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I lived in the Beaumont Wilshire neighborhood in Portland, Oregon, for 33 years. And like maniac gardeners everywhere, spent countless hours in the yard—planting, composting, attempting to eradicate the sins of my past. Bishop’s Weed. How did I not know? It says WEED in the name.

My husband and I added more than 25 trees to our 50 X 100 corner city lot, some choices better than others. But the birds seemed perfectly content. River’s Purple Beech; dark chocolate luscious looking leaves, an excellent choice, so say the Downy Woodpeckers. Himalayan Birch: peeling white bark, and bright winter interest, Bushtits, Goldfinches, and Western Tanagers approved. Persian Silk Tree: gorgeous & tropical looking, albeit kinda messy. We got no complaints from a Macaw who once alit there. (We tried to entice the parrot inside, “Polly want a cracker.” But nothing doing; she flew off, never to be seen again.)

City lot. 25+ trees. It can be done.

We eventually succeeded in creating a shady west-side garden. And we added a bluestone patio under the trees–by chance, a place with good air flow. It became a favorite spot for a summer sarsaparilla and conversation, our version of the American front porch. We also made a deal with neighbors: if they heard a wine cork pop, they were welcome to join us. It made for many an impromptu get-together, sans hand-wringing over a perceived messy house.

front patio shade garden
front patio shade garden

It was a hard decision, leaving the home where we’d raised our kids, and the neighbors we loved, and the garden we’d tended so long. But the time had come. I knew I wanted to take plants with me, however, I’d super duper broke my arm months earlier, and after surgery, plates, pins—and 5 months of physical therapy—there was no way I could do it on my own. Enter fabulous awesome generous PDX garden bloggers. They arrived en masse, shovel in hand, and digging commenced. I wished I’d counted, but I can tell you, they moved a ton of plants.

Hellstrip plants on Alameda in NE PDX in 2013

I have been pleasantly surprised by those plants’ resiliency. Most are thriving. And there’ve been a few surprises, my hitchhikers. Opuntia, Nicotiana, a crazy Datura I paid $3.99 for and considered an annual. It was a show-stopper in my old garden, and here it is, rising out of nowhere, third year in a row. (I hear they can be invasive, but fortunately, not so here in zone 8.) And a healthy looking Echium pininana. It picked its own spot, right beside the patio, and it’s headed skyward.

Hitchhiker from the Alameda Garden

This Echium picked its own place in the garden. Perfect.

The new garden is private, mostly at the back of the house, twice the size of our previous lot, and surrounded by a six-foot fence. I miss seeing what the neighbors are up to. And there’s no instant entertainment, myriad walkers and runners, kids and dogs, and after we moved—I’m told—the nude bicyclist parade. But this garden is a new kind of fabulous. I get so much more done (because I don’t spend half my time visiting.) Our dog Pumpkin can be in the yard with me, and when she’s not busy digging a big ole hole, she lolls around singing, “If I were king of the forest…”

Punky Lolling

When we moved into our other house, a million years ago, I didn’t know anything about gardening, though I religiously added Red Zonal Geraniums to the planters that came with the house, and I still think they have their place. But now, in our new home, Flamingo Park, I have the opportunity to build a garden with a bit of experience at my back, and—fingers crossed—a little more strategy under my wings.