Two Portland Gardeners Create Convivial Outdoor Spaces

portland, backyard, garden, design

written by Melissa Dalton | featured image by Loree Bohl

Summer in Oregon isn’t complete without good friends, grilled food and the great outdoors. These two Portland homeowners show us how to make room in the backyard for all the season’s essentials.

Concordia: DIY Elegance

photo by Loree Bohl

Loree Bohl has never gone without a garden. “I come from a long line of gardeners,” Bohl said. As an apartment dweller in her twenties, Bohl built flower boxes from her windowsill. Later in life, home ownership thrilled her for its “ground to garden in.” In 2009, Bohl started her blog, the Danger Garden, to chronicle her love for “spiky plants.”

Now, she is also a partner and communications director at Plant Lust, a searchable online database of plant varieties. So it comes as no surprise that when Bohl initially saw the backyard of her current home, she envisioned its garden potential. “There was lots of lawn and dandelions,” Bohl said. “It was pretty much a blank slate.” Bohl and her husband Andrew Bohl, the director of manufacturing for Schoolhouse Electric, began shaping the space soon after they moved in.

“My garden is all about how I can cram in as many plants as possible,” Bohl said. “The hardscape helps control them.” Now, two seating areas break up the greenery and provide a destination Loree Bohl point in the landscape. A sunken, squared patio composed of square concrete pavers hosts a dining table and chairs.

photo by Loree Bohl

The straight edges of the patio borders and highlights Bohl’s “plant chaos.” The space also serves as a backdrop for a colorful container collection. An adjacent shade structure creates a cool spot to sit all summer long. The bright orange paint on the columns echoes the colors of the pots and contrasts nicely with Bohl’s favorite greenery.

The couple did all of the design and labor themselves, making the result all the sweeter when they have family and friends over. “It really becomes an extension of our home,” Bohl said. “I absolutely love it.”

Irvington: Plants, People and Art

photo by Doreen Wynja

When Linda Ernst bought her home in Portland’s Irvington neighborhood in 1992, the surrounding yard was not exactly welcoming. The back had been used as a dog run. Patchy grass filled the side yard. A scraggly path led up to the front porch. “It was awful,” said Ernst, a glass artist. Luckily, Ernst had been “bit by the gardening bug,” so she was eager to transform her new lot. “Gardening is kind of addictive,” she said. “You start with a tiny patch and before you know it … ”

By 2008, Ernst’s plants were taking over, so she asked Laura Crockett of Garden Diva Designs to incorporate room for people, too. “I knew that she’d be willing to work around an existing garden,” Ernst said.

portland, backyard, garden, design
photo by Doreen Wynja

Ernst’s wish list included distinct entertaining areas, as well as displays for her art collection. Crockett described her design brief as: “Plants, people, art.”

Now in the backyard, a gracious dining area sits beneath an ancient mimosa tree. A low wall curves along its perimeter to define the space, provide extra seating and a spot for container arrangements. Nearby, a steel water feature, designed by Crockett, flows all year round. Both a custom gate and a window cutout in the back boundary wall integrate pieces of Ernst’s glass. In the side yard, the grass was replaced with a cozy patio spot, complete with a fire pit welded by Ernst’s husband and a plinth for a sculpture. The couple also exchanged the front path for a handsome staircase.

Today, Ernst’s lot unfolds into a series of inviting outdoor rooms. Several paths and gates join her yard to the neighbors on each side, making for an easy flow of informal socializing. “We’re connected to all of our neighbors, which I really love,” Ernst said. “Many of them are gardeners too, so lots of garden chitchat happens.”

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