water gardens

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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Design Inspiration from Chihuly in Atlanta

Seemingly rising from the water is the botanical masterpiece Earth Goddess

Seemingly rising from the earth is the botanical sculpture ‘Earth Goddess’

I had the opportunity to visit the Atlanta Botanical Gardens last month while speaking at a symposium for the Garden Writer’s Association and was thrilled to discover that my visit coincided with an exhibit of Chihuly’s work. While  enthralled by the sheer scale and extravagance of his masterpieces I was also intrigued to seek out design lessons for homeowners with a more modest budget!

Glass as a Focal Point

Perhaps the most obvious use of glass art in any garden is to make a statement, to catch the eye and become a focal point. Often these focal points are on a primary axis or at an intersection of pathways.

This fountain was perfectly centered in a formal garden, commanding attention from every direction. Elegant without the glass. Exquisite with it.


Intricately curled glass pieces in shades of aqua suggest bubbling water while the overall composition balances the shape  and scale of the stone base.

Do you already have a fountain or water feature in your garden? Could you enhance it by adding some  glass art?

Reminiscent of a dandelion clock, this piece captures the imagination as well as the eye

Reminiscent of a dandelion clock, this piece captures the imagination as well as the eye

Think about whether  you want to mimic the movement of water or suggest plants growing in or floating upon the surface.

'Fern Dell paintbrushes' add light, height and color to a shady pool within a fern grotto

‘Fern Dell Paintbrushes’ add light, height and color to a shady pool within a fern grotto

Using Glass Art to Enhance an Existing Focal Point

It may be hard to imagine a Chihuly piece playing second fiddle to anything but as the following images show, while the glass is in itself remarkable it can also be used in more of a supporting role.

Notice how these vertical glass elements draw the eye upwards to the evening Atlanta skyline  – visible when walking this path in a clockwise fashion. To my eye the skyline is the focal point, enhanced and framed by the glass.

Carefully framed vignettes such as these are pure genius

Carefully framed vignettes such as these are pure genius

Yet stroll the same path anti-clockwise and you will perhaps better appreciate these flickering flames of glass are being used to pierce the billowing meadow-inspired plantings, creating punctuation points. So in one direction these glass pieces are seen as enhancing a focal point (the skyline) and in the other direction they are creating a focal point themselves. Intriguing.

The same glass pieces but approached from a different direction

The same glass pieces but approached from a different direction

Can you get your glass art to multi-task in this way? What about placing the art at a turn in the path. Can you relate it to something unique when walking that path in opposite directions?

Back to glass art and water for a moment; the primary focal point below is the botanical sculpture (usually with water flowing from the Earth Goddess’ hand but we were here before regular opening so the pump had not been switched on).


Yet the glass filled Fiori Boat and Niijima Floats bring this scene to life. They may not be the primary focal point but their inclusion suggests a magical story; “Once upon a time, in a time before time……..

Does this give you ideas? Floating glass balls on water is an inexpensive way to create a Chihuly moment but can you take  that a step further and create a vignette that tells a story?

Or this scene from the conservatory shows how a backdrop of glass rising from a carpet of soft ferns perfectly frames the reflecting pool (the primary focal point), while repeating the organic form of the tropical foliage.


Color Echoes

One of the easiest way to start designing with glass art in your garden is to repeat the color of adjacent foliage and flowers.

Sol del Citron

Sol del Citron – bold and unexpected yet having a sense of place thanks to the repetition of the color yellow.

Framed by tiers of yellow blooms and yellow-variegated foliage this glass sunburst grabs your attention no matter which direction you approach it from, or at what time of day.

Lighting is everything

Lighting is everything

Add Lighting

Which brings us to the final design tip – add lighting to your glass art so you and your guests can continue to enjoy it in the evenings. Did you notice that several of these shots are taken at dusk. I loved my daytime visit so much that I went back again in the evening. Lighting adds dimension, enhancing reflections, intensifying color saturation, framing and highlighting.


I’ll bring the wine…..

If you would like more ideas on using glass art in your garden you may enjoy these posts;

When Gardens and Glass Talk

Find Your Inner Artist

Art Imitating Life Imitating Art

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Serenity in Seattle; my favorite display


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.

aqua pots

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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?


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.


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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Designing with Water

In my last post A Change in Perspective, I showed you how I had taken advantage of the diagonal line across a rectangular lot to improve the function and make a small garden feel larger. Understanding how to use the line of sight – or axis – is a fundamental design principle no matter how large or small your space and there are different ways it can be accomplished.

On a recent trip to Pasadena, CA I was struck by several gardens, both public and private, that used water to highlight an axis. The  examples here showcase a rill, a reflecting pool, small ponds and a bubbling fountain, all used to highlight either a single or cross axis. The style and placement of such water features will determine whether the view is lengthened or foreshortened.

A Rill that Elongates the View

I’ve always been fascinated by rills and the way they draw the eye down a long axis but this one was especially captivating. The water was diverted into four narrow channels at intervals, causing it to move and ripple in interesting patterns down its length. On either side were wide, symmetrically planted borders accented with large rustic green containers.

The upper portion of the rill at The Huntingdon

The upper portion of the rill at The Huntingdon

The water commences its languid journey from an understated circular depression in a granite slab, flanked by pillars that are topped with succulent bowls. At its endpoint the water flows into a wide rectangular pool where it is pumped back to the head.

The overall effect was stunning; an oasis in a desert climate (it was 102′ that day) that drew the eye through the space and out towards the themed gardens beyond. The lush planting on either side added color and dimension, softening the design yet not detracting from it.

Using Water in  Cross Axes

A private Pasadena residence

A private Pasadena residence

The most compelling element of this private garden was the remarkable water feature that  highlighted both the long and short axes across the space. The long axis was dominated by a turquoise reflecting pool (possibly used as a lap pool) that led the eye to a domed pergola and trellis fence in front of which was a border of agave, aloe and other drought-tolerant species. This layered focal point is all the more dramatic for the pool pointing to it.

An assortment of water loving plants added color to the ponds

An assortment of water loving plants added color to the ponds

Intersecting the reflecting pool  was a series of partitioned ponds and a simple spillway that met visitors as they entered the gate and led them visually into the garden. These ponds were filled with water loving grasses, Canna and water lilies. Stepping stones encouraged close-up viewing and strolling.



Water features that are still or move very slowly afford the best reflections as can be seen above.

Marking an Intersection with Water

A simple fountain placed at the intersection of two paths

A simple fountain placed at the intersection of two paths adds a focal point

A second private garden demonstrated the use of a bubbling fountain at the intersection of two axes. This area was formerly a badminton court, reclaimed some years ago and transformed into a delightful strolling garden filled with water-wise shrubs and succulents , framed with brick and gravel and accented by a unique piece of garden art to draw ones eye to the farthest reaches of the space.

The use of a circular motif (the gravel path around the fountain, round container and spherical barrel cacti) helps to disguise the rectangular court dimensions while placing water in the very middle encourages visitors to slow down as they meander from one garden room to another.

Have you used water to emphasize an axis in your garden? Leave a comment and tell me all about it  or post a photo on my Facebook page. I always love to hear your ideas

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A Change in Perspective

It wasn’t so much a patio as an apology. I  mean seriously, what are you supposed to do with an 8′ x 13′-10″ space? Sure you can fit a BBQ on there plus two or three people standing, providing you play doh-si-doh to get in and out of the house. But sitting on a comfy chair? Or eating at a table? Not so much. That was one of the challenges that needed addressing when I met the homeowners of this attractive new construction a few months ago.

BEFORE; a tiny patio and a lot of grass that felt like a 'no go' area

BEFORE; a tiny patio and a lot of grass that felt like a ‘no go’ area

The second challenge was one I threw out to my clients; “why do you need a lawn?” Because the majority of their back garden was thirsty, high maintenance grass with a token border of soil around the edges. Although hesitant to step away from the idea of a traditional back garden which included lawn they trusted me to help them make the most out of their space and if that meant the lawn could go, so be it.

Base map

Finally there was the basic challenge of how to make a small space live large; my favorite type of transformation! The back garden was a rather awkward trapezoid measuring 41′ wide and ranging from just 20′ to 33′ deep. Although there are neighbors to both sides the view beyond the garden is of native trees and shrubs so rather than needing to provide screening along the back fence I could visually incorporate that forest into the homeowners garden.

The Wish List

The existing permeable pavers were re-used and expanded

The existing permeable pavers were re-used and expanded

With any design process I being by establishing the Design Criteria with the homeowners; a wish list that includes everything from function to style and a color scheme that serves as my guide. My clients asked for the following;

• Enlarge the existing patio using permeable pavers (required by HOA) to allow seating for 6 plus a functional BBQ area
• Secondary seating area requested
• Like the idea of incorporating pots
• Would like to incorporate a dry creek bed
• A blend of native and ornamental plants, respecting the forest beyond yet creating a distinct layered garden
• Large architectural foliage and moving grasses were appealing but the plants must be low maintenance

The front of the home has interesting contemporary architectural lines

The front of the home has interesting contemporary architectural lines which offered some design inspiration

• Contemporary PNW feel/design to work with house aesthetic; focus on foliage and texture rather than lots of flowers.
• Colors to be bold rather than pastel e.g. purple, gold, orange, chartreuse, greens including teal
• Needs to look good year round but have seasonal changes

The Design Process


To make the garden feel larger I re-designed the patio by turning it 45′. By taking advantage of the long diagonal lines the garden immediately felt more spacious. Pushing the main patio into the garden (the pavers were removed and re-laid at a 45′ angle) meant I could wrap it with plantings to make it feel more like a destination than the appendage that the builders had originally provided and at 19′ x 18′ there was plenty of room for the BBQ, a large table for 6 or a set of outdoor sofas and chairs with room to spare.

BEFORE; an awkward slope at the far corner needed addressing

BEFORE; an awkward slope at the far corner needed addressing


AFTER; a retaining wall takes care of the grade and becomes extra seating around a secondary patio

AFTER; a retaining wall takes care of the grade and becomes extra seating around a secondary patio

At the far corner of the garden there was an abrupt grade change. To accommodate and take advantage of this I designed a retaining wall that doubles as seating to create a secondary sitting nook. This wall gives a cozy sense of enclosure to the blue chairs and future portable fire pit. Sitting here and looking back down the garden path offers a completely different perspective from that usually enjoyed from the homes interior or main patio.

BEFORE; the shortest part of the garden needed some creative thinking!

BEFORE; the shallowest part of the garden needed some creative thinking!


AFTER; a re-positioned and expanded patio and meandering dry creek bed transformed this spot

AFTER; a re-positioned and expanded patio and meandering dry creek bed transformed this spot

Connecting these two patios is a 3′ wide path that also frames a fountain created from three basalt columns. This feature gives a nod to the natural landscape beyond the garden. The inclusion of rock was important to the design aesthetic and so a number of boulders were incorporated into a dry creek bed of river rock that disappears beyond the fence line as well as used to add dimension throughout the planting beds.

Focal Points

It is important to consider views of the garden when seen from inside the home. Careful placement of containers, specimen plants and the fountain become key focal points around which vignettes were built.

Plant Selection and Final Details

Louie pine will be a year round stunner

Louie pine will be a year round stunner

Although they hired out the construction of the hardscape (patio, walls, creek bed, fountain)  to my talented colleagues at Berg’s Landscaping the homeowners purchased and planted everything themselves, with  a few final things still waiting to be delivered. They are also planning to install lighting in the future; flags mark the spot where wires have been run for the fixtures. They will spotlight the fountain, mark the path and uplight the peeling cinnamon bark of the three paperbark maple trees.

These rustic brown containers were used in my clients previous home and they are currently just marking the areas where new pots will go. When that selection is finalized I’ll be helping them choose the perfect plants for each pot to complete the scene.


The colors of the furniture and soft furnishings are a perfect accent to the foliage colors while their contemporary design  emphasizes the landscape design reliance on strong rectilinear geometry and foliage over organic curves and flowers. The homeowners decided in the end not to add a formal  dining set  but rather to use this space for comfortable outdoor lounge furniture.



I love the juxtaposition of the curvaceous wicker ‘nest’ with the streamlined sofa and chairs; great choice! They even managed to squeeze in a third seating area for a simple bistro set; perfect.


The end result is a versatile  garden that can easily accommodate larger parties or an intimate dinner for two. Every inch is used yet there is a sense of privacy thanks to the layers of foliage and textures which will thrive and grow in the well prepared soil. With four season interest this is a little garden with a big attitude that isn’t afraid to be different.

I’ll let the homeowners have the last word;

“Our backyard is now an inviting space where we can entertain friends or enjoy a quiet morning with a cup of coffee. Even when the weather is less than ideal for being outdoors, the garden provides visual interest and entertainment from inside our home. We love to watch the ever-changing foliage and the wildlife that has been attracted to our garden. It feels like we have added another room to our home. “

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