Creating Sanctuary


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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 …


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.


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


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.


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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Pretty Enough To Eat

Salad-in-waiting; pretty to look at and delicious to eat. (Garden of Claudia and Jonathan Fast)

Salad-in-waiting; pretty to look at and delicious to eat. (Garden of Claudia and Jonathan Fast)

Gone are the days where ‘salad’ meant a limp lettuce leaf and a dollop of salad cream (in the UK) or ranch dressing (in the USA)! Leaf crops such as spinach, peppery arugula and crunchy kale jostle with a tantalizing blend of colorful lettuce varieties. Harvest some young beet leaves, carrot tops and herbs and you have a fabulous base to add cherry tomatoes, sliced cucumbers, bell peppers and spring onions. The adventurous chef may even sprinkle in a few edible flowers for a garnish.

Add fresh carrot leaves to your salads; Purple Dragon has purple foliage

Add fresh carrot leaves to your salads; Purple Dragon has purple foliage

Buying all those ingredients at the store isn’t cheap, however, and how often have you had to throw out the last of the salad leaves because it went bad? The good news is that we can grow all of these in our own gardens – even if we only have a small patio. If you’re new to edible gardening start with something easy such as lettuce, especially if you grow  one of the ‘cut and come again’ or mesclun’ blends.

How to grow lettuce 

If you are planting out lettuce seedlings be sure to space them apart 6" or so

If you are planting out lettuce seedlings be sure to space them apart 6″ or so

Whether you are planting in the ground or a container be sure the soil is weed free and friable (that just means that it crumbles easily in your hand rather than a wet clod of clay or superfine and sand-like). Do not fertilize; too much nitrogen can make the flavor bitter

Select an area that receives 4-6 hours of direct sun each day, preferably in the morning. Many lettuce varieties will bolt in high summer and/or hot afternoon sun and actually prefer to get direct morning sun but afternoon shade. You may be able to shade them by planting on the eastern side of a row of tall tomatoes or beans for example

Loosely sprinkle the seed onto the soil surface as directed on the packet, cover with ~1/4″ soil and water thoroughly but gently.

If you are planting out seedlings space them approx. 6″ apart to allow room for them to grow. I use a row marker to keep the lines straight.

Keep the soil bed moist.


Cut what you need for now - and come back for more later

Cut what you need for now – and come back for more later

For cut and come again varieties harvest leaves with scissors, leaving the main plant in situ.

For head lettuce thin to spacing indicated on the packet (eat the thinnings!)

Sow small amounts of seed every 2-3 weeks to extend the harvest


Lettuce and Swiss chard are easy companions

Lettuce and Swiss chard are easy companions

There is no need to work lettuce into a crop rotation. Just plant them where space permits between slower growing plants.

Water in the morning to reduce the likelihood of fungal disease developing.


Squirrel damage!

Squirrel damage!

Slugs – use Sluggo Plus or set beer traps

Bolting – some varieties are more prone to this than others. Also dry soil can cause this.

Squirrels, rabbits and more! – Rabbits won’t jump into beds that are 18″ tall so a taller container or custom height raised bed may be your answer. Squirrels were an unexpected challenge when we filmed our class in San Diego but we think we have them thwarted by adding a hoop structure over a raised bed and covering it with window screen.

Favorite varieties

I grow Jericho head lettuce at the base of beans to make the most of space but also give some shading

I grow Jericho head lettuce at the base of beans to make the most of space but also give some shading

There are SO many to choose from but I always leave room for;

Jericho – a crunchy, romaine type lettuce that is very resistant to bolt.

Little Gem – a classic semi-cos variety that is crunchy but tender

Gourmet Baby Greens – a mesclun mix from Botanical Interests


Interested in more ideas for easy vegetable gardening? You might also enjoy The Movable Feast.

Take a unique hostess gift; skip the flowers!

Take a unique hostess gift; skip the flowers!


Building a Raised Bed Garden; our NEW video class for Craftsy teaches you everything you need to know with step-by-step instruction. Discover more and get up to a 50% discount!

Raised Bed Workshop; live in the Seattle area? Join Andy and I in our garden May 16th for a morning of instruction, demonstration, and inspiration. Limited space – get the details



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Designing the Perfect Raised Bed


Gardening in raised beds has become increasingly popular in recent years not least of all because it can solve so many gardening challenges. Got terrible soil? Not a problem when you add exactly the right soil mix to the bed. Problems with rabbits? Only super-athletic rabbits will get into beds 18″ or taller. Find bending difficult? Since raised beds are taller you won’t have to lean down as far.

However, there is a common misconception that all raised beds are equal but that simply isn’t true. One size does NOT fit all so it is important to identify what your personal gardening challenges are and design a bed to suit.

Poor soil

Whether you garden on hard rocky soil, fast draining sandy soil or solid clay that is saturated in winter but dries out completely in summer you’ve clearly discovered by now that growing a wide range of vegetables is virtually impossible. Creating a raised bed is the easiest solution but how high should it be?

If you are only interested in growing a few salad leaves and baby radish a 6″ soil depth is adequate, but if you plan to grow  root crops such as parsnips then 6″ is too shallow (my parsnips often exceed 12″ long). I recommend 10-12″ depth if the beds are on native soil which is nice and loose like mine. If your native soil is of the “too rocky/too sandy” variety then consider 15″ tall beds.

Ease of reach


You will want to be able to work with a variety of different tools in your bed; a rake and hoe for soil preparation, a hand trowel, dibber and row markers for planting and probably a short digging fork for harvesting. When you decide how tall to make your raised bed be sure to consider this. A 30″  tall bed is wonderful for harvesting salad  and beetroot by hand but would you be comfortable digging up potatoes at that height? Try it and see – can you get the leverage you’d need? Perhaps 1′ tall is optimal?

Ease of reach is also about how well you can reach the middle of the raised bed. Many designs are 4′ wide but is that best for you?

My beds are 3′ wide and 12″ high. I can kneel (or sit on a little stool)at the side of the bed and comfortably reach in 18″ to plant seeds. That means I can easily reach the middle of a 3′ wide bed from either side. A 4′ wide bed is too much of a stretch for me. Again, take a few minutes to test these dimensions before you commit to building or buying a raised bed.

Are you thinking of growing beans or peas on trellises? If your bed is 2′ tall and you add 5′ trellis you’ll need a ladder to harvest! You may be OK with that – but do take time to consider it.

Would you like to build your own?


We can help! My husband Andy and I teach an online class for Craftsy called Building A Raised Bed Garden – and you can win it for FREE.

In this seven part video class we take you through everything from site preparation and materials selection to tips to help you make the most of every square inch of your planting space. Andy teaches a great lesson on setting up an easy drip irrigation system that can be adapted to each bed, each crop and each season and we also show you how to adjust the basic bed design to accommodate a simple hoop frame.


Now you can protect against weather and insects to further extend the harvesting season and improve productivity.

Seriously you can do this – Andy makes it so easy! Design the raised bed that works best for you then build it yourself with our help.

What’s so special about Craftsy? Their videos are exceptionally high quality, your subscription never expires, you can interact with fellow students and your instructors and if you’re not satisfied Craftsy will refund your money! What’s to lose?

Our new class goes live on April 13th but right now you can enter to win the class for free.


Click to be entered to win this class for FREE!


Just click on the photo above to be entered. The giveaway ends midnight PST April 12th 2015.

Get ready to grow an abundance of healthy vegetables and fruit this year.

CONGRATULATIONS to the winner Ena Ronanyne!

Didn’t win? Well how about a consolation prize; click here to get up to 50% off my class .


Photo credit; Craftsy. Location; garden of Susi and Jose Torre Bueno, San Diego

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It’s All a Load of MOO POO

Annie MooPoo

Here’s how to get healthier houseplants, happier veggies, abundant container gardens and a jump start on seed sowing; it all comes down to Moo Poo tea by Haven Brand products.

What is it?

You know all the slippery yucky stuff in the cow fields that you try hard to avoid stepping in? There you go – except this is dried in the sun for several months and doesn’t smell – promise! It is sold in little teabags so is much more convenient than liquid compost tea sometimes available at nurseries. I mean you can’t put that in a Christmas stocking can you? Oh and it comes from happy cows that have grazed on native grasses.

What does it do?


Photo taken early July -

Photo taken early July – by September everything was HUGE!

It conditions the soil so that plan roots can absorb nutrients. This in turn promotes healthier root growth and stronger plants. It can also be used as a foliar spray for a quick nutrient boost

So what are the benefits over other fertilizers?

  1. It is entirely organic – no chemicals or synthetic chemicals are added at any point in the process
  2. The price! A three-pack of Moo Poo is $12.95 which makes over 20 gallons
  3. It doesn’t damage the soil unlike a number of chemicals that kill beneficial microbes and fungi needed for plant growth
  4. You see the results quickly because it releases nutrients quickly
  5. Easy to use – just stick it in a bucket and add water. No complicated measuring

What plants can it be used on?


  1. Vegetables as a foliar spray or use it for watering. I do this once every two weeks as a boost. I also used it to help salvage what I could from last years embarrassing crop!
  2. Containers. For the past few years I have been asked to create container gardens for magazine photo shoots and MooPoo has been a lifesaver! This year I received a delivery of shrubs which ended up getting left in a UPS truck over a weekend despite assurances this wouldn’t happen. They were in pretty bad shape when the arrived. The only thing I could do was re-pot them and begin a bi-weekly watering and foliar spray regime with MooPoo. Not only did they survive they thrived and looked stunning for their close ups (The article will be published in Country Gardens magazine next year)
  3. Indoor plants. Now this really would be a test if I managed to keep plants alive indoors using MooPoo! That would mean remembering to use it, however, and I am notorious for completely ignoring  indoor plants. Others assure me it works like a charm though
  4. Seed transplants. You know how fickle those newly transplanted seedlings can be? Well I used MooPoo on them last year and every one of them survived….which explains why I provided the neighborhood with veggie starts
  5. Bulbs. Soak your spring bulbs and garlic in MooPoo overnight before planting and just see how fast those little shoots emerge!

Still don’t believe me?

My good friend and co-author Christina Salwitz put this video together for rancher and owner Haven Brand Annie Haven. Those of us who contributed are  gardeners, horticulturalists and garden writers. Many of us are also designers. We Moo Poo in our own gardens and recommend it to others.

Ready to buy?


Order here –  get some for you, some for friends and some for those Christmas stockings!

Happy MooPoo-ing

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A Movable Feast

I have just returned from a week long trip to Florida which for this Seattle-ite was pure horticultural eye candy! (I was speaking on the HGTV designer stage at the Epcot International Garden and Flower Festival for three days) . Everywhere I looked there were houseplants – growing as hedges or clambering up trees! Even that old fashioned polka dot plant (Hypoestes)  that I struggle to keep alive on a windowsill was a groundcover to the point of being a nuisance in one garden I visited.

I’ll share some of my tropical plant flavors soon but I just had to show you these fun veggie gardening ideas that I spotted in a display at Epcot.


If you have a small garden or patio you know how frustrating it can be when the sun moves during the day and suddenly your micro-veggie patch or herb garden is in shade. Well here are a few fun solutions.

Wheelbarrow planter

The more I looked at this the more I loved it. Just think – you can move your veggies easily into the sun during the day or to a shadier spot of it gets too hot. Just make sure your wheelbarrow has drainage holes. Plastic wheelbarrows are fairly inexpensive or perhaps you have an old metal one that could add a rustic flair? Or maybe give it a coat of paint in a fun color?

The orange wheelbarrow above combines ornamental and edible plants including variegated tapioca, taro and carrots.


This yellow wheelbarrow is positively exploding with color! A big silver leaved cardoon (Cynara cardunculus)  takes pride of place in the center with a field of basil behind it (by my standards anyway) and colorful annuals in front. I love the way it is nestled within a meadow of yellow daisies although I admit that does make moving it rather tricky.

Sitting pretty



Have you got some old wooden chairs languishing in a dusty corner? Look what you can do with a little creativity and a coat of paint! The seats have been replaced with inexpensive plastic containers that are crammed full of edible and ornamental flowers. These will surely bring the pollinators into your garden but the idea could just as easily be adapted to create a handy herb garden by the kitchen door.

Packed into pallets


The concept of pallet gardens has been around for a while and is a fun way to re-use those packing crates which everything from potting soil to appliances get delivered on. I like tidy rows in my vegetable garden so the idea of using pallets for growing small quantities is very appealing. Strawberries, parsley and cabbages are just a few of the many options tested here.

Just hanging around


Why are some of the best ideas so obvious – and yet you just never thought of them? These galvanized buckets have been drilled and hung from fence rails – perfect for salad crops or perhaps strawberries. why hang them at head height – hang them where you can reach them!

A simple drip irrigation system keeps all these movable planters watered but a quick splash with a hose pipe would of course be easy.

Have you come up with a fun planter idea? Do share it!

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