gbq&a: what is a shopping experience worth?

DSC_0008 (1)

New Seasons is a natural foods market along the lines of Whole Foods, but home grown. Way back when we lived in Sellwood (a SE Portland neighborhood) one of our neighbors started a little hippie grocery. He grew a lot of the produce on a vacant lot across the street and was in the vanguard when it came to displaying veggies as if they were the crown jewels.


Over the years, the concept grew and that little corner store morphed into a chain of well designed, high-concept markets. The latest installment recently opened in Slabtown in NW Portland.

DSC_0002 (1)

Outdoor amenities include living walls, plantings of trees and grasses and built-in benches for sipping your latté or nibbling your organic salad in the sunshine.


A nicely curated selection of plants is displayed at the main entrance.


Walk through those doors and you are greeted by a well-stocked flower shop with cut flowers and some potted succulents, herbs and orchids.


We checked it out on opening day. It was doing a brisk business, to say the least.


Carrot sculptures seem to be a theme, as is the color scheme, which remains consistent with each new store. So here is my question for your consideration. Are you willing to pay a premium for a pleasant shopping experience where you can be pretty sure of top quality, many locally produced goods and environmental sensitivity? I used to be able to add local ownership to the list of assets, but with success comes the lure of cashing in by selling out. While most of these stores are scattered around the Portland area, they are now owned by a corporation. I’d like to hear where you come down on this before going into my own thoughts about it. Won’t you leave a comment? All opinions (including rants if you’re so inclined) are welcome and I’ll come back next week to add my two cents.

To participate beyond simply commenting, write a post posing a question, linking to and from this post. I have every intention of doing this thing on the first Friday of every month if the interest is there…seems like there should be plenty of curiosity to go around and I know many of you have answers to spare.

wednesday vignette from Joy Creek


If you visit Anna (Flutter and Hum), (and I highly recommend that you do) you will find a thoughtful treatise on light as a design element. That’s why I chose the above photo, featuring a very different, but no less effective, light as my vignette. A visit to Joy Creek Nursery inevitably yields more special little scenarios than you could shake a stick at. So this is more of a pick-your-own vignette post.


A long, hot summer has taken its toll on many gardens, but here there is always plenty to admire. My intent was to zero in on the things that were keeping this garden looking fresh.


Dahlias, of course. Because they put on such a dramatic late-season display, they are often overused (a gaudy mash-up competing for attention). Worked into a border and surrounded with plenty of interesting foliage, they shine.


Monkshood (Aconitum) catches the slanting rays of filtered sunlight: so blue, so beautiful, so deadly.


Asters take autumn by storm. There are tall ones, small ones, sprawlers and uprights.


I’m inclined to like the lacy white ones and the deep blues. Whatever your taste, there’s probably one for you.


The way they spill over the path is almost enough to excuse their pinkness (I’ll bet there’s a white one that would do that).


Fading seedheads (I’m guessing of Fillipendula rubra) can be as decorative as any flower. How about that view of the distant hills through the trees?


Hydrangeas have a long bloom time. To my mind, they gain in beauty as they fade to shades that seem to come from some antique tintype.


Joy Creek has a huge test garden for Hydrangeas, where you can see flowers in all their stages as the mounding shrubs blend into the hills in the distance.


Mustn’t forget grasses when looking for Autumnal interest. Whole undulating landscapes can be made up of grasses alone.


Zebra grass makes a nice backdrop for Penstemons, another Joy Creek specialty.


The zebra grass bears closer inspection. A dwarf form, ‘Gold Bar’, was a Joy Creek introduction.


I visited last Sunday, when Alex LaVilla was giving a talk on Great Plant Picks. Sunday seminars are a gift from Joy Creek to the gardeners among us. Next Sunday, Sept 27, 1pm, will be your last chance to get in on one of these in 2015. Susan Latourette will talk about conifers and their use in the landscape.


So let’s wind this up with a last grassy vignette, shall we?

treated like royalty at little prince nursery

I somehow clicked the wrong thing and lost all of the photos taken on our bloggers’ visit to Little Prince of Oregon nursery. Their logo is a crowned frog prince and their motto is “our plants won’t croak”. That down-to-earth friendliness and gentle humor pervades the place and its people. They welcomed us with open arms (and food and drink and complimentary caps) and turned us loose to wander and shop at will. Here’s what came home with me:

Agave lophantha 'Splendida'

Agave lophantha ‘Splendida’

Agave 'Hammer Time'

Agave ‘Hammer Time’

Agave gentryi 'Jaws'

Agave gentryi ‘Jaws’

Abutilon megapotamicum

Abutilon megapotamicum

Liriope spicata 'Silver Dragon'

Liriope spicata ‘Silver Dragon’

Geum chiloense 'Double Bloody Mary'

Geum chiloense ‘Double Bloody Mary’


A trio of Sempervivums that got separated from their tags. I’ve given up trying to keep track of the different names of the semps anyway, but these look like the makings of a nice combination.


and a small sampling of Tillandsias, selected from a mind boggling array of these fascinating air plants.

I don’t feel so bad about losing my photos of Little Prince, because others in our group did a bang-up job of writing up our visit, complete with excellent photos. Click on Danger Garden and Mulchmaid to take Loree’s and Jane’s virtual tours. The next time you are plant shopping, look for the crowned frog prince logo. You will be getting plants raised by people who care.

Hilda’s Garden

Hilda in her garden

What could be more delightful than having lunch with long-time friends who are also gardeners? It was a grey day, but Hilda’s smile could light up any amount of gloom.

raised beds

This is a food-centric garden. Hilda does the planting and tending, while Bill pitches in by building structures like these raised beds out front,


and systems like this one for capturing water, tucked away behind a grape vine on a trellis.

espaliered fruit trees

Espaliered fruit trees divide the space.


Many of the plantings could pass as purely ornamental, but careful thought has gone into attracting bees and other pollinators.


Colorful Achilleas spill over gravel paths.


No reason yummy cannot also be beautiful.


Not that there aren’t a few plants included for their beauty alone.


Some architectural fragments peek out here and there.


Ditto bits of whimsy.


A bench for taking it all in.





Thanks, Bill and Hilda, for inviting me to spend an afternoon in your urban oasis.

memory lane

Jenni’s house

I went to West Linn high school, so when Jenni offered to host the spring blogger’s plant swap, I was doubly excited. Getting to hang out with garden nuts who have become friends while we trade plants; getting to poke around old haunts…what could be better?
Jenni, her husband and kids have taken on the project of revitalizing a home and garden that have been in the family for generations. Just have a gander at that bold, modern color and you get an idea of the direction they are taking.

the back yard

The lot stretches waay back to beyond those raspberry bushes you see in the distance. The grass was wet, so only a couple of hardy souls, properly shod, ventured back there. I know from Jenni’s blog that there are raised beds on the left of the path that get put to good use come summer.

flower beds

A pair of mixed borders flank the entrance to that back area we just saw. The swap was in late April, and I think these bed are looking pretty great for that early in the season. Just imagine what they must look like now.

pink dogwood

There’s lots of history here, meaning several mature trees. Talk about bones!

the swap

We crowded onto the driveway with our plants. Here a serious conference is going on. Heather, Amy, Jane, Ann, Loree and Matthew look like they are debating the merits of some offering.typical street

Back in the day, the little town of Willamette was a sleepy little burg ideally located on the Willamette River. It had lots of trees but no sidewalks. None of that has changed.


No sign of what’s been happening in so many communities, namely multi-family units and McMansions shoehorned into slots where humble abodes once sat.


Cute little cottages and farm houses in a melange of architectural styles have simply been upgraded with fresh paint and gardens (nobody “gardened” back when I was visiting friends in Willamette).


Houses I remembered as “ramshackle” have been spruced up without losing their character.



I failed to get photos of the main street, which is a shame. Like the town itself, it has spruced up, with any new buildings taking on the character of others on the street. It reminds me a little bit of Carmel, but not as slick. This is my idea of gentrification done right (if that is even the right word for it). So often, visiting old stomping grounds is a sad exercise. Willamette has been annexed and is now considered part of West Linn, but it has managed to maintain its own distinct personality. I guess you can go home again, and even be pleasantly surprised.

Schreiner’s Iris Gardens


These folks take full advantage of the fact that Mother’s Day falls in the middle of iris season. There were plenty of places to picnic, free bouquets for moms and even a harpist.

artist at work

A few artists had set up their easels. You had to be a bit of an exhibitionist because there was no shortage of onlookers.

iris beds

The iris beds are set out in rows, filling a large area with wide grass paths between.

iris with companion plants

They are meant to show off the iris in combination with companion plants. I quite liked the tall purple lupine with the yellow iris.

iris with peony

An iris/peony combo can be effective, but I didn’t think these colors worked very well together.

ID’s on all iris

It kept the borders from being completely integrated, but placing the irises on the outsides of the rows and clearly labeling them made it easy to choose favorites.


I was on the lookout for ‘Before the Storm’, a nearly black iris, after admiring it on a blog (I’ll come back later and link to it). It was available on line, but I couldn’t find it in the gardens. There were plenty of other dark beauties though.

mixed hedgerow

The mixed plantings surrounding the display garden created some lovely spots to picnic.

vignette with blue pot and eremurus

Occasionally, a planting would leave out iris altogether, like this one with Eremurus surrounding a huge blue pot.

dusky brown

I tend to go for the dusky colors. I can’t quite read the whole label on this one, but at $45 it’s a little rich for my blood anyway.

Touch of Mahogany

I’ll settle for ‘Touch of Mahogany’ for a mere $9.

Some Like it Hot

Maybe I’ll even spring for the $16 ‘Some Like It Hot’ when I put in my order for ‘Before The Storm’.

long table displays

Talk about impressive: this photo shows only a portion of the hall filled with labeled cut specimens of all the iris available here.

the loot

There was a big table of potted up iris for sale. Knowing of my quest, R bought me a dark one and I added a delicate Siberian. I have misplaced the labels, so I can’t be more exact until they turn up. There’s my free Mother’s Day bouquet, which doesn’t look like much in this photo, but each of those buds turned into a beautiful blossom and I am still enjoying it over a week later.


The subtle markings on this were what spoke to me.


They threw in a free catalog and I went for some special fertilizer. Next year should be a good iris year. This was a fun outing, especially taking the back roads south of Portland. If a road trip is not in the cards, you can check Schreiner’s online. How about you? Are you smitten with iris? What else takes your breath away in this pulchritudinous month of May?

new New Seasons on Williams Avenue

new seasons metal trees

I’ve been anxiously awaiting the opening of the New Seasons on Williams because it is right on my way to Ristretto’s cafe in that neighborhood. It outdid my expectations, with these sculptural trees marching down the side facing Vancouver Ave.

new seasons trellises

Metal mesh panels are bolted to the wall behind the trees to support climbing vines. I like this idea, though I’m not sure the trees will stand out as much once the vines fill in to cover the mesh.

New Seasons real trees

All is not fantasy on this site. Plenty of real, living trees have been incorporated into the landscape design.


Unlike so many commercial projects, a nice variety of trees has been introduced.

grassy strips between parking

Instead of pulling up to the nose of another car, the parking areas are divided by these grassy raised beds.

NS entrance

A nice selection of seasonal plants greets you at the entrance.

plants for urban gardeners

Plants for urban gardeners line the walls near the entrance.

NS cut flowers

Right outside the doors are banks of cut flowers. Step through and find succulents and house plants. They have even begun labeling their succulents with correct botanical names. Isn’t it nice to know that someone is listening to our concerns? All New Seasons stores offer a pleasant shopping experience, but this one has special appeal for we who call ourselves gardeners.

Viscaya & Xera in one day? Whew!


It had been too long since Amy and I had taken a road trip. Neither of us had been to Viscaya, and it was opening day at Xera/Potted, so off we went.

Viscaya grounds

Behind an unassuming chain link fence with tasteful (read: easy to miss) signage is a secret garden that goes on and on.

Viscaya sculpt

Grassy paths, punctuated by sculptures and other interesting features, provide access to island beds, each with its own character. As you can see (behind the sculpture) tables of plants for sale are scattered throughout, making for a unique shopping experience.

Arborvitae labyrinth

As if to prove that there is no such thing as a bad plant, Arborvitae has been used to create a labyrinth. Above is a peek into the entrance, with a piece of driftwood for a focal point. The outer walls provide a perfect background for lighter, brighter plant groupings.

Viscaya round garden

A dramatic feature was this large round grassy area bordered by daylilies. Pillars topped with round planted pots guard the entry, with a huge, red shallow pot dead center.


As we worked our way around the back of the building, we came across a thriving Japanese maple (maybe Shishigashura?) in a big pot.

Abelia blossoms

A mature Abelia vine in flower clambered over a fence. Amy said she had never seen one flowering.

persimmon fruit

We decided this persimmon had to be the tiniest fruit we’d ever seen. The tree was impressive, part of an orchard laid out in a grid.

orchard in squares

Each unique tree occupies its own perfect square, with crisp edging of the grass path surrounding it.

fountain beds

The same edging technique carries over into the quadrants circling this fountain. A liberal use of water in pools and fountains pervades the grounds.

carniverous plants

Carniverous plants are happy in this water-filled urn.

rustic archway

The parking area is on the back side of housing units, each with a different colored door that corresponds to the colors of the plants featured on tables nearby. I liked the rustic archway and unusual plants at this portal. Each one is unique.

plants from Viscaya

Top left is a plant that was huge in the display garden, Ligularia wilsonii. This is a plant I had avoided because I didn’t like the flowers. That’s what a display garden will do: I wound up thinking “flowers, shmowers…who cares?”; top right, Hosta ‘Fire & Ice’; bottom left, Ipomea x multifida (cardinal climber); bottom right, Plectranthus cellatus ‘Variegata’. The prices at Viscaya are another reason to make the drive to the far east side of town. Silly me: I only bought things I knew would fit into my plans.

Xera signage

On to Xera, a much anticipated opening by all the garden geeks in town. One of those, fellow blogger Laura, was giggling with glee as she selected her booty.

Xera overview

Another chain link fence, but this time it is obvious that an event of the horticultural kind awaits.

loaded tables

Tables are loaded with the fantastic array of plants Xera has long been noted for.

big shallow pots

But that’s not all! Truly elegant pots, many of them potted up in appropriate and imaginative ways, add to the sophisticated ambiance.

more pots

The possibilities for combinations are mind-boggling.


The close-in southeast location makes this an easy place to visit again and again. I see a lot of that in my future.

Arisaema taiwanese & Echeveria ‘Haagal’

For now, though, I indulged in only two plants…but they are beauts: Echeveria ‘Haagal’ and Arisaema taiwanense. This was Xera/Potting’s soft opening for working out the kinks. As far as I could tell, there were no kinks in sight.

a couple of little parks

near the convention center

I may have to take a closer look at this little park when I go to the Yard, Garden & Patio Show this weekend. It’s near the convention center, covering one block. I love the large cement orbs and the serenity this space brings to a hectic, high-traffic part of the city. By the way, I will be in the HPSO booth Friday evening, so if you happen to be at the show in the 4:45-7:30 time slot, stop by to say “Howdy”, won’t you?

NW park 27th & Upshur

I lived in NW for many years, but this little park escaped my attention. Those low walls surrounding the plaza would be a perfect perch for brown bagging it.

closer look at the sculpture

Here’s a closer look at the whimsical sculpture that anchors the plaza. I’m delighted by these little surprise parks tucked here and there around the city. I’ll share whenever I find a new one…hope you will too.

come to a birthday party


I met Doug and Joyce many years ago. They were remodeling a barge into a floating home and we were doing the same with a decommissioned tugboat. We were moored side by side at the tip of Tomahawk Island when it was still undeveloped and wild. Such conditions breed close relationships that stand the test of time, even when later contact is sporadic and widely spaced. Indeed, the last time we visited them in the hills above Sheridan, they were living in tents and logging the land to build their house.

clay sculpture

Doug is an architect/furniture builder and Joyce is an artist/teacher, so artistic touches wait around every corner…like this clay sculpture with its arms raised in celebration.

andiron plant stands

I can only imagine how great it would be in high summer, but the stripped down winter face allowed little touches, like the repurposing of a pair of andirons to hold a metal pot, to stand out.

the wrap-around deck

The wrap-around deck has pergolas, roof lines and decorative elements to keep it interesting.

save the trees

A cutout in the decking accommodates a tree growing close to the house.

whimsical handrail

I didn’t take many indoor shots because the party was in full swing, but here’s a whimsical handrail.

huge jade plant

A huge jade plant filled an alcove.

jade with lights

It was dressed for the season.

Doug in his shop

Here’s Doug in his woodworking shop.

carving on a panel in progress

A peek at some of the carving on a panel he’s working on. Every door in the house is its own miniature landscape.

the four daughters

I failed to get a picture of the birthday girl, but the four daughters are like versions of Joyce. They regaled the crowd with song and dance and silliness back there with the tree in the window for a backdrop. It is such a joy to reconnect with old friends. I hope you got to do some of that during the holidays.