Using a Signature Color


While the shallow orange container may be the star in this vignette, it gains impact from being framed visually by the similarly colored Rheingold arborvitae in the foreground.

The display gardens from the 2017 Northwest Flower & Garden Show may be dismantled but the memories and design inspiration will feed my creative soul for years to come thanks to photographs .

As I reviewed my images this morning I was struck once again how several designers had used orange as a signature color.

A signature color is a thematic statement, something that is repeated in different ways throughout a space to create a sense of unity. Used too often it can be jarring, using it too little and the intent is lost.


My front garden uses blue as its thematic statement, softened and highlighted by plenty of white or silver foliage and flowers. (Glass art by Jesse Kelly)

In my own 5 acre garden I have two signature colors in different areas: blue and orange. Blue predominates in the front garden as it ties to the color of the front door. I use it in the foliage of blue-toned conifers, blue flowers, gorgeous containers and glass art, all  framed with shades of green, white and silver.

One of two large, glossy orange containers that I use to set the theme in my large island border, echoed by orange blooming crocosmia

In my back garden is the ‘island border’, measuring 150′ x 50′ and anchored at one end by a cabin (just glimpsed in the earlier photograph). A strolling path through this large border invites exploration. Here my signature color is orange, established by bold glossy containers and re-enforced by the emerging foliage of spirea, Flasher daylilies and other details.

Not surprisingly, therefore, I was drawn to several show gardens that also used orange as the signature color.

1. Mochiwa mochiya—Rice Cake, Rice Cake Maker

Garden Creator: Jefferson Sustainable Landscaping


The color orange is artfully placed throughout this display garden to move the eye from front to back and side to side

This remarkable, gold-award winning garden celebrates a fusion of cultures. The scene above highlights the eastern influence with a low dining table, granite spheres and an understated plant selection that focuses on foliage and texture over flowers or a rainbow of colors. The judicious placement of orange containers, cushions and foliage moves the eye through the space.


From the custom color on the grill to slender  containers – orange makes a memorable statement against the charcoal grey

Luxurious appliances and high-end finishes are sure to satisfy the western aesthetic and taste buds! Who wouldn’t want to be the chef in this outdoor kitchen? Vivid orange hues are the perfect counterpoint to matte grey pavers and stonework while also visually connecting the dining experience.

2. Pizzeria | Decumani

Garden Creator: Adam Gorski Landscapes, Inc.


An inexpensive way to use a signature color is with colorful, seasonal annuals such as these primroses

Neapolitan pizza is known for its simplicity, with just a  few, quality ingredients used in its  preparation. Likewise this outdoor ‘pizza garden’ relies on simplicity of materials and restraint in color to create an inviting space reminiscent of an Italian courtyard.

Worried that your signature color of today might not be your signature color of tomorrow? This garden shows you how to be creative with color on a tight budget,

Notice that all the key furniture, containers and cabinets are in neutral tones. The bold color  comes from inexpensive flowers, specifically orange primroses and ranunculus.


Incorporating the annuals into the borders as well as containers strengthens the idea

The same flowers have been tucked under more permanent foliage plants in the border for a sense of unity. These could be replaced by orange begonias in summer and pumpkins in fall.


Placing an over-sized container, abundantly planted using the signature color at a  corner of the patio is an easy idea to copy.

This is a perfect way to try a new color without long term commitment

3. Mid-Mod-Mad…it’s Cocktail Hour!

Garden Creator: Father Nature Landscapes Inc.


Orange cushions in a variety of fabrics and textures inject a jolt of color onto this bluestone patio

Designer Sue Goetz was the mastermind behind this award-winning display garden. A stunning “less is more” garden with an updated mid-century design, it embraces simplistic plant choices and strong  geometry of hardscaping made popular in the 1950’s and 60’s (and making a big comeback today).

While the orange cushions are the obvious ‘color pop’, this signature color is repeated in many other, more subtle details.


Notice how the cedar trim at the end of this water wall, and the copper spouts all play into the ‘orange’ family

Wood tones also read ‘orange’ in the right setting as can be seen by the cedar on this water wall and the outdoor bar. Rusty metal or weathered copper have a similar understated orange tone.

Orange hair grass (Carex testacea) is used for the meadow planting, the orange-tipped, olive-green blades a perfect choice.


It’s all about the details – orange stools, soft furnishings, decor accents – and the trumpets of the Jetfire narcissus all say ORANGE

While the all yellow Tete a Tete narcissus are the obvious choice for a spring garden display, Sue selected Jet Fire because of its orange trumpet to tie in with the theme. Some additional inexpensive accents such as napkins, place mats and cut flowers complete the scene.

What is your signature color?

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Thoughtful Hand-Crafted Gifts


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!


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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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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A Garden of Celebration, Reflection & Healing


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

Cairns are an ancient way to denote a path or memorial site. Photo credit; Alyson Ross Markley

Do you feel the need for a personal outdoor space to call your own and simply ‘be’? Are you looking for a way to carve out a quiet meditation garden where you can practice yoga or pray? Or perhaps like my client you seek an environment where you can be surrounded by a garden as you celebrate the life of a loved one while allowing yourself time and space to heal?

The circumstances may vary yet our desire for inner peace is a unifying theme. This is the story of how I set out to design a garden for a client we shall call Sarah. Sarah’s parents had both recently passed away and she asked that I create a memorial garden that would both celebrate their lives while also giving her a special place to reflect.

The journey

Short wooden posts will line the path at intervals. (Design seen at the Denver Botanic Garden)

Short wooden posts will line the path at intervals. (Design seen at the Denver Botanic Garden)

Life takes us along a series of paths, some unexpected, some carefully orchestrated yet each memorable in its own way. In this garden the main pathway of bluestone pavers  meanders at a comfortable pace, allowing time to enjoy carefully placed  ‘garden moments’ of fragrance, sculpture or form. At intervals along this section of the journey a series of round posts flank the path, set in such a way as to suggest the rolling topography of hills and valleys. A miniature landscape of sorts that reminds us that life is never straightforward yet has a plan, a form, a design.

Like many of life’s paths this  diverges and one can choose to take a narrower path to a partially obscured seating area which is only fully revealed on venturing into the unknown.

A narrow path of hazelnut shells similar to this one will connect two private seating areas

A narrow path of hazelnut shells similar to this one will connect two private seating areas

A secondary pathway leads from this seating area, down through an area of mostly native plantings to a private arbor. This path consists of hazelnut shells, crunching underfoot as one takes care to stroll at a more leisurely pace. Boulders are used to retain the mulch as well as provide steps down the slight incline.


It seems that most of us feel most at peace when we are within a garden. We may each describe it differently- a sense of being connected to God or Nature, but there is something about being surrounded by beauty, by living things and by feeling the breeze and sunshine on our weary bodies that helps us to slow down, breathe a little easier and get things back into perspective.

I created three seating areas in this garden each with a unique character, view point and feel.

This Asian style patio by Far Hills Landscape Contractors Statile & Todd  gives a sense of the paver/mondo grass grid although the other elements are not the same as in my design


The largest of the three is directly outside the master bedroom, accessed through sliding glass doors. I replaced a small concrete slab with a much larger grid of bluestone pavers separated by dwarf green mondo grass. This immediately gives a sense of being in the garden rather than sitting back and merely observing it.  The view from here offers glimpses of most of the garden although one has to venture out to see things more clearly.

A second semi-private space is created on a small knoll with a gravel base and stone bench just large enough for one. This bench looks down onto a bubbling fountain and is sheltered by a large Japanese maple which will rustle in the breeze.

The most private space of all is an arbor set within a more naturalistic planting. An integral bench will allow Sarah to enjoy the fragrant vines  overhead while a small deck gives this a sense of being a viewing platform, looking towards the house yet with most of the garden journey hidden from view. Old, mossy tree stumps and ferns dominate this area.

The color palette

Watching ferns unfurl as the garden awakens in spring  brings a sense of renewal

Watching ferns unfurl as the garden awakens in spring brings a sense of renewal

This is not a place for overly bold and bright plant combinations in a rainbow of colors. Rather it has a restful scheme of shades of green from soft yellow-green to deep, dark shades with accents of burnished copper and burgundy.

The plant palette

Japanese maples will add color and texture throughout the garden

Japanese maples will add color and texture throughout the garden especially in fall

The backdrop to this garden is one of towering hemlocks, western red cedar and Douglas fir so this creation is essentially an understory. Many Japanese maples have been added; both upright and weeping forms with finely dissected foliage and broader more typical leaves. While summer shades are green and deep burgundy, fall will bring a blazing riot of fiery gold, orange and scarlet.

These deciduous trees have been balanced with many broadleaf evergreens including the multi hued Gulf Stream heavenly bamboo, the tall holly-like Charity Oregon grape and variegated rhododendrons transplanted from other area of Sarah’s garden.

Gulf Stream heavenly bamboo is a favorite for soft feathery texture and a blend of warm colors.

Gulf Stream heavenly bamboo is a favorite for soft feathery texture and a blend of warm colors.

Japanese black pines, a weeping blue atlas cedar  and prostrate deodar cedars bring the color and texture of conifers down to a more human scale and like the evergreen shrubs add year round color to the garden.

Swathes of Japanese forest grass line the primary path, first on one side then on the other, emphasizing the sense of meandering. Smaller clumps of variegated Japanese sedge will be planted loosely around the water feature.

This garden relies on foliage for color but I have included two varieties of winter blooming hellebores; the deep rose-burgundy Merlin and creamy white Monte Cristo, both of which I have grown and found to be hardy,  long blooming and easy care.

Winter interest is not limited to foliage and flowers, however. Several maples have colored bark most notably a coral bark maple and two clusters of Midwinter Fire dogwood shrubs.

Lions Head maple is best known for its tufty foliage reminiscent of a lions mane but the smooth olive green bark is equally beautiful

Lions Head maple is best known for its tufty foliage reminiscent of a lions mane but the smooth olive green bark is equally beautiful


A garden such as this would not be complete without the sensory element of fragrance. Each seating area offers something different; winter daphne, akebia, witch hazel and Oregon grape.

Water feature

Using natural elements was important  as was a simplistic style. A low basalt dish will rest on a stone slab. Water will pour from a bamboo spout onto the dish, sheeting over the slab and disappearing into a hidden reservoir . This will be seen and heard from the master bedroom as well as various points in the garden.

Artistic details

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

Cairns have been used for centuries to mark a trail or signify a memorial site so it seemed appropriate to include an artistic representation of  such a feature in this garden. A custom made cluster of three stacked rock sculptures, designed by local artist Luke deLatour  marks the trail leading from the main pathway to the hidden stone bench. The tallest of these will have an eye carved in the final stone. Portals such as this focus the eye and help us see things differently, an important element of meditation, reflection and healing.

My clients mother was an artist and so I wanted Sarah to have the opportunity to design and perhaps create something unique that would represent the Circle of Life. This art piece will hang on a wall and only be visible from the most secluded arbor.

Moving forward

The design is complete and my client is thrilled that I captured her vision and translated it in a respectful and thoughtful way. I hope I have incorporated elements that will make her smile as she celebrates her parents lives and heal as she reflects on special memories.

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