Art Imitating Life Imitating Art

Neither a snow storm nor a Superbowl championship parade could stop intrepid garden lovers making it to the Northwest Flower and Garden Show this year.

The theme for the 2014 show was Art in the Garden and each designer found a unique way to interpret this while instilling their own personal flair.  While one garden played off a theme of circles and spheres, another suggested a playful interplay between wildlife and human life. 'Peace in Motion' was a contemporary Asian design that combined  natural  and sculptural elements to create a memorable art enhanced experience.

As I reviewed all the photographs I took at the show I realized how often I had stopped to capture an art form that was mimicking life. This award winning designer achieved this so well that you had to wonder what in fact had come first.

Darwin's Muse – art imitating life by Karen Stefonick Design

Designer Karen Stefonick created a show stopping display garden again this year, aptly titled Darwin's Muse - Art Imitating Life

Designer Karen Stefonick created a  truly dramatic display garden again this year

I am honored to call Karen a friend as well as a colleague and have watched in awe as her inspiring designs have won awards and international acclaim. Her structures are always impressively over-sized yet somehow still in scale, her gardens lush yet not over-planted, the plant palette interesting yet with relatively few species, the art work simple yet achingly beautiful. She did it again.

The centerpiece was Darwin's orchid crafted by Seattle glass artist Jason Gamrath.  Charles Darwin hypothesized that there had to be a moth physically capable of drinking nectar from the orchid flower. In 1907 the hypothesis was proven correct with the discovery of a subspecies of the gigantic Congo moth from Madagascar.

Elegant simplicity - one of the hallmarks of Karen's designs

Ethereal shadows dance off the walls

When Karen and Jason started collaborating on the design Jason gave an 'approximate' size of the finished piece. As plans progressed the orchid 'grew' and both the glass house and the garden footprint had to be quickly adjusted to accommodate the burgeoning specimen which ultimately reached 13' wide x 13' tall and 8' deep. The leaves alone measured 5-6' in length!

The other art pieces were incorporated so tastefully into the garden they could almost be overlooked – which was exactly the point.


Glass pitcher plants are so life-like only their size gives the secret away. Crafted by Jason Gamrath

So are the living pitcher plants in the foreground imitating the glass forms? Or is the art imitating life? Understated and perfectly placed this is Karen's philosophy of 'less is more' put into practice. Repetition of color, form and texture between the real and the surreal create a fascinating interplay and an almost 'Alice in Wonderland' experience.

Oversized glass pitcher plants rise out of a simple pool ready to ensnare any unsuspecting XX

Over-sized glass pitcher plants rise out of a simple pool; art imitating life yet so life-like

Notice how the glass pitcher plants are 'growing' out of pools and bogs, just as they would in nature – all part of the illusion.

Congratulations Karen and thank you for inspiring and challenging us once again.

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  1. Michael Crawford on February 18, 2014 at 9:46 am

    I love your picture of the orchids! I couldn't get close enough to get such a great picture of them. Beautiful, thank you!

  2. Karen Chapman on February 18, 2014 at 9:49 am

    It helps when you know the right people Michael! Karen very kindly offered us a peek inside

  3. Jan on February 18, 2014 at 11:10 am

    My absolute favorite of all the displays! The clean lines, the placement of color, the textures that complement one another – all superbly executed. Loved the take-away botany lesson too.

  4. Karen Chapman on February 18, 2014 at 7:53 pm

    The only thing missing was a giant mosquito for the pitcher plants Jan – but then that would lose the elegant flavor!

  5. debsgarden on February 19, 2014 at 9:53 pm

    What an interesting display! The orchid had to be spectacular in person. The pitcher plants remind me of Chihuly. Glass art seems to be a popular trend in garden design; I love it!.