Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Yard, Garden & Patio show

So I did finally make it to the Yard, Garden, and Patio show after mistakenly arriving at the gun show. Gun show people are really different than garden show people. They don't smile, they don't share coupons in line, and they don't compliment your scarf the way the ticket guy did at the YGP. 

I have never been so happy to arrive safely at the Convention Center. And thank you, random people behind me at that seminar, for being nice when I rudely eavesdropped on your conversation and demanded that you show me your hellebores. Gardeners are really wonderful people.

Once there I rushed off to the Japanese Garden Elements for the Home Garden talk by Sadafumi Uchiyama. I took a Japanese art history class in college that left me permanently enamored of all things Japanese. They can take an artform from China, Korea, India, or wherever, and do it better.

Winter Landscape by Sesshu

Mr. Uchiyama was a lovely man who spoke about his work at the Portland Japanese Garden, his training in Japan, and about how gardening is great because it's a level playing field--you just need to push that wheelbarrow across the yard a hundred times and you'll get really good at it, regardless of whether you're an idiot or a genius. That's probably why this accidental-gun-show-attendee likes gardening so much. I take terrible notes and I have a crappy memory, so if anyone attended this session and feels I'm misquoting, please chime in.

He spoke about gardening mostly being maintenance and how the Japanese look at the life of a garden in terms of more than 50 years. One family might tend a garden for ten generations, during which time trees will die and need to be replaced but the structure will largely stay the same. He showed us pictures of the Japanese garden thirty years ago and how it's changed (or not changed) throughout the years, including some dramatic photos when a Douglas fir fell and took out the waterfall.

Photo from the Portland Japanese Garden's Facebook page

Finally, he offered some practical tips to incorporating this tradition into your yard. The first lesson: 

  • Kill the corners

Ease the corners of buildings, either by planting on the corners of the back of your house or building a fence that defers the edge of the house, even if it doesn't offer privacy. 

He said that foundation plantings in a yard "kill the corners" by easing the transition from a vertical fence to the horizontal ground. He talked about how important rock is to Japanese landscaping and how it must look like it does in nature. He said you can use them to kill corners, like if you're transitioning a wide footpath to a narrow one. Stick a rock at the corner and the width change won't be so noticeable. I'd think that plants in ceramic pots could likewise be used to kill corners.

Second lesson: 

  • ease the transition from one material to another. 

Instead of letting grass grow right up to a cement path, he showed us a picture of a sidewalk edged with a trim of poured cement with stone embedded, which was abutted with four inches of river rock, which was edged with clay ceiling tiles turned on their sides, which finally lead to grass. It was gorgeous.

This wasn't the photo he showed us but it's a close approximation

Or use pavers on top of your cement slab to ease that transition to a flagstone pathway.

Click to embiggen

Last lesson (and what landscapers always say): 

  • group your plants. 
Don't buy one of each. I hate this advice because HOW WILL I EVER FIT ALL THE PLANTS I WANT IN MY YARD IF I HAVE TO BUY MULTIPLES OF THE SAME THING? He says he tells his students that it's okay to leave a bare spot rather than putting a single plant in. I say phooey to that, Mr. Fancypants with your multiple landscape degrees and years and years of experience!

He said that Japanese gardens don't use annuals or perennials. Their gardens rely on an relatively unchanging lanscape of trees and shrubs that don't die down to the ground at the end of the year. The winter garden has the same bones as the summer garden. Lastly he talked about what a Japanese garden is not. It is not lanterns or footbridges or water features or tchotkies. I was so happy he said that because those lanterns and bridges to nowhere drive me crazy.

I also attended a panel on hot plant picks for 2012. Sadly, there was no projector for diplaying images of the plants they were discussing. Good thing there was June Condruck from Blooming Nursery to deliver the horticultural equivalent of phone sex. She was so good at talking up plants ("An absolutely stunning blue eye surrounded by petals that fade to a dusky purple atop an unfurling mass of shiny green foliage . . .") that I didn't really need visuals. I think I put a star by everything she described.

WANT. Eryngium 'Big Blue'
Photo from High Country Gardens

And then I bought some hellebores and some hot pink bleeding hearts to drown out the mousy and diminutive pale pink native variety that I have in the shade garden. 

All in all it was a very good time. Be sure to check out Scott's photos of the feature gardens over at Rhone Street Gardens. And if you're interested in attending the Spring Home and Garden Show, THAT'S at the Expo Center next weekend. 


  1. I'm happy to read your report on Mr. Uchiyama's talk. I had planned to attend but then just couldn't manage to drag my tired ass out of bed in time to be there. Truth be told I was also a little worried about the lanterns and bridges element, glad to know he didn't endorse them.

    I was at that Hot Plant Picks talk too..."Good thing there was June Condruck from Blooming Nursery to deliver the horticultural equivalent of phone sex"...OMG! You described her so well, she was fabulous. I hope they book her for her own seminar next year!

  2. I love that she was so handsy with the other presenters, too. I want to take her out for margaritas.

  3. Glad you made it to the show...even with the "mishap" ;-) I wanted to go to the Plant Picks talk...but since I was dragging Norm along, I knew it was not gonna happen :-( I totally agree about planting in multiples (I always try to), but let's face it...it's just not always plausible for us...the plant-crazed! I do try to at least get 3 of everything...just for impact...but when you have a small garden, it's just so hard! All I can think of, at times, is how I want EVERYTHING!

  4. There was no plant touching at that session--norm would have loved it! ;)

  5. I dare you to!

    BTW I forgot to reminisce about the time the HPSO Plant Sale and the Gun Show were at the EXPO center at the same time. It was magical.

  6. Oh my god, that really happened?!

  7. It really did. That was also the year I turned and my cardboard flat full of plants hit another shoppers cardboard flat full of plants and she said "if you make me drop my plants I'll kick your fat ass"...clearly she was there for the gun show and ended up in the wrong room.

  8. WHOA. That's hilarious and terrifying and gun show people clearly need to spend more time outside. Outside not shooting things.