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!

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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!

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From Coast to Coast – Travel Snapshots

Laguna Beach area - one of many pristine coves

Laguna Beach area – one of many pristine coves

It’s been an exciting few weeks visiting North Carolina and then southern California. Both trips were work-related but of course there is always time for a little garden sight seeing! Here is a roundup of a few of my favorite travel snapshots together with a selection from a bonus garden visit to a remarkable local designer, who gardens like she will live forever!

East Coast Charm

Cool hues and cool combination. Design by Jay Sifford

Cool hues and cool combination. Design by Jay Sifford

I was so thrilled to have the opportunity to photograph the personal garden of designer Jay Sifford (Sifford Garden Designs) for a new book I am writing for Timber Press on inspirational deer-resistant gardens (more on that another time!) While I’m going to keep those images offline for now, I can show you this delightful combination taken in one of his clients gardens. It’s a perfect example of designing with foliage – I love the way he has given each finely textured blue conifer its personal space by interjecting the swathe of purple fringeflower (Loropetalum chinensis ‘Red Chocolate’). The juxtaposition of a weeping conifer (Tolleson’s Blue Weeping juniper (Juniperus scopulorum ‘Tolleson’s Blue Weeping’)) and a prostrate form (Grey Owl juniper (Juniperus virginiana ‘Grey Owl’)) , yet the textural similarity – stunning. Notice how the blue tones within the purple foliage are emphasized also.

While I was in town Jay took us to the Biltmore Estate in Asheville – what a treat!

Biltmore House, a French renaissance style extravaganza built 1889-1895 by the Vanderbilt family

Biltmore House, a French renaissance style extravaganza, built between 1889-1895 by the Vanderbilt family

There was no denying the remarkable attention to every detail from gargoyles to decorative downspouts.

I was totally captivated by these windows....

I was totally captivated by these windows….

We toured the house before exploring the gardens. Intense heat and brilliant sunshine meant photography was a challenge but I still managed a few souvenir photos.

Remarkable color echos between bricks, planters and foliage

Remarkable color echos between bricks, planters and foliage.

Short of scrambling under this peony to see if there was a tag there was no way to identify the variety of this luscious peony.

Short of scrambling under this peony to see if there was a tag there was no way to identify the variety.

I did however scramble underneath this Japanese maple - because I just HAD to!!

I did however scramble underneath this Japanese maple – because I just HAD to!!

West Coast Wow Factor

When I was invited to speak at the San Diego Horticultural Society and Laguna Beach Garden Club earlier this month, I could almost feel the sand between my toes! The chance to meet old friends, make new ones, share my passion for designing with foliage AND visit this beautiful area again had me packing my flip-flops and camera in short order.

In between these two speaking engagements Andy and I found a delightful Air BnB in San Juan Capistrano to use as home base for a couple of days. Everywhere was within walking distance  – and everywhere we looked there were colorful gardens.

A pollinator garden surrounded this old adobe house

A vibrant pollinator garden surrounded this old adobe house tucked away in the Los Rios district – the oldest neighborhood in California

When the plants match the patio furnishings: serendipity or careful design?

When the plants match the patio furnishings: serendipity or careful design?

Trumpet vine tumbling over a picket fence

Trumpet vine (Campsis radicans) tumbling over a picket fence.

The Mission of San Juan Capistrano is at the heart of the town and an absolute ‘must see’ if you are in the area. The history, architecture, gardens – and yes the swallows all made this a highlight of our stay.


One of many cooling fountains in the Mission gardens

Summer perfection

Summer perfection

Closer to Home

I was thrilled to receive an invitation to visit retired WA designer Vi Kono a few days after my return home. I photographed Vi’s Redmond garden for my latest book Gardening with Foliage First. One of those scenes was even featured by Garden Design magazine recently. Since then, Vi and her husband Don have moved to a rural property in Duvall. While waiting for building permits to be granted she has done what any gardener would do – start on the landscape! Vi has a nursery’s worth of potted plants ‘waiting’ for gardens to be created around her future home, but meanwhile has created a delightful woodland stroll garden filled with all manner of shade loving perennials. Once again bright sunshine thwarted my attempts to do the garden justice but I was mostly content simply to wander and experience this new haven.

Vi has a great eye for small details as these few snapshots show.

Hosta' Fire Island' with a golden barberry

Hosta’ Fire Island’ with a golden barberry – love the echo between the red hosta stems and the leaf margins on the barberry.

Drawing attention to the movement in the bark of a tree….


Old-fashioned London’s Pride, snuggled up against woodland trees – love that craggy bark

I was fascinated by this unfurling fern frond….

Ferns are reliably deer resistant - I was fascinated by this unfurling frond

Ferns are reliably deer resistant –  a new challenge for Vi

Glass and metal art pieces were thoughtfully placed throughout the garden, many of which Vi and Don have created themselves.


Looking ahead

The next few weeks are going to be equally busy for me with a trip next week to Spring Meadow Nursery in Michigan (where they grow the ColorChoice shrubs for Proven Winners), and then photographing two MI gardens for my new book.  I’ll be home again for just a couple of days before we head off to the Greek Islands to celebrate our 30th anniversary! (It’s wonderful having a daughter nearby to take care of the house and garden while we go on vacation!!)

So forgive me for taking a vacation from blogging for a while. It’s time for a little romance……


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Caladium Inspiration


Here in the Pacific Northwest, caladiums are considered a rather exotic houseplant that can vacation outside on the shady summer patio but are not your ‘mainstream’ summer annual. In fact they will rarely be found with geraniums or petunias at the local nursery, but rather remain tucked away with the indoor plants. Despite that I have been using them for years in container designs where they add bold foliage, exciting color and a tropical punch to my combinations. The only caution is that I wait until our night temperatures are at least 55′ before using them outdoors. In Seattle that may not be until early June. Warmer climates can enjoy them much earlier!

A trip to the Atlanta area last summer got me excited about these foliage floozies all over again, especially as there seem to be so many varieties available down there, including sun-tolerant ones. (Read plant-envy…)

So here for your viewing pleasure is a smorgasbord of caladium-infused container designs as well as a few ideas for incorporating them into your landscape (assuming your have less slugs than I do!)

The art of repetition

A series of low shallow bowls line this pathway, each planted with caladium (probably Red Flash which tolerates both sun and shade), green and white variegated spider plant and bright green Angelina stonecrop.


Repetition is the name of the game here – what a stunning way to line a wide, shady pathway. Gibb’s Gardens, Atlanta

The entrance at the Gibb’s Gardens visitors center is truly delightful. By selecting plants that cope with either sun or shade (Surefire begonias and Red Flash caladium), the containers and landscape present a unified, cohesive display. I love the color echo between the begonia blooms and the caladium, all brightened with splashes of yellow or chartreuse.


Containers, window boxes and landscape all unified in color and content, welcome visitors at Gibb’s Gardens, Atlanta

Repeating the heart-shaped caladium leaves with the similarly shaped begonia foliage is another satisfying design element. That together with the charming color echo between the white begonia blooms, a variegated plectranthus and the white caladium creates a feminine, romantic vignette, quite different from the sultry deep pinks seen earlier.


Design by Gibbs Gardens

Allowing caladium to grow through a bed of coleus also offers a whimsical little-and-large perspective:


Design by Harry P. Leu Gardens, Orlando, Florida

Exciting color contrasts

Red Flash caladium is prized for its oversized, vibrant red leaves and is an old favorite for both the landscape and container. However the wide, dark-olive green margins benefit from the addition of a lighter colored companion such as the variegated ginger below.


Design by Gibbs Gardens

White caladiums need a different approach. In the container below, the pink venation of the caladium is highlighted by the beefsteak plant (Perilla ‘Magilla’ – a coleus look-alike) while the black tropical foliage of a calathea (Calathea ‘Dottie’) adds bold contrast


Caladium, calathea, beefsteak plant and a woodland fern make up this unexpected combination. Design by Le jardinet

Creating a focal point

The bold foliage of caladium can be used to add a welcome focal point to an overly-floriferous planting scheme, as can be seen in the example below


Design by Gibbs Gardens

The large, white leaves also add a cooling note to the border of warm, jewel-toned flowers.

How are YOU using caladiums this year? Do share your ideas by leaving a comment below!


Growing caladiums from tubers in warmer climates:

Classic Caladiums website

Southern Living


Growing in zones 5-7:

Longfield Gardens blog

Personally I just purchase fully grown plants in June! I have found that I am most successful if I keep the drip irrigation lines away from the crown of the plant to avoid over-watering but otherwise have found them easy care. Just cut off spent foliage at the base as needed.


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Pinterest Peer Pressure – baring it all!


I thought it would never happen. Sunshine finally arrived in Seattle for two days in a row! Enough time to get 21 yards of mulch on the garden and persuade me to take some photographs.

To celebrate that spring may finally be reaching us I thought I’d share some of the early season color that I enjoyed this morning. I always hesitate to show you my garden, especially when I see my east coast friends posting photographs on social media of lush landscapes featuring fully clothed Japanese maples in their vibrant spring colors and tender coleus already being planted out! My garden is a far cry from such abundance and as such it’s easy to fall for what I call Pinterest peer pressure! You know what I mean: “How can I possibly show MY garden when YOUR garden looks so stunning?”

Well here it is, rabbit, slug, deer-nibbled  and all. Because there are always a few ideas to share if you look hard enough.

The Big Picture


Conifers in shades of gold, green and blue and a colorful assortment of spirea and barberries ensure early spring interest that goes well beyond daffodils.

When you design a garden with a focus on foliage first you’ll never lack for color, and when you use that foliage to frame focal points such as this cabin there will always be a Pinterest-worthy vignette.

I also used relatively few herbaceous perennials in this border, opting for a variety of deer-resistant, blooming shrubs instead. This was primarily to reduce garden maintenance as I was finding the annual chore of cutting down the perennials  too hard on my  back. An unexpected bonus from this decision has been the increase in early season color from the new growth on these shrubs. I grow a number of different varieties of weigela, spirea, barberries and exbury azaleas to achieve this.

Closer to the home, our new patio gardens are also evolving.

IMG_0930 Here the emerging perennials (Artemisia s. ‘Quicksilver’, Coreopsis ‘Moonbeam’, Sedum ‘Autumn Charm’ and Eryngium ‘Neptune’s Gold’) leave distinct gaps but the container in the center of the bed helps to distract the eye with  brightly colored viola surrounding the velvety, antler-like branches of a Tiger Eyes sumac (Rhus typhina ‘Tiger Eyes’). Once again I rely on the color of foliage to provide structure, however – the evergreen, blue blades of blue oat grass (Helictotrichon sempervirens), orange-gold Magic Carpet spirea, dark purple Spilled Wine weigela and bright green leaves of a bush cinquefoil (Potentilla) that will add orange flowers to the summer scene.

In the raised bed behind the patio is a simple perimeter planting of daffodils and viola. As these blooms finish the entire bed will become a haze of feathery foliage from almost 60 Arkansas blue star (Amsonia hubrichtii). This perennial will feature blue flowers in early summer but I grow it primarily for the incredible fall display as the foliage turns orange.


Spring delights

I will replace the viola in the cube-shaped container with summer annuals in a few more weeks but for now I’m enjoying their cheery faces and love the color play between them, the spirea and the variegated iris.

Garden Moments

IMG_0967 Not all focal points in the garden have to be large – or permanent. Look for opportunities to create smaller vignettes that can be discovered while strolling in the garden. I call these Garden Moments.

This morning I was surprised and delighted to see the interaction between this rusted metal sphere and the Blade of Sun snowberry. The new leaves have a warm blush to the otherwise golden hue and seemed a perfect complement to the rust detail. In fact this was beneath a katsura tree, whose new leaves were also playing into this color scheme.

Simple color echoes between the katsura leaves, rusted metal spheres and the edges of the newly emerged Blade of Sun snowberry foliage

This was pure serendipity – often the best designer.

Floral delights

Designing with foliage first doesn’t mean avoiding flowers – far from it. Rather it is creating a framework of foliage into which to layer the flowers so that when those blooms are gone you aren’t left with visual black holes in the garden.

Right now I have several shrubs in full bloom including Ogon spirea and Mountain Fire andromeda  as well as this super-thorny, evergreen Darwin barberry.

Evergreen Darwin barberry

Evergreen Darwin barberry – the deer actually did eat some of these branches but not enough to kill the entire shrub thankfully!

Perennials are the primary source of spring flowers for many gardeners though. These are just a few of my favorites that are in full bloom in my garden today, selected for deer/rabbit resistance and foliage interest – or in the case of English primroses, pure nostalgia.

Bleeding heart are a cottage garden favorite and I grow several varieties including Gold Heart shown below.

IMG_0998 Planted near a group of yellow blooming barrenwort (Epimedium) and the glossy foliage of beesia these are finally starting to  make a good sized clump.

IMG_1003 They add a welcome splash of light under towering Douglas fir trees.

I struggle to overwinter spurge (Euphorbia) on my garden. My well-mulched soil is too moisture retentive it seems. However my new acquisition Purple Preference has survived just fine both in a container and in the garden. I love the red stems, purple tones of the foliage and bold acid-green flowers.

I purchased more of the donkey tail spurge (E. myrsinites) this spring as they really did seem to keep the voles away from my yarrow. In fact I must get some more! Last years plants rotted over the winter.

Final Flourish

IMG_1041 Hellebores may be on their last fling, but Pink Frost can be relied upon for looking just as beautiful as they fade as they ever did at their peak.

What Pinterest-worthy vignettes are you enjoying in your garden today? Don’t be shy! (And feel free to Pin these to your boards)

If you would like more ideas on how to create a stunning garden using foliage first, check out my two books co-authored with Christina Salwitz.

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