Join the Horticultural Avant-Garde

sean's yard 1

Photo: Courtesy Josh Mccullough

Sean Hogan’s Northeast Portland yard is densely planted with hardy trees and shrubs that aren’t supposed to grow in Portland, including dramatic Yucca rostrata (foreground), tropical-leaved Tetrapanax papyrifer (closer to house), and evergreen oaks (top right) and eucalyptus (top left) at the canopy level.

BECOME A HORTLANDIAN. There are quite enough junipers and barberries in the world, thank you. To dig deeper into the heart of Portland gardendom, visit Hortlandia: the Hardy Plant Society of Oregon’s spring sale, April 7–8 at the Portland Expo Center. Dig even deeper by asking your favorite nurseries how they find their most exciting new plants.

GET SPIKY. Cacti and succulents are au courant among Stumptown gardeners. Get started with tough, addictively collectible little sedums and hens and chicks (Sempervivum). Push your acumen further with cold-hardy yucca and paddle cactus (Opuntia). Then go all the way with tender yet striking container plants, including Echeveria, aloe, and Aeonium—plants worth shuttling in and out again every year.

CREATE YOUR OWN HAWAII. We may think of bananas, palms, loquat, and passion vine as far too tender for Portland, but there are sturdy varieties that thrive in the Pacific Northwest. Banana (Musa basjoo), tough palms (Trachycarpus fortunei), passion vine (Passiflora caerulea), and loquat (Eriobotrya japonica) lend a thrillingly exotic look to your garden while requiring less care and attention than turf grass. And if you have a daylit basement, you can go truly tropical with red-leafed banana (Ensete maurelii) and exotic angel’s trumpet (Brugmansia). Just drag them inside in the fall and then back out in the spring to watch them explode into growth.

orange flowers

Photo: Courtesy Josh Mccullough

The vibrant orange flowers of Edgeworthia chrysantha ‘Red Dragon’ appear in late winter and early spring. Plant in a warm spot in half to full sun, with rich soil, summer water, and good drainage.

GROW OUT OF THE GRAY. Local gardeners know a secret about Portland winters: the dark and dreary is nothing more than background for eye-enchanting color. For bright golds, reds, and oranges, plant witch hazel; for pinks, red, and glistening white, go with winter camellias; for buttercup yellow, try winter hazel; hellebores make pinks, purples, pale yellows, peaches, and whites; and cyclamen blooms pale to hot pink. For knockout fragrance, plant winter-blooming honeysuckle and viburnum, winter sweet, sweet box, and daphne. For a more subtle beauty, try winter-blooming clematis, early spiketail, and silktassel.

RISE UP FROM THE GROUND. Inspired by Europe, Portlanders are exploring the beauty and ecological benefits of green roofs and living walls, whether atop government buildings like the Metro headquarters or stylish hot spots like Hotel Modera, where cocktails are served next to an eye-level patch of cliff-dwelling plants. Start with easy-to-install Woolly Pockets, or go to pros like Living Elements Landscape, who specialize in greening small spaces.

COLLECT IT. True garden devotees don’t just plant plants; they collect them. Rare terrestrial orchids, clematis, agaves, or heirloom tomatoes: there’s a Portland plant nerd searching for any plant variety you can think of. The Hardy Plant Society of Oregon is geek central for hobnobbing, seed-sharing, and lectures by renowned gardeners.

Expert Tips

Garden Style
Sean Hogan | Designer, consultant, and owner, Cistus Design Nursery


sean hogen
Image: Thomas Cobb

I was born and raised in Portland, but moved to the Bay Area and, there, served as a curator of the Berkeley Botanical Garden. When I moved back home to Portland, I found a wonderful and large established horticultural industry that catered to the East Coast rather than to us. Portland was still developing a garden style of its own. I started Cistus because it was hard to find Willamette Valley native plants without going to California! I wanted to plant local, low-elevation plants that were suited to our region, but I couldn’t find them.

Pushing the horticultural boundaries can be rediscovering what we have in our own backyard. You can grow cool plants for all kinds of effects—tropical, rain forest, alpine, desert, whatever flora you want—but that are better adapted. What we have to discover and play with in our region is still so fun.


Soil: Most urban soils need better drainage. Chop in some pumice for dry-land plants, or compost for woodland plants.
Plants:Go ahead, try palms, banana, pomegranate, agaves, evergreen oaks, and other fun plants that remind us that we live on the West Coast! But don’t neglect plants from our region, which firmly ground us with a sense of place.