A Portland gardener transforms her yard into a cheerful space to call her own
When Ketzel Levine bought her North Portland bungalow in 2000, it had everything—almost. “What I really wanted was a backyard,
and the house didn’t have one,” Ketzel says. What she got instead was an exposed front yard with predictable twin patches
of lawn on either side of a straight concrete path.
So the journalist—you may know her from National Public Radio, where she was called the Doyenne of Dirt—reinvented the front yard for relaxing, entertaining, and expressing her vivid personality. “I’m not a very conservative person,” she says. “There’s nothing predictable about my life.”
After enclosing the yard with a mostly see-through fence and ditching the lawn, Ketzel created a playful garden that’s an escape from the busy street just steps away. “When I walk through the gate, I feel cosseted by beauty,” she says.
“I look at the color combo and find it delicious. It’s a lot more optimistic than I am.”
Ketzel hired her friend Nani Waddoups (naniwaddoups.com) to consult on the colors. Nani convinced her to choose vibrant orange for the house, with chartreuse trim and furnishings.
“I wanted plants to be the point—and I plant in chaos, so the structured shape of the beds was very important.”
The planting beds, which hug the garden’s periphery, are straight-edged, almost boring. As contrast, Ketzel combined foliage plants with interesting textures and shapes, including black mondo grass, Corokia cotoneaster, Libertia, yucca, Iris foetidissima ‘Variegata’, and—for a pop of bright color—Kniphofia.
“I wanted the sense of walking over water.”
Ketzel laid alternating rectangles of brick and concrete in varying sizes for a jigsaw-puzzle feel, and she created a faux stream with round pavers set in fine bark. “This breaks up the concrete that leads straight to the house, so you don’t just plow into it—this slows you down.”