Sticks and Stones

Blue and teal shades work so well with the white stones

Blue and teal shades work so well with the white stones. Photo courtesy Alyson Ross Markley

Sculptor Luke DeLatour of Stones and Steel knows a thing or two about rocks which is why we invited him to our Meet the Artist – Become the Artist event recently.

He has created some beautiful sculptures from twisted ribbons of steel into which he incorporates hand selected river rocks and  pebbles – beautiful when fresh from the workshop and possibly even better when rusted to cinnamon tones.

The trick is knowing how and where to place them in the garden to showcase their shape, color and texture. Here are a few examples of my favorite pieces.

For Big Spaces

Sometimes you don’t have a little gap in the garden you have a HUGE gap – such was the case after several shrubs gave up the ghost this winter. Clearly a cute 2′ tall birdbath was not what I needed here but Luke’s ring of stones was perfect. The solid green backdrop of the Hinoki cypress allowed the shape of the sculpture and color of the stones to be clearly seen together with the striking vertical steel poles. The height nestled it in nicely between shrubs yet was tall enough to be a focal point.

Ring of stones

Ring of stones

Perhaps the art I miss most is the cluster of seed heads. They stood 8′ tall and looked just right emerging from our meadow.

Large spaces call for large scale

Large spaces call for large scale. Photo courtesy Alyson Ross Markley

I know Luke is designing some other versions of this including pieces you would set on the ground. Can’t wait to see them!

For smaller spaces

Most homeowners need pieces of a more modest scale so what about these? Luke handpicks each rock  - they are reminiscent of seed pods, especially when set among fading astilbe flowers and grasses in our woodland garden.


One of Luke’s most popular designs was actually a spur of the moment idea – incorporating  pale aqua beach glass into the design. The translucence of the glass works especially well when light is allowed to stream through so think about where best to place these so you can enjoy them.

Layers of pebbles and beach glass - juxtaposition of light and dark, ought and smooth

Layers of pebbles and beach glass. Photo courtesy Alyson Ross Markley

For Kids of all Ages


Photo courtesy Alyson Ross Markley

Who can resist this game of trying to maneuver the pebbles along the wire? A perfect table-side game in the garden

From Sticks to Showcase

While glass artist Jesse and Luke were displaying their art my husband Andy was busy offering woodturning demonstrations in the barn. He showed enthusiastic visitors how he selected each piece of wood, looking for interesting swirls and patterns to create our one of a kind tools, heirloom bouquets, bowls, Holiday ornaments and more. It’s only when you watch him working at the lathe that you truly appreciate the craftsmanship involved.


A partially rotted cherry tree gets a second chance at being beautiful

In fact the response to his work was so overwhelming that he is now offering  three different woodturning classes which are sure to be very popular and is setting up his own business; StumpDust which will launch shortly.

In the meantime you’ll find his sawdust still on this site in our STORE

One of my favorite pieces, this vase was made from a plum tree that had to be taken down in 2008

One of my favorite pieces, this vase was made from a plum tree that had to be taken down in 2008

Whether taking stones, weathered smooth over time by moving water and combining them with other materials to create art or salvaging wood from diseased or fallen trees and creating beautiful yet functional pieces there is something incredibly satisfying about taking natures creation and finding a way to reveal its hidden beauty. That’s what both Luke and Andy have done.

Watch for our Art in the Garden event next year; Earth, Wind & Fire! Be sure you’re signed up for my newsletters to get advance notice.

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When Gardens and Glass Talk

Perfect color echoes between the glass and orange daylilies, golden conifer and dark leaf maple tree

Perfect color communication between the glass and orange daylilies, golden conifer and dark leaf maple tree

We have just hosted a really exciting and extremely successful event; Meet the Artist, Become the Artist. The idea was conceived after I realized that although it is easy to buy  garden art it is much trickier to know where to place it in the garden so that both the art and the garden are enhanced. You can read more about the event and artists here, but I  have been asked so many times in the past 24 hours to post pictures on Facebook that I thought I would do better than that and give you a glimpse into the event (and our garden) itself.

There was so much to see that in this post I’m going to focus on the glass pieces created by Seattle artist Jesse Kelly.

Color Echoes

I asked Jesse to exhibit his work in such a way that it related to the garden, especially in terms of color. I think the photograph above perfectly demonstrates this. Notice how the glass trumpets are pointing towards a plant with the same color flower or foliage. The shape even echoes that of the daylilies. The great thing about using glass art with flowers is that even when the blooms are done the color story continues.



The photograph above shows how to create a similar look using taller, vertical glass elements. This time they remind me of tongues of fire erupting from the embers of daylilies. Taller accents like these work especially well in the middle of a border where the copper posts are partially screened. Notice the beautiful stamped detail at the base of each twisted flame; a fleur de lys.

Punctuation points



This garden border is approx. 150′ x 50′ and the overall color scheme is ‘sunset shades’ so Jesse had the challenge of creating different vignettes that all worked with these colors yet had a unique look. We wanted to inspire our guests and give them lots of ideas.

The photograph above shows an area of the border that has an extensive planting of low mounding shrubs and perennials; black eyed Susan’s (Rudbeckia ‘Goldsturm’) and spirea. Jesse added two exclamation points together with a lower sunburst form, showing how you can mix and match shapes while keeping to a single color. This adds vertical interest without being too ‘busy’ visually.

IMG_5729 For a softer look Jesse worked with the wispy Mexican feather grass and apricot tones of Apricot Sprite and Apricot Sunrise hyssop (Agastache sp.) These glass blades were a simpler form than the previous examples without all the twists and curves. Notice how the subtle ripples within the glass mimics the movement of the finely textured grass. Good design is always in the details.

Echoing form


My front garden has a different color scheme which once again Jesse worked with perfectly. Not only has he captured the color of the Rozanne geranium flowers and red tints in the Shenandoah switch grass (Panicum v. ‘Shenandoah’), he has also mimicked the lower mounding habit of the perennial and that of the taller, erect grasses. These pieces are both bird baths – I love their loose form.


There were many more pieces – metallic black bamboo in our woodland, soft purple forms emerging from grey stones at the base of a tree and long lime green trumpets that were perfectly placed to catch the light.

Jesse is more than a glass artist – he is observant, creative and conscious of all the elements that need to come together to make his art and the garden shine.

In my next post I’ll show you how sculptor Luke DeLatour used natural materials in unique ways as well as a glimpse into the workshop of my husband Andy as he demonstrated the craftsmanship behind his woodworking using salvaged wood.

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Pretty in Pink

Pink Wonder fanflower and friends - one to look out for in 2015

Pink Wonder fanflower and friends – one to look out for in 2015

It’s often the case that it is only when we are challenged to do something different we discover that we actually quite like it.

Such has been the case with two pink flowering annuals I have grown this year.  They will be available in 2015 from good nurseries or direct from Proven Winners (who have neither paid nor bribed me to write this!) See what you think.

Pink Wonder fan flower (Scaevola ‘Pink Wonder’)

Pink Wonder fanflower

Pink Wonder fanflower

Of the two this is my hands down favorite. This was in bloom when it arrived in May and has never stopped flowering since. It has grown equally well in sun and part shade – like its blue counterparts – making it ideal for those of us who have two containers flanking the front door with different light exposures.

I especially liked it in the mixed container shown at the top of this post with dusky purple sedum, soft green Sunburst Aeonium, white bacopa and silver Bella Grigio lambs ears.

Superbena Royale Cherryburst Verbena

Royale Sunburst verbena - new for 2015

Royale Sunburst verbena – new for 2015

Quite a mouthful I know but worth remembering. This is somewhere between a hot pink and red with a crisp white star. Like most verbenas it blooms in waves but the color is so vibrant I’d grow it anyway. Try it with the grass Northern Lights tufted hair grass ( Deschampsia cespitosa)  which has pink highlights with its soft yellow and green stripes and white flowering Diamond Frost euphorbia plus other annuals, perennials and shrubs such as those shown below. Not shown in this photo are the soft green foliage of a sedum and a blue star juniper (I got carried away focusing on this pretty verbena!)

Royale Cherryburst verbena in a mixed summer container

Royale Cherryburst verbena in a mixed summer container

Do you think you’ll try them next year?

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Garden Storytelling

Honeysuckle reminds me of childhood summer camps in Wales where it grew wild in the hedgerows

Honeysuckle reminds me of summer camps in Wales where it grew wild in the hedgerows

Landscape designs can be as detailed or as basic as you choose. They can identify every tree, shrub and perennial specifying the exact placement and spacing or it can be a simple pencil sketch that shows the approximate location of a patio, paths and the garden shed. As the client it is your job to tell the designer what you need.

But does the finished design – your garden – tell a story? Your story?

That’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about recently.  As a good friend said “gardening is a way of surrounding yourself not only with plants that you love but also with special memories”. So very true.

Which brings me back to the opening question – does your garden tell your story?

I wanted to show the color harmony betwen the lavender and my blue container  - just one flowering stem was sufficient

I wanted to show the color harmony between the lavender and my blue container – just one flowering stem was sufficient

Take this simple quiz;

  1. Do your visitors rush to the front door or linger to enjoy the garden journey?
  2. How many of your plants/garden art have been given to you as gifts?
  3. How many of your plants are now in someone else’s garden because you shared them?
  4. Do you grow plants  because they were in your parents/grandparents garden and they remind you of them?
  5. Are there plants/garden art that take you back to your childhood?
  6. Do you grow something because it is representative of the country you were born in?

Quite telling isn’t it?! I’m convinced that most gardeners are nostalgic and generous and also that we are storytellers. We weave the story of our lives in a tapestry of foliage, flowers and fragrance. I love it when visitors arrive and say “I knew you must live here” as they see the garden and identify it as having the ‘Karen factor’.

In this image I wanted to pique your curiosity - is that the fountain I talked about? Where's the water? I have dleiberatly used the meadow-like scrim to obscure the details

In this image I wanted to pique your curiosity – is that a fountain ? Where’s the water? I have deliberately used the meadow-like scrim to obscure the details

Here are my top 5 garden stories;

  1. A large teapot fountain pours an endless stream of watery tea (the English HAVE to have tea)
  2. Plants jostle for position, mingling with their neighbors and getting somewhat squished; a strict no-bare-earth policy very reminiscent of traditional English cottage gardens
  3. Lots of great foliage plants create picture frames for flowers and vignettes (I am co-author of Fine Foliage after all!)
  4. We have an abundant vegetable garden reminiscent of my granddad’s. I grow raspberries primarily because of the childhood memories of picking them from his garden and this year have grown the British heirloom onion Ailsa Craig – because he did.
  5. I have lots of great containers that are either left un-planted as sculpture or are planted up and displayed for the various workshops and events we hold. (I can’t leave them out all season because of the deer).

So it should be pretty easy to work out I’m an English designer with a penchant for foliage and containers.

Here’s another way to capture your garden story – through the lens of a camera.

Taking photographs makes you concentrate, discarding what is distracting and distilling the image down to the bare essentials. You are literally narrowing your focus –  to find the story. That in itself give you a fresh perspective with which to analyse your garden.

For those of you within travelling distance of Seattle I have a very special opportunity for you -

a Garden Design & Garden Photography Double Workshop

with David Perry and myself. David has taught me so much about composition, lighting, developing and simply how to use my camera properly! But perhaps the best lesson I have learned from him is to always ask the question ‘what is the story that you are trying to tell?’

Here’s an example from last year;

I wanted to take a photograph of the bench tucked into one of the borders. This was my first attempt. It was OK but didn’t really capture the ambiance. I wanted to give a sense of being partially hidden from view


My second attempt (below) meant coming in closer to remove extraneous details. This was better . I narrowed the plant pallet and got down lower to give a better perspective. Still wasn’t quite what I wanted though.


Then it came down to composition and lighting – and becoming part of the story instead of just photographing it. Now I was immersed in the garden and could give a much better sense of why this little corner was a favorite.


Finally I had my story.

If you would like to learn how to capture your garden story with your camera read more about our all day workshop on August 9th held here in my garden in Duvall, WA . I will teach you how to design a garden that has you reaching for your camera and David will teach you how to capture the story itself whether you use your iPhone, a ‘point and shoot’ or something more advanced.

If you can’t make it , we’ll miss you but do share what your top garden stories are, either here or on my Facebook page. Think of it as a nice cup of tea and a chat over the proverbial – and virtual garden fence.

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Find your Inner Artist

A stone cairn designed by local artist Luke DeLatour has special significance. Photo credit; Ashley Ross Markley

A stone cairn designed by local artist Luke DeLatour has special significance. Photo credit; Alyson Ross Markley

I’ll be the first one to tell you that I’m not an artist. I can’t draw a straight line let alone anything that resembles an apple and my landscape sketches are….well let’s just say that there is a reason I use the computer for my design work. However I can ‘paint’ with plants.

There have been times when I’ve looked at a section of the garden and seen that it needed something but not necessarily another plant. Often the solution is something as simple as setting an empty container into the border or a small piece of garden art. Those finishing touches both enhance the garden and are enhanced by it.

Buying fun pieces for the garden – containers, statuary and glass art for example is the easy part. Knowing where and how to place them is trickier. Let’s face it, how many times have you made an impulse buy then spent hours walking around the garden trying to decide where to put it?


To take the mystery away – and to give you an excuse for a strategic shopping adventure I’m hosting a fun event in our garden on August 2nd called Meet the Artist – Become the Artist.

As well as having the opportunity to meet two of my favorite local artists – Jesse Kelly (glass artist) and Luke DeLatour (sculpture) you are welcome to enjoy a presentation I will be giving on how to

  • enhance your gardens,
  • add style to containers,
  • solve your design dilemmas and
  • add year round interest to your gardens using garden art.
  • I’ll also teach you the principles behind designing artistic vignettes and focal points to help you gain confidence in your own garden.

We’ll have lots of examples to inspire you and of course we’ll all be happy to answer any questions you may have.

For those of you who live too far away to join us, and as a ‘teaser’ for those closer to home here are three key things I look for when choosing art for the garden as well as two test questions every piece must pass!


IMG_1520 - Copy

Glass art by Jesse Kelly

Do I want the piece to become  a major focal point or is this more of a ‘garden moment’ – a smaller piece intended to be discovered while strolling the garden paths?

When we chose the glass sculpture for our front garden we knew it had to be a real statement piece. It is seen from multiple vantage points which therefore meant that the piece also had to look good from all angles. Since this is a 5 acre property we needed something that wouldn’t get lost when viewed from a distance yet not overwhelm our modest home. Jesse did a great job of working with our color scheme and criteria and the results speak for themselves.

Question 1. Does the art enhance the garden?

Yes it does by creating a powerful focal point

Question 2. Is the art enhanced by the garden?


Glass art by Jesse Kelly

Definitely. The color repetition is key here with many flowers and leaves echoing the shades of blue, chartreuse and purple found in the glass. I especially love the spiky sea holly (Eryngium ‘Sapphire Blue’) which is the perfect counterpoint to the smooth surface of the containers while alluding to the spiky form of the glass.


Why are you putting that piece there? “Because it fits” is not the appropriate answer!

Some of the most powerful garden art vignettes I have seen are the simplest.


This example is one of my favorites – I only wish I could take credit for it! Notice how the shape of the glass repeats that of the foliage of the hardy impatiens (Impatiens omeiana) and how the colors tie in to those of the adjacent autumn fern (Dryopteris erythrosora). Perfect scale, color and shape – this definitely relates to its surroundings

Question 1. Does the art enhance the garden?

Yes because it makes us stop and appreciate the beauty of a shade perennial that we might otherwise miss

Question 2. Is the art enhanced by the garden?

Yes the colors and shapes of the surrounding foliage focuses attention on the glass

The X-Factor

Sometimes a piece just speaks to us – that’s usually why we impulse buy in the first place.

Cairns are an ancient way to denote a path or memorial site.

Cairns are an ancient way to denote a path or memorial site.

When I first saw these stone cairns by Luke they took me back to walking the footpaths of England where stone stacks are often used as trail markers. That gave me the idea to use them in a very special memorial garden I designed for a client. I placed a set of three at an intersection in the pathway, indicating the way to a quiet bench. The carved eye in the tallest stack literally and figuratively focused attention.

I suggest placing these as trail markers along a shady garden path or as an exclamation point emerging from a large hosta.

Question 1. Does the art enhance the garden?

Yes – it is seen as being part of the garden itself since the river rocks are quarried locally (I have plenty in my own garden!)

Question 2. Is the art enhanced by the garden?

Yes, if sited well the stacked rocks seem to have a purpose as well as visual appeal

But of course there is so much more to it than that so why don’t you join us in August? Read all the details and find out how to register here. Space is limited so don’t delay!

We look forward to helping you Become the Artist.

For more ways to use glass art in the garden read The Magpie Effect

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