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The Northwest Flower and Garden Show is always a highlight of the gardening year for me. Whether you are new to gardening or an experienced designer you will leave inspired, encouraged and ready for spring.

The display gardens take center stage, their styles ranging from whimsical to naturalistic but all find a way to connect to the annual theme which for this year was ROMANCE. Every garden offers an abundance of ideas yet there is always one designer who for me stands out from the crowd; Karen Stefonick of Karen Stefonick Designs.

The title of her 2015 design featured here is KNOTTY & NICE; Here’s to WE Time.

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Here’s what Karen said about her design;

“For a couple seeking to connect, play, relax and set time aside to be with each other—“we time”—this garden caters to both the masculine and feminine senses; calling in the energy of both.

The ‘Knotty’ reference to this part of the vignette is both the trees and plantings which are various forms of pine as well as large beams of pine wood used to create the structure. Meanwhile, the ‘Nice’ traits are displayed by the more feminine attributes of lyrical water, warm fire and cozy furnishings.

A protective pergola surrounded by large bold stones–complemented by a soothing water feature–is mirrored in a reflecting pond. The final touch is a cozy fireplace and cushy furniture that you can sink into.

The majority of plantings in this garden are evergreen so you have a very textural and abundant array of visual interest year round, not just in the spring and summer. After all, romance is for all seasons!”

Why it Works

To me there are three key features that make this design so attractive and functional;

1. Use of Negative Space 

It would have been so easy to add more plants or an extravagant fountain into the pool. Or maybe a few large planted containers on the patio and baskets hanging from the pergola. Yet the essence of this design is all about restraint. Leaving open the expanse of water and allowing the naked architecture of the vaulted pergola to be seen creates uncluttered ‘negative space’. This becomes a visual break allowing focus to be on the clean lines and contrasting textures of natural materials. For the homeowner this translates to a feeling of meditative peacefulness and tranquility rather than over-stimulation.

2. Restraint in Color and Plant Palettes

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A green and white monochromatic color scheme is always elegant but Karen’s design goes beyond elegant to timeless. She achieves this by focusing primarily on foliage. There are many evergreen trees and shrubs in this vignette with contorted pines playing an important role as they drape gracefully over boulders and fallen logs as well as gracing the pergola itself.

IMG_0743 White hellebores and cyclamen  add floral interest nestled among deer ferns and salal but the planting design is not centered around them.

3. Understanding scale

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This is one of the hardest design criteria to understand and why working with a professional can be so helpful. Notice how Karen balances the hefty timbers of the pergola with bold but clean lined  furniture. How the substantial fireplace anchors the back wall yet is not imposing. How the tall conifers and specimen paper bark maple (seen in the top photo) balance the height of the structure. Every detail  feels ‘right’.

The final details

A subtle secondary water feature

A subtle  water feature adds sound and movement

In truth one could teach a full landscape design class from this garden so trying to sum it up in a few paragraphs is challenging but these are some of the other features I see as hallmarks of Karen’s work

1. Combining textures; soft pine needles brushing against rough, weathered stone. The peeling bark of the paperbark maple set against the smooth planed wood of the pergola. A swathe of round river rocks cutting through square pavers

2. Repetition; the furniture, mantel and chandelier all speak to the same design aesthetic as the pergola itself. Clusters of fat white candles have been used throughout the space for romantic lighting (Lanterns might have introduced a new and unnecessary design element)

3. The unexpected; a trickle of water from the pergola roof drips into a swale of river rocks, the droplets merging and slowly making their way across the patio and into the pool.

Karen is an exceptional designer and is no stranger to awards at the show. This year she once again received a gold medal as well as receiving the Sunset Western Living Award and the 425 Magazine Editors’ Choice Award.

Congratulations also go to colleagues Steve Spear of Complete Landscape Inc for the installation and Bill Ellsbury of Moon Shadows Landscape Lighting.

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