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Proximity to mountain, valley, and ocean is high on the list of Portland grooviness. Every year around this time, I go on a retreat with my fellow Book Babes. We’ve been making the trek for twenty years now, and almost without fail, we get glorious weather for our fall outings. We’ve seen great November weather loads of times at the Coast; and at Black Butte Ranch near Bend; and at Domaine Margelle Vineyard in the Willamette Valley; and even in Mosier, a little town east of Hood River the Columbia Gorge.  I saw my first covey of quails in Mosier. So exciting.

Columbia River from Mosier
Columbia River from Mosier

Most often, my reading group visits the Oregon Coast, and this past weekend proved another glorious weekend. It was sunny and warm, and though I was on constant alert for a Tsunami, I didn’t once think we were going to die from hypothermia.

This year, we stayed at Katy’s beach house in a quiet community south of Tillamook. You don’t see much of a crowd on the beaches there. And while I like to think I’m not prone to envy, some of those houses with fantastic oceanfront views, oy vey, sit unoccupied much of the time. I just want to say, if I had to budget for a big sprawling beach house, garden-geek gatherings would ensue.

We were only 80' up, not high enough according to Katy.
We were only 80′ up, not high enough according to Katy.

At the our annual retreats, there are martinis and champagne and Bloody Marys aplenty. Put six women together, and food appears à la the loaves and fishes. Yet amid all that food and talk and libation, we still manage a number of decent hikes. We made it out for two walks on Saturday, one stroll thru the neighborhood, and another long walk on the beach. We saw a handful of people, and just two dogs. Katy’s new pup Zack (he followed her home, honest) had the beach to himself.

Zack, only new member to the Book Groups in 23 years.
Zack, only new member to the Book Groups in 23 years.


The coast around these parts is a little warmer than inland, closer to Zone 8b than 8a-ish in Portland. Their New Zealand Flax seem unscathed, though Portland was pretty much wiped out last year. In Manzanita and Cannon Beach, some 60 miles north, yards have grass lawns and flax and even bamboo. Lots of geraniums and petunias and pansies around the shops—they go for color there. So what’s all this got to do with plant lust? It got me wondering. If I lived somewhere surrounded by so much natural beauty, would I’d still want to garden the way I do in the city. Maybe I’d be content hiking and enjoying the flora and fauna nature plunked down all on her own. I saw my first Varied Thrush. And then a buck, and a doe, all within seconds of each other. And evidence of a bear—according to Ms. Billie, our expert woods woman. The critters were so fat and healthy looking, big Stellar’s Jays, plump Black Capped Chickadees, and the chubbiest of Chipmunks.

Aeoniums & Giraffe driftwood character

Katy had some fine looking Aeoniums, Aloes, and sedums she’d spirited away from her mom’s place in Sausalito. She invited me to raid her pots on my way out, but of course I forgot that—along with my camera. I suppose it’d be pretty irresistible to include a collection like that if you could forage in your mother’s front yard. The light was too harsh for my first photos—and then I got distracted.  Sorry. But it seems kind of silly to plant lawns at the coast, though many people do. And then again, people do it in the city too. The yard shown below was pretty nice, I have to admit. Though I think most plant nerds would agree, we’re trending away from that high-maintenance, resource gobbling look.

I’ve never been much for formal gardens, and I’m trending toward a more naturalized look, try to follow in natures footsteps. That means I’ll to develop a little more discipline, and not buy willy nilly every time I get agog at Ye Olde Nursery. So what do you think of my chances?