Friday, February 25, 2011

Northwest Flower & Garden Show – Highlights

This year 25 talented garden designers have managed to find the perfect balance between the fantastical, the inspirational and the practical. Personally although I love to be ‘wowed’ I also enjoy being challenged to re-use or re-purpose materials in unconventional ways.

From a discarded shipping container re-purposed as a
garden shed to rusted grates  which add a unique element to
groundcovers, young designer Courtney Goetz has challenged
 us all to look for new ways to use old things.

Surely no-one achieved this more successfully than Courtney Goetz in her garden Paradise (to be) Regained….borrowed from Thoreau’. What makes this garden even more remarkable is the fact that the designer is a 17 year old student who created this garden as her senior project for Gig Harbor High School.

Dead trees and old bottles become sculpture
while lost keys make a fun rain chain
Design by Courtney Goetz

Her goal was to have green ideas that anyone could use. From walls created from heating radiators, pillars in the style of gabions but filled with old bricks, black nursery pots and plastic water bottles, and rain chains which use old keys to re-direct water, this garden gives unique, affordable ways that we can all use to reduce waste. All it takes is a little imagination. Courtney earned a Gold Medal for her design as well as the Sunset Magazine Western Living Award. Congratulations!

As a designer myself I also look for new ways to create beautiful and functional spaces. Patios and decks are a part of almost every garden so I was especially excited to see innovative approaches to their design. Water runoff can be a huge problem, where the use of non-permeable paving materials such as concrete or mortared bricks increases runoff into our waterways, not to mention neighboring gardens. Winner of the Founder Award, Karen Stefonick in her garden ‘Wrinkle in Time’ struck a beautiful balance between designing an elegant, functional patio and yet incorporating pockets of pebbles.
Pebble inserts in patio pavers add interest
Karen Stefonick design

Not only did this allow areas for water to percolate, it set up a dynamic rhythm within the paver design and lent a contemporary air to what could have been an overwhelming and repetitive hardscape.

Designers SolTerra Systems employed a similar idea in their garden ‘Next Stop Hotel Babylon’ with cutaways in the patio being planted with grasses and other easy care plants. This softened the hard edges whilst re-enforcing the  geometric lines.
Plant pockets in pavers allow water to percolate.
SolTerra design

Personally I’m not a big fan of rustic flagstones which have been set in sand even though they do allow excess water to drain away easily. I always manage to get my heel or chair leg stuck in the cracks! These are two very effective ways to allow water to percolate without compromising the stable surface needed for patios and pathways.

Good design invariably translates to clean lines and a ‘less is more’ philosophy. My two favorite gardens were both a case in point. Somehow I always recognize the work of Karen Stefonick even before I read the sign. To me she is a master at designing superb structures using interesting materials and creating unexpected profiles. This year is no exception as she combined concrete, steel and wood in a remarkable pergola, backed by an intricate latticework.

A beautifully crafted design from the pergola to the crystal ball spinning
in the water.
Karen Stefonick design.
The water feature was a simple, pebble lined rectangle yet when softened by luxurious foliage it became a living focal point in which to showcase the Aqualens crystal ball, designed by the artist Allison Armour for the Chelsea Flower & Garden Show. Containers, sculptures, plants and furniture were all selected with care keeping the emphasis on the vision of simple elegance. This is truly a garden to ‘wow’ you, inspire you and one which you will want to recreate in your own garden.

The other garden I found myself returning to time and again was ‘Rain, Rain, Go Away…PS come again!’ by Artistic Garden Concepts. This creation took the Dahlia Award for ‘design excellence which is achievable in the Pacific Northwest’.

This elegant design belies its function as a rain garden
Design by Artistic Garden Concepts

It actually took me some time to realize that this was in fact a rain garden as I was so struck by the formal grace and elegance of the design. Yet the whole garden is focused around a shallow depression designed to catch water in another very effective way to reduce storm runoff and filter pollutants. I confess that I had considered rain gardens to be something of a fad and little more than a rocky French drain with a few plants added for aesthetics. This garden proved me wrong. From a design perspective what I loved was the simple movement of concentric circles leading from an outer crushed gravel pathway inset with occasional square pavers for an interesting counterpoint, to an inner circle of plants and seating areas converging finally on a central recessed zone planted with water loving plants and highlighted by a stunning oversized urn. Architectural walls enclosed the space to create a sense both of intimacy and importance. It has really got my mind working as to how I can use this idea on my own waterlogged land.

There are so many more designers, gardens and ideas to tell you about but you’ll just have to see for yourselves. Head over to the show this weekend and be sure to take your camera.

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