ARTICLE BY: LINDA WISNER
Linda Wisner, a designer, and Chet Orloff, an historian, live, work and garden on a 1.3-acre property on Sauvie Island. Linda is a past president of HPSO and currently designs HPSO’s Quarterly magazine, among other volunteer activities. Their garden will be open to HPSO members this year by appointment.
I’m sitting in our courtyard, shelling fava beans, which is feeling like a very indulgent thing to do on a mid-week afternoon in late June. It’s calmly repetitive and providing me the opportunity to enjoy this space and reflect on its creation.
I’m in a comfortable chair on the veranda built along the wall of the garage-turned-library, looking across the courtyard. The canopy of grape vines that now shades the long dining table is lush and green. Strands of lights weave through it.
The “roof” of vines is something we added two years ago after returning from a trip to Italy to find that the vines that ran along two sides of the courtyard had grown so vigorously in our absence that they draped down onto the pavers. Having dined in Milan the night before under a leafy ceiling, Chet and I looked at each other and said ”let’s do it.”
The courtyard is the heart of this place. And the long table is the heart of the courtyard. This is what I wanted to create when I moved here in 2003—a place for people to gather, sharing food and drink and good company in an environment that embraces them.
In the beginning there was no courtyard—just a scruffy area between the house and the garage. There was no porch. There was no veranda. My friends rolled their eyes when they saw this place. “Why on earth did you buy this?”
I bought this place on Sauvie Island because I could see what it could become.
Though the entire property was pretty much a blank slate, I started by designing the courtyard, which is to be found just beyond a deer-proof garden gate created by Ray Huston, Deezines. (Ray’s work can be found all over this place!)
In one corner I’ve arranged a collection of large pots. Behind them is a Celtic-inspired cross carved by a now-deceased friend of Chet’s, Ralph Crawshaw.
This courtyard is a very personal space, inhabited by things that are important to us. Propped near the Celtic cross are photos of Stanley Kunitz, a gardener poet who died at age 100 after twice being Poet Laureate and, as he aged, writing a lovely book about being an aging gardener called The Wild Braid. He reminds me of my 96-year-old father, who is still gardening.
The place is also inhabited by pigs. The toaster pigs and metal pig signs, below, are just a few of the many. The pigs are Chet’s thing, though I have embraced them. I lean more toward birds, my father being an ornithologist. We both are addicted to rock collecting. Rocks are everywhere.
The courtyard has become a very colorful place. Years ago I started filling it with pots of brilliant blooms and foliage. A wholesale nursery here on the islands offers islanders its plants two weekends each spring. I come home each year with an array of begonias and coleus, things I never used to grow. I’ve decided that while red and orange may clash, if you add a third or more, such as hot pinks, deep fuchsia, tangerine, and corals—it all works. Add in Fuchsia ‘Gartenmeister’, Fuchsia ‘Autumnale’, a Schefflera delavayi, Abutilon ‘Red Tiger’, and various Brugmansia (Angel’s Trumpets)—it becomes a lovely cacophony. (The Inuit-inspired carving in the background is another by Chet’s friend Ralph.)
For years Abutilon ‘Red Tiger’ lived and languished year-round in the greenhouse. In 2017 we pulled it out and put it next to the porch and it was SO happy, we’ve given it the same prime location this year. With many of its flowers just at eye height, people love it. The neighboring porcelain vine, Ampelopsis brevipedunculata, with its similar leaf shape, twines through it and along the roof edge of the porch. I know the porcelain vine is invasive in some parts of the country, but here in the courtyard it’s a lovely, ever-changing frame to the living-room style porch, complete with heater, that I added that first year I was here.
Toward the back of the courtyard, beyond the long table and nearer the greenhouse, vibrant Pelargoniums and Allium schubertii add exuberance. Beyond those, which cluster around our well, lie the sunny “birdbath garden” and paths leading to the vegetable gardens and other landscaped areas at the back of the property.
Guests get pulled into exploring those gardens, but they always end up back in the courtyard, where there is often a meal awaiting them.
We have shared this place with many friends in many seasons. Which is why we’re here.
GROW WITH US
Join one of the West Coast's largest gardening communities and meet other gardeners who share your passion.