Heather’s Garden

Open Garden evening with garden blogger friends

I’ve been looking forward to sharing the garden of Portland blogger Heather Tucker. She is the talent behind Just A Girl With A Hammer, which chronicles the adventures of renovating a small North Portland home. She’s known for showing the humor of remodeling, making it approachable, and great taste.

Heather married Greg Zwart about three years ago, so they share this home creation now. Today, with the interiors mostly done, Heather’s plant-passionate flair is now turned toward the exteriors.

It will be a fortunate day for her online audience when she realizes how good she’s become with gardens and shares more from the beautiful new back yard space. Until then, the lucky ones are the friends who are welcomed into this cool space.

Here’s a little tour of what she’s been up to.

A few of Portland’s garden bloggers relax in Heather & Greg’s new back yard.

A few of Portland’s garden bloggers relax in Heather & Greg’s new back yard.

I have admired this garden since seeing it only once before, in spring a few years back. This was before the back yard was even started, but the front was well in hand. On the day I visited, the sun was low in the sky and backlighting a pink flowering dogwood and Camas Lilies. I was smitten!

Spring 2016 - The front garden as it looked when I visited 3 years ago.

Spring 2016 - The front garden as it looked when I visited 3 years ago.

I saw the meadow-y nature of it, but I didn’t pay too close attention, as I couldn’t take my eyes off the Camas Lily!

Camas Lily in bloom, April 2016.  Camassia leichtlinii  ‘Blue Danube’.

Camas Lily in bloom, April 2016. Camassia leichtlinii ‘Blue Danube’.

I liked how Heather used Camas in her front yard, and, in a way, I’ve viewed this beautiful native differently ever since.

Two shots from same spot, three years apart

A three-year span, and two different seasons—the first as the season begins, the second as the season wanes:

Spring 2016

Spring 2016

Late summer 2019

Late summer 2019

For background, here are a couple photos of the front yard “before”: Front yard evolution, 2009-2012.
Below is a wide shot of the current front garden.

While not my best shot, the photo below shows how Heather intuitively uses form, scale, proportion (and all that) to succeed in a no-lawn planting scheme—not the easiest scheme to pull off. According to her cheeky blog (such as here!), Heather might say this was a happy accident. But she pays attention, and keeps tweaking to get things closer to a certain, undefinable vision. Each time her garden evolves, it gets better.

The main “forms and masses” Heather uses in the front are: low plants in the middle to maintain the focal point front door; and taller plants to the side, in a sweet frame of the house. A rain garden is on the right, between the driveway and front door.

The main “forms and masses” Heather uses in the front are: low plants in the middle to maintain the focal point front door; and taller plants to the side, in a sweet frame of the house. A rain garden is on the right, between the driveway and front door.

Now, I arrived here on the street, and was excited to see the front yard looking as sharp as I remembered it, and even better. I was immediately drawn to the Pennisetum spathiolatum (below) exploding with its seed heads bright against dark backgrounds. It was planted in multiples around the front yard and parking strip.

Pennisetum spathiolatum

Pennisetum spathiolatum

All at once, I was in love with this cool grass, spewing its long flower spikes like fireworks.

Pennisetum spathiolatum  (Slender Veldt Grass)

Pennisetum spathiolatum (Slender Veldt Grass)

Pennisetum spathiolatum

Pennisetum spathiolatum

Next, the Agaves grabbed me. A cultivar of Agave parryi, their color, heft, and shape are perfect here. For a front yard without a lawn, where the overall plant composition needs to be carefully done, Heather nailed it.

Agave parryi , unknown cultivar.

Agave parryi, unknown cultivar.

She keeps the Agave bases free of pups, to maintain the clean round form. She spreads the offspring to other parts of the front yard beds. The repetition is very effective, working great for cohesion throughout the yard..

Pleasing blues and golds—  Agave parryi  cultivar with  Sedum  ‘Angelina’ and a variegated  Daphne odora  such as ‘Mae-jima.’

Pleasing blues and golds— Agave parryi cultivar with Sedum ‘Angelina’ and a variegated Daphne odora such as ‘Mae-jima.’

Agave parryi  cv., and  Calluna  ‘Stockholm’.

Agave parryi cv., and Calluna ‘Stockholm’.

Moving on to the middle of the front yard—a blooming Stipa gigantica, it’s lovely “scrim” to look through, keeps the front yard open-feeling, and lively. Keeping front-door walkers on their toes, it feels playful.

Stipa gigantea , Giant Feather Grass

Stipa gigantea, Giant Feather Grass

To the side of the Stipa gigantea, the swale of a rain garden can be seen. Heather shaped the soil for a broad, low spot there (calculating her run-off amount first), and mounded slight berms in front and behind it. With a few years behind its creation, it is blending in well with the undulating meadow around it.

To the left, under a dogwood tree, the grasses and agaves continue. Here, the blue of Parahebe perfoliata made my heart beat faster. That Parahebe blue, in combination with the fine-textured, warm & cool colors of Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium)… so pretty!

Parahebe perfoliata  with the subtle red tones in the Little Bluestem grass.

Parahebe perfoliata with the subtle red tones in the Little Bluestem grass.

Why have I not grown this plant?!

Parahebe perfoliata  with the subtle red tones of Little Bluestem grass.

Parahebe perfoliata with the subtle red tones of Little Bluestem grass.

Continuing on, there’s an easy-going sitting spot, and Autumn Moor Grass grows between the chairs and the Parahebe. But note—the neighbor’s “Keeping it weird, Portland,” mysterious mounds, next door. In my own incomprehensible way…I kind of like them.

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Adding to the meadow look: Sesleria autumnalis, or Autumn Moor Grass:

Sesleria autumnalis

Sesleria autumnalis

This is Heather's Dasylirion texanum, one of the key anchors of her front yard:

Dasylirion texanum , Texas Sotol. Desert plant, downtown cool.

Dasylirion texanum, Texas Sotol. Desert plant, downtown cool.

Standing around talking about plants is what we do… in this case, with the Dasylirion. On the left is the head gardener herself, laughing with Julie Wright, and Lance Wright of GardenRiots.com.

L to R: Heather Tucker, Julie and Lance Wright

L to R: Heather Tucker, Julie and Lance Wright

I was a little obsessed with the Pennisetum spathiolatum.… I grabbed one last shot of it, paired with the colors of Arctostaphylos ‘John Dourley’ (which is also, interestingly, a plant with both warm and cool colors). Then our little garden tour moved to the back yard.

Arctostaphylos  ‘John Dourley’ with  Pennisetum spathiolatum

Arctostaphylos ‘John Dourley’ with Pennisetum spathiolatum

Back yard

Backyard “Before” pictures courtesy of Heather:

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This is the view upon entering the back garden today:

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Sophisticated, charming, warm, relaxed—all of the above!

This is the second transformation of the back yard (or maybe more, as Heather & Greg have played with more than one idea over the years). This time they went for the works, and sprung for hardscaping installed by pros—the pavilion by Troy Susan of The Bamboo Craftsman, and flagstone paths & patio by Pate Wilson Stoneworks. The craftsmanship has a satisfying, substantial feel and is well laid out. And Heather’s plantings were kept in tact, and continue to be the life behind it all. They are now 100% lawn free.

I’m afraid my camera ability drops off considerably when I start chatting, so I neglected to take a decent photo of the pavilion. (Take my word for it, it is most pleasing to sit under, into the night.)

But it did show up partially in several photos, such as this one of the back planting beds:

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The back planting beds, which evolved over the years, now look fantastic with the hardscaping. The big, tropical-feeling foliages draw the eye first. But notice also the grasses—their subtle touch. I really like how they’re working in this bed.

At my feet, were the flagstones. They were solid, beautifully cut, well designed. I asked, and that’s when I learned they were professionally done, by Pete Wilson. (One of Portland’s best.)

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The quality of the stonework—the art of it—really MAKES the space. The 4-way intersection is the center of the yard, and leads to the two living areas—dining on the left (pavilion) and lounging on the right (patio). Imagining the space without the intersecting pathways, shows how much less harmonious and “put together” the whole would be without them.

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To the left of the pavilion, the verticality of the Plume Poppy intrigued me. It’s working well as a tall narrow screen, to help envelope the “room” next to it.

A little water feature is at its feet…habitat friendly. Maybe dog friendly too, for their pup Beezus. The fountain was somewhat hidden from view with all the people about, but you can see it in the photo above, as well as below.

Plume Poppy ( Macleaya cordata ) and small water feature.

Plume Poppy (Macleaya cordata) and small water feature.

Instead of getting decent photos of the plantings, I was visiting with the cool kids.

And we were all getting a kick out of the dogs. One of them, Coco, is below.

Jane Finch-Howell (of  MulchMaid.blogspot ); Patricia Cunningham (of  plantlust.com ); Greg Zwart; and Matthew’s year-old French bulldog Coco, who entertained us all.

Jane Finch-Howell (of MulchMaid.blogspot); Patricia Cunningham (of plantlust.com); Greg Zwart; and Matthew’s year-old French bulldog Coco, who entertained us all.

Coco converses with Greg for quite a long while, about the very serious business of his food.

Coco converses with Greg for quite a long while, about the very serious business of his food.

Behind Amy and Jeremiah, it turns out this is a second rain garden, but you wouldn’t know to look at it. Love the plant combination.

L to R:  Anemanthele lessoniana  (Pheasant’s Tail Grass),  Carex  ‘Cappucchino’ (New Zealand Hair Sedge),  Woodwardia fimbriata  (Giant Chain Fern), and  Fatsia japonica .

L to R: Anemanthele lessoniana (Pheasant’s Tail Grass), Carex ‘Cappucchino’ (New Zealand Hair Sedge), Woodwardia fimbriata (Giant Chain Fern), and Fatsia japonica.

Anemanthele lessoniana ,  Carex  ‘Cappucchino,’ and Woodwardia fimbriata

Anemanthele lessoniana, Carex ‘Cappucchino,’ andWoodwardia fimbriata

Back door feeling particularly tropical. (These are hardy to Portland.)

Back door feeling particularly tropical. (These are hardy to Portland.)

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A parting shot of those beefy Pete Wilson paths, tying all the pieces together, and the warmth of the back yard with friends in it.

Thank you for this get-together, Heather and Greg. You’ve created a wonderful place, full of hygge, and aloha.


A write-up of Heather’s renovations, published on Houzz: Paint and Pluck Revamp a Portland Ranch.

Please feel free to comment below. I love to hear from you.