We saw a lot of different gardens during the 2014 Garden Bloggers Fling (#GBFling14) in Portland, Oregon. Some were serious, some were playful, but none quite matched the over-the-top exuberance of JJ De Sousa’s Garden.
You want plants? Check!
You want art? Check!
You want style? Check!
JJ De Sousa’s garden is an unbridled feast for the senses, and it had me from the moment I saw that bright orange metal gate with its three carrots.
Orange is JJ’s signature color. You see it repeated in countless places in her 9,500 sq. ft. urban garden in southeast Portland. I’m not usually attracted to bright colors and if I tried to introduce one as blazing hot as orange in my own garden, I’m sure I would fail miserably. But JJ knows that you cannot be timid when working with a color like orange. You have to embrace it whole-heartedly—go for broke. And she certainly does. Her garden positively sizzles.
Leafy and cool, the front garden is home to countless hostas, ferns, coleus, begonias, fuchsias, and other shade-loving plants. Greens ranging from bluish turquoise to neon chartreuse dominate here. This is the kind of garden I associate with the Pacific Northwest. The brick and stone walkway and the low retaining walls give it a feeling of solidity and permanence.
What a wonderful place to escape to on a hot summer day (which the day of our visit was)!
I was so enthralled by this symphony of green that I couldn’t stop taking pictures.
Many gardeners fill their gardens to the brim with the plants they love. JJ De Sousa certainly does the same, but she does something else that is often missing in even the most elaborate gardens: She makes sure that there is room for humans to enjoy all this beauty.
Wherever I turned, there was another chair, or bench, or lounger. I’ve been to public parks that have fewer places to sit!
JJ’s house may be small but I found it almost impossibly photogenic. It fits the garden perfectly, or rather, JJ designed the garden to fit it perfectly.
Pops of orange everywhere.
And yet another place to sit.
Now it’s time to walk around the side of the house…
…into the backyard.
The front garden was shady, lush and green. In contrast, the backyard is much more exposed, and it was sunny and hot when we were there in mid-July.
I couldn’t tell you how large the backyard is. But thanks to JJ’s ingenious design featuring clearly defined garden rooms on multiple levels, it felt much more spacious than it probably is.
I’d been impressed by how much seating there was in front garden. That’s nothing compared to the backyard. I bet it has enough seating for 40 people! (According to this post on Chickadee Gardens’ blog, JJ De Sousa’s garden can seat 66.)
While a large part of the backyard is set aside for entertainment, plantings along the outside perimeter, in a large raised planting area in the center, and in countless containers add a feeling of abundance and exuberance. While the vegetation of the front garden is dominated by hostas, ferns and other shade-loving plants, the backyard has a more Mediterranean flair, hydrangeas notwithstanding. It’s also home to many succulents, most notably agaves and aeoniums.
The multi-level garden room layout with a wide range of seating options and the diverse plant palette would be more than enough to create a memorable space. But JJ turns up the volume even more by adding an enormous variety of containers, art pieces and odds and ends that in lesser hands would devolve into a pile of kitsch.
Take a look at this inspired creation. I have no idea what these two containers once were. Maybe garbage cans? Or water tanks or some sort? Planted with Agave parryi var. truncata on a bed of silver ponysfoot (Dichondra argentea), they are now a focal point of the backyard.
If there was one plant I truly coveted in JJ’s garden it was this Sansevieria trifascata. I don’t know the cultivar name, but it could be the aptly named ‘Bantel’s Sensation’.
More seating in the backyard in hot tropical colors:
And more decorative items and cool pots:
This three-piece set was my favorite container in JJ’s garden. Aeonium ‘Zwartkop’ is the perfect plant for it. Its rosettes look like flowers in a vase.
I don’t have the guts, creativity and imagination to dream up such whimsy—let alone the panache to pull it off—but JJ De Sousa does. She has it in spades.
JJ De Sousa owns Digs Inside & Out, an equally quirky home-and-garden shop in northeast Portland, and she also does interior and garden design. I wonder what JJ could do with my garden!