I do a lot of gardening, but on occasion I change out of my muddy pants and go into the larger horticultural community.  Plant shopping is a given as recent posts attest. However, this is also a very rich community for all kinds of other activities.  The Hardy Plant Society offers many open gardens throughout the growing season.  The Yard, Garden and Patio Show has a wonderful roster of speakers each year.  There are special events at many nurseries and events at public and open gardens such as the Leach Garden, Crystal Springs and the Japanese Garden.  Because of this I like to be on lots of different email lists so that I get notification of all these special events.  Most I am unable to attend, but there are so many that I get my fill of garden-related activities quite readily.   I never feel compelled to spend a month touring gardens of the Cotswolds or the Dordogne, or even Vancouver B.C..  There is far more happening in Oregon than I could ever manage.

Most of the time events have to fit into my schedule in order for me to attend, but every once in a while something come along that is so exciting that I make sure I can attend and all other activities are deemed secondary.  Such an event occurred a couple of weekends ago.  Weeks earlier I had gotten an email from Garden Fever, a lovely nursery in N.E. Portland, inviting me to a lecture by Jeffrey Bale, a spectacularly talented garden creator.  I have been a fan of his  for a number of years, collecting magazine clippings of his work and heartily envying his lucky clients.  So the chance to hear him speak, see slides of his work, and visit both a client’s garden as well as his own personal garden was just incredibly exciting to me.  The last I had heard of him was in a very extensive article in the New York Times back in December of last year (here is the link  I read the article, was very happy that he was getting such great publicity, and figured that was it.  The hometown boy belonged to the world now.  So I was stunned, but thrilled,  that he was speaking locally and nothing was going to stop me from getting to that talk.  I called and reserved immediately, panicked when  a subsequent email misstated the date, and hectored my poor husband all the way across town when we left late due to an over-long gin rummy game with a child.

The theme of the talk was dealing with water run-off and permeability issues and how creating more permeability in our hardscapes (necessary because sewage systems are overwhelmed with rain run-off) can actually be a jumping-off point for enhanced garden design and incredible detail.  I should say that Jeffrey Bale is probably best known for his beautiful and intricate pebble mosaic work, but he is a landscape architect and has a stunning way with stone of all kinds, as well as water and plants (his website is and there are lots of great pictures).  We watched the slides and listened to the talk and I just got more and more excited,  the helium balloon in my stomach getting bigger and bigger.  As a gardener I am far too plant-centric.  I am very bad with three dimensions and four (all gardens include the dimension of time whether we want them to or not) just makes me feel overwhelmed.  But buying plants, planting them, moving them (endlessly), combining and contrasting them is what I do all  the time and is fun and easy.  It isn’t really fully gardening, though.   Jeffrey’s talk brought me back to the point that gardens are as much about the structure, the hardscape, the architecture, as they are about the plants.  (I feel very strongly that this has been taken too far in recent years particularly with the resurgence of the mid-century modernist aesthetic.  Gardens which consist of  some horizontal boards, a sheet of concrete, and grasses planted in soldier rows don’t float my boat, but they sure are popular right now.  Fashion is a very funny thing.)

Jeffrey Bale spends several months a year traveling and seems to alternate his time between ancient cultures, both European and Asian, and intensely wild places, like Patagonia.  Either way he is experiencing a lot of stone, both in its native habitat and after it has been shaped by man’s hand.  Seemingly all of these experiences are absorbed and then inform his landscaping work.  I respond to his work very viscerally; it seems right to me.  His gardens balance their elements so well that they are both visually and emotionally exciting, while also very comfortable and humane.  These are truly gardens meant to be inhabited.  They do not seem to be intended to be status symbols or displays.  They are generally quite subtle and often very personal, incorporating imagery meaningful to the owner.  They also often incorporate elements that invite human participation.  Some have bathtubs, or fire-pits, or dining or meditation areas.  To use a cliché, they are outdoor rooms, but outdoor rooms that are utter works of art.

Our photos won’t compare with those on the website and the day was very wet and gray, but here they are.  First we went a client’s house where Jeffrey worked on elements throughout the garden.

A bubbling pool seemingly emerging from the ground

A boulder and pebble wall framing the pebble mosaic patio

A larger view of the patio. Notice the pebble lines continued up and through the adjacent wall.

Old concrete, jackhammered, re-used to create larger pavers.

Stone pavers, incorporating pebble mosaic.

A pebble mosaic pad in the parking strip leading to the house.

Next we went to Jeffrey’s own home, which is actually two houses side by side.  He has had his own house for well over two decades, and bought the other, a former crack house which he remodeled into a guest house, in the last ten years.  The back gardens are joined, although quite different, with more stone work in guest house half.

Plantings in the front.

Watchful eyes. Steps up from the sidewalk. Stone and pebble mosaic.

A pebble prayer rug.

More steps.

A pebble rattlesnake path neatly lined with buckets of pebbles awaiting a future project. 

East meets West. Raspberry bushes growing under banana trees. True luxury.

The fountain of natural and carved stone, inset with Buddha images.

Finally, this has nothing to do with gardening, but it is way too beautiful and amazing not to include.  Jeffrey spent two years tiling the bathroom of his guest house, incorporating images from the Galapagos and S.E. Asia.  He must really like having guests to do this for them.

The wall surrounding the tub.

Octopuses like hiding in nooks and crannies, awaiting their prey.

The day was a revelation, and I feel as though I am seeing with different eyes now.  When we were working on some new stone steps in the hydrangea dell I told my husband that we needed to make an element more “Bale-ish”, to which he replied that Jeffrey should be pleased to be turned into an adjective.  And if he ever reads this I hope he will be .

Many thanks to Jeffrey Bale (and to his host, Garden Fever)  for a day which makes gardening even more intensely a pleasure and a passion for me.  I feel so fortunate to have seen this true garden artistry, which I hope will enrich my own, humbler, efforts.

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