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

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.


We don’t see salvage…we see possibilities!

Courtney and Hayley with a find, windows for the greenhouse!

 The adventure continues as we are in the final countdown before building the garden at the Northwest Flower and Garden show.

Earthwise in Seattle!  Gotta love this place.  

Re-characterization is around every corner. Windows, old metal signs, heater vents, radiators, architectural columns, we could go crazy picking out things, but there is a line between cluttering up a garden and creating artistry from found objects.We even found the old door keys we needed, come to the  show to see how those are going to be used…crazy cool!

Paradise (to be) Regained…borrowing Thoreau

Green quote of the day:

 “A mind is a terrible thing to waste, but waste is a terrific thing to mind.” –
“The Green Book” by Elizabeth Rogers and Thomas M. Kostigen    

garden sketch of the 2011 show garden

 So here’s the background on my garden.
    I have attended the Northwest Flower and Garden show since 2003, but my first true involvement in the show was in the year 2005. My mom and I (as an almost twelve-year-old) collaborated on a designed a garden titled, “A Child of The Garden Grows.”  The design was based on what an ideal garden would be like for a school-aged child. The garden’s popular characteristic was the purple trees. A greenhouse was set to look like a tree house, and on the four corners of the greenhouse were dead Madrona trees we had painted bright purple. During that show, I was soon nicknamed “The Purple Tree Girl” by Ciscoe Morris and plenty others. My horticulture career was about to blossom. 😉

The three Goetz girls show them how to pose with a girl power gets it done!

During the 2009 Northwest Flower and Garden show, there was discussion between my mom and I about the next show. Since the output for the flower show is immense, my mom developed the idea to design a garden every two years of the show; one year on, one year to have a break between. According to the pattern the next show was 2011 for her, my graduation year. We thought, hmmmm,  “Senior exhibition!”
    The point of a senior exhibition in high school is to discover a way to involve yourself in the community. Most kids pick a volunteer project such as Habitat for Humanity, or creating their own event to raise money for a cause. I went a different route. I decided to submit a special design to the Northwest Flower and Garden Show in July of 2010.
    The theme for the 2011 Garden Show is literature, and I knew exactly who I was going to use: Henry David Thoreau. Some say he was ahead of his time, some say he was controversial, but either way, he is completely right in certain ways. His essay “Paradise (to be) Regained” is a review of Joseph Etzler’s book. 
          “Etzler talked much about the taming of nature. Gardens would replace swamps; mountains could be leveled and the land made useful for  human habitation; forests cultivated; the ugly and unfriendly areas of the natural world made beautiful and friendly. Thoreau, who claimed  that the wilderness is the salvation of mankind, certainly had doubts about making nature serve narrow economic ends.Thoreau thought   that while the idea of working with nature to improve human life is not without merit, we should not believe that a life of material ease can   substitute for the need for wild nature to provide aesthetic and spiritual values for our soul. And an absolute triumph over nature might rob  us of the goods nature provides us freely without mechanical labors when we attend to her with respect” (Moran, par 6).     

You can see why I picked Thoreau. A huge part of my garden design  is recycling, re-purposing, and “re-characterizing” used materials. My goal and intent for this garden is to have eco-minded green and fun ideas that anyone could instill in their lives. I want the message to get out that not everyone can afford solar panels or hybrid cars, but anyone can and will make a difference by using a little bit less and utilizing what they already have. My generation is facing the difficult challenge of using less and conserving more, so any little bit from anything helps.

You, yes you, can be the change you want to see in the world.

1Moran, James.”Thoreau’s ‘Paradise to be Regained'”. Utopia, Philosophy Now.

In the Garden with Courtney

A dance partner at the Huntington Botanical Garden

Well then, let’s get to it! Hi there, I’m Courtney Goetz. I’m a seventeen year old senior attending Gig Harbor High School, and as you know, a display garden designer this year at the Northwest Flower and Garden show.

I think the best way to introduce myself is telling you how I got into gardening.

     Growing up on the potato farm in Idaho, there was never a time of boredom. Being seven years old, most of what I did was make mud pies on Grandma’s porch, play on the farm equipment, and have sprinkler fights or pick off the buds on the Lilac bushes to throw at my older sisters (sorry Mom, never knew  they actually had a purpose on the plant.) We had a 460 acre farm, and I picked random places to explore, build forts on and claim as my own. Along with adventures, I helped my mom in the greenhouse and in the flower fields not as a chore, but just because it was something fun to do. We even got a field trip of my kindergarten class to come out to the farm and learn about plants and take home a planted sunflower seed.

         After we moved from Idaho up to Washington, our play space was reduced to a claustrophobic amount. But, there still was an acre of unexplored and very native vegetation, and if I could crawl through bushes to it, it was mine. I can think of three places that I claimed.

Two different spots were in the front yard with tall trees, Salal, Huckleberries and a stick fort with tree stump chairs. Another spot was in the backyard: it was my hide-and-seek spot. I’d crawl about 12 feet into the thick of bushes and clear out a tiny space only I could fit in.

I used it so much the dirt became quite comfy, and no one could ever find me because they’d give up so easily. 🙂

     Seven years later, most of my evidence is gone or cleared away. But as we cleared away bushes, the forest of native plants changed to perennials and yard maintenance. I was gardening, whether I liked it or not. Don’t worry, most of the time I did. My love for gardening matured from exploring stick forts to having flower beds and cutting lavender.

Courtney Cosmos!

     The fascination of gardening with kids is being able to see the effects of their effort with a touch of unknown science, e.g. planting a seed and watching it grow into a sunflower. My fascination was no different than normal, I just believe it was prolonged exposure to it. I was lucky to be a part of my mom’s work sometimes because I knew not many my age had the opportunities or knowledge I had. And I’m not saying it is effective to have a child grow up in a high maintenance yard to get them to like gardening, I’m saying the little extra exposure and education from my parents really shaped my love for it all.

Choose Joy!

Choose Joy!

For those of you who know Courtney, you also know what she has been through for the past two years. In April 2009, this vibrant, normal healthy teenager doubled over in pain. A pain radiating from her stomach that she would describe as swallowing nails or someone cutting her open. We could only control it with IV pain medication in the hospital for a week.  So the mystery began and continues today. Courtney lives in pain every day; it surrounds her and has become her. Our battle is not to let it define her. Three hospital stays, multiple trips to the ER and every test to poke, prod, scan, scope, inject , swallow, radiate; she’s been there and still no answer. She has become a child who never could swallow pills to young woman who manages multiple medications to help control her chronic pain (and ones control the side effects of the meds that control the pain).  Our new family motto? “Redefining Normal” Because normal is not what it was two years ago, nor is it for a teenager.

Here comes the flower show.

Before she became sick, we had talked about the show. It was in her head to do it as her senior project and it caught hold of her and simply would not let go. We spent long hours of serious contemplation about whether she should. The pain can be debilitating and exhausting and when it is out of control it means the hospital, it is unpredictable at best. Knowing this, one thing always comes into focus, when she works on the show and gets in the pure creativity of it; the pain becomes a background to her. I have marched her though rows of greenhouses of plants wondering if she will get too exhausted, but somehow she finds joy instead.  Her eyes light up over the possibilities we find at our favorite re-purposing store Earthwise in Seattle. She is transformed and the pain does not define her in these moments. There are a few who have disagreed with her decision to continue with the project, but by far almost everyone has supported her.  Her sisters and I have her back,  in case a pain episode slows her down. This is a glimpse of her life story and she hates that I tell it, but for those who know what she is going through, the support of prayers, love and encouragement are all her to ways to find joy. I like to call it “choosing joy”.

One of the challenges of designing a garden in February is finding plants that have maturity.  The goal is to have plants showing what they look like in a full, lush garden. There are the tricks of the trade we have to do to make the garden look mature, but it starts with getting plants up to size and in “show worthy” condition. 

As we were searching for plants last fall, I told Courtney that I found some Grevilleas at the NHS plant sale and I think she should look at them. We drove to a greenhouse to check them out. They were over-flowing 5-gallon pots and loaded with buds.  She closely inspected the plants. When her pain is acting up, she typically is lack-luster in response, so I wondered if she was tired and in pain or simply did not think they’d work out for the garden. Know how I figured out she was happy with the plants?

Did you see the size of those Grevilleas?

She was puttering around the greenhouse further and she came across a plug tray of teeny, tiny “hens and chicks” sempervirens. She carefully plucked two of them out of the tray, turned to me holding them up to her eyes exclaiming, “Did you see the size of those Grevilleas?” Between giggles, I managed to get out my cell phone and take a picture. So glad her illness has not stolen her humor…

choose joy!

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