I'll begin the blogs I post about McMenamins' gardens by chatting about the most recent larger garden addition to the Kennedy School. It is also my personal favorite. In June 2009, we decided that the driveway traffic at the north end of the parking lot was detrimental enough to the immediate neighbors that the driveway needed removal. That end of the lot is dominated by a century-old Western Red Cedar that towers behind a bed baked by the surrounding asphalt. The site is hot, windy and sunny, and the soil is sucked dry by the thirsty tree. Here I had been developing a xeric (no-water) planting piecemeal over the years, and the extension of this theme into the space occupied by the soon-to-be-shattered asphalt was logical and irresistible.
After the pavement was removed, a backhoe scraped and poked the layer of car-compacted native soil until it was once again loose and fluffy. The round gravel and sand typical of the Ice-Age flood deposits that dominate Portland north of the Alameda Ridge breathed once again. It would be a perfectly draining base for the new garden. Atop this went sandy loam on the northern end and a special blend of pumice, sand and gravel to create a berm at the top of the slope (southern end). All, including the old portions of the area, was mulched with round gravel. Next came the best part...
I envisioned a small but colorful meadow of mixed tawny grasses and vivid upright flowers dotted with small evergreen shrubs giving way to a land-lubbin' "coral reef" of eye-popping succulents and spiky domes. The classic but commonly encountered "Pacific Northwest style" would meet its polar opposite here. The planting relies heavily on residents of California, Mexico and the US Southwest, but also includes flora from Australia, South Africa, the Mediterranean Basin, the Middle East, South America and elsewhere. Color is important, but so are very strong plant shapes, textures and attitudes (i.e., thorns and spines!).
Among the bits and pieces left over from various remodels in the past, I found some old window hardware (such as solid iron window-sash counterweights and latching rods), concrete bits and a concrete pipe. As a finishing touch to our high-impact planting, I fashioned a small sculpture garden to hold heat for some desert-dwellers and to generally compliment the scene.
Last winter, a very rare multi-day stretch of bitter subfreezing weather took its toll on a few Agave, Aloe and California bunchgrasses, but all and all, the Kennedy School's new dry garden is now emerging into spring with delightful splendor. The hybrid Lewisia are in full technicolor bloom right now, as are the mix of blue Ceanothus shrubs and the Yellow Rockrose. Soon, the Penstemon, cactus, Flannel Bush and some bulbs will begin flowering. Yuccas, Agave and Sotols stand timeless and strong. Sedums and Hens-and-Chicks mingle in the gravel. Like much of the Desert Southwest, it can be seen in comfort from a car window, but can't really be experienced without slowly walking by and (carefully!) touching.