A trip around the world in John Kuzma's Portland fusion garden

I first visited John Kuzma's garden in Portland, Oregon during the 2014 Garden Bloggers Fling. At that time, it was still recovering from an unusually harsh winter that had set many plants back, but that didn't make it any less impressive. Last September, three years later, I had the opportunity to see how the garden had progressed. In a nutshell: splendidly! Like fine wine, fine gardens only get better with age.

In what is beginning to look like a tradition, I was back at the Kuzma garden a couple of weekends ago in the company of Loree Danger Garden Bohl, Kathy GardenBook Stoner, Sean Hogan and Preston Pew of Cistus Nursery, and UK plantsman extraordinaire Nick Macer of Pan Global Plants.
John and his wife Kathleen—the very definition of gracious hosts—had invited us over for drinks and nibbles. Nothing could dampen our spirits, not even the rain that started to fall in the early evening. 

For me, this trio of Yucca rostrata in the front is one of the hallmarks of this remarkable garden
Let's take a look around.

From the street, there's little to prepare you for what's waiting inside...

...although this manzanita is a beauty in its own right:

Another manzanita and a variegated Agave americana in the front garden:

But the real magic is happening in the back. A prime example is this inspired combination of Agave ovatifoliaChamaerops humilis var. cerifera...

...and Acacia bailyeana 'Purpurea':

And if that's not enough, throw in a Leucadendron argenteum for good measure:

Leucadendron argenteum, South Africa's signature silver tree, is not hardy in Portland. Every winter, John builds a wooden box around it that is heated with old-fashioned incandescent Christmas lights. Now that is dedication!

The backbone of the garden—the anchor plants you spot immediately— were the same as last year. But looking down, I noticed smaller perennials I hadn't seen before, like this evening primrose with red stems (possibly Oenothera macrocarpa):

Layered textures and colors continue to be signature elements:

While the most vibrant color is found in the sun-drenched Mediterranean beds (see above), the shady areas are no less exciting—maybe even more so, considering how they rely on a more monochromatic palette.

Elephant ears and fan palms are a sure-fire way to turn up the volume:

And what can I say about passionflowers (Passiflora)? There are plenty of "most beautiful flowers in the world" lists on the Internet (one, gasp!,  ranked gerbera daisy as the #2), but to this beholder, passiflora is at the top. The complexity of a passiflora flower is staggering. 

As if that weren't enough, many Passiflora species produce edible fruits. Passiflora edulis gives us the incomparable passionfruit: hands-down, my favorite fruit. So much goodness in one plant is hard to beat in my book!

The Kuzma garden is ½ acre in size. For me, that's plenty big (our lot is a third of that). But since the back garden is so densely planted, and divided into distinct areas with their own individual character, it seems even larger. The original design was created by Sean Hogan, and many plants—especially the trees and shrub that form the framework— came from Cistus Nursery.  

Looking toward the house

In the shadier areas, the Pacific Northwest meets Asia

Contrasting textures and colors even in the shady areas. A blue urn echoes the cooler hues found in the surrounding foliage.

Blue Chinese fir (Cunninghamia lanceolata 'Glauca')

I will always associate gunneras with PNW gardens...

Look at those leaves!

New greenhouse ready for winter

This area mirrors the shady areas you saw above, but the plants are quite different in character. The tree is an Australian native, Acacia covenyi.

Lion's tail (Leonotis leonurus) adding a dramatic pop of color in an otherwise fairly monochromatic spot

A juvenile palm placed at the intersection of two paths, mirroring the placement of the urn in the next set of photos

Orange urn at the intersection of four paths

The first time I saw the way this urn is placed I wasn't quite sure whether I liked it

Now I can't imagine it not being there

My favorite area is the crevice garden with its collection of agaves:

Agave ovatifolia 'Frosty Blue'

There used to be several large Agave 'Silver Surfer' in this bed but they died in last winter. Ever the optimist, John has already planted new specimens of 'Silver Surfer'.

Orange urn blazing like a beacon in the distance

Indigo salvia in front Chamaerops humilis var. cerifera

And finally, the water feature visitors are immediately drawn to when they step into the back garden:

Sean Hogan and Nick Macer in the distance

The concrete basin is backed by a steel wall with two protruding pipes:

The basin is home to a variety of water plants that lend the garden an aura of tropical exuberance that is mirrored on a much grander scale by the tropicals growing on berms behind it.

This is drama at an operatic level, all the more amazing considering this is Portland, Oregon, not Hawaii or the Caribbean. 

The Kuzma garden is a crowd pleaser: easy to look at, easy to love. But underneath the surface bling is bold and sophisticated design coupled with a collection of plants that are anything but ordinary, even in a city as plant-savvy as Portland.

© Gerhard Bock, 2018. No part of the materials available through www.succulentsandmore.com may be copied, photocopied, reproduced, translated or reduced to any electronic medium or machine-readable form, in whole or in part, without prior written consent of Gerhard Bock. Any other reproduction in any form without the permission of Gerhard Bock is prohibited. All materials contained on this site are protected by United States and international copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of Gerhard Bock. If you are reading this post on a website other than www.succulentsandmore.com, please be advised that that site is using my content without my permission. Any unauthorized use will be reported.


  1. Incredible from start to finish. Every time I see Leucadendron argenteum, I want one. But then I look up its size to remind myself why that wouldn't be a good idea. However, based on the photos of this one, it doesn't look like a fast grower so maybe...

  2. A delight to see this thrilling garden through your lens. Brings back fond memories of our 2014 visit. I love everything about this garden and am so happy that the Kuzmas have a groovy new greenhouse. Hope someone visits during the winter so we can see what the new structure looks like crammed with plants!

  3. You got some excellent photos Gerhard, and I'm thrilled you share my passiflora love. I couldn't believe it when Nick admitted he didn't like them!

  4. Wow Gerhard, your garden is only 1/2 of 1/2 an acre? Seems so much bigger in the photos. Some great shots here. Love the manzanita

  5. What a garden! Love use of Chamaerops humilis var. cerifera in multiple locations. Thanks for tour Gerhard.

  6. This garden is so damn fabulous, and John and Kathleen were charming hosts. I should have stayed longer-my sunset photo shoot at McMenamins was a bust. And the amount of growth since Fling (my only other visit) was dramatic.

  7. Much growth even since last year, it's becoming a wonderful jungle. Ah, what magic rain can do! Coming home this afternoon I saw dying trees everywhere.

    The orange urn is beautiful, fine placement aside. Thank you for the tour, always love seeing this wonderful garden that grows ever better.


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