Ben Bowen is a friend of MyGardenSchool living in the US. He’s Landscape Manager at Ross NW Watergardens; a landscape company in Portland, Oregon. He’s also a blogger and I’m always keen to catch up with other gardeners and writers in different parts of the world. We all think we have unique challenges wherever we garden. Perhaps the soil is not right, maybe the weather is too unkind? Well, believe me that’s the same everywhere.
I’ve never visited his part of the US, so I’m really keen to find out about their growing season and specific areas of interest in that part of the world. It will also be great to get a professional landscaper's perspective on gardening. Does Ben garden as a hobby as well as for a living. Does he see landscape design and construction as a form of gardening?
I’ve invited Ben to share his life in the world of gardening in Oregon, US with MyGardenSchool followers. I’m really delighted to welcome him as a guest to the MyGardenSchool blog
How did you get into landscaping in the first place Ben? Tell us a little about your life in gardening to date.
Landscaping is the family trade. I am a third generation landscaper, and while I had other jobs when I was younger, I have always loved landscaping. Ross NW Watergardens is owned and run by my father, Joe Bowen. I joined the company in 2003. As Landscape Manager I oversee our landscape maintenance division, design and sell landscape installations, repair irrigation systems and water features, and write our blog. You could say I wear a lot of hats! There is no “typical” day- I love that.
Do you garden as a hobby? Do you grow your own vegetables for example?
My hobby is trying to create and maintain a garden that my three little boys won't destroy! It's a real challenge and I can't say that I have solved it yet. I also have a small area in the front yard that has a few plants that I am doing some ornamental pruning on. I love the process of gradually shaping something like a Lace Leaf Maple or Andromeda.
My oldest son, age 8, planted a vegetable garden this year. I built him some simple raised beds and helped him plant vegetables that his grandma gave him. He enjoys it, we are going to get tons of tomatoes, and he quit digging in the lawn.
Have you seen changing trends and interests in the landscape world over the years?
Our family has adjusted to many changes in tastes and preferences over the years. However, there are two changes that we have seen recently that seem to go beyond just style preferences or trendy plants.
First, our neighbors and landscape clients want landscaping and landscape care that are environmentally friendly. Many are questioning the sensibility of a lawn, the safety of common fertilizers, and the water demands of plant material. The desire to have a beautiful landscape that looks good next to a Prius is driving a lot of design right now.
The second trend, somewhat related, is a demand for low-maintenance gardens. People are looking for ways to create fantastic, even lush, gardens that won't eat all of their weekends. In Portland, Oregon this poses a huge challenge. We get a lot of rain and have moderate temperatures. Everything grows here. Cracks in the pavement have weeds and grass in them. How do you design a landscape that is easy to care for? We wrestle with that every week.
Have you always lived and worked in Oregon? What makes that area of the US unique?
When I was 17 my family moved from Phoenix, Arizona (desert) to Portland, Oregon (rainy and green). That was quite an adjustment! I also lived in Brooklyn, New York for a few years before returning to Portland and Ross NW Watergardens.
As I have mentioned, Portland is a very wet city. Plants thrive here with little effort. Gardening and landscaping thrive here as well. I have always found our craft to be respected and valued. I am extremely grateful for that!
What is the one thing people moving from another area need to know about Oregon Gardening?
There are no rules. Oregon is a pretty free spirited place and you can see that in the variety of gardening styles embraced here. We have a world class Japanese garden, rose garden, and Chinese garden in Portland. Other parts of the state are home to amazing native gardens and high dessert landscapes. As you drive down a street in Portland you will see so many different styles utilizing a wide array of plant and hardscape materials. So don't look at your neighbor's garden to decide what yours will be- figure that out for you!
When you write your blog what are your main objectives?
I try to accomplish a couple things. First, it's to give people a peek behind the curtain to view the process we follow to design, install, and maintain great gardens. I appreciate that our clients get to know us before we even meet. It means that we get to wok with people who have a similar philosophy or design sensibility. Second, I enjoy sharing what we have learned through the years. In particular, how to create a garden that really “works”. Landscapes should not be just a place to pick weeds or something pretty to look at, they should be lived in. We specialize in the balance between beauty and usability, form and function.
If I you had to choose your three “Desert Island Plants” what would they be, and why?
I should probably pick something edible, right? Plants I can't live without: Laceleaf Japanese maples (I prefer green), black bamboo, and Sambucus nigra. I love the slow process of ornamental pruning and laceleaf maples are the ultimate canvas. Black bamboo is an extremely versatile plant that we use often. The drama of new canes revealing themselves in the spring is great. Sambusus nigra or elderberry is just pure beauty to me.
What are your other guilty pleasures in life?
I am a big basketball fan. My other love is music. So as I drive to visit clients and job sites I am either listening to sports talk radio or Vampire Weekend.
Follow Ben Bowen/ Ross NW Watergardens on Twitter: @NWwatergardens
His blog http://www.rossnwwatergardens.com/portland-landscaping-blog/