Thursday, December 23, 2010


Well, it is here. Winter. The time that the garden is asleep and the time us gardeners get close to the fireplace and look at garden books, plant catalogs and dream of spring. As much as most of us do not like the cold, wet, windy weather, there is an up side. This time of year is good  for hibernating a little and recharging ones batteries. We do not have to be busy all of the time, do we? There is nothing to do in the garden (except maybe some clean-up). With the holiday celebrations and the January let down, it is a good time to dream by the fireplace with a glass of Oregon Pinto Noir, let the nesting instincts develop , sleep a little more and dream of changes to the garden. Walking through the garden on a winters day, we can really see the bones of the garden and can get ideas on how to improve the hard scape without being distracted by the plants. Hard scape is so important to a good garden, although many gardeners over look it. "Collector gardens" often do not have any hard scape.  The plants look great, but if there was a well designed structure to the garden, when the plants start growing in the spring, the garden can go from nice to "oh, wow!"   "Oh, wow" is nice. At Villa Catalana, the gardens at Rare Plant Research, we have tried to build a hard scape with a high "oh, wow" factor. We have done that by moving a lot of dirt to change elevations, make ponds, use borrowed views and have built a lot of stone walls and terraces and garden structures. It has been a lot of work, but in life we need a number of "oh, wow" moments to give life a little lift and to let beauty infiltrate our souls and give us aesthetic  nourishment. We need to feed our eyes with beauty to allow our creativity to grow and develop. Aesthetic appreciation- it is one advantage to being human. It is one of life's experiences that give us joy and meaning. We need to seek it out, especially in the dreary days of winter.

With this in mind, Burl Mostul will be giving a program at the Yard, Garden and Patio Show February 18th at Portland's Convention Center on how Villa Catalana and the gardens were dreamed up and created. It may give you a few "how to" ideas for your own garden and Burl will be available for questions at the end of the presentation.

Monday, September 20, 2010


What a short summer! We had Junuary this spring, a cool summer and now early the fall rains. This has not been the best year for ripening tomatoes or for growing tender tropicals in the garden. Our Hedychium 'Tara' (the earliest blooming hardy ginger) are just starting to bloom where last year they had been blooming for over a month. We have been eating tomatoes since late August where last year we had then ripen a month earlier. Our musk melons are finally ripe while last year they were done long ago. Well, perhaps we can take some solace in the fact that those in the eastern USA have been suffering extreme heat. We also must remember that as gardeners we are really farmers with miniature farms and as such, we are vulnerable to the whims of nature. There is no room for hubris when dealing with the whims of mother nature- we are lucky to get what we get. Most tender tropicals grown here in the Pacific Northwest have until early to mid October before we must bring them in, except for very tender plants like Furcrea gigantea variegata and basil,which will start going down hill very soon if the temperatures stay cool and wet. In our own garden, we will monitor the weather and start pulling in tender tropicals in a week or so and putting them in the greenhouse. Our large bromeliads, Alcantera imperialis and Aechmea blanchetiana do not like frost so they will come in soon. Some people ask why go to all the trouble to grow plants that are not hardy? While most of the plants in our garden are hardy, the dramatic, extroverted tropicals like Furcrea and Aechmea and tender succulents like Echeveria give us so much pleasure, they are worth the extra effort to have them in the garden. Like some high maintenance relationships, they are worth the extra effort so we can enjoy their special beauty.  In our own garden, we use them with hardy plants to give the garden a little extra exotic beauty, a little extra "wow!".

But now it the time of year that the exuberant, extroverted topicals go to sleep and time for enjoyment of more subdued, introverted plants such as conifers, hardy olive trees, grasses and hardy cacti. As leaves fall and annuals do what they do, the structure of the garden becomes more important and all that work we put in to build stone walls, place boulders and large trees becomes so important. Autumn and winter give our gardens (and us) us a chance to slow down. It gives us a time to walk through the garden between rain showers and see the bones of the garden and see what fall and winter bulbs are doing. It also gives us a chance to brush up on our cooking skills and create a special dinner for a fellow gardener and enjoy the nesting instinct that often accompanies this time of year. A nice fire in the fireplace, a nice glass of Oregon Pinot noir, a good garden book and time to dream of future gardens- and maybe plan a trip to San Diego! With that in mind, as time permits we will be putting slides shows on our web page of botanical and private gardens we have visited over the years. This will offer visitors a glimpse of other gardens though out the world and hopefully help ease the dreary days of winter and provide inspiration and ideas for your garden in the spring.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

And a good time was had by all.....

Our second annual garden party was a big success- maybe too big of a success. There ended  up being a long wait for entrees created by our caterer and we apologize to all of you who attended  and had to wait. We had far more people then last year and we even had to turn people away who wanted to attend. As a result, the way we organized the food portion did not work very well and we will do it a little different next year to eliminate the wait.  A sculptor was on hand to demonstrate his art of carving stone in romanesque designs as people waited for food. Fortunately, the beer and wine never ran out! It was a special evening, gazing out across the ponds at diners across the way. The strings played a waltz and several people danced on the lower terrace.
It was  very warm in the greenhouses and we thank the many of you who braved  the heat to find plants you wanted. It seemed like people were especially interested in rare collector plants, although the tropical house was pretty busy as well. In one greenhouse the sprinklers accidentally stayed on and some cooled off by walking in the swirling mist. Thanks to all who attended and apologies to those we had to turn away.

Thursday, July 1, 2010


We finally have summer after Junuary and the plants are growing fine. Even the tomatoes are blooming. It is time to enjoy the garden. Our garden party will be Saturday evening, July 10th from 5pm to 9pm. Gather with friends and enjoy music, fine food, a glass of wine and a stroll through the garden on a nice summer evening.

Big River Events will be providing small entrees for modest prices and will be creating dishes such as andouille ratatouille, venison sausage with grilled onions, wild boar with braised red cabbage, wild mushroom strudel, and grilled guinea hen with potato pancakes as well as other entrees. Delightful deserts will also be available. We will have fine wines from Chile, Australia and California and micro brews and soft drinks. A string trio will perform classical folk music to help set the mood for a wonderful evening. There will also be a stone sculptor working on a romanesque sculpture and examples of his work. We have set up tables in different areas of the garden so you can bring a group of friends and have your own mini-party. The nursery will be open from 4:30 pm to 8pm so you can find that special plant for your garden or container. To attend, please e-mail us at or phone (503) 780-6200) your RSVP so we know how many people to plan for. There is a $10 cover charge to help cover expenses. 

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Bromeliad Towers

Thanks to all for making our special three hour Saturday sale a success. It was a chance to replace lost plants, and a chance to complain about the weather. (Misery likes company) This has been the coldest and wettest spring on record. But gardeners are a hardy lot and even though we have been trying to plant in mud, we still try to plant. Now that summer (?) is here maybe we can finish planting. We hear the forecast is for a cool July. Humf.... We have friends in the Southeast who are complaining of 100*F temperatures and 95% humidity- at least we can not complain about it being too hot!

In spite of the cool weather, our six foot tall bromeliad towers were quite popular at the special sale. We got the idea from the late Brazilian landscape designer Roberto Burle Marx who designed something similar at his home near Rio de Janeiro and in public landscapes in Rio. We attached Neoregelias, Tillandsias and other epiphytic plants to tree fern trunks that are rooted in cement in a nursery pot. They are designed to be placed in a larger ceramic pot. They are great on the patio or in the garden and are quite different then most container plantings. They need dappled sun or afternoon shade so they do not burn in the sun. Because they use so many plants and take some time to put together, we are making them to order. They cost $250. If you are interested please e-mail us for more details.

Friday, June 11, 2010


We have had one of the worst springs for gardening in recorded history. Our gardening friends have reported many plant losses because of the cold temperatures and copious quantities of rain. After touring our own garden between rain showers,we realized we had some damaged or dead plants as well. So now that the weather is turning for the better, we have to do some replanting. To help gardeners do some replanting, we are having a special 10% off sale and open garden Saturday, June 19th from 10am to 1pm. The plants in the greenhouse look great, unlike some of our plants in the garden.

Although not dead, the Saliva 'Hot Lips' looks pretty bad in the garden but our plants in the greenhouse look great. So we are replanting some. Most of the succulents have survived pretty well. The Agave-like Furcrea gigantea variegata is a tender tropical and fared the worst and started going down hill after about three weeks of March weather. It can be used as a house plant when temperatures turn cold. It is one of natures "drama queens" and in spite of its tenderness, it steals the show in the garden or in a nice container. The Echeverias have done fine and the Lewisia actually loved the cool weather. Plants are like people, some are dramatic, some are dry and others are all wet and rotten.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Successful Plant Sale

Our annual open nursery and garden was a great success- thanks to the weather gods and all of you that came out to see our garden and purchases plants. We estimate that we had about 1,500 visitors. People sampled wine, had lunch in the garden and saw the giant bromeliad Alcanterea imperialis in bloom. We got a lot of comments on our new old house, old olive trees and new bromeliad garden. No one fell in the pond and no fights broke out over plants. I think the most popular plant was Tibouchina grandiflora although Lewisia and Echeveria were right in there. Since the open nursery we have had copious quantities of rain and temperatures about 15*f below normal- March weather in May. Hopefully we will get back to our "regular" spring weather before the tropical plants we planted in the garden start to suffer. Best of gardening to everyone.

Sunday, April 25, 2010


Native to Brazil, the rare Alcantarea imperialis, is one of the world's largest bromeliads and it is blooming in the the Pacific Northwest at Rare Plant Research. This giant member of the pineapple family rarely blooms, generally only after it is 20 years old or more and after it blooms, it dies. Rare Plant Research is allowing public viewing of this 10' tall monster, May 15th and 16th from 11am to 4 pm only at the nursery:
11900 S. Criteser Rd. Oregon City OR 97045