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Garden Blog

Plant Geeks Listen Up. There Is Hope!

Art of Zen exhibit by Natasha Schwartz, Dakara Landscape Design

by Dawn W Todd, Intern

First, let me thank you for stopping by the KBGF booth at the NW Flower and Garden Show. I had the pleasure of meeting many of you who share my delight in this wonderful garden. I look forward to seeing you again; volunteering, or just wandering our paths. I know I promised the rest of my interview with Ciscoe Morris, but I just have to say a word about the Garden Show. My focus this year was on design, and that’s what I want to tell you about.

I heard Vanessa Gardner Nagel: “Gardens to Live In: Creating Livable Outdoor Spaces with Style”. Ms. Nagel focused on the idea of “theme”. First decide what the outdoor space is to be used for (entertaining, relaxing, playing, etc.) and next select a theme.

Of course each garden will have challenges to overcome; Ms. Nagel mentioned sun, rain, storage, size and other potential problems. She concludes that the way to overcome those challenges, indeed, every design decision from the important and primary choice of focal point to the color choices to choice of materials and plants—everything develops in relation to the theme. One might use large-leaved plants for a tropical paradise (along with rattan furniture and hot colors); a lot of green and perhaps conifers might be chosen for a Japanese theme. (Did you see “The Art of Zen” design by Natasha Schwartz of Dakara Landscape Design?) Theme might be suggested by the architecture of the house, or theme might be suggested by a culture or a personal passion or belief—but if you need a design idea, choose a theme.

I also went to a lecture by Jim Fox. “Beauty From Chaos: Ways to Design and Organize Any Garden.” Jim spoke to those of us in the audience who are plant geeks. Aren’t most of us plant geeks? I walk by something at the Kruckeberg garden and I think, “Ooooh, I want one of those!”

Jim Fox described gardens as falling into one of two categories: the garden with plants in groups of one (oh, yeah), and the garden with lots of plants, all the same color (don’t you just love burgundy?). Rather than toss it all out and work against one’s tendencies, he suggests ways to give variety to monotony, and calm (organization) to chaos.

Mr. Fox had four main points. First, use color to give order or relief, or jazz a garden up, or use it as a bridge from one type of plant or main color to another. He likes the color wheel, and suggests it be used to inform the placement of plants, whether rhythmically moving through shades of red and back again, or for contrast, by choosing opposites on the wheel. He suggests grouping warm colors and cool colors separately, but then he showed how they might effectively be mixed.

Second, Jim suggests that structure and definition be given to a garden through hedges or man-made structures.

Third, he suggests a “punctuation” or accent. The use of a pot or a shrub with a formal round shape (like a huge period) and on the other side of a bed a small tree with the shape of an exclamation point, can take a tangle of bright flowers and make it work; elevate it from chaos to beauty.

Fourth, Mr. Fox suggests layering. Certainly the sort of layering we all know about—small plants in front, then medium sized plants, then large in back—but also “the fourth dimension”; layering with time. He illustrated using the seasons to bring out certain colors and shapes, one at a time—spring, summer, autumn, winter. One might put plants together that shine in different seasons, so that the same bed is remarkable and different year ‘round.

If you have a problem area in your yard, or if you are tempted by a beautiful plant but don’t know where to put it, come and talk to us about it. Very likely one of us will have a useful suggestion, but at the very least, we’ll be sympathetic!

That’s it for the Flower and Garden Show, except to mention that when I was lucky enough to get a seat to see Dan Hinkley, I sat right behind Ciscoe Morris and Mary. Delightful to talk to him again—Ciscoe, Part 2 next week!