succulents

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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Shades of September

 

Whats' new this month?

Whats’ new this month?

It’s an odd time of year. Neither summer nor fall. Cooler but not cold. Perhaps chianti rather than sauvignon blanc but not-quite-ready-for-a-full-Bordeaux type of weather

I typically head into the garden to see what is new – newly blooming or in leaf – not newly going into decline! So what is there to get excited about in September? October and November will be redolent with autumnal shades: does September offer anything other than a weary landscape?

As I uploaded my images I was surprised to see how many shades of red there were; not the fiery fall colors that the smoke bushes and maples promise for the future, but chill-tipped foliage and flowers in shades of rose and ruby that suggested it was time to find my fleece jacket. Berries were also in abundance, from the glossy red honeysuckle that cedar wax wings prefer to viburnum, barberries and Red Beauty holly.

Enjoy a September stroll with me

Flowers Galore!

Many perennials and shrubs put on a second flush of flowers in fall while others are an autumnal highlight.

Pink Micro Chip butterfly bush

This Pink Micro Chip butterfly bush  is STILL pushing out blooms even as it leans on a winter daphne – instant floral arrangement

Many of the white paniculata hydrangeas age to pink – a great opportunity to play with plant combinations

Sometimes it isnt the actual flowers that have a pink hie but rather the sepals as with this Abelia x grandiflora

Sometimes it isn’t the actual flowers that have a pink hue but rather the sepals as with this Abelia x grandiflora

Berries, seed heads and more

From oversized to teeny-tiny, there are berries and seedheads throughout the garden already.

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Raspberry-like seed heads of the kousa dogwood tree –  Christmas in September??

Talking of the Holidays, this Red Beauty holly seems to be well ahead of the curve too!

Red Beauty holly with Tangelo barberry and Baby Blue boulevard cypress

Red Beauty holly with Tangelo barberry and Baby Blue boulevard cypress

Serotina honeysuckle, samaras on the Purple Ghost Japanese maple, tiny berries on a barberry

Left to right: Serotina honeysuckle, samaras on a Purple Ghost Japanese maple, tiny barberry berries

Foliage

A solitary leaf on the Fireglow Japanese maple offers a prelude

A solitary leaf on the Fireglow Japanese maple offers a prelude

While shades of red, orange and gold are expected on many trees and shrubs as autumn approaches, it is the unexpected multi-colored additions to foliage that I feel is a bonus to the September garden

Lime Glow barberry adds various shades of pink to its cream and green marbled leaves

Lime Glow barberry adds various shades of pink to its cream and green marbled leaves

I was surprised to see Mountain Fire andromeda still showing off mahogany colored new growth

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And then there are the tiny succulents on the green roof of this delightful bird feeder that are also turning color.

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What’s happening in your garden this month?

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Front Garden Re-Imagined

BEFORE; After over 40 years it was time to re-think this space!

BEFORE; After over 40 years it was time to re-think this space

How do you know when it’s time to re-think the front garden? Certainly overgrown trees  and a fractured driveway are clues but spray painting the lawn green last summer was the final ‘Aha!’ moment for my Greater Seattle area clients. Yet funnily enough when I initially suggested a complete renovation they innocently asked “Which tree would you remove?” and were rather alarmed when I said “Both!”

Gardens grow and evolve so it really isn’t surprising that a landscape installed over 40 years ago is now in need of an overhaul, but identifying the problems and finding creative solutions can sometimes take a professional. This  garden is not viewed from the home’s interior, being separated by a fenced courtyard. However passers-by and visitors see this space and it offers an important first impression of who and what is beyond: what we often refer to as curb appeal. It suggests  the quality and style one can anticipate beyond the fence as well as a glimpse into the personalities of the homeowners  – whether we like that idea or not! When putting our homes up for sale this curb appeal is paramount, but even for homeowners like these who have no intention of moving, making a good first impression is important. After all you don’t typically greet guests with your hair in curlers I assume?

The problems

Damaged driveway

The driveway was beyond repair

Poured concrete driveways can last  30 years before major cracking occurs, so this one was well past it’s sell-by date. While the size of the driveway was adequate the paths felt awkward, especially if trying to navigate around parked vehicles. They were too close to the garage wall.

Useful if you have an extra trailer to park perhaps, but this concrete pad was no longer needed

Useful if you have an extra trailer to park perhaps, but this concrete pad was no longer needed

Additionally a previous homeowner had added a concrete pad to the right of the driveway that was no longer needed so this was a good time to re-think that space. Defining the property boundary and screening the neighbor’s garbage cans would be helpful too.

Overgrown plants

When a cute little conifer becomes a monster....

When a cute little conifer becomes a monster….

I wonder how small these towering conifers were in the mid 1970’s? Certainly much smaller than they are now! When large trees have lost their ornamental value, are casting excessive shade, their  roots are causing problems and their scale in relation to the home is all wrong it may be time to consider removing them.

Likewise after years of increasing shade the understory shrubs have slowly defoliated and become susceptible to disease.

The lawn

The lawn wasn’t being used – except by the neighborhood dogs!

Seattle may be known for its rain but last year went down in history for its unprecedented summer drought. Unless you spent hundreds of dollars on watering your lawn the chances were that it turned brown. I have to hand it to these homeowners for seeking a remedy but I’m not sure that spray painting the lawn green is going to catch on as a long term solution.

The first question I asked was why they needed a lawn at all. Like many homeowners it was simply there by default. Yet it served no purpose while taking time and money to fertilize, water, mow and edge regularly. While there needed to be a ‘negative space’ in the front garden, that doesn’t have to mean grass.

Dogs!

Actually the problem is less dogs than their owners who seem to think it is perfectly acceptable to allow their canine companions to use this space as a bathroom! Words fail me……

Seriously folks, if your dog has an accident clean it up.  Ugh. Anyway, while I can’t offer dog-owner training classes I can try to design the space to deter paws.

The solutions

I needed to come up with a plan that addressed all the above problems, was easy to maintain, had an understated elegance and level of artistry that reflected the home’s interior and private gardens yet  did not feel incongruous in the neighborhood. Here’s what I came up with.

Front Landscape Design for blog

AFTER; cleaned up, colorful yet doesn't stick out like a palm tree in a forest

AFTER; cleaned up and colorful yet doesn’t stick out like a flamingo in a forest.

Revise the hardscape

Parking pad becomes path. The Ivory Halo red twig dogwood will stand out well against the matire conifers

The extra parking pad became a path, leaving room for more plants and screening. The Ivory Halo red twig dogwood will stand out well against the mature conifers

The additional parking pad to the right of the driveway was removed and replaced with a path to the side gate. Both this path and the one which leads to the front door were angled to facilitate easier access.

Down to the bare bones

It always looks worse before it gets better!

It always looks worse before it gets better! Installation and hard work by the talented team at Berg’s Landscaping

The overgrown  trees and shrubs were removed, stumps ground out and the area graded to provide a berm around the perimeter of a central space. The homeowners wished to keep the laurel as they like having a hedge against the fence but everything else was removed.

No more lawn

Where once there was lawn, now there is a gravel garden

Where once there was thirsty grass, now there is a drought tolerant gravel garden

What would traditionally have been a lawn was re-created as a gravel garden. Landscape fabric was laid under a 3″ decorative gravel that the clients selected. Metal edging keeps this from migrating into the planting beds.

Hand selected boulders were added to the bermed planting beds while a few were placed to deliberately ease the transition to the gravel area.

Some boulders were strategically placed to project from the planting bed into the gravel

Some boulders were strategically placed to project from the planting bed into the gravel

The plant palette

The planting beds were shaped to accommodate two specimen trees; one was a weeping dogwood that was transplanted from the courtyard. The other was a topiary pine that the clients selected for its architectural style. This makes an excellent focal point when viewed from the home as well as the street.

It took several nursery trips and a fe adventures before we finally found the perfect tree!

It took several nursery trips and a few adventures before we finally found the perfect tree

To balance the existing laurel and complete the informal hedge I added a number of H.M Eddie yew. I haven’t used these before but like that they are slightly fuller than the Hicks yew and do not produce berries. Together these evergreens formed a backdrop to colorful foliage shrubs including  Ogon spirea which has feathery gold leaves that really catch the eye as the shimmer and move in the breeze and the bronze-toned Coppertina ninebark which boasts spring flowers, red fall color and exfoliating bark.

Winter interest comes from the many different evergreens including Gulf Stream heavenly bamboo – an excellent mounded form that does well here and Midwinter Fire dogwood which has stems that range from red to gold.

I love dogs but like my clients want them to keep their paws on the sidewalk! To discourage them I added the berm and boulders, then interplanted with a number of thorny shrubs including the rich plum colored Concorde barberry and the dwarf coral hedge barberry which is evergreen and has orange flowers in spring. At the last minute we also added Wood’s Compact kinnikinnick (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi ‘Wood’s Compacta’) which will form a dense, twiggy groundcover.

Screening

No matter how much we love our neighbors we don’t necessarily want to see their garbage cans. With that in mind I added a number of evergreen and deciduous shrubs that will quickly grow in to provide screening while still being ‘neighborly’.

Finishing Touches

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To complete the gravel garden I created planting pockets near the boulders. Mexican feather grass and an assortment of hardy succulents add color and texture in an understated, naturalistic style. (Be sure to check if Mexican feather grass is invasive in your area and ask a professional to recommend an alternative if necessary)

sedum

I kept the color palette to red and green for the gravel garden succulents but added golden Angelina stonecrop to the main panting beds

The homeowners found the most perfect container to place by the front gate; the colors repeat the hues of their home while the texture suggests it was a treasure discovered at the bottom of the ocean – love it!

They planted it with a simple purple fountain grass for summer interest: the dark color was needed for contrast. Adding other plants would have been too fussy.

Post script

I asked how things were faring with the dogs and was told that so far people are being respectful. “We do have the occasional dog prints on the mulch but no little gifts have been left for us, yet. We have actually observed people allowing their dogs to wander up the small embankment and back down as they are walking on the sidewalk with their dogs.” Let’s hope that decreases as the plants grow in.

Is it time to re-think your front garden?

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The Smile Factor

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Our newest family members

Whether you consider your personal garden style to be elegant, romantic, contemporary or traditional there is always room for a little whimsy – a special garden moment to make you smile. It doesn’t have to be large or extravagant and in fact some of the best are those that are discovered while strolling through the garden rather than something that screams ‘look at me’ from your living room!

Here are a few ideas from my own garden as well as several I have visited.

Highlight unique forms

A weathered bird house tucked into the gnarly remains of an old maple tree

A weathered bird house tucked into the gnarly remains of an old maple tree

This big leaf maple tree had been a focal point in the garden border: originally a towering, bleached silhouette it is now just a snag after a recent windstorm brought down the last branch with a ker-THUMP! Yet I still find this a fascinating sculptural element – just look at all the contorted growth on the trunk. To encourage other garden visitors to slow down and appreciate this I tucked a weathered birdhouse into the snag; he looks as surprised as our guests upon being discovered!

Bringing life back to a dead shrub

Bringing life back to a dead rhododendron shrub

This large rhododendron died many years ago yet its skeletal form is still beautiful. The previous owner had painted it silver but that makeover has long since faded and tufts of lichen now dress up the coral-like structure. This shrub framework seemed like a lovely spot to hang my charming bird feeder with its succulent roof. A thoughtful friend gave this to me at Christmas and I had been looking for the somewhere to showcase it effectively. We see this every day through our kitchen window where it adds an unexpected splash of color to an otherwise drab spot in the garden. Looks like I need to fill it up again….

Child’s Play

Created by Katie Pond

Created by Katie Pond – when she was still Katie Chapman

Lovingly nicknamed ‘Charles’ after a certain Royal personage, this creature was crafted in a high school art class by my daughter  many years ago. Showing signs of wear and tear, this only adds to the humor; I mean how good would you look after scrambling out of a rotted tree stump?

STOP!

STOP!

Spied on a recent garden tour in Pasadena this wonderful dinosaur is doing his best to get your attention! Whether warning against the step or the prickly plant I’m not sure but he did make me stop to take his photograph.

Cact - cus by Debra Lee Baldiwn made me giggle

Cact – cus by Debra Lee Baldwin made me giggle

Of course we’re all children at heart aren’t we? Debra Lee Baldwin may be a few years out of kindergarten but that didn’t stop her adding wonderful googly eyes to this cactus creation in her San Diego garden.

Hidden in Plain View

A brick pathway to read while you walk

A brick pathway to read while you walk

Have you noticed how many bricks have names embossed on them? Love these ideas

Perfect post-topper

Perfect post-topper

Likewise paving stones can be an opportunity to add some personality – or family history

a celebration path

A celebration path

 

Add Interest to Bare Walls

Cluster small pieces together for greater impact

Cluster small pieces together for greater impact

Whimsical terracotta faces on a stucco wall will soon be surrounded by this clinging vine –  a fun discovery as I strolled along this shaded path and such a variety of expressions

Look up!

An easy project

An easy project

Hanging from a cedar branch one would not expect to see shards of cobalt blue glass wrapped in copper wire – yet their casual placement was perfect in its simplicity.

Unintentional humor?

Hmm

Hmm. Armed by whom or by what?

Strange the things that catch your eye – and make you laugh. Great placement either way!

Does your garden make you giggle?

Three Blind Mice by ee-i-ee-i-o

Three Blind Mice by ee-i-ee-i-o

 

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Serenity in Seattle; my favorite display

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While most visitors to the 2016 Northwest Flower and Garden Show were jostling for position to photograph the large display gardens, I found myself drawn to the smaller City Living  exhibits. Each designer worked with a 6 x 12 space defined by pavers to represent a high rise apartment balcony. The criteria was that all materials used in the display  could be carried through the home to the exterior. In addition the glass walls of the Skybridge where these exhibits were located should be kept open and the Seattle skyline view incorporated.

Ten designers took the challenge and created lavish displays incorporating edible gardens, lush container plantings and furniture that ranged from rustic to contemporary; something for every taste and style. While each one sparked ideas the exhibit that was my personal favorite was From Sea to Shining Sea, designed by Dee Montpetit of Ma Petite Gardens.  From the dusky purple and silver plant palette to the watery hues of the containers and the innovative use of fence pickets it afforded a wealth of take-home ideas for every gardener.

Create Your Own Style

When selecting containers many homeowners will opt for a matching set, perhaps varying the size while keeping the same shape and color but there are other ways to create an interesting cluster. For example one could stick with the same style (rustic, contemporary or traditional) but vary the color or do as Dee did and select a number of pots that are all  in cool shades of aqua but vary the style and finish.

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A stunning selection of ceramic containers from AW Pottery were featured

This is a wonderful way to add some interest into a small space with different textures yet avoid the overall look being too busy. From a rustic finish with  detailed embossing  to a traditional high gloss and smooth finish and an intriguing ribbed detail, these ceramic containers are beautiful independently but become works of art as a composition.

Notice also how Dee used these containers in different ways.

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This container cluster has it all; water, tropicals, perennials and fragrant spring bulbs

 

A shallow rectangular container was used to grow a vine up a woven fence panel for vertical interest, a tall vessel is used as a bubbling fountain, others hold shrubs, perennials, grasses and fragrant spring bulbs to give the illusion of garden borders, creating a sense of intimacy for the sitting nook.

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Notice how the deeper brown-grey tones of the container are picked up by the New Zealand flax and wooden fence pickets

Plant Selection

It is important when viewing show gardens to realize that considerable license is taken when combining plants. Shade and sun lovers share space, while drought tolerant and thirsty plants also co-habit for the brief duration of the show. Likewise tropicals and Pacific Northwest natives mingle for a few days. The designer wants to inspire you to look for interesting foliage and flowers, to vary the height, leaf texture and form and to have fun. To that effect Dee used whatever she could find in Seattle in February! The result is a soothing but visually exciting palette in shades of blue-green, dusky purple and silvery white.

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Westland astelia has beautiful dusky lavender foliage with silver overtones

Intriguing Details

Does your patio have an unattractive wall that you need to disguise? I love the way Dee addressed this in her display.

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The careful placement of a wood framed mirror gives the illusion that this space is larger while also bouncing additional light onto the patio. The reflection even appears to work as ‘art’, bringing color to an otherwise blank space.

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On the opposite wall, weathered wooden pickets are tied together with jute , creating an informal trellis on which the evergreen clematis can climb. This mix of materials was a lovely  personal touch, crossing stylistic boundaries to marry rustic with elegant. You could probably use old pallet wood for this project if the length of each board was sufficient.

Lighting is important in any garden and what could be easier than this string of patio lights?

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The organic nature of these vine spheres doesn’t compete with the other elements in this small space the way Edison bulbs or dragonfly shaped lights might for example. A hurricane lantern containing a mosaic glass candle added light to the table.

Dee even added frosted beach glass as a mulch to several pots, again in the soft watery shades.

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Dee has demonstrated unequivocally that small in size doesn’t mean sacrificing style. Rather it is about expressing your creativity in such a way that it balances your desire for individuality with an eye to scale, proportion, texture and color. Has this given you some ideas for your own garden?

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