garden forest flowers

FLORAL PARADE Mixed borders of dahlias, black-eyed Susans, and white and pink phlox march toward the edge of the “woodland garden.”

A path at the bottom of the hill turns right, leading into Wakefield and Grossnickle’s “woodland garden.” Densely planted with magnolia trees and various species of rhododendrons, this shady hideaway blossoms with Himalayan candelabra primrose come spring. From here, the path arcs back up the slope for about 30 yards, and emerges from the forest canopy into a grove of rare dwarf conifers, including the feathery, golden Port Orford cedar. It then winds past a blueberry patch and two Japanese raisin trees—and culminates in a series of terraced beds and patios beneath the couple’s second-story living room. On this warmer, southwestern-facing quadrant of the property, Wakefield and Grossnickle have created a Mediterranean rock garden, where beds bulge with tricolor sage, the pale pink blooms of the pineapple lily, and spiny clutches of agave grown from seed. The giant, primordial-looking leaves of the rice-paper plant—the kind Wakefield grew up with in California—loom above a rock wall whose design was inspired by ancient Incan architecture.

The couple, who met in 1987 at an Old Town piano bar, first bonded over their interest in home improvement; at the time, both had remodeled their early 20th-century Portland homes and were gardening on their small city lots. Within a few months, the pair purchased the Forest Park property with the intention of planning a shared house and garden on a much grander scale, a prospect that was especially intriguing for Wakefield: Though very much a beginning gardener, he was quickly outgrowing his space.

“I’d built this gigantic deck in my backyard,” Grossnickle recalls, “and when I met Bruce, he began commandeering it for all his orchids.”

When they bought the new lot, it was covered entirely with brambles and scrub trees. (Probably canopied in native fir once, the land was logged in the 1930s, they believe.) It took two years to clear two acres by chain saw, at which point they were left with a muddy, uneven hillside punctuated by natural springs and soaked with large swampy areas during the winter months. To counter the sogginess, Grossnickle laid hundreds of feet of corrugated plastic pipe in rock trenches to draw off standing water, and guided the stream by digging its bed deeper into the hillside. He also built the garden’s footpaths, many of which follow old deer trails; thanks to the installation of a weed barrier and a total of 164 tons of gravel, they remain passable during even the heaviest of January rains.

Wakefield, meanwhile, busied himself buying plants, patronizing mail-order seed companies such as Jelitto Perennial Seeds and local sales like the one hosted annually by the Hardy Plant Society, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting herbaceous perennials. Hoping to increase his ratio of knowledge to enthusiasm, he bought gardening book after gardening book and, impressed with members’ horticultural expertise, joined the Hardy Plant Society. (He’s now its president.)

“I’m a plantaholic and a collector, and I want everything,” Wakefield laughs, admitting that he hides from Grossnickle just how much he spends on his prized flora; they’ve agreed it’s easier that way.