Steal this (part 3) 2012 Northwest Flower and Garden show

Falling into ruins:

Cynthia Harp and Charity Harp make beautiful music during the 2012 Northwest Flower and Garden show
Re-defining Andante wall detail

The details that make up a garden are the pieces that set the scene. Plants are a given, they go in a garden, but how you design elements around them helps  finish the story.
I have always had a weakness for ruins in the garden. I think hugging ancient stone during a garden visit to Montacute in England did it for me. Oh the stories that stone could tell. Ancient stone has personality; weathered with lichen, moss, and age. Hard for man to mimic what nature does. That story telling aspect is what sets the design notes for building ruins in the garden; you get to create a sense of a story.
During the process of designing this year’s show garden, many hours were spent on how we would build the backdrop for this garden; a ruins wall that would appear as if an old symphony hall had crumbled down or the music room of an ancient castle had been reclaimed after its partial destruction. We calculated how much stone it would take to stack it and were a bit bemused by the tons of weight we were stressing the convention center floor with. At one point in our designing I negotiated with a local artisan to make the wall. Ben Isitt creates realistic works of art carved from specialized foam. His work is magical and beautiful, but alas he was out of our budget range. What I did learn from Ben was that carved foam could be made to look real and painted to withstand the outdoor elements. Very cool! In the end, a decision was made to create the wall as a temporary structure of foam built by one of our team members. Constructed by Joan Bogan, I wonder if she still is vacuuming bits and pieces of fluttering white foam from the nooks and crannies of her workshop.

In your own garden, we can’t all have a gothic wall but it is more the remnants of things place thoughtfully that create the story.

simple yet effective, columns placed in the water feature give a sense that a wall once existed here.
a lesson in cheap pottery. It broke after a year in the garden, so it became my little ruins

simple yet gives a sense of old world

For more inspiration on garden ruins visit Chanticleer in Pennsylvania
Companies that create real architectural elements for use in creating garden ruins:

Steal This (part 2) 2012 Northwest Flower and Garden Show

…water features are a lifestyle choice.

In the design process of the 2012 Northwest Flower and Garden show display garden, one of the concepts that was immediately given to me was a very natural water feature of tumbling rock, after all, I was working with “Mark the Pond Guy.” The rest of the garden was formal and elegant, piano, harp, baroque patterns- so to meld all the ideas together I felt it was vital that the water feature blended back into the “living” spaces, not just set to the side as a visual. There really needed to be a connection between the bold, dramatic tumble of rock and the elegance of the harp, piano and living areas. The water disappears under the decking to invite interaction. You can dip your toes in the water or lie on the deck and drift your hands for koi kisses.

"floating"stone steps between decks

The stone floating water steps gave passage between the two spaces. It was a way to make the rough, natural rock connect to the man-made decking and the formality of the garden style. Mark also wanted  koi in the pond, but it needed to be an up close and personal thing. He didn’t want show visitors to see the fish from a distance, but to actual be able to feed them and reach out and touch them, so we placed a large sitting rock right at the edge of the pond. Throughout the show some of the most joyful moments were to watch the kids (adults too!) climb on the rock and watch the fish. In the back of the pond where the drama was, the water needed to emerge from somewhere. This is where a touch of theater came in, the large ruins wall, as if a symphony hall was crumbling down by the rush of water from somewhere beyond.

It just would not have been the same if the water had just emerged from a grove of trees (that would have been too easy…so my gratefulness for not taking the easy way out goes to the hard working team headed by Joan Bogan who stressed and worked so hard to get that ruins wall done! ) Thanks also to Mark Harp and his hard working staff that created the water feature. It is not easy to build such a grand feature in three days on the fourth floor of the convention center in downtown Seattle. Watching Mark individually choose and stack tons of rock (yes it was real and individually dry stacked!) was like watching an artist paint a picture. With the heavy-handed help of Marenako’s and their heavy equipment, I just watched in awe. The pond was beautifully made and finished right up to the last tumble of gravel along the edges.

the fine art of finishing a pond edge

In garden design, many clients I work with have a wish list for their garden and a most often listed item is a water feature. The reasons are numerous: the relaxation of the sound, drown out unpleasant noises, the Zen of flowing water, collect rainwater and /or a place for the hobby of keeping fish. The investment of a water feature really should be more about the thoughtful process of integrating it into a lifestyle rather than just the thought that you need a water feature. Decide if you want to just “look” at it or “live” with it. Will it be a scenic view or artistic feature imbedded into the landscape? Water features just for visual need to be positioned correctly to create a scene from the home or an outdoor living space.If the water is just for the relaxing sound, consider where it is best positioned? Placement should be where the sound is pleasant and gently echoed through the garden. Adapt the size and type of water feature to the size of the garden. A common mistake is to have the rushing or bubbling sound of water and finding it just makes you have the urge to go the bathroom more than it relaxes (you really don’t want to know how often I have heard that!) The other side of this planning process is “living” with the feature. Will it have fish and need good accessibility with pathways, bridges, or decking to create a more intimate experience?  If the pond is to keep fish then it needs to be a certain size and the environment need to be addressed; such as the inevitable interaction with wildlife (those sneaky raccoons and looming herons.)  Another key to a beautiful water feature is how it integrates into the surroundings. Stylize the feature:  an elegant and formal garden might include a European style fountain. A natural relaxed garden style is tumble of rock that appears to come from natural area or a contemporary garden design could play with shape and color of water bubbling from glazed pottery. Logistics…logistics…logistics- those details steal the romance out of planning a water feature, but it is a vital part of the success. Need more water feature dreams? Check out the Moonlight Pond tour by Mark Harp from the Pond Store.

Steal this…2012 Northwest Flower and Garden show

We all know that display gardens at flower shows are a bit of theater in the midst of all that horticultural giddiness. Plant nerds almost hate to admit it (it’s all about the plants right?) but we go to the show to be entertained too. Give me an emotional response, not just a stone patio with primroses and red twig dogwood around it. I loved that I could wander to a boulangerie in Paris (Wight’s Garden) or drift off to the sound of a harp playing (Fancy Frond’s). When the Bluegrass band started playing (Susan Browne Landscaping) it made me smile and crave a tall glass of sweet tea and of course the slow rhythmic drip of water on drums from Sublime Garden Design beat to its own unique style of creativity.

Every time I design a garden for the show, I want to incorporate ideas that you can see in your own garden. I strive to be horticulturally accurate (right plants for the conditions we are mimicking),  incorporate garden elements that are usable in the real world (floating water steps, decking that overhangs the water for dipping your feet into) and then I want to give that moment of entertainment. When we heard repeatedly how people would love to sit on the chaise and nap, I knew we had hit the mark.

Re-defining Andante

Over the next few days I will share my steals and inspiration from the garden we designed at the 2012 Northwest Flower and garden show…

O. k… for me it is about the plants:

Variegated Farfugium plays along the water's edge
Epimedium, Deer Fern and Heuchera 'Melting Fire'

Create a plant palette. Much like an artist chooses colors that accent, blend, contrast and compliment each other; choose plants that do the same. Start with color. This plant palette played in the shade with burgundy and silver. Dark colored foliage in a shade garden needs contrast; silver and white variegated plants do the trick. The shape and habit of plants is also vital. The spiky foliage of ‘Silver Dragon’ Liriope against the ruffled deep colored foliage of ‘Crimson Curls’ Heuchera, flattered with the dissected fronds of Deer fern (Blechnum spicant) all bring out a tapestry on the ground. You don’t want plants to blur together in boredom; you want to play off the assets of each.

Bergenia 'Baby Doll'. Liriope 'Silver Dragon', Heuchera 'Green Spice' tucked with scotch moss along rockery edge

The heart-shaped foliage of Epimedium is perfect to weave around the ankles of Sweet box (Sarcococca ruscifolia) and the understory of trees to create an airy evergreen groundcover. Bergenia ‘Baby Doll’ in groupings made you look at this common plant in a whole new way. Plant this like a drifting puddle along the edges of pathways or rockery.

Then there was the darling (and a bit diva-like too) the Farfugium japoncium ‘Argenteum’. This bold foliage was an eye catcher along the edges of the pond, juxtaposed with the linear blades of ‘Elk’s Blue’ rush (Juncus patens). The leaves were bold enough to compete with the massive rock that made up the falls of the water feature. Placing plants next to large rock is not for the faint of foliage. Landscape rockery becomes more natural when plants are tucked around them; just remember to do it like you mean it. Give the rock some competition with bold foliage and color against it.


Pinch for tomorrow:
Water features are a lifestyle choice

Re-defining Andante

It is so very close to flower show time. The Pacific Northwest is buzzing as the calendar flips to February. The buzz in my head started many months ago. I received a phone call from Mark the Pond Guy ( and he said he was involved in putting together one of the big display gardens this year. Would I like to hear more? Hmmm, out of curiosity, I said sure I’ll come to a meeting. I usually skip a year between garden shows to catch my breath from the monumental task of building one of the gardens. So I sat in a planning meeting with Mark,his wife Cindy and friend,  Joan Bogan.  Their enthusiasm was infectious. I do love designing these gardens. So, I was caught up in a whirlwind of music notes, plants, stone, rocks, koi, water and a grand piano. Quite a combination don’t you think? So we converge on the convention center to build this whirlwind of ideas. Mark describes the feeling this week of preparation like a kid anticipating Christmas day. Me too! Along the way I have learned a few things as well. Like what andante is, how wonderful the sound of a piano is when played by someone so passionate about music, how rock can weigh tons or weigh nothing, how hard it is to have mileage and very busy schedules between team members. Yet there is this thing called passion that we all have, and it is to share a garden that you could envision yourself in.  We are re-defining andante.

Redefining Andante’  ( ăn-dăn-‘tē)

Andante allows passage through music that changes the tempo. The listener can catch their breath.

How does andante feel in a garden?

The hectic race and crescendo of life is far beyond this space. Welcome to a small, tranquil garden that invites you to slow the pace and be inspired to compose and create. The sound and movement of water spills from a tumble of building ruins that weaves through a garden in harmony with foliage and color that relaxes and soothes. Original music inspired by this garden, written by one of the creators, will be performed throughout the show.

Put that visual in your head and then come to the show to see it full-scale. Grand piano and all…

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