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Small Garden Makes Big Impression

Jo Winston
Jo Winston is dwarfed by sunflowers in her Oregon garden. "My neighbors call it 'Jurassic Garden'," she says.

Jo Winston's garden in Portland, Ore., combines food and flowers in an exuberant and uniquely personal design. "Designing my gardens is a creative process for me. I get inspired and then just make it happen," say Jo. "Since I love growing my own vegetables and fruit, these plants are an important part of the overall designs" she says.

Though Jo's backyard is only 50 feet by 35 feet, she has managed to squeeze in an incredible number of plants. "When we first moved here, there was a rundown workshop that took up almost half of the yard," she says. They started by removing the workshop. Its concrete foundation was broken up into pieces for use as pavers in the a walkway. Building beds and improving the soil were the next tasks. The first year Jo had just one raised bed, but it produced an abundance of corn, beans, lettuce and carrots. Over the next couple years she added three more raised beds.

Jo also has a penchant for growing fruit trees. She has cherry, peach, apple, plum, weeping mulberry and even a fig tree tucked into various corners and beds in her yard. She also has an herb garden, a water garden, and lots of flowers: from roses to azaleas to lilacs.

Jurassic Garden
Because of the density of her plantings, Jo Winston's garden is well-pollinated by bees and other insects.
How does she keep all these plants happy in such as small space? The secret is in the soil. Jo attributes her garden's health and abundance to her use of compost and cover crops. "I grow cover crops such as red clover all winter in the beds and then turn it over in spring," says Jo. "I also add compost in both spring and fall, along with fish emulsion, kelp and bat guano during the growing season. "After 10 years of this, my soil is like butter," she exclaims. Growing sunflowers and "dwarf" fruit trees that reach 20 feet in height is a direct result of Jo's soil-building wizardry. "The neighbors call my yard "Jurassic Garden" in summer because it's so lush," she proudly says.

While vegetable beds, fruit trees and herbs dominate her garden, Jo has incorporated a variety of structures to add some design flair to her garden. "I had a neighbor build a copper trellis for the center of the garden that I grow pole beans and sweet peas up. It has a little dog windmill on the top," says Jo. She also had a copper arch built to support a climbing rose. "While visiting a local heirloom rose nursery, I was given a rose they didn't know the name of," she says. This mystery rose has turned out to be a favorite. "It's a double, small-flowered fragrant climber with pink blooms that turn to white," says Jo. Ever attentive to the practical, one of her favorite trellises is the Gardener's Supply Tomato Ladder. "I save space by growing tomatoes, cucumbers, and squash vertically, and these ladders hold them up perfectly," she says.

Water garden
Jo's water garden
Jo's water garden is the result of another burst of creative inspiration. But like many water gardeners, once the pond was built, she found she needed a way to keep the water clear. "I placed the Gardener's Supply Lily Dispenser in the pond and the algae never came back", she says. "Plus I like how it looks".

A Copper Birdbath Reservoir, floating on Jo's birdbath, attracts the eye and saves her some time as well. "It's beautiful. I only have to refill it once a week. Water is released as needed to keep the bath filled," she says.

With all the flowers in her yard, it's no surprise that so many butterflies call Jo's garden home. She encourages them by providing a sweet snack. "The Butterfly Beacon is a decorative glass flower filled with nectar," she says. "It really helps bring the butterflies in."

Keeping a garden looking its best can take a toll on a gardener's back. "I love my Rocker Stool," Jo says. "It really saves my back because I can work sitting down. It leans from side to side so I can reach the plants, and it has a pouch for storing tools," she says.

Jo's garden is more than just a creative outlet and source of fresh food. She's a two-time breast cancer survivor, and during the years when she was battling cancer, her garden provided a place of peace, relaxation and healing. "The radiation and chemo treatments would weaken my body, but I could always find satisfaction in being able to garden," she says. "It would provide a simple pleasure for me and a place to revive my spirit," says Jo.

Creative inspiration often strikes as she relaxes in her hot tub looking out at the garden. "I'm going to try self-watering containers next year and also some grapes on a trellis," she says.

Like all great gardens, Jo Winston's backyard paradise is always evolving. Its design is a reflection of her unique spirit, providing a peaceful retreat, good food and endless inspiration.

Last updated: 10/24/15