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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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