A Visit to Fernhaven

 Fernhaven is the name of my friend Gina's incredible five-acre garden in the Columbia River Gorge in rural Washington state. She invited me and a few dear friends from the nursery world out for a visit this month. A couple of years have passed since we last did so. We spent a sunny, hot afternoon in the mostly shady gardens designed and created by this fellow plant nut who has a special appreciation for shade lovers, natives as well as a few unusual characters. We all work in the nursery industry, after all - we do appreciate the unusual.

With that I give you a brief tour of Fernhaven, established in 2010.

The entrance to the garden and home is marked by this, a lovely gift made by her father and reflects her aesthetic perfectly. Technically, Fernhaven is five acres of property, two of which are proper gardens while the rest is left natural with the removal of invasive species.

A shot of her rock wall, a spot in her garden with more sun than most. More on this wonderful area later in the post.

Alchemilla alpina, a rather attractive and less-thuggish cousin of traditional lady's mantle is a good small scale ground cover for part shade to part sun with consistent moisture.

Rhododendron sinogrande, the largest leaved species of any rhododendron. Here's testament to Gina's gardening abilities: We both bought little 4" pots of this plant at the same time in 2016. Mine is also in the ground and stands at a pathetic 10" tall (which is why I've never mentioned it on the blog). Hers is easily several feet tall. Above, Gina shows some damage caused by the June heat dome (and her hand is in there for scale). An amazing plant, damage or no.

A caryopteris we sell at Joy Creek Nursery where we worked together for a few years (and boy do I miss her!). Caryopteris 'Snow Fairy' has amazing variegation. It is in a bit more shade than other cultivars and is very happy here in Gina's garden.

Mahonia gracipiles, such an unusual flower on an unusual and sometimes difficult to find species. 

There are many ferns at Fernhaven as one would expect. This is the rather large Dryopteris affinis 'Cristata the King'.

Arachniodes simplicior 'Variegata', variegated Indian holly fern

Onychium japonicum, carrot fern

Pteris cretica 'Mayii', a tropical and borderline hardy (for us) fern that lives in her conservatory.

Athyrium nipponicum, a form of Japanese painted fern. These are merely a few of the I'm sure hundreds of ferns both native and ornamental on her property.

Many of Gina's borders are shade lovers, these closest to her home have filled in nicely and show her magic with textures and foliage.

Pulmonaria foliage, an especially silver form.

Another lovely silver foliaged plant for shade is brunnera, set off nicely here against green and dark purple foliage of surrounding plants.

Our native Dicentra formosa, Western bleeding heart which Gina tells me is everywhere on her five-acre mostly wooded property.

One of my favorite small grasses, Molinia caerulea 'Variegata' is quite happy here. They do well in both partial shade and sun.

While I'm not a coleus grower, something with this much pow might make me change my mind. This was in a container with a few other shade lovers.

Actaea simplex 'Hillside Black Beauty' has the loveliest fragrance and gorgeous dark foliage. 

What a sweet addition to her garden. Accents like this are tucked in the best places at Fernhaven. 
(Note all the pine needles. I have the same issue right now. The heat dome caused extensive needle burn on most of our Douglas firs and now they are all falling like snow. This actually isn't that bad - but since this past weekend's rain storm (yay!) they are so thick I can no longer see the gravel underneath them. Seriously.)

Gina is also especially good at containers. This is tucked into a shade area and adds height and a punch of blue to a primarily green area.

Alchemilla ellenbeckii, a versatile and useful groundcover. Apparently it does well in shade or sun.

Carex siderosticha 'Variegata', a pretty grass that does indeed appreciate water. Mine at home looks a little ratty, this one looks much nicer.

Vancouveria hexandra, our native inside-out flower, a fantastic spreading woodland groundcover.

Also our native Oxalis oregana, an excellent woodland ground cover for dry shade. It's a spreader, so don't plant it in your super fertile small shade garden without knowing this first. It's great for large areas and as Gina gardens on five acres it is essential.

Carex elata 'Aurea' (Bowle's Golden) glows in her garden.

 Acer shirasawanum 'Aureum'

Fuchsia 'Thomasina', one of my favorites for its color. Not a robust plant in my garden, but Gina grows it beautifully.

Not all of her garden is in shade. This rock garden was built with sun lovers in mind and she has done an amazing design job tucking in a wide range of both small rock garden plants and grasses and evergreens. She has also planted chicken wire into each planting hole to keep critters from destroying this very close to the house creation. Now that's a labor of love.

Hakonechloa macra 'Aureola' cascades down the rock wall.

Geranium renardii with its pretty silvery margins is a favorite of mine, too. It does rather well in full sun.

A wider shot of the grassy end of the rock wall.

Sun lovers in the rock wall.

Around the side of the house, this area seems to receive a good amount of sun.

A wonderful trough planter.

One of my favorite alliums, tiny Allium senescens ssp. montanum var. glaucum (it's a mouthfull) has wavy foliage and blooms later in the year (end of summer into autumn) so is a welcome pop of color for the front of a sunny area.

Veronica petraea 'Madame Mercier' is another favorite. This sweet little veronica, Gina told me, is left alone by the rabbits, while Veronica 'Georgia Blue' - her favorite - is indeed eaten by rabbits.

A super cool invention by Gina and her husband - a critter (bear) proof bird feeding station. Here it is in its highest stage while Gina demonstrates turning the crank and the lowering mechanism. 

Here the bird feeders are lowered more. I asked her if she wouldn't mind describing the building of it for those of you who might be interested. In her own words:

After experiencing destroyed and missing bird feeders from marauding bears, we had to figure out a way to feed the birds and not the bears in our woodland setting.  After about a year of planning and strategizing, we came up with this bear-proof bird feeder. It uses a 15' long, very thick steel water main pipe anchored 3' deep and includes a cement slab reinforced with angle iron.  This makes the pole impossible for a bear to push over.  It's also 12' high so they cannot reach the feeders.  So that I can reach the feeders to easily fill and clean them, the whole feeding station can be lowered by way of an internal flagpole pulley and boat wench to a serviceable level.  We also had to add a baffle for squirrels and raccoons.  Through our trail cam, we have seen it get tested by bear and, so far, they have failed every time. Yay!  So now we can enjoy feeding the birds and not all the other critters, including bear!

Can you say "ingenious"? Great idea, Gina! Here is a link to a recent post she wrote about this invention.

The sunniest part of Fernhaven is along the driveway. Here is her gravel garden along one side.

Details and a heavy gravel mulch.

A little further down.

The other side of the driveway gravel garden.

Along the driveway towards the end is a turnaround with a berm of soil and a dawn redwood, Metasequoia glyptostroboides. At the base is a cotoneaster, a deciduous species. When I asked about the cotoneaster she told me it was planned this way - as both plants are deciduous, the leaves of the dawn redwood won't be smothering evergreen leaves of the cotoneaster. She's so smart.

As you approach their home from the driveway and gravel garden area, the plant palette becomes shadier.

Behind their home, these stacks of wood are so neatly stacked, they look like an art installation to my eyes. 

Part of the gorgeous wrap around deck, a perfect place to sit a while and take in the woodland setting.

The wonderful couple Gina and Raul. Thank you for a lovely day out to your amazing home and garden. 

Five acres is a lot to take in for one afternoon, we did not see everything. I also had to pare down my photo selection for this post. Not pictured are the hundreds of plants in nursery containers awaiting their eventual placement at Fernhaven. While technically they bought the land in 2010, they moved into the home they built together several years later, so over the years Gina has amassed an amazing collection of plants that she will no doubt place very thoughtfully on her land. It takes time to build a garden and a home! She has also designed and built an amazing chicken run complete with a moat. There are lots of areas being reclaimed and her efforts will be rewarding as they grow and fill in, creating more habitat and beauty. Her techniques are easy on the earth and sustainable, so this takes time. Hats of to you, Gina, for doing it your way.

This day we visited, it was super sunny and bright, so not ideal photography conditions but her garden shone nonetheless. Also, it's been a record dry year and our entire region is crispy. Still, her garden delivers. I would love to see it in spring when her ephemerals and woodland beauties are in their full glory. I may invite myself over! Also, I did not mention that Gina has deer, rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks and other critters that she constantly battles. That said, Gina has a great attitude about living with nature rather than trying to destroy it. In her words, if she were to get rid of a mole, three more are in line waiting to fill in. Where does it end? I get it, I really do although I'm not as forgiving when it comes to moles.

Lastly, I asked Gina about her soil amendment thoughts, she shared that she does not amend the soil at all. Rather she uses her native soil and adds wood chips on the surface for mulch in places. The results are gorgeous, so clearly she knows a thing or two.

That's a wrap for this week at Chickadee Gardens. I hope you have enjoyed a peek into my friend's private and amazing garden, a monumental work in progress with this much land to tend to. As always thank you so much for reading and commenting, we love hearing from you all! Happy gardening!


  1. Gina and Raoul have created an absolutely beautiful garden. I like her thoughts on critters. if you plant it they will come (usually in droves). We have noticed far more critter damage this year due to the very dry conditions. It's hard to be compassionate sometimes when you view the aftermath. Bird feeder system is pure genius.

    1. Aah, you too? Yes, the critters were desperate this year - so I give them a pass (mostly). Her bird feeder is AMAZING! Did you see the link to her blog post about it? Big ol' bears have been foiled! So cool.

  2. Wow! Thanks Tamara! I was wondering how you would present my very "young & in-the-rough" garden, and you did it in such an artful way-- you are truly a blogger extraordinaire! It was such a pleasure to have you and everyone else out that day... and yes, please come back in the spring! :-)

    1. Oh, Gina, you are too tough on yourself. Your garden is gorgeous, all gardens are a work in progress.

      It was SOOOO great to hang out with you and everyone, the afternoon flew by, literally. Next time, spring visit! You're on.

  3. Thanks for sharing your visit, Tamara. I've always loved woodland gardens, which aren't common in my part of the country.

    1. Aah, of course! I love woodland gardens too and Gina does them so well.

  4. Hi Tamara! I really enjoyed this look at Gina's garden. I found a lot to take away! This very hot summer has been much on my mind lately -- not to mention the fact that the dry period in summer seems to be lengthening each year. For me, the MOST onerous chore has to be watering in summer. I would have loved to see how Gina waters two acres of garden. Standing for hours with a hose is so boring and it's always time I would rather spend doing something -- anything -- else. I'm currently working on putting in a rock garden that will feature lots of drought-tolerant succulents, so I especially liked seeing your photos of her rock garden area.

    1. Alison! So great to hear from you! It's been a loooong time, too long. Anyhow, watering - I'm with you. It bites. That's ALL we did this summer and well, yes, there are better things to do in life rather than keeping plants alive. OK, the rock garden, yes! Will yours be in sun? This hot summer has been much on our minds, too. Time to switch gears for me and FM, I think. More low water plants and fewer water hogs. Let the Great Rearrange of 2021 begin.

    2. Hi Alison, I can comment a bit about my watering habits... We are on a low producing well (6 gpm), so I have to be very careful so we don't run out of water. I can only run one hose at a time and the pressure isn't wonderful. I mostly use oscillating sprinklers on timers so I don't have to stand around with a hose in my hand. The only things that get hand watered are plants in pots. Most areas closest to the house get 2 hours every 7-10 days (a deep soak) during the dry season. The farther out from the house, the less water things get, and I plan the plant selection accordingly. For example, the gravel garden is the farthest away and once it is established, it will get zero water. This is the first year for this area so it is getting water about every 2 weeks this year. I am very lucky to have very nice native woodland soil and it seems to hold moisture well, and mulching thickly with arborist wood chips (not bark) or gravel helps a lot too. As plants get established and fill in and blanket the soil it should get even better. Any plants that don't do well with what I have to offer either get moved to a more favorable location or they die out and I try something else. It's all a grand experiment after all!

    3. Thanks for your thoughtful reply, Gina. I'm sure it will help many of us figure out water saving strategies for the near future.

  5. I'm glad you posted a photo of Gina because I kept trying to place her in my mind. What a paradise they have created. A lot of hard work, but so worth it. Thank you for sharing.

    1. They have created a paradise, five acres is a LOT to take care of. Can you imagine?

  6. Color me blown away. So gorgeous and inspired. Thx for sharing. I need to go to there. Cheers

    1. It is! Yes, you need to go. Get in touch with Gina. Cheers back atchya, P! xo

  7. T - that's a wonderful write-up of a wonderful garden! Every time we go, SO MUCH has been added and accomplished. It's beyond impressive! I love the bear proof bird feeder pole - pure grit and genius, mind over bears. And, I would almost feel bad breaking into those immaculately stacked wood stores. They look like perfectly arranged, large-scale insect hotels.

    1. Thank you Anna! She's done SO much and it shows. Beyond impressive is right.

      Those wood stores - magic. It was FANTASTIC to spend the afternoon with you! xoo

  8. Thank you for this look at Gina's wonderful garden, so many treasures and everything looks so happy and healthy. I especially love that photo of Gina and Raul. That's exactly how I think of her, smiling and laughing.

    1. Thanks, Danger! Oh, she's got the treasures, for sure. I loved that pic too - her laugh, it's exactly how I think of her too.


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