Slideshow: Hidden garden

Shelby Smith’s Bend backyard oasis was years in the making

By Sophie Wilkins / The Bulletin


Published Jun 24, 2014 at 12:11AM / Updated Jun 24, 2014 at 06:15AM

Shelby Smith’s garden in a quiet southeast Bend neighborhood is more than meets the eye. Smith moved into her little house 26 years ago and started designing a dog-friendly garden. Although her front garden is beautiful, the garden out back is a hidden gem.

Space for the dogs

Smith said she bought her house because of the backyard that came with it. She had a dog and wanted more space for her to roam. Although she no longer has dogs, Smith still reminisces about their favorite places to nap.

From the front, you’d never know her yard is a third of an acre and houses a gazebo, a couple of small ponds, a greenhouse and raised beds.

The first thing she did was put in a fence for her dog and for privacy. “Cheatgrass, weeds and rocks were all that existed in the backyard,” said Smith. She cleared the cheatgrass out first for her dog, and then kept working on removing the rock and creating a suitable place to garden, but rock and juniper roots presented too many problems.

Smith says that the only way to garden in her yard is in raised beds. She composted the grass and the weeds, bought more soil, built up raised beds and eventually was able to get results. Smith has three compost bins in the back of her yard that she bought red wiggler worms for. She loves what her compost does for her garden. “I can’t make enough of it,” she said.

In 2004 she added a water feature and an irrigation system to her backyard. Smith said “When you get home you think, ‘Oh my gosh I’m going to have to go out there and drag hoses around.’” She said that putting in her irrigation system was “one of the better moves I made.”

The water feature is a pool of water that flows into another smaller pond below. “I love the pond because it brings in a lot of birds,” Smith said. “You can’t see the pond up above from the house, but you can see the water flinging,” she said of birds playing or bathing in the water.

She’s growing water lettuce, water hyacinth and water lily in the lower pond. Surrounding her gazebo and ponds are two maple trees, begonias, jack frost brunnera (which grows a tiny blue flower), dusty white “snow in summer,” fuzzy lamb’s ear, wild ginger and geraniums.

One of the things that Smith kept in her backyard was a sedum that volunteers nearly everywhere. A little shrub called crispa with white flowers does well in the shade. Catmint and candy tuft, or iberis, grow near the small upper pond.

A yellow and orange columbine variety called Tequila Sunrise sits at the top of the pond. Smith says that “yellows and oranges are not my favorite colors in the garden … but I love apricot (colors).” She orders a lot of plants by mail because she says she can’t find them locally, but she does try to stick to plants that she knows will grow well in Central Oregon.

In a shadier garden off to the left, farther back in her triangular yard, she has numerous volunteers, including johnny-jump ups and lady’s mantle. Smith claims that she plants things that don’t seem to do well and then they pop up in her garden in another location the next year.

Everything in this particular area is a volunteer; campanula, bellflower and sedum. Planted among the volunteers are hellebore or Christmas rose and geranium. Leaves of the autumn crocus are out, but the flower won’t blossom until the fall. Smith says they’re like a translucent orchid purple color. “When the sun hits it, it’s like turning on a light bulb,” she said.

Near the Christmas roses a pink flamingo clematis winds up a trellis. Smith says it’s inappropriately named due to the fact that it never reaches it’s expected hot pink hue; it’s more of a light purple.

Smith has a small greenhouse on her property where she starts a good majority of her plants as seeds. She starts some flowers, like begonias, from seed and also buys plants.

“I get too impatient waiting for them,” Smith said.

Keeping her potted plants in the greenhouse through the winter seems to work for her. Hops grow next to the greenhouse. After experimenting with other vines, Smith found that hops were the only vine she could get to survive year-round in a pot outside.

Even farther toward the back of her property is another garden full of the following hosta varieties: Bresingham blue, gold standard yellow, lemon lime and a June hosta, which is dark on the edges.

A burning heart plant that is like its cousin, bleeding heart, but much smaller and with a more fernlike leaf, sits among creeping phlox, impatiens, mother of thyme, catmint and verigated ivy that is interwoven through everything.

A peculiar plant named bloodroot has giant leaves and a little delicate white flower that blooms in the spring, but if you cut the root it bleeds red. A beautiful, dark, flowering plant called helleborus black, which looks slightly ominous, sits next to a sweet woodruff plant that you can make wine with.

A silvery grey ghost fern, a leafy artemisia named Oriental Limelight and a darker Sambuca lace elderberry are some of the more peculiar plants. One of the most exotic is a small, beautiful Japanese variegated willow that sits at the top of the garden, with leaves that look as if they’re speckled with white paint. A portion of the flowers in Smith’s garden were gifts. Now that they’re seeding, she’s excited to finally pass them on to other people.

Beds for bouquets

Smith put raised beds in the back corner of her garden, near her compost bins, so that she could grow veggies.

“This year I decided to not do a lot of veggies and do a cutting garden instead,” said Smith.

She still has tomato plants, garlic chives, lemon cucumbers and blueberry bushes, which produce fruit that’s mostly eaten by birds and squirrels.

Started in this garden are boronia seeds, tufts of bunny tail grass, dwarf sunflowers called cherry rose, baby’s breath and flowering tobacco.

The arbor over the entrance to her back garden is covered with a coral honeysuckle vine. It doesn’t have any fragrance because she didn’t want to walk through something that would constantly be covered in bees.

The smaller garden in front of her house has nearly as many flowers and plants, from lilies, petunias, snapdragons, peonies, pink and purple roses and allium, to multiple varieties of clematis, barberry, more phlox and Russian sage. A slightly passed flowering almond, ornamental plum and Chianti-colored lily bloom next to veronica, ginger snaps and lamb’s ear. Lily of the valley are tucked in and around the back portion of this garden, already past their prime and no longer smelling as heavenly as they once did.

“(Gardening) has more to do with just plain hard work than it does any kind of green thumb or anything. … And if it’s hard work to you and you’re not enjoying it, then it probably isn’t something that’s your thing.”

— Reporter: 541-383-0651, swilkins@bendbulletin.com