The Many Mosses of Portland

Brooke here.

I took a trip out to Portland for a couple of weeks to visit family.  The residential areas of Portland are filled with adorable Arts and Crafts-style bungalows painted up like rainbows, mainly, as my sister says, as the bright colors keep people from chewing through their wrists because it never stops raining.

The landscaping in Portland is can be phenomenal. I would like to point you towards this Flickr of houses in Irvington, a Portland neighborhood we drove through, street by street, coveting everything we saw so hard they needed to rewrite a Commandment.

This little gem was nearly a catalyst for an eight-car pile-up. “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, we are here to argue this house is just too freaking pretty and should be uglified for the common good.”

Red maples, many of them Japanese maples, were everywhere, and those trees thrived.  I’ve never seen anything like them.

I have no idea how old this tree is, or what I will have to do to maintain it, or how I will get it on the plane for the ride home.

I’m furiously jealous.  We need landscaping in the worst way at Ye Olde Disasterhouse, and that’s not just turn of phrase; they built our house in a gully on a hill so we need to do some serious landscaping to change the elevation of the land and keep water from running into our basement.  As I write this, we’ve experienced about 20 hours of a steady hard rain and it’ll not be long before I have to wade my way across the basement to switch out the laundry.   I suppose this means we don’t need landscaping so much as a bulldozer, but I will still happily stick some flowering plants in the ground once we have carved out the new path for the stream.

One feature I loved about Portland were the retaining walls.  Most lots are above street level, and there are walls in various stages of disrepair across the entire city.

Rough stone retaining wall, with moss. Click for link to the photographer’s Portland bungalow renovation at

Some of those walls look familiar to those we plan to do on our property next month, with the large granite chunks offset by smaller, more interesting stones.

Retaining wall. This was installed just before my visit, which explains the lack of moss.
Same wall, different section.  Note the emergence of moss.
Mature hen-and-chicks in rock wall.

The new walls look clean and snazzy, but the older walls become part of the landscaping.  Good landscape design in Portland seems to treat retaining walls as an eventual living feature in the garden, as time and vegetation will draw these walls into the setting.  I saw a new wall go up with the mason sticking little hen-and-chick plants in the cracks, while older walls were so heavily encrusted with moss that you couldn’t see anything left of the rocks but their basic form.

Decided at the last minute I needed a picture of a moss-covered rock. Found the best example from where I was standing at the time, took a picture, left for the airport.

The moss in this region of the country is aggressive in the way of sharks when there is blood in the water, and has gotten me thinking about my own little moss garden.  My garden is right up against the brick of the house, which in Portland is apparently sufficient reason for a bank to deny you a home loan (my sister might have been kidding, I don’t know.  I’ve never applied for a home loan there.  Seems quite reasonable, though.).

Moss is everywhere in Portland.  You soon learn why the locals are quick to teach you that the city was built in a temperate rain forest; they are warning you to keep moving at all times!  We went to a couple of the tourist places, all of which were so moist they dripped, and you could practically hear the moss grow.  One of these was the National Sanctuary of Our Sorrowful Mother.  Better and more cheerfully known as the Grotto, it’s a Catholic shrine built into the side of a mountain.  The place is so thoroughly covered in moss that it may as well be made out of broken hips and wealthy orthopedic surgeons.  I took a picture of the steps leading up to the shrine to get a closeup of the tool marks in the granite stones, which I am sure are pressure-washed regularly but are still a hazard worthy of American Ninja Warrior.

Quick! Everyone pray for some railings.

I still like my little moss garden but I might move it to a different location away from the house.  Moss is probably more manageable in the Southeast than in a Northwestern rainforest, but there’s no reason to encourage conditions which might damage the foundation.   Curiously, I did see a lot of wisteria blooming in Portland, which makes you wonder at how one man’s loathed invasive species is another’s prized specimen.


2 thoughts on “The Many Mosses of Portland

  1. Um … Portland Maine, or Portland Oregon? I’m guessing it’s the latter, but it would be nice to know. I’m guessing because of the wisteria, which is very popular here in the SF Bay Area too. My family is now house-hunting, and if we (translate: daughter and son-in-law) succeed in buying, I want some wisteria SOMEwhere….

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