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Portland gardener shares secrets of success: 'I started digging and I didn't turn back'

Landscape designer Darcy Daniels created an interactive website to help gardeners of every skill level choose plant combinations that will work for them.

PORTLAND, Oregon — In Darcy Daniels' Northeast Portland garden, everything has a place and every space has a purpose.

“Look at all these plants in that narrow little space,” said Daniels, tiptoeing along a shady path. “I'm doing that partly because I'm gardening up, I'm gardening small and I'm gardening layered.”

Each beautiful layer of Daniels’ mature garden can be pretty intimidating for aspiring gardeners who are just learning the difference between annuals and perennials. But Daniels says it was like that for her at one point as well.

“How did we get here?” reflected Daniels, leaning against a garden gate embellished with repurposed stained glass. “Gardening is growing, gardening is learning… I can tell you that when we moved in, there was none of this, you know?”

And she means none of it. A handful of laminated photos offer proof, showing the house as it was when Daniels and her husband bought it in 1998: a slopped yard of brown grass and not a plant or tree in sight. Daniels said she wouldn’t haven’t even considered herself a gardener back then, but that changed shortly after they moved in.

“I started digging and I didn't turn back,” said Daniels. “Within two years, pretty much I had my property covered in plants and by that time I had learned a lot—still learning!”

Daniels grew to love gardening so much that she changed careers and became a landscape designer. Today, her passion lies in helping others discover gardening for themselves. She created a website called eGardenGo that offers a free, searchable database of plant combinations that look good together and thrive in the same conditions. She hopes its helps take the guesswork out of gardening, especially for beginners.

“You know, it's easy to come into a garden like this and think, ‘Oh, I can't do that,’” said Daniels. “The core mission of the website is to give inspiring ideas for combining plants that are not only beautiful, but are functional and practical.”

As a member of the Hardy Plant Society of Oregon, Daniels often opens her garden to other HPSO members to tour.

“I think when you walk through a garden, especially like Darcy's—I already get all these ideas!” said HPSO executive director Amy Coulter. “Our mission is to nurture the gardening community and our vision is to improve the world through horticulture.”

Coulter said the privilege of touring gardens like Daniels’ is the most popular benefit among HPSO’s 3,000 members. Knowing they’ll get a chance to glean knowledge and inspiration from advanced gardeners and learn that getting a little dirt under their nails can bring people together. 

“I just think about when I'm working in my garden near the street, people stop and want to talk about the plants,” said Coulter. “I give them bouquets of flowers if I'm doing some cuttings!”

The most important thing to remember, advised Daniels, is to just get started, have fun and remember that making mistakes is part of the fun.

“If you're not killing a lot of plants, you're not trying hard enough!” laughed Daniels. “I've killed a lot of plants, I must be doing something right.”

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