The roomy front porch is the transition area between the garden and house. Natural light beams into the living room from the bank of full-length windows.// Photo by Jon Jensen
Laura Takashima has good karma. Drawn to a beautiful three-acre garden and property on the flanks of Mount Sylvania that she discovered walking through the neighborhood in 1995, she envisioned that someday she and her husband, Gregg, would live there. Her interest in the property never waned. It was five years before she learned that the owners of the house and garden had passed away and another three years before a for-sale sign appeared. They met the realtor to see the house and property for the first time at 9:30 p.m. the day the sign went up, made an offer before midnight and left town the next day for a vacation. For them, it was an inspired decision.
Even after unearthing the history of the garden and its maker, Laura and Gregg were undaunted by the prospect of managing such a venerable garden. Garden creator Molly Grothaus and her husband, Louis, purchased the property in 1950. Their house, sited in the center of the property, was built from a Sears-Roebuck home kit. After moving into the house in 1952, Molly embarked on a 40-year journey as a garden maker and plant collector.
Denizens of alpine regions carpet the ground plane along the stone stairs that were constructed by Louis Grothaus. The spring scene is enlivened by the floral display of dogwoods and azaleas.
Photo by Jon Jensen
Molly was a role model for modern day plantaholics and horticulturalists. I still refer to the copious notes that I took on my first visit to her garden — pages of ideas for plant combinations, tips about growing rock garden plants and impressions of the way plants with the same cultural requirements were grouped together; what we know now as “right plant, right place.” She belonged to specialist plant societies and gleaned information and seeds from friends from around the globe who shared her plant passion. Molly was active in the local horticulture community and in 1978 helped found the Berry Botanic Garden in Portland.
When the Takashimas moved in they began planning the house remodel, focusing in part on the relationship between the house and garden, and started watching the mysteries of the garden unfold. Laura remembers their “being surprised that each month the garden was new.” The result of their collaboration with Julia Wood and Simon Tomkinson of Litmus Design and Architecture of Portland is a house that embodies the genius loci. Laura wanted the house to “look old when it was done,” a house that blended into rather than dominated the garden. The couple sees the garden as art and the windows as the frames in their garden gallery.
They made considered decisions about preserving as much of the garden as was practical. Ridding the garden of Himalayan blackberries and adventitious weeds was a priority in the first year. Raingear was her garb of choice as Laura hacked and pulled unwelcome invaders throughout the winter and spring. They edited the garden by removing diseased and dead trees and shrubs. Although they widened the pathways, the original circulation pattern remains intact. Not wanting to disturb the woodland garden and magnificent magnolia on the north side of the house, they asked the contractor to build platforms over the bed to avoid soil compaction.
Rhododendrons bracket a woodland seating area sequestered from the main garden. Moss softens the hard surfaces, creating a sense of longevity and serenity.
Photo by Jon Jensen
Working with Oregon City landscape architect Andrew Rice, the couple added outdoor living spaces that seamlessly transition between the house and garden. A wooden trellis mounted on stone pedestals on the dining patio speaks to the beams on the porches. They used the same stone for the walls on the porches and terrace to create continuity.
The Takashimas relish time spent on the front entry porch under a peaked roof with a full frontal view of Mount Hood, the rock garden and lower borders. A stone fireplace and comfortable furniture make this a destination even on rainy days. A curving stone staircase, built by Louis, bisects the sloped rock garden leading the way from the parking area to the front entry. Good drainage allowed Molly to use this area to showcase a diverse range of alpine plants. Successive generations of many of those plants still inhabit this area.
Wildlife is part of their daily existence. Over the years they have counted 45 different bird species attracted by the diversity of the plant material as a food source and for nesting. Deer walk through the lower borders enjoying the salad bar. A coyote had the temerity to bite one of their dogs. Laura and Gregg don’t use herbicides or pesticides in the garden and are happy to share the riches with whoever comes calling.
A glorious canopy
Trees that Molly and Louis Grothaus planted some 50 years ago form the structural framework of the Takashimas’ garden to this day. Selecting trees and placing them is the most important and enduring decision in garden making.
Cornus kousa var. chinensis
The Chinese dogwood, a small, vase-shaped tree, offers four seasons of interest. Creamy-white flowers surrounded by showy bracts appear in June, followed by scarlet fruits in late summer. The tiered branches are clothed in crimson fall color. As trees age the bark develops into a patchwork of taupe, pewter and green.
Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Jelena’
Most witch hazel varieties are winter bloomers, bringing much needed color and fragrance to the garden during the forgotten season. Ribbon-like petals of yellow suffused with russet-red appear on the bare branches of H. ‘Jelena’ in January and February, emitting a spicy scent. Fall color echoes the bloom color.
Japanese stewartia is known in Japan as the summer camellia because it blooms in June and July. Dark green foliage is the perfect foil for the white, saucer-shaped blooms highlighted with yellow stamens. In late autumn the foliage assumes fiery shades of red and orange. The exfoliating bark shines in the low light of winter in mottled patterns of green, gray and orange.
Clusters of dangling white bells create the illusion that the Japanese snowbell is covered in snow when it flowers in May. Place next to a terrace, walkway or the top of a wall where you can look up into the underside of the canopy to appreciate the pendant chalices as they open ,revealing yellow centers. Bright green foliage sheaths the branches, assuming a mantle of yellow in the fall.