The Lake Forest Park Garden Tour, Revisited

My sunny mixed island bed.

My sunny mixed island bed.


Rodgersia in bloom in Michelle LeMoine’s garden.

Every June, the Lake Forest Park garden club organizes a tour of six beautiful gardens in our little town. Lake Forest Park is one of Seattle’s oldest suburbs and features a huge, gorgeous canopy of native trees. Many properties are hidden amidst these trees, sometimes even fully hidden as my house is. So it makes sense that the tour’s called “The Secret Gardens of Lake Forest Park.”

This year, I had the honor and work of opening my garden to the public. It was an exhausting but fun experience. I worked most spare hours in the garden for four and a half months and the result though was gratifying. The pressure to show my garden to the public motivated me to finish the projects I’d been putting off these last couple of years. Though my garden is a young garden as we’ve only been in our house for three years, the garden still looked better than ever with all spaces planted, weeded, mulched and decorated. I could have done even more, but I was just too … darn … tired. Instead, I called it good on the eve of the tour and enjoyed the festivities. I even managed to visit a few other gardens.

I’m always inspired when I see other gardens on a tour. The vision that manifests itself in a garden reflects one’s personality and tastes, so when you visit, you’re peeking inside someone’s soul. You discover what they love, how they live, what’s important to them. The garden of Michelle LeMoine was wonderful with its large-leaved plants and unusual conifers. Carolyn Barden, who I think of as the Grand Dame of LFP gardening, sprinkles her forested garden with whimsy via original works of art and the naming of spaces.

Carolyn Barden's honeysuckle passage.

Carolyn Barden’s honeysuckle passage.

Carolyn lives on the property she grew up on and knows well the history of not only her acreage, but of much of our neighborhood — going all the way back to when folks mostly rode on horses to get around. Vicki Scuri’s hillside garden features a rain garden and lovely meandering paths. Mike Munro, son of Jerry Munro of Munro’s Nursery in Kenmore, WA, had a collection of rare plants, many of which I hadn’t seen before. (Unfortunately, I ran out of photo battery that day.) I also ran out of time and ended up missing the Pederson garden, so if anyone out there has photos, I’d love to include them.

Participating in the tour gave me an appreciation of the work that goes into organizing it. On garden tour day, there’s not just a tour but a huge plant sale in our Town Center. At least a dozen specialty nurseries come. Gardening radio personality Ciscoe Morris broadcasts his show from there. It’s a giant horti festival. My friend Angela and I managed to step into the fray for a bit, shopping for plants, chatting up Ciscoe. At the end of the day, I went to sleep feeling like Miss Garden America, overly showered with attention and satisfied with all of the work I’d done.

The Okarikomi hedge in Vicki Scuri's garden.

The Okarikomi hedge in Vicki Scuri’s garden.


Placing Art in the Garden

IMG_2670A few days before the garden tour, I spent some time rearranging the art in my garden and acquiring a few new pieces. This got me thinking about how art can really make a garden, or even corner of a garden, pop with energy. We’ve only owned our property for a few years so the plants are still young. Because of this, I had to spend extra time arranging my pieces for ultimate effect. Here are a few ideas for placing art in the garden.

First, I say go big. While it’s nice to see a lone bird or butterfly hovering above a shrub, it’s mesmerizing to see five of them clustered together. Their colors and shapes merge together to form one larger statement. I’ve seen this approach with those swirling glass shapes on the ends of sticks and the effect can be stunning. Couple blue ones with Blue Oat Grass or Blue Star Junipers or Blue Hostas, then stick in some dark purple lavender or salvia, and you’ve got a hypnotic image with interest on all sides.

The next tip I have is to nestle. While it’s lovely to see a large sculpture featured by itself, it’s even more mysterious and inviting to see it softened by plants. This gives the viewer the sense that the angel or birdhouse or abstract shape simply sprung to life out of the garden, from where, we can’t say. Nestling also makes it seem like the sculpture has always been there, adding a feeling of history and stability.

Sometimes less is more. You may have a neighbor who sees every broken pitchfork and rusty gas can as a piece of garden sculpture, but really, a few well-placed, larger pieces have more impact. Otherwise, if the collection grows too dense, the pieces are lost in the huge mix of stuff, rather than being proudly featured.

Trust your instincts. You know if you like a human form made of terra-cotta pots (as my neighbor down the street does). You know if you love gargoyles and dragons. Or a kitschy pink flamingo. One of my clients likes owls and frogs and turtles, but ones that are whimsical or even a touch goofy. And these pieces work. They jive with her natural, shade yard and pond. The art also introduces visitors to my client’s personality, which is just as sweet and whimsical. If you do have a distinct taste though, tread lightly.IMG_2623

Don’t slip into matchy-matchy. This is my problem! The designer in me wants everything to recall everything else to display a comprehensive vision. But this can be boring, dare I say “suburban,” and lessens the impact just as much as clutter does. Surprise yourself, take a risk (I’m talking to myself here), buy something of a different color, material, size, whatever. Then place it and wait. See how you feel about it a week, a month later. If you still can’t live with it, list it on Craigslist!

Overall, art takes gardens to a deeper, more personal level. It magnifies the beauty of the plants, giving their textures and colors a form to play off of, contrast with, or through which to surprise us. As the plants change over the seasons, the art is more revealed or hidden, creating windows of drama throughout the year. Now that I’ve been playing with art in my garden, I’ve realized just how poorly I’ve been addressing this aspect. It’s the ignored, lower-value part. No longer. I want to keep it at the forefront of my planning. Some time, when I’m feeling wealthier than I am now, I’d like to hire an artist to create an original piece that will speak to my garden and show off its living beauty. That would be a gift for years to come.

Where did May go?

IMG_2550The month of May flew by for me. Usually, I’m focused on my daughter’s birthday, Mother’s Day, and gardening work for clients, but this year I was also consumed by one other very meaningful thing: participating in my local garden tour. I was invited back in January and I’ve been working on it, if only for a few hours,  every dry day since. Normally the burden wouldn’t be so intense but in November we had a long, large hedge of laurel removed and a fence installed. This left me with over 100 feet of bare space that’s 6-8 feet deep to fill in/rework with plants. I was sort of freaking out. I had plants and small trees I could transplant but they were big and unwieldy. With the help of my pal Angela, I was able to move some of the more mature shrubs to the fence line and create a new backdrop of my eastern border. By late March things were looking good.

But then the sunny weather came and so did the weeds. Just when I finished one section, another would suddenly be covered in little green dandelion starts. So I’d head over to that new bed, and just when I finished weeding that bed, another bed would suddenly be turning green with baby weeds. It was like a bad, frantic dream. I couldn’t keep up. That’s when I got serious in May and composted behind every newly weeded bed.

Compost not only gives a nutritious boost to plants but it amazingly suppresses weeds (even better than bark mulch). In years past, I’ve conducted inadvertent experiments where I composted 9/10ths of a mixed border and left that final 10th bare because I ran out of compost. Sure enough, a month later, the last 10th would be littered with weeds and the composted area still black and bare. Not to mention the plants would have put on beautiful fresh foliage.

So I’ve been spending the last four weeks weeding borders and composting the day afterward. I’m exhausted. I’ve been working until nearly nine o’clock every evening and have used nearly four yards of compost. But my yard now looks fresh and healthy. And the black color of the compost makes plants’ colors and shapes pop. Like a black canvas against which everything glows.

Now that June’s here, I realize I have less than two weeks before the garden tour. I’m both excited and panicked. If I can keep the pace, I’ll have a series of gorgeous borders. If I can’t, well, there may be a few more weeds than visitors anticipated…. Regardless, I’m trying to be Zen about it all.

Tiny Street Gardens Give Cheer

Was in downtown Edmonds, WA the other morning and noticed this gorgeous parking strip. Downtown Edmonds is full of colorful, nicely designed corners. I’m always impressed. It’s amazing how tiny gardens can make a brief walk from the car to a shop such a cheery experience. Even in earlyish spring. Some of the plants here are Persicaria microcephala ‘Red Dragon,’ Dicentra spectabilis ‘Gold Heart,’ Rheum palmatum ‘Atrosanguineum,’ (which will rapidly outgrow that spot,) hosta (possibly sieboldiana and a yellow cultivar,) Hachonechloa macra ‘Aurea,’ Helleborus argutifolius, etc.

Parking strip

Dayton St and 6th Ave S, Edmonds, WA

The keepers of these strips must have wisely amended the soil heavily (notice the mulch!) because all of the plants around windy, seaside Edmonds are already further along than the ones in my yard, which have a more protected area and more sun.

This little experience made my day. Anyone have a tiny street garden photo to share?

Dicentra spectabilis ‘Gold Heart’
Dicentra spectabilis ‘Gold Heart’

Colorful Foliage for Shade

In the Pacific Northwest, many homeowners have a shady spot in their garden. An old, second-growth cedar or fir might take up an entire corner, a neighbor’s giant magnolia or purple leaf plum might create a wide, encompassing shadow. So what to do. With some fresh compost and occasional supplemental water, you can grow a lovely shade garden. And it doesn’t have to be all ferns and salal either. Many perennials offer brilliant foliage color that contrasts nicely for a vibrant, engaging effect. Here are some of my favorite shade perennials that deserve more attention.

Heuchera ‘Georgia Peach’

IMG_2374Is that orangey-red color stunning or what? There are a ton of heucheras on the market now, unfortunately, they all seem to cost and arm and a leg, so what I do is narrow the field to a few favorites. I like ‘Plum Pudding’ because I think it’s the truest and most reliable purple color and I like ‘Georgia Peach’ for the same reason. Plus, contrasting it with other shade plants is easy. Its color is so deep and rich, it pops against almost anything. This evergreen grows to about 12″ tall and puts out tall spikes of teeny flowers that hummingbirds love. To keep it happy, give it a few applications of fish fertilizer in spring and summer.

Brunnera macrophylla ‘Hadspen Cream’

IMG_2373 There’s another slightly more known Brunnera called ‘Jack Frost’ that has cold silvery variegated foliage. With its light blue flowers in April and later fat spade leaves, it makes a bold statement in the dim of shade. But I also like ‘Hadspen Cream’ because the variegation is yellower and therefore, softer in beauty. I’ve also found it’s easier to design with in terms of color. It has the same cool blue flowers as ‘Jack Frost’ that light up a shady space. Grows to about 12″ tall with flowers branching out above. This photo shows it emerging, not fully grown yet. Herbaceous.

Hosta ‘Fragrant Blue’

Fragrant blueI love hostas. They come in so many patterns and colors. And they’re so tough. Yes, slugs might chew little holes into their leaves but a bit of Sluggo or beer will solve that problem. I have several favorites but one I think should be used more in garden designs is ‘Fragrant Blue.’ This positively glows in the shade with a creamy, greenish-blue color. The white fragrant flowers are nice but the real reason to grow this plant is the big impact it has despite its small size. Grows to about eight inches tall. Herbaceous.


Pulmonaria officinalis

IMG_2384Another cheery plant with delicate, two-toned flowers of pink and smokey blue. The white speckles on the foliage adds even more interest, and once this plant takes off, you’ll have lots of babies to either cover your bare ground or pass on to friends. The foliage looks a little tired by the end of summer. In late winter, I cut it all back and voila, it grows in a tight happy mat. Herbaceous.

Heuchera ‘Lime Rickey’

Heuchera 'Lime Rickey'This Heuchera is worth growing just for that glowing chartreuse foliage. The fact that it stays compact and has delicate white flowers are extra pluses. Plant it next to a dark hellebore and you’ll have an instant contrast of color.

Helleborus orientalis

Helleborus orientalisThere are more and more hellebores coming on to the market every year, but if you need a reliably pretty one to start out with, consider the straight Helleborus orientalis. It blooms for over a month, after which time its flower stalks turn brown as it puts out new leaf stalks. But a quick pruning of those dead flowers makes room for those stems to grow into dark, glossy, almost tropical looking foliage that stays fresh well into late fall. It’s known as an evergreen but not really because in winter the leaves look ratty. Again, a quick cutting allows its fresh blooms to shine. What a great plant.