container design

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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Using a Signature Color

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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Creating Sanctuary

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Award winning design by Rocky Bay Garden Creations. The tulips are a nod to the designers Dutch heritage

What does the word ‘sanctuary‘ mean to you? A place of peace, protection, an oasis? Somewhere you you feel at ease? Cocoon-like?  How would you go about creating such a space in your own garden?

I had the honor of co-judging the City Living displays at the Northwest Flower & Garden Show last week. These displays are intended to represent pint-sized outdoor living spaces and demonstrate that creativity need not be cramped by limited square footage. The theme was ‘Taste of Spring’ which the designers were encouraged to interpret in their own way to win one or more of the following awards:

  • Best Design
  • Best Use of Plant Material
  • Best Sanctuary
  • Best Use of Theme

While there were several outstanding displays only one really stood out as a ‘sanctuary‘ and that was Food for Thought, skillfully designed by Patricia Ruff of Rocky Bay Garden Creations (Gig Harbor, WA). As I deconstruct the award winning elements of this design for you, consider how they could be re-invented to create your own everyday sanctuary.

The Amphitheater Effect

Award winning City Living display designed by Rocky Bay Gardens

Award winning City Living display designed by Rocky Bay Garden Creations

One of the greatest challenges facing condo and townhome dwellers is the lack of privacy. Balconies and patios often feel exposed to neighbors  – and the neighborhood. Patricia created a sense of both privacy and intimacy by keeping furnishings  low to the ground. Notice how these sophisticated yet casual bean bag chairs by Jaxx , side tables and hypertufa containers are several inches shorter than the typical patio pieces. Sitting in this space one feels tucked away from the world  – an innovative solution.

The Illusion of Seclusion

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When you can’t hide the backdrop, distract the eye with layers of intriguing details

The use of the balcony structure and railing are ingenious. Where some designers might add a tall trellis or a series of columnar plants, this designer allows the sights, sounds and light of the streetscape to be part of the experience yet filtered so as not to be too intrusive. Using fabric planting pouches by Root Pouch, slung on both sides of the balcony  Patricia was able to double the planting opportunities with wispy grasses in shades of green and bronze, low maintenance perennials and seasonal bulbs all creating a subtle scrim effect. It’s a wonderful spin on the concept of vertical gardening.

Supplementing these pouches on the railing are miniature hypertufa pots and some more personalized display pieces including bronze glass bottles that create a lovely glow when lit from behind by the setting sun.

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Textures and colors work together to create delightful vignettes

A string of decorative lights at eye level once again keeps the focus within this cozy space, in the same way that I might plant a tree in the center of a very large lawn – the sense of a middle ground helps to define the space and bridge the chasm between immediate foreground and distant background.

Sensory Experiences

You’ve heard me say it a hundred times: “I believe that gardens should be experienced, not just observed” and this pint sized garden offers an abundance of sensory experiences.

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Fabulous attention to detail with forks being used as plant tag holders

While other designers created the predictable edible containers for inclusion in their Taste of Spring displays, Patricia took it a step further and suspended  her herbs in moss balls (Kokedama) adding an unexpected element that is both practical and decorative.

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One of Rocky Bay Garden Creations signature hypertufa containers

Where the designer did incorporate edibles into containers she included aromatics such as lavender and rosemary that will release their sensuous oils in the summer heat.

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Details matter: tiny gravel shards used as top dressing and a rustic twig re-purposed as a handle

With everything from cocktail garnishes, to salad fixings at arms reach and bouquets of fragrant hyacinths to scent the air, what more could you possibly want? A picnic for two? Got that covered …

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Wonderful attention to scale and proportion

Creating a sense of ‘home’

To me, part of creating a sanctuary experience is to feel at home. That means different things to different people. While some prefer music to relax when they are at home, I prefer silence – or at least just nature’s music of birdsong, leaves rustling in the breeze and the distant bleating of sheep.

Patricia has created a sense of home by adding art to this space, in the same way that you might select a painting to complete your interior decor. She has hung three moss panels on the wall as a unique triptych. While individually beautiful they also transform the drab utilitarian wall of her neighbors space into a living, breathing display. The panels invite inquisitive fingers to explore the unique textures and discerning eyes to appreciate the many shades of green.

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Hanging between these panels are three hypertufa baskets, suspended with rope, and planted with drought tolerant succulents and trailing Spanish moss, the wispy silver-grey strands contrasting with the more solid moss panels behind. Repetition creates a sense of harmony yet each has subtle differences seen only be the keen observer.

Soothing Colors

This understated color palette has a truly calming effect on both the mind and soul.  Natural colored canvas, pure white blooms, soothing shades of green and grey with just a few accents of bronze and dusky rose offer a visually serene space in which to relax.

Final Details

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With a remarkable eye for detail, Patricia added an assortment of perfectly proportioned containers planted with low growing succulents while a pine grows in a larger root pouch in the corner, the soil discreetly disguised with pebbles.

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Love the addition of marine rope to dress up this container

From the comfortable seating, the cocoon-like setting, the sensory experiences of touch, taste and smell perhaps the only thing missing is the clink of celebratory glasses as we say “Well done and well deserved” Patricia. We were delighted to award you not only Best Sanctuary award but also the Best Use of Plant Material. Clearly we weren’t the only ones you impressed as the show goers also voted you their favorite for the People’s Choice Award! Congratulations.

You can follow Patricia at her Rocky Bay Garden Creations on Facebook

If you are interested in learning more about creating a sense of sanctuary in your own garden, watch for a new book by Jessi Bloom called Everyday Sanctuary scheduled to be published by Timber Press in 2018

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Reflections

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My Mum was one for frequently reminding me to “count my blessings“. Whether it was for an unexpected gift, for food on the table or for a warm home. She taught me never to take these things for granted, to give thanks and to freely share. In a social media dominated world where we tend to measure our success against the fairy tale posts and dreamy images shared by our peers, family and friends, we can easily lose our attitude of thankfulness in our anxious determination to do more, be better, aim higher.

The start of a New Year is more than turning a metaphorical page in our Life Book, as much as the pristine new leaf promises everything will be an improvement on our previous, less-than-perfect chapters. I believe it is also a time to pause and reflect on the blessings of the past year. Human nature is such that we tend to think of all the sad, negative or worrying things first; loss of loved ones,  political uncertainty, financial concerns. I’m not suggesting these can, or even should be casually swept aside as though they are of no consequence, but I encourage you to take a few moments to reflect on the good and for me that is often tied to the garden.

So as 2016 wanes and 2017 comes into sharper focus, I’d like to share with you some of the many garden-related blessings that I received this year.

Spring

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Is there any greater gift than love?

We were quite literally speechless when our friends at Berg’s Landscaping said they would like to build a new patio for us as a gift. I remember just standing there  unable to find any words to adequately express how much such generosity meant to us. I mean these guys are BUSY – with their own installations as well as most of mine so how could they possible have time to do this for me? And patios aren’t cheap. And we had drainage problems to deal with, and broken concrete to remove, and I wasn’t even going to be in the country, and……

This was a blessing with a capital B and we remember and give thanks for these wonderful folks every day.

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And talking of love, is there any greater love than that which a parent has for their child? I miss my parents so much yet am grateful for the life lessons they taught me by example and only hope I can continue to live up to their standards and expectations. When Mum passed away in October 2015 I wanted to buy something as a special keepsake. She loved gardening and we spent her last days poring over photographs  of my new patio being installed (thanks to my husband Andy emailing those to me each day) and other images taken of my garden throughout the year. It therefore seemed fitting to treat myself to something for the garden. I selected a very ‘grown up’ patio set with deep teal cushions and a beautiful propane fire table. These were such a luxury for us. I can promise you that every single day as I look out at our garden or settle into those deep cushions I remember my dear Mum. She would have loved this: I can almost hear her saying “Well done Karen“.

Summer

Foliage inspiration from 4 Seasons Gardens LLC, Portland, OR

Foliage inspiration from 4 Seasons Gardens LLC, Portland, OR

Talking of a parents love for their children we are blessed to have both our grown up children living in the same state, with our daughter Katie being just two miles away. As she and her husband are renovating their first home  their interest in gardens is growing so I was delighted that she accepted my offer of a trip to a garden tour in Portland for her birthday treat this year. Being able to share one’s own passion while exchanging ideas, discoveries and garden dreams with my daughter has been an unexpected blessing for sure. There’s also a sense of coming full circle as I have so many memories of learning from my own parents and grandparents.

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When work and play meld together you know you are fortunate. I was invited to visit Bailey Nurseries in June to see their production greenhouses and learn more about the new shrubs and roses that they are propagating. As a designer and writer I was thrilled, but you may be surprised to know that this invitation came about as a result of a glass of wine! A year or so ago my coauthor Christina Salwitz and I were enjoying a glass of sauvignon blanc after a day of garden tours  in Pasadena, CA. When it came time to pay our tab, to our great surprise we were told it had already been paid “by the gentleman with the blonde hair”. Well that gentleman was none other than Ryan McEnaney, PR & Communications Specialist for Bailey Nurseries whom we had spent only a few moments chatting to earlier!  So our friendship and business relationship began over that glass of wine – and continues to this day.

Fall

Snoozing alligator in the Audoban Swamp, Magnolia Plantations and Gardens, Charleston, SC

Snoozing alligator in the Audoban Swamp, Magnolia Plantations and Gardens, Charleston, SC

I truly value my membership with the Garden Writer’s Association (GWA). I have met many wonderful folks that have helped me in my writing career and am always inspired by the garden tours and educational seminars that are the highlight of each annual conference. This year the conference was held in Atlanta – an area of the country I had never visited. I decided to fly out early and combine it with a visit to Charleston, Beaufort and Savannah. Unfortunately my timing wasn’t great, coinciding with a crazy tropical storm that flooded streets and sidewalks but I did still manage to visit historical Magnolia Plantations and the adjacent swamps where surprisingly large alligators were just ‘hanging out’!

Charleston chic

Charleston chic

I also loved seeing the colorful window boxes, interesting architecture and ancient live oaks in the area. This vacation was an unexpected bonus, especially as Andy joined me for this leg of the trip.

While we saw many wonderful gardens both large and small in the Atlanta area on our organized excursions, perhaps my favorite was the one some friends and I took on  our own, returning to the Atlanta Botanical Garden and seeing the Chihuly exhibit lit up at night – unforgettable.

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Winter

Winter in the PNW is a slower time of year in the garden. While there are still chores to be done it is also easy to justify a rest after the frenzy of fall clean up.

Andy and I decided to head to our favorite retreat for Christmas: Mountain Home Lodge in Leavenworth, WA. In winter the steep road is closed so you are transported to the lodge by  Snowcat vehicles. The seclusion is an inherent part of its appeal – the gourmet meals come a close second (and we didn’t need to grow, prepare or clean up after them!!)

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Snow blanketed the earth offering perfect conditions for snowshoeing, cross-country skiing or tobogganing – or just sitting on our porch snuggled under a blanket and watching the sunrise.

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As you reflect on your favorite memories from 2016 I hope that your garden was a part of the good times. Maybe sharing lunch on the patio with a friend? Or watching the fall colors change? Or marveling at the pattern of light and shadows? Do share your reflections in the comments below or on my Facebook page – I’d love to hear them

I leave you with one of my favorite quotes. It speaks to me of the beauty and wildness of Nature, but it also guides me as a landscape designer.

 

Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where Nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike.John Muir, The Yosemite, 1912.

 

May 2017 be a year of blessings for you all, both given and received.

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