The same family-owned company that owns the Northwest Flower & Garden Show owns Portland’s Home & Garden Show. This year the gardens were the first visible parts of the show as we walked in, making it more evident that the owners want to refocus this show into something that will eventually look more like the Seattle show.
While the gardens are considerably smaller and overall less sophisticated than their Seattle counterparts I found some interesting elements. The backdrop of market stalls once again undermined getting any decent, overall shots of any garden. So I focused on details, which is really where the ‘rubber’ of any good design ‘meets the road’.
I’ll be visiting Portland’s Yard, Garden, and Patio Show next. I’m anxious to see what those designers have cooked up!
At this time of year, garden shows are in abundance. The Northwest Flower and Garden Show has already been tucked away until next year, with two Portland shows about to happen over the next two weeks. The granddaddy, The Philadelphia Flower Show, begins Feb. 28.
Seeing something new is what I yearn to see as a landscape designer, but I also enjoy things I have seen if they are done superbly. As for the awards, I think the judges were spot on in their judgment this year. Also, I found this year’s gardens more difficult to photograph than ever before and I think it was because many designers didn’t consider backdrop (as in protecting the viewer from the marketplace beyond or ugly walls) and reflections (particularly of the overhead show lights in the adjacent marketplace); so my profuse apologies for out-of-focus photographs. Here’s what was most interesting to me at the Northwest Flower and Garden Show:
For those of you expecting a gushing love affair with the Adirondack chair, this is a rant about the excessively-used and overly-beloved garden seat.
People use Adirondack chairs in nearly every style of garden imaginable. While a few locations are well-suited to this chair, many are not. Thomas Lee designed this chair in 1903 when he needed some chairs outdoors at his summer home in the Adirondack Mountains. I’m not saying that the only place that this chair should be used is in the mountains, but frankly that’s where it is best suited. Woodsy settings by a lake next to a rustic cabin are most appropriate where you can lay back a bit and daydream.
This brings me to the ergonomic application of the Adirondack chair. Too often people use multiple Adirondack chairs around a campfire or an area clearly intended for conversation. Have you ever sat in this chair? If you haven’t, give it a try and just try looking at the person across from you who will (also) be straining their eyes to look back at you. The angle of this seat and back isn’t suited for conversation, reading, or much else except for staring out across a view. While its arms are handy for setting a drink, heaven help you if you actually try drinking, because you’ll end up wearing a glassful with your head leaning against the back of the chair.
There are more knockoffs of this chair than anyone could count, with square backed versions for modern gardens, heart cut-outs for cottage gardens, plastic versions for the budget-squeezed garden, ad infinitum. Many children have made one at school for unsuspecting parents because they are relatively simple to cut out and assemble. They are available in a rainbow of colors, too, but that doesn’t mean they are the best design for most gardens.
There is a very well-known garden in the USA with a large French mansion on the grounds where Adirondack chairs seem to multiply like rabbits out away from the house. The chair and the French house are about as disparate as you could imagine. Think Victorian chair with Japanese garden incongruence. The primary rub here is that gardeners, horticulturists, and many designers too, ignore the architectural detailing of the house and pretend as though it doesn’t matter. In fact it does, and substantially.
If I’ve sent you into a dither over outdoor seating styles or you are furious about the attack on your favorite chair, you are in luck. My newest book can help you remedy your garden furnishing dilemmas and mistakes. The Professional Designer’s Guide to Garden Furnishings serves up a history of furniture as seen through the evolution of a chair, a vast array of alternative seating styles, and a resource index at the back to contact vendors. Even though the title has the word ‘professional’ in it, the book will help any garden owner select appropriate furnishings for their own garden, too.
It’s late January in case you hadn’t noticed. The days are getting a little longer and there’s a wee bit more sun. Time to prune!
I’ve already begun with hellebores, which if I don’t clip off the old leaves, the new flowers will have a rather dismal looking skirt. Once I’ve finished with the hellebores (they are in multiple locations in my garden and I probably have at least 40 of them), I’ll begin to cut back the grasses. There are many of those, too. I’ll probably cut back the evergreen ferns…especially the sword ferns…as I cut back the grasses. Then there is always the issue of clearing all of the piles of clippings during the process. Clean up as you go if you can.
I will also prune or even remove the Betula youngii that I’ve had in place for so many years. When I planted it I didn’t look up how big it would get. That would be de rigueur for me today. I recall seeing a mature specimen at the Blodel Reserve, further north in WA State. It was quite large. This is when I knew that eventually I’d be in trouble. So several years ago I planted a Viburnum which will get to around 8′ tall and have been allowing it to get larger every year at the edge and a little beneath the tree. Now it’s large enough that if I remove the tree, the Viburnum will shade the plants that the tree has shaded. It will also not shade the Puritan rose a little farther away which means it will perform better, too.
Yes, it’s mid-winter and the livin’ ain’t easy. But summer will come and there will be those magical days that I so enjoy outdoors. And maybe I’ll have a little more time to sit in the garden and enjoy it.
Serendipity is one of my favorite words. According to Google, “ser·en·dip·i·ty is the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way”. Due to the nature of chance as it applies to gardens, I often think of it as a design principle in landscape design. In a quote from my book,
Understanding Garden Design: “While not officially a design principle, serendipity, or good luck, cannot be ignored as a factor that has the potential to impact the design of a garden. One year I planted several highly attractive and unusually colored violas in my garden. Serendipitously, they seeded around, expanding their realm, and created quite a beautiful massed planting. Then serendipity turned sour. The adjacent gravel path offered a charmed life for the violas. A few were delightful, few more a bit cheeky, and the eventual flood became the curse of my path. Serendipity does not necessarily stand the test of time, but there is always a chance it might provide more than an ephemeral effect for which you will be grateful.”
I bring it up now because someone recently reminded me of a talk that I gave several years ago during January entitled Intentional Serendipity which has a slightly altered meaning. The presentation was specifically for a group of people learning more about creating sustainable gardens.
Gardens are by definition a contrived space in which man bends Nature to his will. But Nature has a good deal more perspicacity than man. Don’t we gardeners often unconsciously concoct situations in our gardens where Nature says, “Aha! Opportunity!”? Perhaps as we go about gardening, we should consider living with less expectation and more anticipation.
I’ve begun interspersing some plants with not just the notion that I will like them together, but also with the inkling that I am setting up a contest to see which will plant will become the ‘dominatrix’ and which will become the ‘submissives’. What better time to plan a Fifty Shades of Grey approach to planting design than in January? This year I anticipate some results from some intentional intermingling of the many newly planted areas of last year. So stay tuned.
For 2014, however, I know there are a number of things that I should do to improve my intentions. I intend to:
irrigate plants adequately
create healthy soil with plenty of proper drainage and mycorrhizae
assure that plants have the correct amount of light,
use organic methods of maintenance
select healthy plants based on their ability to thrive in my climate without being invasive
These are must-have intentions that enhance serendipity. While there are a few more things I might do, I have to acknowledge that the rest is up to Mother Nature.
Following the example of some fellow bloggers, I decided that looking through one’s garden experiences from the past year is a great way to begin 2014. So here is a look at my garden through the year. Click on each photo for a larger view.
This October Michael and I travelled to Sedona, AZ. and national parks in Arizona and Utah. It was a journey through geology and I found myself wishing I knew more about geology the farther we travelled.
Driving east from the Las Vegas airport, we turned south towards Sedona from the main highway. The terrain began to change dramatically. Cinnamon, ginger, and eggnog-colored rocky cliffs climbed steeply on either side of the road. At road level, we followed a sparkling, verdant creek. The contrast of colors and the sheer, natural beauty of our surroundings were stunning.
Imagine my surprise when we arrived at the spa resort where we were to stay for two nights and saw what could have been the front garden of far too many homes in America. Lawn, boxwood borders, hydrangeas and other familiar garden plants surrounded the spa. It was so out of character to the area! It was almost as though there was an abrasive line where their garden ended and the natural environment started. I couldn’t help but ask myself, “Why didn’t they just work with what they have?” Our local excursions presented an amazing array of native plants. Manzanita’s deep crimson bark and pale gray-green leaves combined with brassy yellow flowers of surrounding groundcovers were gorgeous. Prickly, paddle-shaped cacti were abundant. Blue-gray leaves of Agaves against rusty-nail colored soil took my breath away.
Seeing the genius loci of a site isn’t difficult. It’s usually rather obvious. So why is it ignored all too often? We owe it to ourselves to pay attention to this critical clue to the design of a garden. It doesn’t mean plants need to be entirely native, but it does mean respecting available resources and character of place.
Okay, it has been quite a long time since I’ve created a new post here. I got sidetracked by a couple of other blogs to which I was contributing. I expect to blog much more regularly from now on!!
Sometimes a rant is in order and as a designer I certainly take issue with some aspects of design. After browsing a very popular home and garden magazine, I just have to speak up about all of those cute, fluffy cottage gardens with their little picket fences and the requisite matching arbor. I know that many people find this style of garden charming, but I’m not one of them UNLESS they are done really well. Usually, I find them ubiquitous and boring.
My major problem with these gardens is that they are usually a muddle of plants. Managing textures takes forethought (read: design) so that you can actually see different plants. There are more shades of green than plain green, too. And flowers are so ephemeral that if you’re going for that really think of when each of them blooms if you want to see them together. Tulips and Echinacea don’t bloom at the same time, so why bother trying to match those two? There are usually too many onesy-twosy’s too. Many designers will tell you to create “sweeps” and “drifts”. Well, I agree, but here’s my definition of sweeps or drifts: varied sizes of elongated triangles that interweave with one another. No drift should be fewer than 5 plants, otherwise it’s a clump.
Plants aren’t the only issue. If you thought I was going to ignore the picket fence, reconsider. I have seen some interesting picket fences that I would actually consider good design, so it’s not the idea of the picket fence. It’s that so many are identical as though no one could think of anything else to do. Really? Then there’s the matching arbor with the romantic rose arching over intertwined with Clematis. Okay, so I do like the roses and clematis, but I also like something more original that the expected arbor, too. Reconsider materials. Think about how it sympathizes stylistically with the house (or should). What about the color? Is it the major focus of getting to the front door? Perhaps it should be the same color as the front door to improve subtle way-finding.
In short, if you’re going for the cottage garden style, don’t copy the gardens you see in the magazines. One that works with who YOU are will be the very best.
Each year I faithfully travel to Seattle to attend the NW Flower & Garden Show. This year was no different, except that we did have some snow challenges. What’s been different for me these past 2 years is that I also speak at this show. But I can’t resist hearing other talks. Those I listened to were Dan Pearson, Matthew Levesque, Debra Prinzing, David Mizejewski, and Ivette Soler. Dan’s design ideas and photos were breathtaking, even if his speaking manner was underwhelming. Debra’s and Matthew’s photos and talks about repurposing found objects were terrific. David’s was informative and encouraging about backyard wildlife habitat. Since my garden already meets all of their criteria to be approved as a wildlife habitat, I’m going to fill out that form today and submit it! Ivette Soler is one exuberant, bubbly speaker when it comes to putting edibles in your front yard. I’ve just purchased her book and am in the process of reading it. Looks good!
Browsing the gardens is the highlight and it’s difficult to come away empty-handed from the marketplace.“Wish ‘Shoe’ Were Here” garden was created by the APLD, Washington Chapter. An enormous shoe, the likes of Sex and the City gals, occupied front stage. An intriguing garden layout and some delightful art were its highlights, along with a few choice plants, like Fuchsia ‘Lechlade Gordon’.
Some of my fellow APLD WA members, d4collective, created the signature garden, “The Garden in Verse”. I loved their use of fabric outdoors to create a cocooned, soft, moon garden.
“Next Stop, Hotel Babylon” was a very contemporary garden with vertical and roof-top planting – one of my favorites.
“A Day Well Spent” by Christianson’s Nursery had some interesting edible highlights in their garden. “Paradise (to be) Regained” was a cute, sustainable garden designed by seventeen-year-old, Courtney Goetz.Karen Stefonick’s “A Wrinkle in Time’ had a ‘crystal ball’ and an attractive patio design.“Run Little Pigs, Run!”, a garden designed by Susan Browne, was full of humor and design interest.
Another favorite garden was “The Japanese Garden: Bridging History”. Beautifully designed by Phil Wood (another APLD member), this garden was simply stunning. Well considered details and it included cherry trees in full bloom (about 2 months ahead of schedule). No small feat!!
A few highlights in the market place for me were Abraxas Crow (one is now happily residing in my garden), a ceramic artist’s colorful totems and many of the glass blowers. A new artist I have not seen before had exquisite ceramic prayer wheels. And who could stay away from seeds and plants? Not me!