Pathway Transitions: Designer Details

Every garden needs pathways for navigation. Whether it is a means to get from the driveway to the front door, a short stretch from the back door to the garbage cans or a meandering trek through an abundantly planted border, each pathway has a distinctive role. That role in turn determines the paths width and the material it is likely to be made from: frequently traveled routes being wider and offering a reliably firm footing while a narrow woodland path may be just a 2-foot wide strip of mulch.

What fascinates me as a designer is the place at which paths intersect, change direction or change in function: what we refer to as transitions, which in turn become exciting design opportunities.

A Transition to a More Intimate Space

A visit to the Japanese Garden in Portland last week offered several wonderful examples of how to execute such transitions.


A transition created by an archway, beyond which the path becomes narrower and more intricate – Portland Japanese Garden

In the photo above, a simple archway invites the visitor to linger briefly under its protective roof. Underfoot the previously linear footpath (in the foreground) becomes a mosaic of both the rectilinear slabs  and some newly introduced, random flagstone. Beyond this stone carpet the pathway continues on the same axis but is now narrower and the incorporation of flagstone continues, creating a more intricate pattern. This suggests to the visitor that care must be taken, they are entering a more intimate space and that taking slower steps would be wise. Yet this transition is smooth. There is no jarring change of materials, rather the incorporation of just one additional element and a change in dimensions. Assisting in creating a sense of unity, a narrow border of black stones held in place by interlocking tiles flanks one side of each section. drawing the eye through the entire space.

This marvelous yet simple attention to detail creates a change in atmosphere and therefore the visitor’s experience.

Frierson residence, Atlanta, GA

Frierson residence, Atlanta, GA

The private garden shown above demonstrates the same principles but using different materials. Here the visitor is invited to leave the primary herringbone brick pathway and walk up two, transitional grassy steps into a much narrower space. The bricks in this smaller path are laid in a running bond pattern so while the material suggests continuity the design details are unique.

How can you use this idea in your own garden?

Can you widen the path into more of a carpet under an archway to make it a stronger transition? Or create a patio space within the path as in the example below:

The original flagstone path has been intersected by a grey cobble patio, the pattern and change of material emphasizing the new function in this transitional space. Read the full story here.

The original flagstone path has been intersected by a grey cobble patio, the pattern and change of material emphasizing the new function in this transitional space. Read the full story here.

Can you adjust the width of the path before/beyond a transition point?

A Transition at the Top of Steps


A flagstone landing at the top of a flight of steps – Portland Japanese Garden

Landings at the top of a flight of steps offer an opportunity for creativity. This is a space where we adjust our stride and reach for the handrail as we head down, or stop to collect our breath when we reach the top! Either way, this is a location where we might pause for just a moment or two longer than usual. In the photo above, the designers switched from concrete paths edged with rectangular stone slabs to a flagstone motif on the landing.

How can you use this idea in your own garden?

What about installing a mosaic detail on a landing?

Conlon residence, Pasadena, CA

Conlon residence, Pasadena, CA

Dunn residence, Atlanta, GA

Dunn residence, Atlanta, GA

A perhaps a special tile?

Better Homes & Gardens test garden, Des Moines, IA

Better Homes & Gardens test garden, Des Moines, IA

Share your ideas in the comments below or on my Facebook page – I’d love to see what you do!

Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon

Creative Combinations You’ll Love!


The entry garden gives a hint of what is to come

It’s always exciting to visit somewhere new, and this past week I found myself in Des Moines, Iowa. The first few days were spent filming a series of videos on container gardening for Garden Gate magazine (more on that exciting news soon) but on my last day I had time to visit the Greater Des Moines Botanical Gardens – and I am so glad that I did.

Plantsman extraordinaire, Kelly Norris, was appointed as Director of Horticulture a few years ago and his vision, artistry and flamboyant approach to design is evident throughout. From the new entry garden that boasts sculptural trellises and ethereal clouds of annuals in shades of white, lavender and purple, transforming the rose garden to a delightful multi-sensory experience, to the savannah with its matrix planting of grasses and native wildflowers, this 7 acre wonderland is full of surprises, ideas and COLOR.

Billowing plantings frame a path and the distant skyline of Des Moines

Billowing plantings flank a path and frame the distant skyline of Des Moines

Although each area had its own color scheme, subtle repetition of a single plant or accent color provided a sense of connection rather than  abrupt conclusion. It was the enchanting color echoes and contrasts used in one particular border that really caught my eye, however, combining shades of peach, coral and pumpkin with lavender and lemon. The effect was both bold yet restrained since it avoided harsh contrasts. It felt romantic yet not overtly feminine. Youthful and flirtatious yet sophisticated and confident.

Here’s how to get the look.

Repetition of Plants


The bold, variegated peach and chocolate variegated leaves of copperleaf (Acalypha wilkesiana ‘Tricolor’) and the lavender blooms of Senorita Rosalita spider flower (Cleome ‘Senorita Rosalita’) together with a froth of yellow and gold daisies establishes the color scheme for this border

Repetition of dramatic foliage and flowering plants creates a sense of rhythm and guides both feet and eyes down the path. Key plants need to be relied upon when playing such an important role, hence the value of foliage. However this Proven Winners spider flower can truly hold its own in heat and drought, and I have extolled the virtues of its white sister, Senorita Blanca before.


The Proven Winners Senorita Rosalita spider flower is a five star annual.

This sterile, compact spider flower blooms non-stop, does not need dead-heading, can tolerate both typical garden watering as easily as drought, doesn’t have a funky smell or sticky stems (like regular spider flowers) and is both deer and rabbit resistant. I personally buy at least a dozen each year to use in my landscape but they work equally well in containers.

Repetition of Color


Notice the color repetition – or color echoes.

In the foreground is a golden bluebeard (possibly Caryopteris x clandonensis ‘Lil Miss Sunshine’), this color  repeated farther down the border by the foliage of Fireworks globe amaranthus (Gomphrena ‘Fireworks’). The bold coppery tones of copperleaf is echoed by a distant canna flower and a tropical cordyline, while the lavender spider flowers are echoed by several annual flowers and leaves.

Add something unexpected


A pop of magenta wakes up the color scheme: pentas blooms and parrot leaf

The introduction of magenta enlivens the color scheme of this border. Both the foliage of parrot leaf (Alternanthera ficoidea) and several flowers are used to re-enforce this decision, the color enhancing the ruby tones within the copperleaf foliage.

Forest Pink globe amaranthus (Gomphrena haageana)

Forest Pink globe amaranthus (Gomphrena haageana ‘Forest Pink’)

Foliage Framework – the #1 ingredient


A buffet of colorful flowers still needs to put Foliage First! (I do recall a certain book or two on that premise…)

At first glance this border is all about the flowers with the exception of the variegated copperleaf already discussed, yet look more closely.

Several blooming plants have been selected for their golden leaves and bold texture is primarily provided by several tropical foliage plants including Cabernet rubber plant (Ficus elastica ‘Cabernet’) and a pink-variegated cordyline (both of which are often found in the houseplant section in your local nurseries). Canna manages to bridge both roles with its peach flowers and large, emerald green leaves while parrot leaf (Alternanthera ficoidea) plays with the magenta tones.

A different perspective

A different perspective – looking back at the border, now framed by the late summer foliage of Henry’s Garnet Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica ‘Henry’s Garnet’) and smoky plumes of Ginger Love fountain grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Ginger Love’)

Other Plants to Consider

If you’d like to try a color scheme like this in your own garden, here are a few other plant suggestions to get you started.


Diascia ‘Little Tango’ (Annual/perennial)

Cuphea ‘Vermillionaire’ (Annual)

Knipophia ‘Creamsicle’ (Perennial)

Coleus (Annual)

Heuchera (Perennial)

Carex testacea (Evergreen grass)

Diervilla ‘Kodiak Orange’ (Deciduous shrub)

Exbury azaleas e.g. Northern Lights series  (Deciduous shrub)

Berberis thunbergii ‘Tangelo’ (Deciduous shrub)


Lavender – purple
Verbena bonariensis (self-seeding annual/perennial)

Coleus (annual)

Allium sp. (Perennial bulb)

Phlox paniculata ‘David’s Lavender’ (perennial)

Syringa sp. (Lilac) (deciduous shrub)

Crocus tommasinianus ‘Purple Haze’ (spring blooming bulb)



Salvia ‘Wendy’s Wish’  (annual/perennial)

Phlox paniculata ‘Red Riding Hood’ (perennial)


Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon

Small Garden Re-Imagined: Buffalo Style

Do you like garden tours?

I try to go to a few local ones each year, but this summer I had the opportunity to attend what can only be described as a garden tour on steroidsGarden Walk Buffalo. More than 400 private and public gardens in Buffalo, NY are open for self guided tours – FREE  – to the public, each July. Each garden is different – some are whimsical, some appear to be a set borrowed from Hollywood, others feature native plants, but all are creative, and the open arms concept is encouraging a greater  sense of pride in this community.

While I didn’t manage to see all 400 gardens I did visit 15, along with 350 or so of my friends attending the Garden Writer’s Association symposium- and this was one of my favorites. If I was giving awards this would receive the award for Best Design as it makes such wonderful use of a small lot, adding function while reducing maintenance, and significantly increasing the home’s value.

Front Garden

The yellow signs welcome visitors from across the country - this is an event you NEED to go to!

The yellow signs welcome visitors from across the country – this is an event you NEED to go to! Garden Walk Buffalo

A peek at the neighbor’s garden to the right will help you understand the ‘before‘ – a postage stamp sized lawn, concrete path to the steps and a driveway. Possibly a shrub or two.

This is a stunning transformation that makes the space look much larger, has oodles of curb appeal, enhances the home and creates a usable space. It was designed by Joe Han, The English Gardener.

The raised, block planter enables the homeowner to have year-round color (boxwood) and structure. No more soil washing off into the street – the slope is managed beautifully by the retaining wall which doubles as casual seating thanks to the capstone.

IMG_5749 A central urn invites seasonal drama, while being surrounded by perennials that cope with Buffalo’s harsh winters. The clipped boxwood hedge gives a sense of order and an important connection to the strong rectilinear architecture of the home and the medallion detail on the portico.


Each corner of the planter is filled with sweetly fragrant alyssum backed by silver foliage. How often have you heard me remind you of the importance of foliage?!


Tucked into a shady corner a simple fountain brings the element of sound to this delightful patio, also enjoyed and appreciated from the front porch.

IMG_5744 A dark charcoal border around the lighter grey patio emphasizes and defines the unique shape, making the space seem even larger than it really is.

Planted window boxes and urns add the finishing touch, their color scheme connecting to the larger raised planter while adding drama to the dark porch railings and wide staircase.

As you can imagine, I was excited to see the back garden and wondered how the designer and homeowner had made use of that space….

Back Garden


As anticipated, it was stunning both in its simplicity and in its details. Remarkably it was designed by the homeowners themselves, Don McCall and Jeff Lach.

Window boxes on the second story take the garden up high, the color scheme repeating that of the front and back landscapes. Notice how the two units read as one – they are mirror images of one another.

A small lawn suggests a calming space, bordered by billowing, white peegee hydrangeas and grasses, while a hibiscus introduces the lavender accent note. A small deck next to the home is just one sitting area of three, however.


At the back of the lot is this charming dining space, the clean-lined furnishings echoing the contemporary aesthetic of the overall design. Overhead ambient lighting is possible thanks to a convenient branch. There was another seating nook opposite (where I was standing to take the photograph). The only trouble with garden tours is PEOPLE! Yes, there were folks sitting in the seating area – of course – so it didn’t seem right to take a photo.


While there are flowers in this garden, it is primarily a textural foliage feast – my kind of space. I loved this monochromatic dance between the weeping pine and hosta.


This different angle helps you see the sliver of lawn, narrow gravel pathway and wonderful addition of a Japanese maple. Truly this garden is a jewel.


Every detail was considered – love the repetition of these three simple pots on the dining table.

Garden tours are a great way to get ideas for your own garden. Which ones have you been on this year?

Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon

Memories of the Greek Islands – Part 2 (Milos)

Typical Cycladic architecture in the Plaka district, Milos

Typical Cycladic architecture, colors and winding paths in the Plaka district, Milos

Unlike its famous neighbor Santorini, Milos is much quieter yet shares the same  whitewashed, Cycladic architecture, framed by cerulean skies and turquoise waters. After collecting our rental car at the port, we drove to our home for the week, Nefeli Sunset Studios in Pollonia,  at the northwest tip of the small island.

Our view every evening

Our view every evening

This was as picture-perfect as one could wish for. A large private terrace off our contemporary studio apartment from which to watch the sun go down over the ocean each evening, a delightful small town within easy walking distance where the store owners came to know us and greet us each day with a hug, sandy beaches and warm water for lazy afternoons, plenty of tavernas offering delicious local delicacies and a variety of historical places of interest to explore in the cooler hours.

Renovated Roman ampitheater

The renovated Roman theater  overlooks the port and offers wonderful views and acoustics. The original theater seated 7000 – the renovated one today can seat 700.

One special highlight was visiting the ancient Roman theater as the sun set, listening to a wonderful concert featuring traditional Greek instruments and several talented signers including Roula, our hostess at Nefeli.

Who sat here before us???

By the time the concert began at dusk, every seat was taken

The acoustics were perfect and it was impossible not to feel caught up by the history of such a venue, wondering who else had sat on these marble benches in centuries past?


The winding, paved streets were said to be originally designed as protection against pirates.

Many of the roads on Milos are unsuitable for anything less maneuverable than  a jeep, with narrow, winding, alleyways considered a major thoroughfare!


Weathered shutters set in an old stone wall

Definitely not for the fainthearted.

We did venture out a few times, however, and explored the capital – the Plaka district, even managing to hike to the very top of the steep hill to enjoy the 360′ view it afforded, as well as a view of the traditional church (perhaps placed there for those who wished to pray for safety on the return trip?).


View of the Panagia Thalassitra (or  The Ypapanti of Christ) from the top of the hill


In fact cars are not allowed in the heart of the Plaka – but that doesn’t mean they don’t try!

Our hosts also suggested visiting some of the picturesque fishing village, including  Mandrakia and Klima.


These were interesting in that they were created not so much to be a commercial fishing center, but rather a protected location for boat storage, the colorful garage-style buildings and overhead rooms now a popular place for photographers and artists.

The beaches of course are stunning – and the geology varied, Milos being known for its rich mineral deposits. We were able to explore more of these by joining a yacht trip for a day, circumnavigating the entire island, with time to stop off at a few otherwise inaccessible coves for swimming in the crystal clear, warm waters.

Th essence of Milos

The essence of Milos

Will we ever return? Maybe not, but only because it is so far away from Seattle! Every moment was a gift which we will store in our memory bank, to share occasionally or simply to reflect upon quietly.


Our love and thanks to our daughter Katie, who kept the barn cats fed and the garden watered while we were away, making this trip of a lifetime possible.


I guess it’s time for me to get back to writing my book – and taking care of the garden!

Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon

Memories of the Greek Islands – Part 1

VIne-clad cottages in Assos, Kefalonia

Vine-clad cottages in Assos, Kefalonia

Thirty years ago Andy proposed to me while we were on vacation in Kefalonia (the Ionian island made famous by the book and movie Captain Correlli’s Mandolin) and we were married three weeks later! (Well he had been asking me – weekly – for quite some time!) So we decided that would be the perfect place to start the celebrations for our 30th wedding anniversary. A splurge for sure, and significantly harder to reach from the USA where we now live, than it was from England, but oh so worth it.

So rather than a typical garden-related post, this is something of a mini travelogue, a glimpse into our summer so far. I’m splitting it into two parts, because our second stop, Milos, deserves a post all of its own.

Grab your sunglasses ….. and welcome to Kefalonia

Olivemare was our home for the first week, a delightful contemporary, boutique hotel set in olive groves

Olivemare was our home for the first week, a delightful contemporary, boutique hotel set amid olive groves

We stayed at the most beautiful boutique hotel in Katelios, a small fishing village at the southern tip of the island. Olivemare only has five guest rooms, each one with a private patio festooned with bougainvillea. Furnishings are kept simple but contemporary, but the food………………

Our breakfast room, fragrant with lavender and rosemary

Our breakfast room, fragrant with lavender and rosemary

Breakfast was our favorite meal of the day, prepared buffet style and eaten in the garden. From orange juice squeezed from the nearby trees just moments before, to traditional savory pastries, tempting freshly made cakes, Greek yogurt, local honey and fresh fruit  you could feast like a King – or try to watch calories as you wished. Everything was locally grown and home-made…..sigh.

The clouds eventually lifted to afford us a glimpse of the distant views from Mt. Aenos

The clouds eventually lifted to afford us a glimpse of the distant views from Mt. Aenos

Of course when you are re-visiting a place that was special after such a long time you do run the risk of being disappointed. Certainly Kefalonia has changed in 30 years, but we found the local people just as friendly and enjoyed re-visiting old haunts such as the underground lake at Melissani Caves and hiking on Mt. Aenos.

Road Trip to Fiscardo

As they say, the journey is half the adventure. So it is when traveling to Fiscardo at the northernmost tip of the island. Along the way one passes the most photographed beach in Kefalonia – Myrtos Beach.

Myrtos Beach - now accessible by road

Myrtos Beach – now accessible by road

Thirty years ago there were no roads to this beach  – and no people unless you arrived by boat. Now there is a winding, switchback road all the way to the bottom of the cliff. Progress? I’m not sure. I rather liked the mystery of it before.

Continuing on, Assos can be seen as a peninsula jutting into the sea.

Assos is one of the most picturesque, secluded villages on Kefalonia - and well worth the drive

Assos is one of the most picturesque, secluded villages on Kefalonia – and well worth the drive

Assos is still a stunningly beautiful place to visit and we spent a few hours meandering through the streets and catching glimpses of what this island looked like before the devastating earthquake of 1953.

Shuttered windows, broken doors and overgrown gardens tell a story

Shuttered windows, broken doors and overgrown gardens tell a story – yet some homes are being renovated in sleepy Assos

Bougainvillea is no resepcter of history, scrambling at will over and through old buildings - Assos

Bougainvillea is no respecter of history, scrambling at will, over and through old buildings – Assos

Of course I'm always interested to see how folks use containers! Assos

Of course I’m always interested to see how folks use containers! Assos.

From here it is a short drive to Fiscardo. We remembered this as an upmarket fishing village, still quaint, but catering to the yachting crowd. Today the number of tavernas and bars seems to have quadrupled, with waves of tourists arriving by cruise ship, yacht and car.

One of the upscale hotels that can now be found in Fiscardo

One of the upscale hotels that can now be found in Fiscardo (Love those urns!)

Thankfully if you look hard enough, there are still fascinating alleyways to explore – and gardens.

Home from home - a bounty of container spilling onto the road and sidewalk

Home from home – a bounty of containers spilling onto the road and sidewalk

Perhaps our only disappointment in Kefalonia was the typical taverna food, which sadly seemed to cater to the extremely large influx of British travelers now that there are direct flights here from at least three UK airports. A “full English breakfast” or a tuna salad – with canned tuna, just don’t do it for me!  More of a reason to enjoy breakfast at Olivemare.

It was still a wonderful start to our vacation, however, and we have no regrets returning there.

We flew from Kefalonia to Athens for one night, staying in the old, historic district at Central Athens Hotel. It was something of an eye-opening walk from the nearest metro station (Syntagma Square) with police on every street corner, graffiti on many of the buildings and folks just perched on the sidewalk stripping an old bicycle for parts. Not to be recommended after dark.

We had something much better planned for the twilight hours, however. We headed up to the rooftop terrace of the hotel where we enjoyed cocktails and a leisurely meal, watching the sun set over the Acropolis. An unforgettable experience and a perfect transition to our second island.

Acropolis at sunset

Acropolis at sunset


Early the next morning a taxi took us to the port of Piraeus where we boarded a SeaJet (hydrofoil) bound for the island of Milos. I’ll tell you more about that next time!

Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon