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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.

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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

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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!

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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.

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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….

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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.

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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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Pinterest Peer Pressure – baring it all!

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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

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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.

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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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Making TWO Containers Work

I’m often asked how many containers should be grouped together, do they have to be in groups of 3, do they all have to match and should they all be planted identically. The answer is NO to all those concerns! Here are several ways to make a group of just TWO containers work with style.

Make them read as one

As seen in the Spring 2017 issue of Country Gardens magazine

As seen in the Spring 2017 issue of Country Gardens magazine

This photograph shows one way I achieved balance using two pots of similar size and color but which differed in shape and texture. To gain some extra height I placed one on a cut tree round borrowed from the log pile! The silvery-green and white color scheme is used in both while the soft pink-peach accents in the left container echo the wood tones on the right. Those simple visual connections make this duo read as one extravagant display. This is one of 12 deer-resistant container designs in the current (spring 2017) issue of Country Gardens magazine

Using space and color

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A path links these two containers spatially while color and style unifies them

In the example above a flagstone path literally and figuratively connects the two containers. While the pots themselves are different colors, they are of a similar style and glaze. Notice how the blue pot includes orange flowers and foliage – another way to connect it to the orange pot in the background, while both designs are somewhat tropical in style with an emphasis on bold and colorful foliage.

Flanking an object

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Use the containers to create a colorful picture frame

Here the artwork on the wall becomes the focal point of a vignette, framed by two identical containers. Each container is planted as a mirror image of its partner to complete the visual picture frame. The height of the narrow conifers is an important detail.

Simplicity

Simplicity

For perfection at its finest what could be more inviting than this teak bench flanked by two weathered pots filled to overflowing with soft pink begonias? These simple containers seem to meld with the pathway. A mixed planting or larger grouping would unnecessarily over complicate this vision.

Using the landscape

Using the landscape

Fabulous display at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens

Two rustic pots, differing slightly in size and texture yet clearly matching in color and style. Notice how the larger pot has the addition of a lime green elephant ears (Colocasia) and therefore assumes the leading role in this scene. While the two pots in isolation would be fabulous, their visual appeal is enhanced and expanded significantly by the adjacent in-ground planting which repeats the colors, and some plants. This idea would also work if the containers were centered in a bed.

Using groups of 2

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Design by Mitch Evans. See more of this garden in our new book Gardening with Foliage First (Timber Press, 2017)

I’ve always loved this scene, so much so that we included it in our new book Gardening with Foliage First. I love the ‘little and large’ pots that sit either side of the steps. All four pots have clipped boxwood, a theme that is repeated in the spheres on the opposite side of the path. The delightful symmetry brings order to an otherwise informal landscape.

How have YOU used 2 containers? Leave a comment below or post a photo to my Facebook page. Share your ideas!

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Thoughtful Hand-Crafted Gifts

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It’s that time of year again when the post-Turkey coma gives way to a shopping and wrapping frenzy. Let me make life a little easier. Put the kettle on, enjoy a cup of tea and use these ideas to get you started on finding the perfect gift for everyone on your list.

All these items are handcrafted from salvaged and recycled materials by Andy Chapman of Stumpdust. Yes – Andy is my husband and he has turned a lifelong passion into a thriving small business here in rural Duvall, WA.  His work has been recognized by Martha Stewart, Sunset Magazine and Garden Design Magazine to name a few and Country Gardens Magazine will be publishing a feature on him in 2017.

Every piece tells a story: whether it is the gnarled apple tree from our daughter’s first home or the towering big leaf maple that came down in a storm and just missed our new patio! As you use these tools and gifts you too become a part of the ongoing story.

For the Gardener

Dibbers make easy work of seed sowing. Ours are made from salvaged wood

Dibbers make easy work of seed sowing.

These traditional English design garden dibbers are hand-crafted  by Stumpdust from salvaged wood. The 1″ marks allow you to accurately plant seeds and small bulbs at the perfect depth.  At just $10 these dibbers make the perfect stocking stuffer, hostess gift or party favor. Garden Row Markers and gift sets also available.

IMG_6898 Or what about a hand crafted Christmas tree? Three designs and toppers to choose from. $15

For the Foodie

Winne-The-Pooh certified honey jar and dipper

Winne-The-Pooh certified honey jar and dipper

Whether a gourmet cook or a gourmet eater – everyone loves a jar of specialty honey. Transform that gift into something truly unique by packaging it with this delightful honey pot and dipper set.

Each 8oz embossed Mason jar is fitted with a hand-turned lid – look at the detail!

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The dipper itself is slender and well proportioned unlike most clunky mass produced versions. Stumpdust makes these from locally sourced salvaged wood using traditional lathe techniques. $20.

Wine stoppers, bowls and individual honey dippers  also available.

For the Animal Lover

A mouse problem you won't mind having!

A mouse problem you won’t mind having!

Our four barn cats are fat, lazy and vegetarian – or so it seems. Maybe we need to use some of these as training tools?! These seriously cute mice are adorable perched on shelves, peeking out of baskets and clustered on the coffee table. Individually hand-turned and finished. $15

Penguins and birdhouses also available. Andy has even made custom penguins with hockey sticks – always ask about customization if you have a creative idea.

For the Young at Heart

IMG_6884 Hang on a gift or the tree. Each hand crafted snowman has its own personality. $15.

Also bells (great for teachers gifts) .

In a world of mass produced, meaningless ‘stuff’ these thoughtful, high quality gifts stand out from the crowd. They are sure to become treasure heirlooms.

From our garden to yours – we thank you and wish you every blessing this Holiday season.

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