Love letter to the Outlaw Garden, Tacoma, WA

Can you write a love letter to a garden?

I suppose if Robert Burns can compose an address to a haggis, I can create a visual love letter to a garden I visited on our Pacific Northwest trip last month. If anything I’m even more in love with this garden now, four weeks later. Maybe the fact that it’s 105°F (41°C) in our backyard as I write this has something to with it—just looking at the photos I took in this lush jungle makes me feel cooler.


Schefflera delavayi dwarfing Peter

The garden I’m swooning over is in Tacoma, Washington, and it belongs to Peter Herpst. He’s one of the most prolific garden bloggers out there, and many of you follow his blog The Outlaw Gardener.

What makes him the Outlaw Gardener? The answer is right there on his blog:

Why Outlaw Gardener? I like to break the rules of good taste, plant placement, and plant hardiness. Also, I have received periodic "love notes" from the city code enforcement officer telling me that my parking strip plants encroach on the city's right-of-way. When expressing my distress over the latest such notice, I exclaimed to my pal Loree (Danger Garden) "I'm an outlaw gardener!" To which she replied,"That would be a good name for a blog."

It is for all of these reasons that I fell in love with the Outlaw Garden. I’m sure after seeing my photos, you’ll understand why.

Note: The Pacific Northwest was in the throes of a heat wave of its own when we visited. It was a bright, sunshiny day when I stopped by Peter’s house on June 25, and many of the photos I took are very contrasty. I tried to tame the contrast as best as I could in Photoshop, but the Outlaw Garden deserves even better photographic treatment. I hope to go back one day and photograph it in more gentle light.

Peter’s house is a beautiful early 20th century Victorian on a corner lot surrounded by trees, shrubs and perennials. The moment I pulled up I knew I was at the right address. It’s obvious a plant lover lives here.


The hell strip in front of the house is dominated by several large Matilija poppies (Romneya coulteri) that were blooming their heads off at the end of June.


A break in the hell strip vegetation afforded me this view:


After I finally tore myself away from admiring the house, I rang the door bell, and Peter guided me into the backyard. I knew I was going to be in for a treat, but I had no idea how much of a treat. Words like “lush,” “jungle,” and “secret garden” came to mind as I was following Peter. I asked him how large his lot was, but I’ve forgotten what he said. Because it’s planted so densely, it seems like it’s huge—especially compared to my 8,100 sq.ft. lot with quite a bit of open space.

But it’s not just the planting density that makes this such a garden sanctuary, it’s the kind of plants as well: many of them large leafed and reaching towards the sky, or marvelously textured and perfectly content growing in the understory. Water is clearly in abundant supply here. So different from my own gardening reality!


Schefflera delavayi


Tetrapanax papyrifer


Tetrapanax papyrifer

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RIGHT: (middle) Olopanax horridus, (bottom) variegated Schefflera, a house plant spending the summer outside ¶ LEFT: Phyllostachys vivax ‘Aureocaulis’


Hosta ‘Sum and Substance’


Hosta ‘Sum and Substance’


Study in green and blue


Art by Judi Hook, a Tacoma artist. Check out Peter’s post about Judi’s garden for much better photos of her work. I’ll be buying one of her pieces the next time I’m in the area.


Wonderful juxtaposition of contrasting colors and shapes

I knew Peter had bamboo in his garden, but I wasn’t prepared for how massive it was. This is a very well-maintained grove of Phyllostachys vivax with evenly spaced culms that create a light and airy feel. The crushed glass lining the path, and the large mirror at the end, were surprising touches. If this were my garden, I’d be spending a lot of time here—and that’s saying something, considering how many nice spots for relaxing there are in the Outlaw Garden!

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More stunning color and texture contrasts:


Albizia julibrissin ‘Summer Chocolate’ against a NOID rhododenron


TOP LEFT: Acer palmatum ‘Red Pygmy’  RIGHT: Berberis ‘Orange Rocket’


Smoke tree (Cotinus coggygria)

More art tucked away here and there:


Dinosaur egg by James King


Stylized allium seed heads Peter bought from Gardener’s Supply Company



I don’t know where this chap came from


Headstone originally used as a sample in a granite showroom—is this a fantastic example of reuse/repurpose or what?


One of those metal agaves I’ve been wanting for many years

Now we’re in the section of the Outlaw Garden lovingly nicknamed the “Danger Gardenette,” after Loree Bohl’s Danger Garden in Portland. This is Peter’s collection of succulents and other spiky plants. Peter has posted about the Danger Gardenette many times before (see here).

I wish the light had been better. Unfortunately it was too harsh to take detailed photos. All I have for you are these two:



From the Danger Gardenette we turned off to visit the new greenhouse. This used to be an underused garage so last year Peter and his partner had it converted to what is now a space you could throw a fantastic a party in—complete with a roof made of translucent polycarbonate panels. Click here to read about this project.


The greenhouse was packed to the gills with plants, objets d’art, and other lovingly collected knick-knacks. I would have been happy to have had an hour to explore. Unfortunately I didn’t, so these are just a few quick snaps.


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My tour was drawing to a close but I continued to take photos as we were walking towards the back of the house. Just look at this marvelous contorted filbert, a.k.a. Harry Lauder’s walking stick, and all the wonderful plants under it and next to it. I simply couldn’t get enough.


Contorted filbert (Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’)


Contorted filbert (Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’)

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Contorted filbert (Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’)

Every nook and cranny was jam-packed with botanical treasures.


And then there’s the house itself, which is no less beautiful.


As if touring his garden wasn’t enough, Peter graciously served me lemonade and delicious fruit—just what I needed to unwind a little before heading out. As Peter was getting the refreshments from the kitchen, I took a few more photos of the area near the back porch:


LEFT: Acer palmatum ‘Koto no ito’   RIGHT: Thuja plicata ‘Forever Goldy’

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Yes, there were more sample grave stones. Macabre to some, maybe, but pure genius to me.


A more poetically gifted man would wrap up this post with an ode to the Outlaw Garden. Me, I have to let me photos speak for themselves.

Thank you again, Peter, for your hospitality (and for helping me ID many of the plants shown in this post).


2015 Pacific Northwest trip index


  1. I love seeing gardens I "know" from blogs through other eyes - the posts always reveal something new. Despite your protestations, your photographs show Peter's garden in a wonderful light. It does indeed seem absolutely huge and I can't believe he doesn't show those beautiful Matilija poppies in every single Bloom Day post when they're in season - they're spectacular.

    1. I can't get over the how densely planted Peter's garden is. I've never seen a garden like that here in California. The only place it could exist would be northwestern California, somewhere near Eureka, but even there it doesn't seem to rain much anymore.

  2. My garden is blushing at receiving such a nice love letter! I thoroughly enjoyed your visit and do hope that you return again soon. Your lens made my garden look so good! Thanks for not showing the bad parts! Zillow says that the lot size is .26 of an acre and the nice online converter says that's a little over 11,000 square feet.

    1. Your property seems much bigger than a quarter of an acre. The way you planted your garden, and the creation of multiple "rooms," adds not only a sense of mystery but also an illusion of space.

      As for the bad parts, I don't remember any. You must have skipped that part of the tour!

  3. Oh my! Peter's natural flair for planting is undeniable, such a beautiful garden full of personal touches that enhances and speaks volumes on how fun he is! Great to see another perspective of Peter's gorgeous garden!

  4. Such an amazing garden. It is bad enough to be jealous of all the plants, then all the art, and the old garage all together with such personal style.

    1. The art pieces tucked away here and there really add an extra layer of interest. That's what's missing from many gardens, above all my own. But you can't just buy stuff and scatter it about, you need to have that special touch. Which Peter most certainly has.

  5. Oh you've taken me back to that happy first time that I visited Peter's garden. It was a bit of a rainy day so much different than your visit. I too felt like the garden was huge and was blown away by all the botanical treasures hidden within. Thanks for the memories and the wonderful update!

    1. There's nothing quite like visiting a garden for the first time, is there? Although you do discover additional facettes with each subsequent visit. I only wish you guys weren't so far away so I could drop by more often!

  6. THIS is the view of Peter's garden that I've been waiting for! He deals out bits and pieces, but I've never got a sense of the whole until now. LOVE IT! Also, the gareenhouse is much larger and brighter than I thought -- I guess Peter usually posts photos of it in the evening or in winter. The house is fantastic too!

    1. It's often easier for an outsider to provide an overview of a garden than for the owner. That's certainly been the case for my garden. I often forgot to show areas that I don't think are important (or photogenic) but they link other parts of the garden that I do show regularly.

      I wish I'd had one of those small quadcopters to film Peter's garden from the air!

  7. Oh, my, amazing! Outlaw is a good thing when it comes to gardens.

  8. What a Sunday treat. You smoked the Outlaw out of his lair! And what a fabulous lair it is. I wonder if that's Peter's stained glass work. Those gravestones remind me of a Halloween story I contemplated for the blog, about stealing cool stuff for the garden from a cemetery and the inevitable payback -- no payback with sample headstones! I love how Peter wants it all, bamboo, woody stuff, succulents, and manages to find the right spot to grow them all beautifully.

    1. I don't know if Peter did the stained glass windows. Maybe he'll see this and reply.

      I'm still astounded by the variety of elements Peter so successfully combines in his garden: plants, art, kitsch, re- and upcycled items, etc. In lesser hands, it would be a hopeless mishmash. In Peter's hands, it becomes a masterful whole.

    2. When we moved into the house, that round room was rotted from the sills down and there was one window at the top that was intact; the rest had fallen away years ago and there were a few leads left hanging along with some original glass on the ground. Building those windows was how I got into stained glass. The pattern is original but I changed the colors (still authentic to the era) a bit to block the view of the street. (Long way of saying yes.)

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  9. Hello Gerhard .. I have been a fan of Peter's just this year and Hoover Boo suggested I would get a "wider" perspective of Peter's amazing garden through this post and he was certainly right!
    I had no idea about the gravestones (way COOL) the immensity of the bamboo section .. so many different aspects it defies an overall descriptive statement .. it is amazing !
    And besides the gardener/artist aspect ? Peter is my stand in stand up comic who makes me laugh when I can use it : )
    Great post .. I see you could have used a polarized filter for your camera with the harsh light .. I am just learning that too with mine .. in any case beautiful pictures to illustrate a stunning garden/home !

    1. Joy, thank you so much for stopping by! I'm sure you could tell how much I loved Peter's garden :-)

      I do use a polarizer quite frequently, mainly to get more saturated colors. Sometimes the sky gets too blue, though, which I find unnatural.

  10. It was a fortuitous day when Peter met Alison so that I could learn about the Outlaw and be a fan, too.

    Thank you for this grand visit to a garden of delights, not the least of which is the greenhouse filled with treasures.

  11. What a treat it is - to see Peter's Garden, at last! You did a great job showing it! Thank you Gerhard!

    1. I'm glad you enjoyed the tour. Peter must be working in his garden all the time to keep it looking so good.

  12. Great pictures of Peter's house and garden. It must be the pride of the neighborhood, don't you think?

    1. The backyard is actually very private. From the sidewalk, you have no idea what treasures it contains.

  13. Great to see some new views of Peter' s amazing garden. It certainly looks much bigger than that. It is so full of beautiful, healthy plants and is just as quirky and original as his wonderful greenhouse.
    What a lovely house too.


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