#GBFling14: John Kuzma Garden

Five months have gone by since the 2014 Garden Bloggers Fling (#GBFling14) in Portland, Oregon. I haven’t even covered half of the gardens we visited yet, so it’s high time for another installment.

Today I’ll show you the garden of John Kuzma. His half-acre slice of heaven is full of the kinds of the things I love: yuccas, agaves, southern hemisphere plants, and shrubs with intriguing textures.

This vignette in the front yard was the first thing that caught my eye:


The Yucca rostrata immediately reminded me of Cistus Nursery. This is no coincidence: It turns out that Sean Hogan, the owner of Cistus, was instrumental in designing this garden.


I assume that the space in front of the house was lawn at some point, but this is so much better: a courtyard with defined planting areas offset by gravel and pavers, with a 4-foot ceramic urn acting as an elegant focal point.


The use of gravel continues in the backyard. It looks like new gravel was added just prior to our visit; some plants were partially buried.

The harsh winter of 2013/2014 had been hard on many plants in John’s garden. He pushes the boundary of what successfully grows in Portland’s zone 8 climate, and unfortunately not all of his plants made it through the winter unharmed. Some agaves still showed frost damage and presumably other plants died altogether.

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In the left-hand photo above, the silver tree (Leucadendron argenteum) you see behind the whale-tongue agave (Agave ovatifolia) was an amazing sight. Leucadendron argenteum is only hardy into the high 20s, and I was astounded to see an 8-ft. specimen as far north as Portland. John Kuzma said that he wraps the entire tree in frost cloth and Christmas lights on cold nights; his efforts have clearly paid off. This gives me hope for my own tiny specimen, currently still in a 1-gallon pot.

I spotted a second, much smaller Leucadendron argenteum not far away:


Here is a wider view of the house and the backyard:


A contemporary-looking water feature made of steel adds visual interest and introduces a tropicalesque element repeated elsewhere in the garden through large-leafed exotics like bananas and gunneras. The dark gravel provides much needed negative space.



Looking back at the house:


John’s plant selection is right up my alley. He mixes plants from all over the world with wild abandon, combining textures and colors into beautiful tapestries.


Rarely have I seen kangaroo paws (Anigozanthos sp.) used to better effect:


One of my favorite discoveries was Acanthus sennii from Ethiopia, a spiny relative of the common bear’s breeches:

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Loree Bohl blogged about Acanthus sennii on Danger Garden a while back. Check it out here.

A few more yuccas to admire—Yucca rostrata on the left, and Yucca linearifolia on the right:

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My favorite part of John Kuzma’s backyard was the crevice garden planted with a variety of agaves:


Crevice gardens are becoming more mainstream, and while they’re not to everybody’s taste, I love them. I wish I had room for one!


The crevices are created by burying slabs of stone vertically or at a steep angle. Combined with the dark gravel John chose, the slabs create a unique look. (Check out this post on Danger Garden that shows what John Kuzma’s crevice garden looked like in the fall of 2011 shortly after it had been installed.)


I should add that it was pouring when we first arrived at John Kuzma’s and that we spent a good 20 minutes huddled on the back patio until the rain let up. These four garden bloggers turned garbage bags into a fashion statement:



As in the front yard, a glazed ceramic urn provides a focal point for the backyard:


Yucca blooms are so simple and yet so beautiful:


This is a plant I would never pay attention to at a nursery, yet it kept me riveted in John’s garden. Fortunately there was a plant label: Iochroma ‘Royal Queen’, a small shrub from the cloud forest of Ecuador. I doubt it would do well in Davis, but it seemed very happy in Portland.


Even plant combinations that I think of as more typical for the Pacific Northwest—like conifers and hollies—managed to look glamorous:


And here is that gunnera that seems to be de rigueur for any Portland garden worth its salt:


More large-leaved goodness:

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John Kuzma’s garden is only about five years old, but it’s already shed the tentative look you typically see in young gardens and begun to settle in. It knows what it wants to be, and it’s not shy about it. Personally, I responded very positively to the overall layout of the garden and in particular to the plant palette. If, for some reason, I had to trade spaces with John, I’d be more than happy to take over his garden!

Now that you’ve seen what John Kuzma’s garden looked like in July, head on over to Danger Garden to see what it looked like on a sunny day in late fall. Loree photographed quite a few plants I missed altogether.


2014 Garden Bloggers Fling index


  1. That photo with the four bloggers together wearing rubbish bag, brilliant! Made me smile from ear to ear :) as well as with everything else, brought back memories and got reminded how inspiring this garden is!

    1. I didn't take many people pictures, but I'm so glad I took this one :-).

      Yes, John Kuzma's garden is inspired AND inspiring.

  2. I loved this garden! It had a strong personality, and I think the rain made it glow!

    1. I agree! The rain really made a difference. This is one garden I would love to revisit in the future.

  3. Lucky you to visit so many beautiful gardens.


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