Thursday, April 02, 2015

An Early Spring Garden in the Hills: The Torch Family Garden

One of the wonderful things about working at a fine art gallery is our clients. From time to time I have the opportunity to visit a client's home which is usually spectacular and more often than not the garden that goes with the home also registers high on the spectacular meter. Last spring I met the Torch family at the gallery. They purchased a work of art by one of my favorite artists (Fay Jones, who coincidentally we are featuring this month). When we delivered the painting to their incredible 1911 home, I was stopped in my tracks by their garden.

My overwhelming response to the garden must not be new to them. I asked (begged?) if I may come back another day to photograph it and they, being such gracious people, agreed adding I could come to see it any time. I decided I wanted to photograph during spring just as I had seen it the first time, so I waited until recently to pay a second visit. Thus, recently, I found myself on a very early spring day doing just that.

I invite you to sit back, relax and enjoy a tour of one of West Portland's charming gems--a century-plus old home on nearly three acres in the hills above downtown.

A bit of background on this lovely garden: Last summer the garden was featured as one of five on the Portland Garden Tour West, a tour benefiting the Ainsworth Elementary School.


The description for the tour was as follows:

When Rob and Susan Torch moved to Portland three years ago, they stumbled upon a rare find: a century-old house centered on nearly three acres of beautifully designed gardens and landscaping, less than two miles from downtown Portland. The Torch garden is a study in contrasts, with a mix of careful landscaping, comfortable outdoor living spaces, and untouched woodlands. 


It continues:

Closest to the house, shaped boxwood, abundant lavender and distinct walkways provide the framework of an English garden - perfect for strolling and entertaining. The backyard is home to a massive gravenstein apple tree, loaded with fruit, and the lawn on the upper level is perfect for child play and sports. Encircling the manicured garden and rolling lawns, twenty foot rhododendrons ensure a beautiful show of blooms in springtime and an evergreen backdrop throughout the year. Natural woodlands soften the perimeter and offer a sense of sanctuary.


 Let's tour the back area first. A long drive leads up to the separate garage and to my surprise, this:


When I drove up last week I realized I hadn't noticed the chickens during my first visit. They look quite happy and were clucking away. Notice on top of the coop - many sports trophies adorning the roof - now that's a great use of these. I love this! If I ever have chickens I'm putting my trophies atop the coop.


Maybe this inspires the girls to lay eggs faster? Fun idea. 


I believe this to be the massive gravenstein apple tree described above at the edge of the great lawn.


These are some of the clipped box hedges also mentioned in the description for the tour. Many Northwest natives mixed in with Asian species, too. Very typical for the Northwest. I would love to see this garden in all seasons, especially in summer when everything is at its height of beauty. There was a lot of Hakonechola macra coming up, lavender and rhododendrons waiting to burst into bloom. A Japanese maple in the center, possibly Acer palmatum 'Dissectum'.


A stone retaining wall gives the garden a sense of age and charm, and lavender in the foreground just starting to grow also adds to the country estate garden-vibe.


Newer paths were put in by the previous owners around 2008 and some of the gardens were renovated at that time. A limited palette gives this garden a feeling of calm that continues on into the lawns and up through the forested areas beyond. There is continuity to the whole garden and many well established trees and old rhododendrons although, those were not in bloom quite yet.


Sweet little narcissus against Ophiopogon planiscapus 'Nigrescens' or black mondo grass creates a striking contrast. There was plenty of the latter in broad sweeps throughout this well-established garden. I swooned a little.


Here's a wider shot of the clipped box hedge, a very English-looking part of the garden and very fitting in our climate. Grasses are beginning their growth cycle and the forests beyond create a real sense of living amongst a forest, which is an accurate statement.


I imagine in a month or two when the deciduous trees have leaves that the canopy creates a shady wonderland. Right now the lighting has that special late-winter veil that softens and illuminates translucent petals on magnolias, dogwoods, narcissus and flowering fruit trees, not to mention mosses.


The structure below is the garage and chicken coop-area, the great lawn stretches beyond the patio in this photograph.


We are still in the back of the garden and home where there is plenty of room for entertaining, cookouts and playing. Off to the left is the huge lawn area and up above that is an open meadow area.


A singular and well-placed vessel looks quite elegant. I imagine it could be a water feature in the summer months, but even if it's not it is an elegant statement. If it were me, I'd cram a plant in there. I couldn't help myself.


View as seen from the back table and patio area. The lawn is to the right and above.


More of the stone wall, the Japanese maple to the left and box hedges.






This is at the top of the great lawn; the tree is finishing flowering. Just up those steps on the far eastern part of the garden is a good-sized open meadow (difficult to tell as it's surrounded by trees and shrubberies) complete with nets at either end for sports play. Lucky kids!


View looking down at the back deck and garden from the north lawn. Grasses glow in the thin afternoon sunshine of early spring, moss on the trees is more evident this time of year.


More woodland edging around the great lawn, heading down to the front part of the garden. The steps to the open sports meadow are just visible on the left. White blossoms of rhododendrons and early flowering trees really show up well in this setting, especially this time of year. They put me in mind of glowing stars in a sky of green.



Looking back towards the house, a magnolia loses the last of its winter petals.




Vine maples emerge as do more grasses.


Another well-placed vessel is all the garden art this wonderful garden needs.




Acer griseum or paperbark maple with more Ophiopogon planiscapus 'Nigrescens' under planted.
This is now the front garden. Repeat plantings of black mondo grass, epimedium, maples, grasses and rhododendrons create unity throughout the entire front and back gardens.


Fresh new leaves on Hydrangea quercifolia or oak leaf hydrangea.


Fresh new maple leaves.


Very inviting fire pit put in by the previous owners around 2008.


Ophiopogon planiscapus 'Nigrescens' foreground, epimedium in the background. The golden glow of the epimedium against the dark mondo grass is especially striking.


Oh, the epimedium is astounding here. It is the plant that really stood out in my memory as "the one" after my initial visit to this spectacular place.


It goes on and on, bordering the entire south and west front garden, mixing in with rhododendrons, maples and cedar trees. The flowering tree glows in the overcast light of this day.





Another maple, likely Acer palmatum 'Dissectum' again. A real sense of place here, and it feels tranquil. Hard to believe it's someone's private garden. So lovely and definitely Asian-influenced. Underplanted with native sword ferns.





The sweet little flowers of the epimedium or bishop's hat were just ending but still they had their charm.



This is the front lawn and view of the home showing the immense borders of epimedium. As the description for the tour stated, the garden is indeed a study in contrasts. On the one hand the lawn is very inviting for family and play, on the other the woodlands are reflective and nurturing, not to mention wonderful habitat for many creatures.








This is so very Pacific Northwest to me. Moss covered steps, maple trees, rhododendrons, gray skies. Beautiful and well-loved. The Torches don't take much credit for being the gardeners, they claim much of this was here when they bought the home and garden, and that may be true. Many of these trees are very old, a wonderful thing to enjoy - the foresight of gardeners long ago. But they have contributed to the garden, they have added many new plantings closer to the home and they also maintain the nearly three acres, not an easy task by any stretch of the imagination. That takes dedication and appreciation, frankly. I would consider them gardeners any day of the week. Very good ones.


This is on the drive coming up to the home.


And I leave you with a final parting shot of glowing springtime blossoms underplanted with epimedium, native sword fern and hydrangea.

The Torch family garden is special, a garden for every season. It's a lot to take in, and not everything was in bloom, (or leaf, for that matter) and still, it was spectacular. It's on the edge of a woodland in a secluded neighborhood in Portland, so there are other homes around but they are generally hidden from view. I did not get names of many of the different trees and shrubs as I was there alone, but if there is anything in particular that is of interest I am sure that with a little digging it can be found out. I am hopeful that I will be able to come back another time to see just how this amazing place develops and changes from delicate blossoms and bronzes and whites of late winter to dazzling hues of summer and fall and beyond.

It is a place where I am sure not only the family but also wildlife - birds, insects, raccoons and who knows what else? - finds sanctuary.  There are many levels of plants that wildlife really appreciate: groundcover, perennials and grasses, low shrubs, larger shrubs, small trees, larger trees and really jumbo trees. The multi-level canopy creates hiding places for birds and habitat for insects for birds. The Torch garden with its surrounding forests has it all.

The Torches have been most generous in allowing me a peek into their private piece of gardening paradise. I appreciate, as I'm sure all you readers out there certainly do, the rare opportunity to see such private corners of the world.
For that, we thank you, Torch family!

That's it for this week at Chickadee Gardens. Thank you for reading and until next time, happy gardening!

25 comments :

  1. A magnificent garden! While the Torches don't take credit for being gardeners, in addition to all you mentioned, they had the foresight not to destroy this place. Some new homeowners want to put their stamp on a place and bring in heavy equipment to do just that. It takes special people to be stewards of something beautiful, contribute to but not undo what is there. Thank you for the tour of this private Portland paradise!

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    1. I totally agree, Peter. Anyone could just remove it all but they chose, to use your word, to be stewards of this lovely place and to contribute. Kudos to them! Well said, too Peter.

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  2. It's amazing isn't it what opportunities arise when meeting people on a day to day basis. They have a beautiful garden, it has an air of formlity but relaxed at the same time.

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    1. It is amazing, and so rewarding! I love it. Well said, guys.

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  3. Spectacular! I'm in awe of all those mature - and majestic - trees. The perfect garden to live in and enjoy.

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    1. The trees are amazing, there are some Cedrus deodora and Cedrus libani or tree of Lebanon on the perimeter of the property, too. Lots of Douglass firs, also. Many very old trees, an old (for an urban site) forest. Just enchanting.

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  4. Oh, that curvy-branched maple toward the end -- what a treasure! Are there seating areas other than the fire pit and a bench here or there? It seems a little lacking in that element... Want to see it (through you) in summer now!

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    1. Isn't that something? There were many other areas, a lot of chairs and things were put away for winter too. I just didn't photograph everything. I am hoping (begging again??) to come back again to see it this summer (hint hint??) :)

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  5. Wonderful Tamara, thank you to you and the family for sharing it with us! I must ask though, was there an agave? (maybe I need to do a little guerrilla gardening?

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    1. You are so welcome! Danger, there was no agave! Hahha...well, some guerrilla gardening might be in order. We'll talk.

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  6. What a wonderful garden -- and to have it to yourself, instead of sharing it with dozens of others on a garden tour... though actually, that doesn't sound so bad, either! (I LOL'ed at Danger Garden's comment. [whispers] Loree! Agave montana!)

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    1. Either option is good with me, Luisa! Agave montana, eh...hmm...Loree?

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  7. That garden is a real gem, I love it and the house.......wonderful! There also are some terrific trees in it, thank you for sharing this.

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    1. Thank you Janneke. It is a beautiful home inside too, such big trees and a wonderful family, too. I'm glad I got a chance to see it and share it.

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  8. Woweee, what a property! Like their own park in the city. That's my dream!

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    1. Indeed, it is a park in the city. Good analogy, Fifi!

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  9. What a beautiful setting. So much to see. You could just walk around for hours and unwind after a busy day.Thank you for a fantastic tour, Tamara.

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    1. You could, Grace. It is, as Fif says, like a park. Glad you enjoyed it, Grace! As always, thanks for reading :)

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  10. It is always a concern, when a mature garden changes hands, that much will be lost in the transition. It's inspiring to see just the opposite taking place here. Thanks for letting us ride your coat-tails don a personal ramble.

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    1. It is something I hadn't really considered until recently and yes, you are right. It is inspiring, the Torches are people to admire, to be sure. I was honored to be able to tour it and I hope to be able to see it again this summer!

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  11. What a gem - and what a privilege to be able to visit. I'm just a little bit envious... but thanks for a great tour through your eyes and lens!

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    1. It's a beautiful place, to be sure, Anna. I'm glad you enjoyed it! :) A gem, indeed.

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  12. Oh my gosh, now that would be the dream. All that space with established trees and shrubs. Amazing.

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  13. I'm one of the organizers of the Portland Garden Tour | WEST. I'm glad you enjoyed the Torch gardens! This year's tour is coming up on September 13. I hope you can make it! portlandgardentour.com

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  14. Chickadee Gardens, if you would like to write a blog post about this year's Portland Garden Tour | WEST, I'd be happy to support you with photos, information and access. Thanks! Robin

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