This past Saturday afternoon, I attended a Chef in My Garden event – a benefit for the non-profit Growing Gardens which assists low-income Portland residents in growing their own food. Dinner was set up on the lawn at the home of Neil Matteucci and Norm Kalbfleisch, avid gardeners and proprietors of a specialty nursery, Woodland Way Nursery (no website but they sell plants at regional plant sales including the springtime HPSO Sale & Garden Festival).

In addition to wanting to see their garden, I was also curious to set eyes upon their Pietro Belluschi home.

Along with a couple dozen other guests, I spent an hour or so wandering happily around the gardens and nursery with a glass of Adelsheim Winery 2010 Ribbon Springs Auxerrois in hand. Equally wonderful was our tour of the inside with architect Richard Brown, whose recent remodel and addition sensitively and creatively enhanced the scale and utility of the historic design.

There were several architects at the evening’s festivities including Jeff Joslin, whom I caught gazing upon the interior with a warmly appreciative eye. He told me the house was originally a modest cottage that endured some non-historic remodels, apparently in the 1970s. Neil and Norm had acquired the home shortly thereafter. With Richard Brown’s assistance, they had remodeled, enlarged and enhanced the space with two small integrated garden courts to further blend the built work and natural surroundings.

He described the house as having a “nearly featureless” exterior, something that sounds unflattering but is actually perfectly in tune with the wooded, natural environment in which the house sits. The simple entry, the fir and cork finishes inside, and a series of large glass openings connecting the interior with its natural setting are some of the qualities he listed as typically Belluschi. I can only say… it was a joy to be in it, looking out. I also loved wandering through the garden and poking around.

The garden is understated, with unusual woodland plants woven throughout the understory. Of course I loved the Crinum but there were also wonderful clumps of terrestrial orchids like Dactylorhiza and Epipactis and a variety of unusual conifers. Best of all though were the mature Doug fir and Western red cedar trees, the deep ravine with a stream rushing through it (densely planted with choice shrubs and trees), and the mossy concrete pavers leading from one area of the garden to another.

Dinner was likewise spectacular. Watching the chefs prepare our meal in the handsome open-air shed was fascinating, and Lord, but we ate well. My group and I wickedly finagled an extra dessert (thanks, Garrett!): I’m happy to have to return the dish and silverware – a great excuse to traipse over to the Heathman Restaurant and Bar for happy hour.

As of this morning, there is still room for a few more at the last table at the final Chef in My Garden dinner of the summer on August 28 at a Southwest Portland garden. But those will undoubtedly sell out fast. Seats are $125 each but the cause couldn’t be better.