Friday, March 30, 2012

Moving On

My muddy hiking boots have blazed a new trail. My blog and website have combined to bring you more gardens, more ideas, more tips and even more inspiration. Join me on my NEW garden adventures at . You'll love it!

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Sunday, March 25, 2012


It’s that time of year when I get itchy fingers. I can’t help but wonder how much better that monster sized shrub would be just 2’ to the left. Or a grove of river birch trees would look in the middle of the field. Or perhaps a mass of waving grasses added to line the 200’ driveway. It’s also the time of year when you can hear the cries for mercy from my cringing plants as they see the garden spade being dusted off in preparation for…..SPRING FEVER! 

After months of watching the garden go though it’s seemingly daily cycles of snow and sunshine I was finally able to get outside this weekend and had a long list of things that I wanted to either move or change.

For me this spring also brings a sense of anticipation. After two years of major landscape renovations of the messy, expensive but not-much-to-show-for-it kind, we are finally able to see progress.
I know there's a house under there somewhere!

When we moved here the house wasn’t surrounded by a garden so much as swallowed by it.  A machete was the easiest way to make it to the front door – if only you knew where it was. After over a year fighting highly invasive ornamental plants, building a patio, adding a new pathway and redesigning the beds we were able to start planting last fall. My idea was to create a garden of soft mounded forms in shades of blue, white and silver with a little deep purple and dusky pink for interest. This is quite a departure from my usual design style but that alone is a good reason to try it! I still have lots of plants to add and in these ‘after’ photos the garden looks especially bare as the sedums, peonies and ‘Rozanne’ geraniums are still snuggled underground and the maples and ‘Concorde’ barberries are yet to leaf out. 

A work in progress - but at least it is progressing!
My design

I also planted several hundred white crocus and blue windflowers (Anemone blanda) last year and have been impatient to see  if they looked the way I hoped they would.  When the sun finally peeked through I was thrilled to see that the massed crocus did indeed lead the eye towards the front door as I had envisioned while rivers of blue were already meandering happily between rocks and pavers. It may not be ‘mature’ but it is pretty and a far cry from where we started. There is a sense now that someone cares and that there is a plan even if it isn’t complete.

Where to start?

Looking at a mass of blackberries and envisioning a showcase border takes some imagination. Amazing what a glass of wine can do. Actually as a little aside here, always take friends to stroll through your garden with wine glass in hand– they’ll love it all and never notice a weed. Anyway, eighteen months, several weekends of renting seriously heavy machinery, 30 yards of gravel, 150’ of drainage pipe, 100 yards of soil and more $ than I want to admit to, we were ready to start planting our new island border last fall also. Many plants were gifts or had been salvaged and I propagated quite a few so I splurged on several hundred daffodil bulbs in shades of yellow. Being deer resistant and easy to naturalize I was hoping to see drifts of yellow that Wordsworth would have recognized – eventually. As Seattle cloud cover finally gave way to some sunshine  I had to smile. The arbor entrance is flanked by masses of traditional yellow daffodils like a golden funnel drawing you in, while softer shades are massed underneath the weeping willow-leaf pear tree. As with the front border, this garden is still pretty bare, but my vision is slowly taking shape.

I always hesitate to show photographs of our own garden. I know that many of you will look at these ‘after’ photos and be horrified that I’m a garden designer and also, quite understandably not be able to see where I’m going with  all this! I decided to put my pride to one side today, however, and show you our garden in the making. Getting from the before to the after is not an instant fix, despite what the numerous garden makeover TV shows suggest. It takes, time, effort and $ in roughly equal amounts and much of all three is spent on things you don’t even see such as soil amendments or drainage. However, I’m sharing my own unfolding story with you as an encouragement to those who wonder if a transformation of your garden space is even possible. If you’d like to see some more established ‘after ‘ image of gardens I have designed in the past – including our previous home, take a moment to enjoy this link to a portfolio on my website. Most of these images show the gardens after several years’ growth.

Finally, just as my garden needed updating and rethinking so did my website and blog. This week my website has been transformed with a fresh new look, easy to navigate pages and updated portfolios which I hope will inspire and encourage you. This blog will be moved onto the same site on Monday March 26th so you’ll have a sort of one-stop-shop for garden ideas and fun le jardinet style! Inevitably there will be a few kinks (the equivalent of aphids on the roses perhaps) as I try to make sure all my subscribers continue to get my feed and that all the links work. I may need to move a few things around again. But I have a vision, and it is beautiful. Just bear with me and ignore the weeds. 

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Art in the Garden

Who can resist? The glass wind chimes in the
container garden design are lovely too!
Photo, design and proud  Grandma;
Alyson Ross-Markley

I have to confess that I have been known to buy an entire new outfit simply to go with a lovely piece of jewelry I received! It's rather an extravagance I know but also lots of fun. The usual approach of course is to get dressed first and then scan my jewelry box for the perfect piece to accent my outfit. Either way these accessories help to transform a simple ensemble into something special.

So it is with using art in the garden. I'll often finish planting a vignette, container or garden border only to stand back and see that it needs a little 'something'. That sends me off on a treasure hunt through my stash of garden accents to see if there is something I can use. Often it is an excuse to go shopping - the "I haven't got a thing to wear" syndrome!

There are also times when I see a piece of gorgeous garden art or a stunning sculptural container that I completely fall in love with.  I have no idea where it is going to go but I swear I can hear it begging to come home with me, which then sends me on a walk through the garden to see where it would look the best. (An apology to my container-lugging husband is probably in order at this point.....).

Here's a few easy ideas to get you started.

For a gentle touch go for a monochromatic scheme - blue glass with lavender bushes or a golden gazing ball nestled within a bed of black eyed Susan's (Rudbeckia sp.) for example. If you prefer something with a little more glitz pick out one of the contrasting colors within the planting, or echo the shade of a container for emphasis.

Designer Christina Salwitz has echoed the shades within the glass in
this display while the ruffled edges of the Heuchera foliage also repeats
its shape.
Glass artist - Barbara Sanderson of Glass Gardens  NW
Photo and design credit; Christina Salwitz

Rusted metal is very  popular as a material for garden art, especially if it uses recycled components which would otherwise be headed for the landfill. The rough  feel of the metal makes a wonderful contrast to billowing grasses yet the earthy colors keep it looking natural.  

Ray Hammar of Blue Collar Artworks is a master at turning scrap metal
into artistic, functional garden art. This bridge is  one of his latest  creations.
You can see many more examples using this link.
Photo credit; Ray Hammar

Many of you love to dress up your porch and entrance way with seasonal displays and since spring is just around the corner (I hope) there is the perfect opportunity for a fresh new look. Here you don't need to worry about items being weatherproof so the design options are only as limited as your imagination. Fabrics are one possibility.

'Urban nest for an urban bird' is the creation of fiber artist
 Kim Groff-Harrington, one of the local artists at this years
Best of the Northwest. Wouldn't this be fun as part of an
 Easter display?
Photo credit; artist

So if you're looking for a little something special and you simply MUST go shopping, don't forget to visit the Best of the Northwest arts and fine craft show next weekend. My talk on Friday March 30th at 1.30pm is on Art in the Garden - a perfect partnership. I'll give you ideas on how to incorporate smaller pieces into container gardens as well as giving you ideas for some of the other pieces you'll see at the show that you know you just have to buy. Better still, you have just few more days left to enter to win free tickets to the show. (There's great justification in the phrase "But I saved $x"). Simply write a comment on the previous blog post here and tell me what your favorite type of garden art is. Be sure and include your email address so I can contact you! Winners will be drawn this Thursday.

Don't live in Seattle? No problem. Just head to your favorite nursery or art fair and tell them Karen sent you.

A special note to those reading this on Saturday March 24th, especially if you've just been listening to Ciscoe Morris and I on the radio!. Although the free tickets mentioned above have gone YOU still have the chance to win FOUR PAIRS of tickets! Just leave the comment before midday today (noon on Saturday March 24th PST) and be sure to include your email address. I'll be doing the random drawing right after that. Good luck - and thanks for joining Ciscoe and I on the radio.

For  tickets and more details about the Best of the Northwest and my talk follow this link.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Best of the Northwest; March 30th – April 1st 2012

I am in awe of the many skilled artists and crafts people that call the Northwest home. From textile designers  to silversmiths and photographers, their work is an inspiration and a joy to see. There are many art shows and events where these artists display and sell their pieces but none to compare with the Best of the Northwest Arts and Fine Crafts Show – currently in its 24th year and held at Magnuson Park in Seattle. The show is presented by the Northwest Arts Alliance and this year will showcase over one hundred artists who work in mediums such as glass, ceramics, wood and silk - something to appeal to everyone’s tastes and budget.

Red  Grass Designs

With generous sponsorship from KOMO television, Best of the Northwest is excited to announce Friday March 30th as KOMO day, with discounted tickets and a special focus on Art in the Garden. Your garden should be a reflection of who you are and offer visitors a glimpse into your unique style, so I shall give you a few ideas on how to incorporate some of these beautiful works of art into your container gardens and landscape in a special demonstration as part of Komo day. My talk 'Art in the Garden - a perfect partnership' will be held at 1.30pm on Friday March 30th . You can read more details of this fun presentation here.

 Let me introduce you to just a few of the garden artists.

Brett Cleveland is the creative force behind Red Grass Designs. Working in a variety of metals he transforms both new and discarded materials into functional, beautiful, contemporary art. From simple garden stakes to custom gates and trellises he has something for every garden no matter how large or small. I especially love the simple spheres made from welded bands of rusted steel which would look perfect nestled among drifts of waving grasses. The contrast of wispy foliage with bands of metal would offer a wonderful focal point in the garden border.

 Seymour Stained Glass

Karen Seymour painstakingly crafts lanterns, birdbaths and tables from stained glass which feature nature inspired designs such as koi, foliage and delicate butterflies. Why not create a statement with one of her delightful patio tables rather than settling for just another  mass produced piece? See her work at Seymour stained glass.

Dakota Craftworks

I often tell friends that my husband loves to make sawdust. In other words he enjoys working with wood to reveal the inner beauty as well as making the various projects I dream up for our garden! I therefore have a special appreciation for the skill it takes to be a wood craftsman. Dakota Craftworks, owned by John Dauora, designs and creates elegant garden furniture using assorted wood species. From a contemporary (and much more comfortable) interpretation of the classic Adirondack chair to side tables which incorporate metal accents, these pieces will add flair to any porch, patio or deck.

Wood, Fire and Paint

If whimsy is more your style be sure to visit the booth of Stephanie Stolzoff, the artist behind Wood, Fire and Paint. Stephanie’s motto says it all; WOOD organic alive + FIRE accentuates it + PAINT lively washes of fun =  Wood, Fire and Paint. Her fun, colorful garden poles and address posts are sure to be great conversation pieces.

Excited? Well here’s a special treat for you – I have TEN TICKETS TO GIVE AWAY! All you have to do is leave a comment below telling me what you favorite type of garden art is and you will be entered to win. Be sure to include your email address so I can contact you! The lucky recipients will be drawn at random by the computer (they are so clever these days!) on Thursday March 22nd and tickets mailed out to you the very next day. Remember to tell your friends; use the share links below to post on Facebook, send an email or Tweet to your hearts content!

Bring art in the garden into your life.
Photo courtesy Alyson Ross Markley

So come and join me on Friday March 30th (or visit anytime between March 30th – April1st) at the Best of the Northwest. Enjoy live music, free parking, artist demonstrations and great food while you search for those perfect accents for your home and garden.

Directions and more information here.

PS. If you can't make the show in person visit the artists online. Check them out on the show website.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Moody Blues

Photo credit

It seems that everyone loves the color blue. From the soft whisper of a watery sky to deepest midnight, blue is soothing, bringing a sense of peace within and connects us to nature.

I have shared ideas for using blue foliage in the garden but we can expand that concept to incorporate blue flowers and accents. Enjoy this post as a springboard for designing a monochromatic garden border or to simply add something new.

Photo credit
To me a garden should never be without fragrance and one  of my favorites for summer has to be lavender. Last year I purchased 18 baby plants and grew them on to planting size in just a couple of months (an easy way to save money). I can't wait for their scent to fill the air around our new patio. 

Sweet peas are also an inexpensive way to bring heady perfume to the garden and with many single colored selections available you can easily find your favorite shade, especially if you grow them from seed. I plant mine against the fence of the vegetable garden where they keep the deer away but bring the pollinators in, in addition to countless bouquets for the home

Photo credit

Late summer means hydrangeas - I only wish the deer didn't find them as attractive as I do. The seaside towns of England are adorned with gentle undulating mounds of these beauties, with pink being the most popular color - at least so my childhood memories tell me. Today I am drawn to  hydrangea in those softer shades of blue which gently fade to dusky lavender  but there are many others to choose from.

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Pathways can be beautiful as well as functional. Make each step part of a memorable journey by planting a cascading waterfall of low growing bellflowers (Campanula) alongside. In warmer climates choose from one of the many varieties of drought tolerant, heat loving succulents such as Echeveria instead.

Besides foliage and flowers what else can be used to bring the blues into the garden? I love these simple blue shutters against a whitewashed wall. This would be an easy way to transform the side of a garden shed, perhaps adding a mirror behind the window frame and a window box spilling over with blue lobelia. A coat of paint could also transform a bench, pergola or bridge.

Photo credit

Art work is only as limited as your imagination - gazing balls, windchimes, statuary and birdbaths are just a few of the possibilities. Best of all these smaller pieces can be moved around on a whim to draw attention to a new areas of interest each season.

I fell in love with the color of these  containers as soon as I saw it. In fact I virtually ran across the nursery to get a closer look! Subtle shades of deeper blue and lavender peek through the almost-turquoise glaze adding depth and interest. Rather than plant the containers we asked glass artist Jesse Kelly to create this stunning glass sculpture which adds color and drama even in the snow. The lower container is a bubbling fountain with a hand blown glass ball bobbing on the surface. Lavender has been planted at its base - but was covered with snow on this January day!

For more ideas enjoy my Moody Blues board on Pinterest. Fresh inspiration every day.