ARTICLE BY: JOANNE FULLER
Joanne Fuller is an HPSO member and volunteer who gardens in NE Portland.
When I moved to my home in urban NE Portland 27 years ago I was not a gardener. I’d had house plants, and had gardened as a child, but I never owned a home or had a space to garden outside. The house was dark, the house plants began to die, and I turned my interest to the “yard” which consisted of long-neglected juniper, scruffy grass and sick trees. I don’t remember how I found the Hardy Plant Society of Oregon, but shortly after I moved in I went to my first HPSO program. From there it grew to become such an important part of my life: helping me become a gardener, meet great friends, travel and learn in a generous and thoughtful community.
Early in my membership, I went to the spring plant sale (now Hortlandia) and fell in love. There were so many great plants from small Northwest growers that I had never heard of. In those days the sale was held in the cold rooms of the Washington County Fairgrounds exhibit hall — not exactly comfortable shopping, but I loved it. At that first plant sale I met my first Helleborus sold to me by Jim and Audrey Metcalf, who were some of the first people in Oregon to breed hellebores. They shared their enthusiasm for hellebores and other winter blooming plants, and generously invited me to their house to see the first double hellebores created in the Northwest. This was a time before the broad range of colors available today, and I cherished those first pale pinks, whites and few slaty colors. In my first years of collecting hellebores, I bought many of them at the HPSO plant sale. I also went on to visit Heronswood Spring Open Garden Days, the NW Garden Nursery Hellebore Open Days, and other local growers bringing home many colors, forms, and species. I love them all. They are tough, easy care, bloom in shade and bloom at a time of year when we often need a reminder that the garden is still alive.
As I was busy buying hellebores, I realized that a garden made up only of my hellebore collection and other small winter blooming plants would be boring and ugly for most of the year. I also realized that during winter, in my urban garden setting, I left for work in the dark and came home in the dark, walking through my front yard to my car on the street. I had been planting my hellebores in this front yard, and I needed to add more interest to this space so that I could enjoy it in those few moments every day during our depressing dark winter.
I went to an HPSO lecture on all-season gardening. I don’t remember who the speaker was, but the concepts had a big impact on me. I decided to create a year-round garden in my front yard that would bring me a moment of garden goodness in that walk to and from my car. In the process of creating this garden, which I still enjoy every day, I learned so much about growing plants with structure, bark, scent, berries and/or flowers that are interesting from November to March. I also learned about design: thinking about the different shapes that each plant brings to the garden picture.
While I love my backyard garden, which is mostly a late spring and summer garden, I think winter gardens are particularly poignant. When the landscape is stripped of the blowsy, showy colors and volume of late spring to early fall, you see the simple beauties: broadleaf evergreen plants, tree structure, bark texture, and lingering berries. I have learned that I really cannot plant enough of the strong forms of both evergreen plants and shrubs to create a year-round framework that looks good in winter. Within that structure the (usually) small winter flowers shine, making me slow down and appreciate their simple grace. The grey sky, asphalt and brown earth make you notice the green that fills our gardens, which is overshadowed by other colors during much of the year. All of this combines to make the winter garden a special experience.
Today, my front garden serves as a “frame” of structural plants and hardscape that shows off my collection of hellebores. This garden looks good year round and often smells good too. And I understand that not only is the finished garden a pleasure, but the process of evaluating my plants — moving them around and learning to grow new ones — is the most fun. In these photos you see many of the plants I grow and love in my front year-round garden in Portland. This garden has been a gift to me and my neighborhood and it only happened because I found HPSO.