-round interest with its red strawberries, cinnamon-colored bark, and evergreen foliage. It’s also low-water and tolerant of the hot sun and reflected heat from the driveway and sidewalk.

Incorporating Colorful and Useful Plants

The planting plan for Julia and Bruce’s front yard included a mix of colorful, low-maintenance plants that would thrive in the challenging conditions. We incorporated Azorella trifurcata Nana (Dwarf Cushion Bolax), a textural, cascading groundcover, as well as Calluna vulgaris (Summer Heather) and Erica carnea (Spring Heather) for year-round color.

To provide food and habitat for birds and insects, including bees, we included Vaccinium ovatum (Huckleberry), a host plant for the brown elfin butterfly, and Sedum Cape Blanco, which offers nectar for the same butterfly.

By carefully selecting plants that can thrive in the challenging conditions of this Portland front yard, we were able to create a welcoming, low-maintenance entry garden that provides year-round interest and supports the local ecosystem. And for Julia and Bruce, it means they can focus their gardening efforts on the backyard, where they have fruit trees and edibles, while still enjoying a beautiful front yard.

If you’re looking to create a carefree garden that’s tailored to your site’s unique conditions, consider visiting to explore our services and discover how we can help you bring your garden vision to life.

Today’s Garden is Garden and Landscape Company, provides all you need about Garden and Landscape Design to get better garden decorations.

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