Gardening where the sidewalk ends

Field Trip to P-town February 27, 2009

My family made a whirlwind trek down to Portland, Oregon last weekend and one of the top things on my list to see if I could locate a neighborhood with a lot of parking strip gardens. I know, I’m obsessed. In a previous post, I had received a few helpful comments about this. So, with only a few minutes to spare during our brief time in town, I did my best to find a few.

On a hot tip, we headed to Northeast Portland to a neighborhood known as Irvington, home to many large and lovely Craftsman houses and fabulous gardens, plus this really spiffy looking club that I would probably be denied membership to even if I could afford it (ha). Not a lot in the way of parking strip gardens, though, that I was able to find.

Irvington Club Sign

This house had a really mind-blowing ornamental/conifer/topiary thing going on, I guess it’s kinda famous. I got a chuckle when I saw it, since I recognized it from this post of Nestmaker’s.

WackyPortland House & Garden

Irvington has lots of stately trees, though, so maybe that’s more the vibe and people don’t like to mess with the established tradition. Here were some crocuses that looked as if they’d naturalized in the understory.

Drifts of Crocus in Portland Parking Strip

This garden was a real exception to my general findings. It had obviously been planted with love and care, and although it might have been fairly new, contained some great stuff like reticulated iris and a lovely reddish witch hazel, maybe the currently hot cultivar ‘Diane’?

Nifty Portland Parking Strip Garden

Closer View of Portland Garden

Screamin' Orange Crocus

Dwarf Iris

Red Witch Hazel - 'Diane'?

What I didn’t find in the way of street gardens was more than made up for by the beauty of the houses and the amazing color palate used by their inhabitants. Here in Seattle, we seem to be afraid of color – grey, beige, white, sage green, dusty blue and mushroom brown predominate. But in Portland, I saw everything from deep forest green to crazy orange to this one, a funky and friendly combo that I’d never seen before.

Funky Portland Paint Job

Even the streetcars are more colorful in Portland. Sorry for the from-the-car pic, we were on the way out of town and I realized I hadn’t taken any of the trollies.

Portland Streetcar

We took public transit pretty much everywhere, but the reason for the trip was that we had the loan of a pretty vroomy car, a Chrysler 300C SRT8. Since I usually tool around in a 20 year old Volvo wagon, this was a comparatively cushy ride. Not great on the gas mileage, but surprisingly better than our Subaru, from our calculations. Looks pretty good with a backdrop of bamboo, I think.

Vroomy Chrysler

My other garden-related coup was to convince my family that they needed to let me go to the Portland Classical Chinese Garden, also a tip from Nestmaker, who has posted often about her visits there. That’s going to have to be a whole separate post, since it was breathtakingly amazing, I took about 13 hundred pictures, and learned a lot about what I should have planted in my garden if I wanted it to look nice in winter!

I wished I’d had more time and maybe a couple of cross-streets to check out for the hell strip greats in town, though – maybe someone will comment here and suggest some for my next visit?


18 Responses to “Field Trip to P-town”

  1. Racquel Says:

    Looks like you had a great time and as usual found some interesting garden strips to check out! 😉

    • greenwalks Says:

      Hi Racquel – Great to have you back! So glad your grandfather is home and beginning his recovery well. We did have fun, and of course I had to look for parking strip gardens. 🙂

  2. Grace Says:

    Lucy Hardiman is a garden writer/speaker/designer who lives in Portland. I’ve seen pictures of her gardens, including an elaborately designed hell strip. It’s magnificent. Her house is really cool too, an old Victorian with funky paint colors similar to the one you have pictured here. I bet you could Google Lucy and find out where she lives. She’s always giving tours. I remember a Mike Darcy episode (Local garden show) where another designer, Sean Hogan from Cistus Design Nursery planted a hell strip that was very long, I’m thinking like 100 feet. Again I don’t know where it is. I don’t live in Portland anymore. But perhaps this gives you a few leads for next trip.

    • greenwalks Says:

      Hello Grace – I’ll definitely look for Lucy’s garden next time we visit, thanks so much for the hint! I had also read that Reed College has a great hell strip garden, but we didn’t make it over there. Thanks for the leads!

  3. Sounds (and looks) like a great trip all around! My favorite part was seeing the crocus’…(and the cute multicolored house)–neither of which have a thing to do w/parking strip gardens (!).
    Hope Grace’s note will put you on the road to even more great parking strip gardens!

    • greenwalks Says:

      Hello Jan – Actually, the crocus were in a parking strip – sorry if I didn’t write that very clearly. They were about all I saw except for the one other garden, some grass, and trees. I’ll be glad for any tips for my next trip, I’m sure I missed a lot due to lack of time and not knowing so much where to look.

  4. philip Says:

    Don’t you just love those romantic drifts of crocuses?
    And the iris is like a jewel.
    I do like the bold paint on the turn of the century/ 1915ish Edwardian/craftsman houses with a bold approach. It seems very fresh…and I do think that older homes should come alive in the present, with a care and delight in the period feeling; Very happy.
    Now…I am anticipating your visit to the classical Chinese garden.

    • greenwalks Says:

      Hi Philip – Yes, I tend to plant crocus in little boring clumps, so seeing them in a big meadow-y drift was such a delight. I love the pale purple ones most, I think, so it was the perfect combo. SF has the best house colors on the planet, all the Victorian detail and the city’s independent spirit allows for a lot of creativity and outlandishness. Not so much worrying what the neighbors will think around there, it seems! Yes, the Chinese garden… gonna have to work on that one; it won’t be a Philip-like masterpiece but I hope it will at least show some of the wonders of the place. If you haven’t been, I’d definitely recommend it! Great tip from Megan, for sure.

  5. Melanthia Says:

    Looks like a fun trip. Ahhh, the ‘Diane,’ she is a beauty. You see some of those funky colored houses around Greenwood or Capital Hill ‘hoods. I couldn’t go that bold … too much to clash with the plants! Are you going to the Arboretum sale tomorrow?

    • greenwalks Says:

      Hi Melanthia – Yeah, it was fun, just a little too short! I know there are some colorful houses here, but they seem kind of the exception rather than the rule. Especially in our neck of the woods. We considered painting our house pistachio green but then chickened out, we were getting so many nervous comments from the neighbors asking about what we planned to do. Ugh. Hm, plant sale… I feel like I need to stay away from those at the moment, until I have more of a plan about what I’m going to do this spring! Hope you find great stuff, though.

  6. Megan Says:

    I’ve been excited to see what you found. Sorry you didn’t find more hell strips. There are areas where it’s more common, but I’ll have to note the exact streets. I’ll start collecting a list I can pass along for your next trip.

    • greenwalks Says:

      Hi Megan – Well, it was my fault for not having more time to explore. The are neighborhoods here that are totally bereft of these gardens, but others that are full of them. I’m so curious about why that is – peer pressure, fear of obstacles, lack of inspiration or the reverse of any of these. I’d love it if you’d keep at least a mental tally of ones you see in your travels around the city, for next time. Thanks!

  7. Catherine Says:

    That does look like fun. I really like seeing people taking the time to plant their parking strips. It makes the whole yard look better.
    I love the colorful houses! It reminds me of a lot of houses in San Francisco. They go crazy there! Ours is blue and definitely stands out on our street.

  8. Aerie-el Says:

    Great photos! Love all the colors.
    I’ve only been to Portland once, but we made the most of it. My hubby took me to 3 different gardens in two days–loved it! After seeing your pictures, I want to go back soon.
    When I saw ‘P-Town’ , I thought you went to Provincetown, Massachusetts, aka, P-town! 🙂

  9. Alice Joyce Says:

    Hey Greenwalks, I seem to be hangin’ out in the Pacific Northwest today – just posted on Nitobe & UBC Botanical Garden. I wanted to mention the 2700/2800 block of Northeast Eleventh Ave in Irvington, of course. I was given permission for an entry in my INSIDERS’ Guide to list Sean Hogan’s lavishly planted Portland garden in this way.
    I don’t think it’s pictured here, is it?
    Sean’s energy and horticultural savvy began to spill over to neighboring homes, and many along these 2 blocks have densely planted parkways full of eye-catching specimens.

    • greenwalks Says:

      Alice – Ack! We didn’t make it that far down, only got to the teens I think. Should have kept going. I have a theory that sometimes it does take one person to start it off. But then often the neighbors follow, once they see what can be done. That blank canvas with extra challenges can be intimidating! Thanks so much for the tip, I’m definitely going back there next time!

  10. Nicole Says:

    Little late to the game… currently living in Ptown and search for regulations regarding garden strips in possible future cities.

    Next time try the inner SE quadrant of the city for funky garden strips. SE Yamhill between SE 39th and SE 42nd has some nice strips including one house with raised garden beds. SE 36th Ave just south of Hawthorne is also an interesting street to walk down for funky front yards/gardens.

  11. sandra407 Says:

    Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post… nice! I love your blog. 🙂 Cheers! Sandra. R.

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