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…

Garden Resolutions

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions. I really tend to think about how I can better something… in manageable chunks. Not a one liner that sets me up for discouragement.  

For all gardeners, hope springs eternal and thinking about what we want to do in the garden feeds that hope that continually filters through the seasons to come. As we begin the new year, think more  new inspirations rather than resolutions. Inspire to learn, do and create something new in the garden. Odds are it will be much more rewarding than dieting!

 Take a Class:  In the garden, learning never stops. Take a class on a garden subject that you have always wanted to learn. Resources are bountiful in the pacific northwest. Join me for some upcoming seminars at the Tacoma Home and Garden Show the last week in January, (  January 26th, 2012 at noon: Landscaping with Herbs, Many herbs are overlooked for their texture and beauty that create fragrant hedges, mixed borders, container gardens and more. All sizes and styles of gardens come into play. Just imagine a French Provençal style garden with the purple haze of lavender or a Mediterranean garden with fragrant rosemary. Herb varieties can bring classic style and take the center stage in many designs.  January 27th, 2012 at noon: Garden Design DIY, A beginners guide and creative approach to designing a garden. Practical tips to get the process going successfully. Don’t just create a landscape; plant a garden with texture, dimension and longevity. Make it yours. Easy ideas to incorporate the practical aspects to create the garden you have always dreamed of. Shortcuts to designing by using photographs and many more insider tips. January 28th at 3 pm: Garden Borders from Dull to DramaHow-to tips and ideas for editing existing mixed garden borders; easy ways to re-invent without having to completely re-do. Learn tricks of the trade and create fabulous mixed borders. Peel back the layers of plantings; discover what is missing and where to add puddles and pockets of color and texture and drama! Photos inspirations and step-by-step instruction to become your own designer.

Go Organic: Learn to tolerate a few weeds and nibbled leaves. Be good to the environment and use organic means of controlling pests and problems. Start with natural lawn care. It can be the biggest water hog and chemical demanding part of the garden. Learn how and practice management of an environmentally friendly yard. The experts are at Seattle Tilth! (

Take a Garden Tour: Visit gardens like Lakewold ( ) or the Chase Garden (  for inspiration of classic designs.  Join the Northwest Perennial Alliance ( and receive their open gardens book. This is an opportunity when local gardeners open their private spaces. Take notes and pictures, it is one of the best learning opportunities to see what grows well in this area and enjoy the peak season of gardens.

Plant Vegetables: Imagine tomatoes fresh off the vine and leaf lettuces from the garden. This season, find a sunny spot and plant some vegetables to enjoy what the garden can give back to you.  Hit the seed racks this spring for lots of variety. Here is a short list of some of my favorite “go-to” suppliers  Ed Hume Seeds ( , Renee’s Garden ( and Territorial Seeds (

Plant Natives: In garden designing, I see more and more homeowners looking to eliminate native areas…such a shame. Many natives are desirable plants that are beautiful in landscape design, either as a backdrop to more “cultured” plantings,  mingled in mixed beds and borders or creating a “finished edge” to the beginning of natural woodlands.  Take time to learn more about natives and plant them. Local nursery with lots of info: Woodbrook Nursery (

Keep a garden calendar or journal: It can be as simple as an ordinary calendar. Write down something every day about the garden, it can be regarding the weather, a new bird sighting, the day something bloomed and any tasks done. It will be a valuable tool for seasons to come. Indulge in a new journal with the beautiful artistry of Jill Bliss (

Compost: Compost, Compost…every garden should have a compost bin! Basic compost info from Creative Gardener FYI makeyourowncompost

Mulch more, Weed less: Put your garden on a good organic mulch diet,  the reward will be healthy garden soil. Mulch at least 3 to 4 inches to control weeds too. More from Creative Gardener FYI in defense of weeds2

Teach a child the Wonders of Gardening: whether your own, a grandchild, or volunteering at school, there is real joy in working with children in the garden. Seeing the simple act of planting through a child’s eyes will renew your viewpoint as well.

Visit the garden show: The perfect way to spend a February day is the Northwest Flower and Garden show in Seattle.(  Nurseries have tickets on sale now…steal ideas from the gardens, shop the amazing booths and make your garden beautiful. Plan your weekend at the show and come and visit me Saturday February 11th on the DIY stage for one of my favorite subjects:  Herbs!! The top multi-purpose herbs to grow in your garden this year.

Think Design: “The plain hard work that goes into an unplanned and non-descript garden might just as well go into a planned one.” (Summer 1953, George Avery Jr. the Brooklyn Botanic Garden). The garden design studio is moving to Tacoma!  Join me for design sessions in my new space starting in February. Bring your photos and ideas and we will create! The new space will also include vintage garden books for sale from my amassed collection, herbs and favorite perennials,  plus garden findings. It’s “All About the Garden”. Stay tuned for more information.

Green Graffiti

Green quote of the day: “If nothing else, reuse is all about having fun. Yes, it conserves energy. Yes, it’s an appropriate response to the wastefulness of our disposable times. It can even be seen as an act of sedition, undermining the status quo. But mostly, it’s about having fun. We get to bring imagination and creativity to the table and indulge in an adult form of play.” – The Revolutionary Yardscape by Matthew Levesque

So here it is, finally arrived. Nine months of planning come down to the next ten days. We begin building today at the Washington State Convention and Trade Center, YIKES.

One thing I learned this past week: Kids from generation Y and Z are intelligent. They are the future. “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.”

For an activity this week, I gathered up a long strip of butcher paper and asked my AP Government and Politics class, “Green is the color of…?” I had them ‘graffiti’ this piece of paper with everything that the color green meant to them. It was such an awesome experience. Then, I went to my old middle school, Kopachuck Middle school in Gig Harbor to do the same activity. Boy, the differences were intriguing.

Kopachuck Middle School visit
6th graders at Kopachuck Middle School doing some "green graffiting!"

For example, some of the high schoolers said “envy, money, Starbucks, Lord of the Rings, and Yoda” reminded them of green,while the middle schoolers said, “football fields, jello, school binders, salad, and blue+yellow” being green to them. Ask an elementary student and they reply, “Lettuce, frogs, grass, plants, trees, apples.”

So, it’s your turn. What does the color green remind you of? Keep that thought and bring it to the show. You’ll see just what I’m doing with these ‘graffiti’ sheets. You don’t want to miss it. 🙂

I will try to blog every day during the building process and the show. Plenty of pictures and videos to come!

P.S. Another thing I learned this week? Never leave Sue Goetz unattended with a can of purple spray paint. Trust me on this one. Anyone who knows her gardens… knows this well.