Kennedy School Garden
Image: Bruce Wolf

An architectural, drought-tolerant planting scheme created by Kennedy School garden manager Erich Petschke includes ceanothus (Dark Star and Blue Jeans) with yuccas (Y. glauca and Y. aloifolia) and a smattering of paddle cactus (Opuntia cycloides). These plants all thrive in the dry, sunny area under a huge western red cedar tree.

FROM THE SHANGLIN GARDEN of the Qin Dynasty in China to Versailles in France, the great gardens of history have often been built by emperors and aristocrats. So it’s fitting that some of Oregon’s most ambitious gardens come courtesy of barons—specifically, barons of beer, the McMenamin brothers. Heeding the same by-their-own-rulebook spirit with which the duo reinvented the neighborhood pub, the movie theater, the B&B, the whole field of historic preservation, and, of course, beer, they have quietly but thoroughly peppered the state with a series of gardens that mix the usual McMenamin quirkiness with a truly adventurous horticultural spirit.

Since opening their first pub, Southeast Portland’s Produce Row Café, in 1974, and helping shepherd through legislation that legalized microbrews in 1985, the brothers have created an empire of 57 pubs, eight historic theaters, eight hotels, and two sprawling conference facilities. But in his typically laconic style, Mike McMenamin describes their progressive business strategy simply: “I loved beer, music, art, and old stuff,” he says. “You layer stuff you love into a business, and something good’s bound to pop out.”

In the brothers’ standard Grateful Dead jam-session aesthetic, they eschewed other local tastemakers’ high architectural and artistic standards in reviving and decorating old buildings. Likewise, for their gardens, the brothers skipped the tony world of landscape architecture and went straight to the garden geeks. The plant fever first blossomed with the arrival of Patrick McNurney, hired in 1989 to replant the Fulton Pub’s patio garden.

Edgefield side entry
Image: Bruce Wolf

A side entry at Edgefield contains a lush, slightly wild perennial garden, set off against the formal, warm brick building. Salvaged lampposts are draped with summery hanging baskets of annual flowers.

Within a year, McNurney was working alongside Mike McMenamin to lay out orchards, vineyards, and the first ornamental gardens to surround what would become the McMenamins’ largest property—the Edgefield Manor in Troutdale. Today, McNurney (a former estate gardener who worked at some of Southwest Portland’s finest gardens, including the Wallace K. Huntington–designed Jantzen estate) oversees a trio of gardeners: Kimberley Kincaid at Edgefield, Erich Petschke at the Kennedy School, and Nicky Love at Cornelius Pass Roadhouse. The only rules? Respect existing trees, be quirky, and design naturalistically.

“I’m no gardener,” admits Mike, “but I’ve always admired the organic look. And this company has evolved pretty organically itself; more as an emotional ride than as a business plan. It’s layered, like the gardens. Hopefully it all fits together.”