Container Creations – inspiration for Spring!

The nurseries are filling with the colors and scents of spring, the birds are singing and I find every excuse to be outside working in my garden rather than sitting at a computer. It’s a time of anticipation – what 2015 new releases will growers ask me to trial this season? What color combinations shall I try in my containers this year?

Containers are such an easy way to experiment. If something works especially well perhaps I’ll use those colors/plants in my landscape? If I decide to have a more refined color palette in 2014 I don’t have to redesign my entire garden, just a pot or two. So it’s a good time to review my containers from the last couple of years and take note of what I liked and what was a disaster  - and yes there are always a few that I don’t share!

Color Schemes – some like it HOT

Sizzle Factor!

Sizzle Factor!

This orange pot has become one of my favorites. It is unapologetically bold and as such calls out for juicy foliage and fiery colors. The combo above was from 2012 and I love the way the dahlia and canna compete for ‘thriller’ status with those Mango Popsicle dwarf red hot pokers exploding like fireworks from a variegated abelia.

 Version 2 introduced succulents

Version 2 introduced succulents

Same pot, different look – this was 2012. I liked the contrast with the succulent and conifer, both sharing the soft blue-green tones but overall this wasn’t as balanced as the original design. No matter how I tried it seemed top heavy on the right side.

- some like it cool


I just love these two cube containers and their fun colors. In 2012 I planted them as a pair and kept to the colors of lime, black and white – very simple yet effective.


For our daughters wedding last year I did something a bit different and added coral tones as this was part of her color scheme.


We used the pair to flank the entrance to the vegetable garden; well we had to dress it up somehow!!

A tropical punch


The best part about waiting until early June to plant my containers is that I can raid the indoor plant section at my favorite nursery and include great tropical foliage such as this wildly variegated croton . As you’d expect I love the focus on foliage with the couple of wild splashes of color from the flowers.

Get creative and make the most of brightly colored foliage

Get creative and make the most of brightly colored foliage

In super shady places I can rely on the tropicals to give me the most color – Kong coleus and bromeliads look fabulous.

A softer look


Maybe you’re more of a pink person? Here’s a way to update the look – add black and white for a dramatic punch. Notice the feathery Ghost Japanese painted fern that is adding  height to the combination – an unexpected addition to the  plant selection.

And finally….

Fun - succulents planted in fire pit

Fun – succulents planted in fire pit

When you run out of containers try this! Our succulent fire pit was a big hit in 2013 so I plan on doing something similar this year although I’ve moved it to a different location.


The succulent hanging basket was a last minute addition when my traditional basket failed! I’m definitely going to do this again and love the combination of fleshy succulents with feathery lotus vine. All drought tolerant and low maintenance too. Plus the deer couldn’t reach them!

If you live in the Seattle area why don’t you join me for one of my Spring Container Workshops next month? They are always lots of fun but there are only a few spots left so don’t delay!

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Winter Adventure for Children of all Ages


I had the privilege of presenting a workshop at  The Morton Arboretum  recently while I was speaking in the Chicago area. I could see straight away that this was somewhere special; 1700 acres of stately trees and gardens including lakes and natural areas. The casual (cold) visitor might just head straight for the coffee shop (great food) or could be forgiven for being tempted to browse in the gift store (especially since it sells my book Fine Foliage) but I think the children had the best idea – bundle up and head outside to PLAY!


Children want to explore and experience life not just observe it from a distance and this arboretum has the best Children’s Garden I have ever seen and encourages them to do just that. The award winning four acre garden combines learning and play with plenty of sturdy nature-inspired things to climb up, over and through for the super-energetic (that would have appealed to our son) but also wonderful boards and illustrations about leaves and roots (definitely more our daughters style who insisted on reading EVERY sign in the museums….)


Great use of pathways and playground equipment to show children different leaf shapes and how they attach to a branch

Chicago has been buried under an apocalyptic amount of snow this year so you might wonder what there could possible be in the garden. I can assure you that there was plenty to see, touch, smell and listen to. I loved watching children squeal with delight as they stroked the velvety pussy willows, discovered the spicy scent of  a witch hazel, listened to the rustling oak leaves still clinging tenaciously to the branches. Even the seed pods of the silverbell tree (Halesia tetraptera) tinkled like tiny bells and frozen grasses waved stiffly in the breeze on this cold winters day – and it was all beautiful.

Left to right from the top; beech nut, London plane tree, white oak, pussy willow, silverbell seeds,

Left to right from the top; beech nut, London plane tree, white oak, pussy willow, silverbell seeds,

Then there was the huge European beech tree with its bark that looks just like an elephants skin and branches that dipped down to the ground as well as a magnificent weeping willow – eye catching even without its leaves.


Several people told me that they wished I could see this garden in summer in all its splendor. I replied that it’s easy to create an exciting summer garden – this takes far more skill and attention to detail. In fact I have barely touched on all the fun elements this contains.

If you live nearby, take time to visit this wonderful garden – even in winter – even without children. You’re never too old to play a game of discovery. You can always thaw out later with a hot cup of soup -or two.



My special thanks to the wonderful staff at the Arboretum who took such good care of me; from those in the education department who helped me coordinate my workshop to the ladies in the office who kindly babysat my luggage while I took these photographs before flying home.

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Fit for a Princess


As Ruby Glow spurge blooms with acid-yellow flowers the smoky purple stems and leaves highlight the striking purple flare at the base of each tulip petal.

It’s raining – again. Trying to work in the garden at this time of year means donning full waterproofs and accepting I’m going to be as muddy as the dogs by the time I come back indoors. Those on the east coast are probably jealous of my mud, however,  since they haven’t seen the ground for snow in months!

With the log fire burning, a mug of steaming tea by my side and the steady flow of raindrops visible through the window it’s hard to believe that most of these photos were taken almost a year ago. Yet somehow seeing these glorious tulips – a promise of spring – makes me smile.

So to cheer us all up let me introduce you to one of my favorite springtime tulips – Princess Irene, named after a Dutch Princess. This debutante entered the gardening world in 1949 when she received an award for merit by the Royal Horticulture Society.


The classic shaped flowers are a rich burnt orange with a purple flame flaring upwards from the base, and whereas many tulips have rather nondescript leaves the foliage on this variety is a rich blue-green.

Variegated Ascot Rainbow spurge, spiky Angelina sedum and coral flowers of Flamingo heather - great options to consider

Variegated Ascot Rainbow spurge, spiky Angelina sedum and coral flowers of Flamingo heather – great options to consider

Ideas for plant partners

Highlight those remarkable purple markings by combining the tulips with a dark leaved spurge (Euphorbia sp,) or purple coral bells (Heuchera sp.). Add a golden conifer for sparkle and perhaps one of the spring blooming heather with light orange flowers for a color echo with a unique texture e.g. Calluna ‘Flamingo’. Plant the whole caboodle in a bold orange pot and you have a sassy spring combo that will chase the rain away.

Planted the previous fall this container now bursts into life with 'Princess Irene' tulips bringing great color and vertical interest.

Planted the previous fall this container now bursts into life with ‘Princess Irene’ tulips bringing great color and vertical interest.

Vital statistics

Height; 18″

Bloom time; early-mid spring

Best in full sun


Plan now for fall

Tulips are planted in fall but you may be able to find these for sale as potted bulbs ready to bloom in your favorite nursery. If not, don’t despair. Order now for delivery in time to plant for this fall. I highly recommend Brent and Becky’s Bulbs. Fabulous service, great products and frankly they are just two of the nicest people I’ve ever met. Tell them I sent you.


If you love tulips, you’ll enjoy reading about my amazing tulip-filled trip to Filoli Gardens in sunny California this time last year.

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My 3 Favorite Patio Ideas from the NWFGS

Design by Todd Holloway, Pot Inc.,

Design by Todd Holloway, Pot Incorporated

The Northwest Flower and Garden Show is a highlight in the Seattle gardening calendar with an exciting blend of the ‘out of this world’ (and budget), innovative, thought provoking and great ideas for ongoing projects in our own garden.

These are my top 3 ‘take-away’ patio ideas. That’s not to say that they are all 100% my style but there are elements that appealed to me and gave me ideas for integrating something fresh into my own designs

Formation Mod by Todd Holloway, Pot Incorporated

A fun blend of rustic, contemporary and retro. Here’s what I liked;

1. Hover planters -a new interpretation of the hanging basket. These are available in several bold colors and different profiles. I liked the idea of grouping them at the side of a patio rather than the traditional solo basket hung on a porch. They are probably best suited to shallow rooted plants such as succulents and other heat loving plants  since the soil volume is relatively low and the metal will get hot in full summer sun. However having planted a conical succulent container last summer for the first time I really enjoyed having something that required less water.

2. New container shapes – a welcome change from the more predictable cubes and rectangles, these extend the range of possibilities for contemporary designs. They are approx 12″ front to back so will fit nicely against a wall, creating a big impact from a relatively small footprint – a great option for balconies. I also liked the contrast with the shape of the low bowl.

3. Asymmetrical planting – this shape lends itself well to off-center planting. Notice how the lines of the plants extend the lines of the containers.

Steel Life by Shannon Lester

Design by  Shannon Lester, Steel Life

Modern Garden to Glass by Shannon Lester, Steel Life

Lots of fun ideas here and it  shows how you can take a number of different elements and tie them together with color. I can see this really appealing to the younger homeowners. Here’s what I liked;

1. Great colors!  Orange, magenta, red and white – WOW! Dare to be different and never mind what your grandma told you.

2. Side ‘table’ of edible plants. Snack while you sit.

3. Semi-translucent screen with a really neat hexagon design. What a great option to plain glass on balconies especially where privacy is needed from neighbors who live downhill or opposite yet it still allows  light through. This could easily be re-interpreted as a taller privacy screen too. The hexagon design is interesting yet not distracting.

4. Overhead sail canopy – easy to do even on a small patio

5. Fun steel containers in assorted colors, shapes and stands. I love the stand of the container at the front which reminds me of the game of Jacks that I used to play as a child.

6. Patio design – combination of pebbles and stone slabs in a random design



Design by Kristy Ditmore, Under the Arbor Landscape Design

Monet Dreamed Here by Kristy Ditmore (Under the Arbor Landscape Design), Jamie McAuliffe (McAuliffe’s Valley Nursery), Rick Perry (Falling Water Designs)

Of the three patios featured here this is perhaps the one which resonates the most with me. I love the connection of the semi-enclosed structure with a more open patio. In this instance it has been designed as an artists studio and sitting area but could equally be used to define spaces such as a dining/sitting  or sitting/fire pit combination. Here’s what else I loved;

1. The framing – the spaces between pergola posts are usually left open or filled with some sort of trellis work. I loved this idea which creates a series of ‘picture frames’ through which to view the garden. Each scene will be slightly different. This would be especially useful in a larger garden such as our own where the expanse needs to be brought down to a human scale.

2. Glass panels/art work hung from some of the frames – another way to create a sense of intimacy, soft boundaries and a true outdoor room. These could be developed as privacy panels where needed.

3. The color and shape of the container. This is a favorite of mine from AW pottery. The color is called Falling Turquoise and has shades of rich blue, turquoise and brown in an irregular streaked design. It is only ~12″ deep so fits easily into the smallest of spaces.

4. Furniture/colors – I see a lot of dark toned all-weather wicker furniture on the market so this softer shade was a lovely change and really added to the overall peaceful color palette. Loved those painterly – patterned throw pillow too – must find out where they came from!. Really very ‘me’ although light colored patio cushions would be a disaster. Maybe I’d do those in the turquoise instead and use plain cream throw pillows.

5. Water feature – water by a patio is always welcome and I liked the simplicity of this.


What were your favorite take-home ideas from the shows this year?


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Art Imitating Life Imitating Art

Neither a snow storm nor a Superbowl championship parade could stop intrepid garden lovers making it to the Northwest Flower and Garden Show this year.

The theme for the 2014 show was Art in the Garden and each designer found a unique way to interpret this while instilling their own personal flair.  While one garden played off a theme of circles and spheres, another suggested a playful interplay between wildlife and human life. ‘Peace in Motion’ was a contemporary Asian design that combined  natural  and sculptural elements to create a memorable art enhanced experience.

As I reviewed all the photographs I took at the show I realized how often I had stopped to capture an art form that was mimicking life. This award winning designer achieved this so well that you had to wonder what in fact had come first.

Darwin’s Muse – art imitating life by Karen Stefonick Design

Designer Karen Stefonick created a show stopping display garden again this year, aptly titled Darwin's Muse - Art Imitating Life

Designer Karen Stefonick created a  truly dramatic display garden again this year

I am honored to call Karen a friend as well as a colleague and have watched in awe as her inspiring designs have won awards and international acclaim. Her structures are always impressively over-sized yet somehow still in scale, her gardens lush yet not over-planted, the plant palette interesting yet with relatively few species, the art work simple yet achingly beautiful. She did it again.

The centerpiece was Darwin’s orchid crafted by Seattle glass artist Jason Gamrath.  Charles Darwin hypothesized that there had to be a moth physically capable of drinking nectar from the orchid flower. In 1907 the hypothesis was proven correct with the discovery of a subspecies of the gigantic Congo moth from Madagascar.

Elegant simplicity - one of the hallmarks of Karen's designs

Ethereal shadows dance off the walls

When Karen and Jason started collaborating on the design Jason gave an ‘approximate’ size of the finished piece. As plans progressed the orchid ‘grew’ and both the glass house and the garden footprint had to be quickly adjusted to accommodate the burgeoning specimen which ultimately reached 13′ wide x 13′ tall and 8′ deep. The leaves alone measured 5-6′ in length!

The other art pieces were incorporated so tastefully into the garden they could almost be overlooked – which was exactly the point.


Glass pitcher plants are so life-like only their size gives the secret away. Crafted by Jason Gamrath

So are the living pitcher plants in the foreground imitating the glass forms? Or is the art imitating life? Understated and perfectly placed this is Karen’s philosophy of ‘less is more’ put into practice. Repetition of color, form and texture between the real and the surreal create a fascinating interplay and an almost ‘Alice in Wonderland’ experience.

Oversized glass pitcher plants rise out of a simple pool ready to ensnare any unsuspecting XX

Over-sized glass pitcher plants rise out of a simple pool; art imitating life yet so life-like

Notice how the glass pitcher plants are ‘growing’ out of pools and bogs, just as they would in nature – all part of the illusion.

Congratulations Karen and thank you for inspiring and challenging us once again.

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