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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Tales of Tails

The SMALL bowl is yours....

The SMALL bowl is yours….

Almost a year ago we adopted two eight year old golden retrievers. They were a bonded pair so needed to be placed together and we had more than enough space on our 5 acres for them both to run and play. Suffice to say none of us have been quite the same since.

When they arrived Bo (the large, goofy blonde) and Mia (the smaller, mischievous  redhead) were fresh from the spa – groomed to perfection. They had clearly been well loved but since they had not had the opportunity to play outside very much their paws were initially too tender to walk on gravel. A few strategically placed dog towels helped navigate the distance from the door to the grass in those early days while they toughened up.

Still looking like a spa dog - meet Bo

Still looking like a spa dog – meet Bo

Retrievers are serious people-pleasers and for months these two wanted to stay together – and as close as possible to us. I’m sure it was all very disorienting for them suddenly going from a city apartment to a house in the middle of a huge field as well as a change in ‘their people’.

Mia was a lot more pensive at first

Mia was a lot more pensive at first

Fast forward to today and these are two very happy, healthy, albeit it NON spa-like dogs. They love to roam the trails either together or independently, will run laps through the meadow for no apparent reason other than the sheer joy of doing so, get praised for chasing deer and rabbits – but not so much for helping to harvest the strawberries. (Yes and they understand that word). Their designer looks are rather ruffled but that’s just fine with us.


I realize this is a garden blog so this post is something of a digression. I have included this glimpse into our world of fur to encourage those who may be thinking of getting or adopting a dog to consider taking an adult. Certainly the training or re-training is not as easy but we have successfully taught Bo and Mia to stay out of garden beds and have never had any problems with them digging. We definitely had a few episodes of Bo chewing stones and Mia shredding every stick she could lay her paws on (in 5 acres that’s quite a lot) and created considerable mulch piles on the patio. We also seem to continually mow tennis balls since our retrievers don’t seem too hot on the actual retrieve.

Really, there are plenty of leaves for both of you....

Really, there are plenty of leaves for both of you….

They are my gardening buddies, following me around and waiting patiently in the shade as I work. (It took them a while to figure out that shadows equated to cooler temperatures). Mia is also quite the barn dog and loves being underfoot in the workshop. Bo prefers his tennis balls.

We’ll never have a pristine garden, or pristine dogs but that’s OK. Our garden seems more complete with them anyway.

Bringing Serenity to the Garden

Heaven Cover Final 8-1

My Mum has a saying; “A breath of fresh air will do you the power of good”. She is right on many levels. No matter how tired or stressed I am even a few minutes walking around my garden helps to restore my sense of balance and perspective. I also acknowledge that there is power or a Power that exists in nature that is intrinsically linked to my well being.

Jan Johnsen says it far more eloquently in her new book Heaven is a Garden (2014, St. Lynn’s Press) as she describes creating a serene space of our own regardless if our garden is merely a rooftop balcony or rural acreage.

Many would assume that designing a garden is primarily about deciding where to put the patio and choosing suitable plants, but there is something much deeper than that to be considered before drawing begins – it’s how a space ‘feels’. Jan guides us through six key elements  as we explore how to create a garden which nourishes the soul as well as meeting the more typical design criteria of play space and vegetable gardens.

Jan’s photographs perfectly illustrate her narrative as she describes the roles that water, trees, shapes and color all play in transforming our state of mind, drawing on ancient teachings from several different cultures as well as her many years as a landscape architect. What I really liked was that having explained the concepts she gives lots of ideas on how you might interpret this in your own garden, including specific plant suggestions.

'Heaven is a Garden' photo by Jan Johnsen

This bench is carefully placed to face east to take advantage of the early morning light

As a designer myself I easily get bogged down in the details of a design – should it be a river birch or a paper birch? A square pergola or hexagonal? Jan reminds me to step back, close my eyes and envision how I want the space to feel. For example there is a wonderful section in the book on using Circles in the Landscape (p31) that suggests creating protected circular spaces for conversation. Jan has two lovely examples of reinforcing this  theme using concentric circles either by 1. adding a distinctive border to a bluestone patio or 2. installing a circular pool, backed by a curved wall and approached by two arcs of wide steps. Simple yet powerful – and it gives me an idea for my current project!

heaven is a garden jan johnsen drystream

A dry stone stream becomes a garden metaphor with plantings carefully selected in accordance of the Japanese rule of 30% deciduous and 70% evergreen

Whether you are a homeowner, a casual gardener or a designer you will find nuggets of inspiration throughout this book. It’s time to re-define how we think of our garden; make it your heaven on earth.

All photos courtesy of Jan Johnsen

Purchase Heaven is a Garden

Follow Jan on her popular blog  and on Facebook

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