water gardens

Fearless Design- secrets to using bold color in the garden


One of my favorite award-winning gardens at the 2018 Northwest Flower and Garden Show

The Northwest Flower and Garden Show is always a source of inspiration and this year was no exception. One display garden that really caught my eye was called Contained Excitement, designed by my good friend and former colleague Lori DeLeuw (Designs by deLeuw) and David Rogers (Issaquah Landscaping).

This was their design statement:

Here’s the perfect counterpoint to our hectic lifestyles.

Hone your culinary skills in the outdoor kitchen, preparing healthy dishes using edibles grown in containers just steps away. And work off the stress of the daily grind with a swim in the outdoor lap pool…which also “doubles” as a tranquil spot to just plain relax!

Unusual, yet appropriate, plant material blends with finished wood and metalwork to create a distinctively modern design. As the night winds down, gather with friends at the fire pit for good conversation and an aperitif. If it begins to drizzle, simply move the party into the sleekly-styled shelter for cover!

Take-home ideas: Creating discreet outdoor areas within a garden using plantings and hardscape materials.


Bold use of color works when the design is equally strong

While they clearly achieved their goal and I love the many outdoor spaces they created, my own take-home ideas were more about their remarkable and fearless use of a vivid color without the garden looking like a paintbox explosion! Pillar-box red was the theme color, boldly used on the walls of a chic shed, garden furniture, a glossy BBQ, containers, soft furnishings and many accessories including a stunning glass installation by artist Jesse Kelly. Having spent some time analyzing it here’s why I feel it works:

  • Most of the bold red appears on vertical elements, the horizontal patio spaces being in neutral grey tones. The addition of a red rug would have been too much of a good thing!
  • Bold black trim and shiny galvanized metal panels add a contemporary flair, enhanced by strong geometric lines, this strong design aesthetic becoming the over-riding focus.
  • Incorporation of rusted metal containers and a fire pit give a nod to red tones yet add variety by allowing for an orange hue.

Red stems add a subtle connection to the color scheme


  • It’s all in the details. I can see Lori’s hand in this so clearly! She is an excellent container and landscape designer and knows that a cohesive design is about the subtle color echoes between foliage, flowers, stems, and more. I love how she carried the red theme into the plant palette, yet did so in an understated manner. A casual glance would assume the plantings are in shades of green, yet the mosaic below tells a different story to the careful observer.
mosaic 1

Red veins, buds, and foliage variegation shows the level of detail that to me says “excellence”.

  • There is still room for fun! There are times when a design statement  becomes so rigid that there is no allowance for serendipity or an unexpected moment. With a clear contemporary design and red-green-black-silver color scheme, the designers still allowed themselves the whimsy of a couple of orange goldfish swimming through the plants! Yes they could have use red fish. I love that they didn’t.

Allow room for the fun factor

Congratulations on being awarded a silver medal at the show as well as the Sunset Western Living® Award. Very well deserved!



From Coast to Coast – Travel Snapshots

Laguna Beach area - one of many pristine coves

Laguna Beach area – one of many pristine coves

It’s been an exciting few weeks visiting North Carolina and then southern California. Both trips were work-related but of course there is always time for a little garden sight seeing! Here is a roundup of a few of my favorite travel snapshots together with a selection from a bonus garden visit to a remarkable local designer, who gardens like she will live forever!

East Coast Charm

Cool hues and cool combination. Design by Jay Sifford

Cool hues and cool combination. Design by Jay Sifford

I was so thrilled to have the opportunity to photograph the personal garden of designer Jay Sifford (Sifford Garden Designs) for a new book I am writing for Timber Press on inspirational deer-resistant gardens (more on that another time!) While I’m going to keep those images offline for now, I can show you this delightful combination taken in one of his clients gardens. It’s a perfect example of designing with foliage – I love the way he has given each finely textured blue conifer its personal space by interjecting the swathe of purple fringeflower (Loropetalum chinensis ‘Red Chocolate’). The juxtaposition of a weeping conifer (Tolleson’s Blue Weeping juniper (Juniperus scopulorum ‘Tolleson’s Blue Weeping’)) and a prostrate form (Grey Owl juniper (Juniperus virginiana ‘Grey Owl’)) , yet the textural similarity – stunning. Notice how the blue tones within the purple foliage are emphasized also.

While I was in town Jay took us to the Biltmore Estate in Asheville – what a treat!

Biltmore House, a French renaissance style extravaganza built 1889-1895 by the Vanderbilt family

Biltmore House, a French renaissance style extravaganza, built between 1889-1895 by the Vanderbilt family

There was no denying the remarkable attention to every detail from gargoyles to decorative downspouts.

I was totally captivated by these windows....

I was totally captivated by these windows….

We toured the house before exploring the gardens. Intense heat and brilliant sunshine meant photography was a challenge but I still managed a few souvenir photos.

Remarkable color echos between bricks, planters and foliage

Remarkable color echos between bricks, planters and foliage.

Short of scrambling under this peony to see if there was a tag there was no way to identify the variety of this luscious peony.

Short of scrambling under this peony to see if there was a tag there was no way to identify the variety.

I did however scramble underneath this Japanese maple - because I just HAD to!!

I did however scramble underneath this Japanese maple – because I just HAD to!!

West Coast Wow Factor

When I was invited to speak at the San Diego Horticultural Society and Laguna Beach Garden Club earlier this month, I could almost feel the sand between my toes! The chance to meet old friends, make new ones, share my passion for designing with foliage AND visit this beautiful area again had me packing my flip-flops and camera in short order.

In between these two speaking engagements Andy and I found a delightful Air BnB in San Juan Capistrano to use as home base for a couple of days. Everywhere was within walking distance  – and everywhere we looked there were colorful gardens.

A pollinator garden surrounded this old adobe house

A vibrant pollinator garden surrounded this old adobe house tucked away in the Los Rios district – the oldest neighborhood in California

When the plants match the patio furnishings: serendipity or careful design?

When the plants match the patio furnishings: serendipity or careful design?

Trumpet vine tumbling over a picket fence

Trumpet vine (Campsis radicans) tumbling over a picket fence.

The Mission of San Juan Capistrano is at the heart of the town and an absolute ‘must see’ if you are in the area. The history, architecture, gardens – and yes the swallows all made this a highlight of our stay.


One of many cooling fountains in the Mission gardens

Summer perfection

Summer perfection

Closer to Home

I was thrilled to receive an invitation to visit retired WA designer Vi Kono a few days after my return home. I photographed Vi’s Redmond garden for my latest book Gardening with Foliage First. One of those scenes was even featured by Garden Design magazine recently. Since then, Vi and her husband Don have moved to a rural property in Duvall. While waiting for building permits to be granted she has done what any gardener would do – start on the landscape! Vi has a nursery’s worth of potted plants ‘waiting’ for gardens to be created around her future home, but meanwhile has created a delightful woodland stroll garden filled with all manner of shade loving perennials. Once again bright sunshine thwarted my attempts to do the garden justice but I was mostly content simply to wander and experience this new haven.

Vi has a great eye for small details as these few snapshots show.

Hosta' Fire Island' with a golden barberry

Hosta’ Fire Island’ with a golden barberry – love the echo between the red hosta stems and the leaf margins on the barberry.

Drawing attention to the movement in the bark of a tree….


Old-fashioned London’s Pride, snuggled up against woodland trees – love that craggy bark

I was fascinated by this unfurling fern frond….

Ferns are reliably deer resistant - I was fascinated by this unfurling frond

Ferns are reliably deer resistant –  a new challenge for Vi

Glass and metal art pieces were thoughtfully placed throughout the garden, many of which Vi and Don have created themselves.


Looking ahead

The next few weeks are going to be equally busy for me with a trip next week to Spring Meadow Nursery in Michigan (where they grow the ColorChoice shrubs for Proven Winners), and then photographing two MI gardens for my new book.  I’ll be home again for just a couple of days before we head off to the Greek Islands to celebrate our 30th anniversary! (It’s wonderful having a daughter nearby to take care of the house and garden while we go on vacation!!)

So forgive me for taking a vacation from blogging for a while. It’s time for a little romance……


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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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