A Tapestry Garden: The Art of Weaving Plants and Place

A Tapestry Garden: The Art of Weaving Plants and Place


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“This is a love story about a couple and their relationship with an acre-and-a-half of land. . . with exceptional plant descriptions that read like character references for old friends. . . . beautiful photographs and prose await.” —Library Journal

Marietta and Ernie O’Byrne’s garden—situated on one and a half acres in Eugene, Oregon—is filled with an incredible array of plants from around the world. By consciously leveraging the garden’s many microclimates, they have created a stunning patchwork of exuberant plants that is widely considered one of America’s most outstanding private gardens. In A Tapestry Garden, the O’Byrnes share their deep knowledge of plants and essential garden advice. Readers will discover the humble roots of the garden, explore the numerous habitats and the plants that make them shine, and find inspiration in photography that captures the garden’s astonishing beauty. There is something here for every type of gardener: a shade garden, perennial borders, a chaparral garden, a kitchen garden, and more. Profiles of the O’Byrne’s favorite plants—including hellebores, trilliums, arisaemas, and alpine plants—include comprehensive growing information and tips on pruning and care. A Tapestry Garden captures the spirit of a very special place.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781604697599
Publisher: Timber Press, Incorporated
Publication date: 05/01/2018
Pages: 264
Sales rank: 727,497
Product dimensions: 7.40(w) x 10.60(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Ernie and Marietta O’Byrne are the owners of Northwest Garden Nursery in Eugene, Oregon. Formerly a retail nursery specializing in unusual plants, it is now a wholesale nursery specializing in hellebores. The O’Byrne's garden is renowned for its stunning combinations and variety of habitats, which allow Ernie and Marietta to experiment with a huge palette of plants. Marietta speaks regularly to audiences of passionate gardeners and has written for a number of gardening publications. Visit the nursery’s website at northwestgardennursery.com.

Read an Excerpt

As a young girl in northern Germany, I played farm with little ceramic pigs and sheep and took loving care of cacti and cyclamens on the windowsill. What a thrill it was, watching little seedlings develop from the brown seed capsules of last year’s pansies on the balcony. My favorite outings were to the botanical garden, Planten und Bloomen, and the Hagenbeck Zoo in Hamburg.

My family had fled from Pomerania (now Poland) in 1944 when I was two years old to the heath country south of Hamburg with relatives and other refugees toward the close of WWII, and we all lived together on a large estate. My earliest rural memories from that time are of hunting mushrooms, collecting beechnuts, and picking wild blueberries. I clearly recall the excitement and pleasure of gathering food, still a lifelong passion. Five years later we moved to the large city of Hamburg.

As long as I can remember, I yearned for the spaciousness of the countryside. City life, with its man-made environment of stone, asphalt, and cement, oppressed me. Realizing this, my parents offered me a chance at a rural life. Friends of theirs owned Corvey Castle, which had an enormous ancient park and a farm. Their two children were the same age as I. Gladly, I went.

The park, as usual in those days, also contained a large kitchen garden to feed family and staff. We three children were each allocated a little plot to grow anything of our liking. As my two friends were not budding gardeners, I quickly appropriated their plots also. The head gardener provided me with my very first plant starts. So, at age eleven in 1953, I proudly wrote to my parents about the sowed spinach just breaking ground, my six tomato plants, and strawberries that would be put in the next day.

I was allowed to sell my harvest to the head cook, Herr Wanke. (I don’t think the strawberries ever made it to the kitchen.) So, I turned proud commercial vegetable gardener at a very early age. Of course, I also grew my first annual sweet peas and marigolds, zinnias and kochias (which were the rage at the time), but those were for the pleasure of beauty only.

At age fourteen, I moved with my parents to Düsseldorf, Germany. In the 1950s America was still regarded in Europe as the land of riches, liberty, and grandeur. For a teenager suffering the constraints of strict European upbringing and schools, America beckoned as the land of freedom. A picture of the Golden Gate Bridge in all its red splendor hung over my work desk and I wished myself there whenever Latin homework burdened me.

A friend of my father, who was visiting from California, invited me to stay for a year and attend high school in Modesto, then a small agricultural town in the Central Valley. I flew off at age sixteen, with nary a look back, to a wondrous new land.

Not wanting to leave the States after the first year, I entered Monterey Peninsula College, and then transferred to San Francisco State College, where I completed my biology degree. Horticulture, as such, was not offered in western colleges at that time, botany and biology being the closest to it in the natural sciences.

Every weekday for three years, I drove across the Golden Gate Bridge between college in San Francisco and my home in Sausalito, where I lived on a houseboat, a refurbished WWII landing craft, moored next to the sinking wreck of Jack London’s original boat, The Sea Wolf.

My gardening experiences were reduced to window boxes and pots on the pier. I turned to birdwatching instead, until I could get my hands into the soil again. My surroundings grew more rural with time, and I left a trail of little gardens behind wherever I lived, from Germany to California to England, where I was married, to Ireland and Greece and finally, to Oregon. I moved often until I arrived in Eugene, and wanted nevermore to leave. I grew roots and they have become deep and strong. It has now been years and the garden is full of old friends—trees, shrubs, bulbs, flowers—and we have memories to share.

Ernie’s early childhood was similar in many ways. He also had a very memorable play farm with toy farm animals, tractors, and outbuildings. His family lived in Greeley, Colorado, which at that time was a small community of about 20,000 with streets lined with towering American elms and, though home to Colorado State College, had a very rural farm town feel. It was also home to the largest feedlots in the world at that time. Perhaps as a foreshadowing of a future in animal husbandry, he remembers going with the family touring the feedlots with visitors and having them complain about the smell, but not minding the smell at all. Although most of the extended family stayed in Greeley, his family moved to Palo Alto and eventually to San Diego.

Ernie’s early interest in the natural world, especially animals of all kinds, was fostered by his father, who kept snakes and lizards as a child himself, and also by his long-suffering mother, who had learned to be tolerant, since she and Ernie’s father were high school sweethearts and he often carried around bags of snakes. Growing up in San Diego during the ’50s and ’60s, with property fronting a wild and mainly untouched California chaparral, was a stimulating and heavenly environment for a budding naturalist. At that time there was no compunction about bringing home whatever creatures might be captured and keeping them in terrariums for observation. Many snakes (including rattlesnakes), lizards, scorpions, centipedes, tarantulas, frogs, toads, praying mantises, stick insects, and more were fellow occupants of the bedroom, occasionally escaping, to the chagrin of the family. Most days after school were spent in the canyon exploring, and although many of its denizens were poisonous and Ernie usually went barefoot, his mother just said, “Well, be careful,” and he was. The San Diego backcountry was also home to many fascinating plants, such as some showy locoweeds (Astragalus spp.), eriogonums (buckwheat), and many interesting flowering shrubs.

In 1965, he was off to the University of California at Santa Barbara to study biology with views toward becoming a doctor, but after being inspired by a beloved philosophy professor, changed majors and graduated in philosophy and biology.

So, after graduation and deciding not to continue with graduate school, he took some civil service tests and started working for a beautiful public park in Montecito, quickly falling in love with the work and the plants. Some noteworthy memories are of a wisteria covering an arbor walkway over 50 feet long and smothered in bloom every spring, as well as a mature monkey puzzle tree (Araucaria araucana) about 100 feet tall, both of which intensified an increasing interest in the plant world. During school at UCSB, many of his vacation days were spent hiking and exploring the Santa Barbara country, visiting the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, and interest in plants was kindled during those years. At Manning Park, part of his work involved raising on-site many of the perennial and annual display plants. This afforded a good introduction to propagation methods, later useful for nursery efforts in Eugene.

In 1973, when visiting some friends living in Noti to the west of Eugene, they suggested that he look at some property on their road that was for sale. Although he wasn’t planning on moving to Oregon, he fell in love with both Oregon and the property, and decided to take the plunge and move north to the 24-acre farm, where he raised goats, calves, hogs, and chickens, and grew a big vegetable garden.

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