About Karen Chapman

A total plantaholic; I just can't resist! I've also learned that dark nail polish hides soil beautifully....

Posts by Karen Chapman:

Imagination Needed Here!

Imagination Needed Here!

Sometimes there are just too many choices. You know the scenario: there is an opportunity to buy a new plant (or three) but you are dizzy with all the possibilities and can’t seem to settle on a final decision. Well that’s me right now – so I’m inviting you to share your ideas.

The Challenge


What shall I use?

To add plants to surround– and fill this new planter that I purchased at Chuckanut Bay Gallery and Sculpture Garden recently. It is 27″ square and 12″ deep.

The criteria

Plants must be:

  • Deer resistant
  • Rabbit and vole resistant (yes – I’m dreaming….)
  • Tolerant of summer dry-winter wet conditions
  • Tolerant of full sun and fertile, amended clay soil
  • Preferably evergreen or at least have winter interest
  • Hardy in zone 6b


and should not;

  • Visually block the sculptural planter.
  • Rely on flowers – foliage is more important

My color scheme

Spring 2017 gives you a sense of what this will look like

Spring 2017; this gives you a sense of what the border will look like in a week or so. The new planter sits where the tall deciduous tree (golden locust) used to be. (That tree became diseased so was removed)

  • Sunset colors (oranges, reds, golds, with burgundy, purple and blue for accents).
  • A little silver and white here and there also.
Imagination and ideas needed!

The tree trunk (of the now removed golden locust tree) and surrounding Siberian bugloss (Brunnera m. ‘Jack Frost’) mark the site of the new planter. Photo from 2016

The bigger picture


Adjacent plants that are still leafing out include Lime Glow barberry (cream and green marbled leaf), a golden yellow Exbury azalea, northern bush honeysuckle (Diervilla lonicera) that has orange toned foliage in summer, and Rose Glow barberry (burgundy, pink and cream variegation)

The planter is a secondary focal point to the archway and cabin yet still holds a prominent place. The square motif plays off the cabin windows and a grey cube planter opposite (not shown)



There is space to plant around it as well as the top of the planter – I thought of using the same plants for both but am open to ideas. In such a big space it is imperative not to use tiny blobs of color but larger swaths.


Orange hair sedge seems like an obvious choice - what else could I use though?

Orange hair sedge seems like an obvious choice – what else could I use though?

Orange hair sedge (Carex testacea)  – actually I can’t get past this idea which is why I’d love you to help me see other possibilities!


I have also considered but dismissed:

Pheasant tail grass (Anemanthele lessoniana); not reliably hardy

Autumn fern (Dryopteris erythrosora): unlikely to cope with this much sun without irrigation

Goldfinger libertia (Libertia ixioides ‘Goldfinger’); not hardy for me

Variegated yucca e.g. Color Guard; wouldn’t like my soil (amended clay)


I can’t think of any golden grasses that would cope  with the sun, deer would eat succulents…… what am I missing?

Leave me a comment below – or email if you prefer! I’m excited to hear from you.




Big Ideas for Using Color in Small Spaces

So much color, so many ideas, so little time! That’s the Northwest Flower and Garden Show in a nutshell. Thank goodness for my camera because that’s how I can look back on special visual highlights to glean ideas for my own garden and share some of my favorites with you. In this post I’m focusing on some of the details from the City Living displays that caught me eye. These displays are created within an 12′ x 6′ footprint and intended to represent a typical city size balcony or condo patio, showing that a small space doesn’t mean compromising on style.

If you enjoyed my last post on Fearless Design – secrets for using bold color in the garden but wondered how those ideas could be translated to even smaller spaces, this post is for you

Crayola Colors


Vibrant scarlet and golden-yellow tulips set the theme for the garden called “Seattle Style

Camden Gardens won the award for Best Design in the City Living Displays this year and I can understand why.  A border of glossy, golden yellow containers framed the space and brought instant sunshine to this petite grey Seattle patio. These were planted with a simple repeating combination of chartreuse conifers, vibrant red and gold tulips, yellow begonias and bi-color primroses.


Award winning display “Seattle Style”  by Camden Gardens

Clusters of tall, white, circular containers were the perfect counterpoint to the linear display while one single bronze vessel with unique geometric lines took the container display from well done to exceptional. The red and yellow color scheme was continued in all the containers – except a single bronze one, which included blue flowering accents.

A unique bronze container added blue grape hyacinths (Muscari) as an accent color

A unique bronze container added blue grape hyacinths (Muscari) as an accent color

I also loved the use of a sculptural piece of driftwood inserted into one of the tall containers, its organic shape acting as a  frame for several colorful glass balls while also introducing the juxtaposition of a natural element within the man-made.

All the finishing touches were pulled together with an artistic eye for both repetition and contrast. It’s a perfect oasis for an Seattle couple – and their pampered pup, as this patio includes a comfy dog bed and water bowl for the furry family member too.

Color for Cocktail Gardens

Dee Montpetit is no stranger to the Northwest Flower and Garden Show, and her display this year, “A Botanical Soiree” had all her usual hallmarks of  great use of color, interesting container combinations, and attention to detail.


“A Botanical Soiree” designed by Dee Montpetit


The silver chairs, table, and buffet had an airiness to their design, the transparency enhancing the sense of space on the small patio.


A wall-hung, mosaic framed mirror reflects the taller plantings opposite, suggesting a much larger garden space.

Turquoise is the key color, featured in containers, a tall bubbling fountain, the mosaic mirror frame, and soft furnishings. Being used on different elements throughout the patio, the eye  moves from one splash of blue to the next – a key design trick to create a sense of cohesion but also making a small space seem larger.

Silver reflects light, and grey Seattle days  – and evenings – need all the help they can get, so it was a wise use of color for the furniture while matte black containers anchor the design.


Great use of space: oval pots and light-wrapped tree branches

Against one wall, in place of a traditional screen or fence Dee wrapped tiny LED lights around cut birch branches. I’m seriously going to copy that idea somewhere!! Can you imaging the tiny twinkles of light at night?

Notice her use of oval containers too – they take up a smaller footprint than round or square pots so are ideal where space is at a premium yet can still be planted with trees, shrubs, perennials, succulents and bulbs – all top-dressed with sparkly blue glass pebbles.

Charming color and plant combinations

Charming color and plant combinations

A restrained color palette of silver, blue, and pink  doesn’t translate to boring when Dee is let loose! I loved her intriguing textures and unique combinations that included fragrant lavender and hyacinths, with spring daffodils and primroses all nestled within a gorgeous foliage tapestry of astelia, spurge, cushion bush (Calocephalus brownii), succulents and more.

Spring isn't spring without hellebores

Spring isn’t spring without hellebores and fragrant sweetbox.

Dee chose colors for the container plantings that would work well after dark as well as being beautiful during the day . White, pale pink, and soft lavender all glow softly at dusk, which together with the twinkling lights and silver elements ensure this patio is ready for any soiree.

Final Shout Out

I have to commend Grace Hensley for this fun detail in her City Living  garden. You KNOW you want to copy this idea. If you have kids, grandkids – or are a child at heart, don’t you want to tell the story of the little mouse who lives behind the teeny tiny black door…..

Design by Grace Hensley

Design by Grace Hensley


Are you ready for spring now?

More Ideas

If you want more ideas for designing for small spaces check out Susan Morrison’s latest book The Less is More Garden, You can also read my review here.


Fearless Design- secrets to using bold color in the garden


One of my favorite award-winning gardens at the 2018 Northwest Flower and Garden Show

The Northwest Flower and Garden Show is always a source of inspiration and this year was no exception. One display garden that really caught my eye was called Contained Excitement, designed by my good friend and former colleague Lori DeLeuw (Designs by deLeuw) and David Rogers (Issaquah Landscaping).

This was their design statement:

Here’s the perfect counterpoint to our hectic lifestyles.

Hone your culinary skills in the outdoor kitchen, preparing healthy dishes using edibles grown in containers just steps away. And work off the stress of the daily grind with a swim in the outdoor lap pool…which also “doubles” as a tranquil spot to just plain relax!

Unusual, yet appropriate, plant material blends with finished wood and metalwork to create a distinctively modern design. As the night winds down, gather with friends at the fire pit for good conversation and an aperitif. If it begins to drizzle, simply move the party into the sleekly-styled shelter for cover!

Take-home ideas: Creating discreet outdoor areas within a garden using plantings and hardscape materials.


Bold use of color works when the design is equally strong

While they clearly achieved their goal and I love the many outdoor spaces they created, my own take-home ideas were more about their remarkable and fearless use of a vivid color without the garden looking like a paintbox explosion! Pillar-box red was the theme color, boldly used on the walls of a chic shed, garden furniture, a glossy BBQ, containers, soft furnishings and many accessories including a stunning glass installation by artist Jesse Kelly. Having spent some time analyzing it here’s why I feel it works:

  • Most of the bold red appears on vertical elements, the horizontal patio spaces being in neutral grey tones. The addition of a red rug would have been too much of a good thing!
  • Bold black trim and shiny galvanized metal panels add a contemporary flair, enhanced by strong geometric lines, this strong design aesthetic becoming the over-riding focus.
  • Incorporation of rusted metal containers and a fire pit give a nod to red tones yet add variety by allowing for an orange hue.

Red stems add a subtle connection to the color scheme


  • It’s all in the details. I can see Lori’s hand in this so clearly! She is an excellent container and landscape designer and knows that a cohesive design is about the subtle color echoes between foliage, flowers, stems, and more. I love how she carried the red theme into the plant palette, yet did so in an understated manner. A casual glance would assume the plantings are in shades of green, yet the mosaic below tells a different story to the careful observer.
mosaic 1

Red veins, buds, and foliage variegation shows the level of detail that to me says “excellence”.

  • There is still room for fun! There are times when a design statement  becomes so rigid that there is no allowance for serendipity or an unexpected moment. With a clear contemporary design and red-green-black-silver color scheme, the designers still allowed themselves the whimsy of a couple of orange goldfish swimming through the plants! Yes they could have use red fish. I love that they didn’t.

Allow room for the fun factor

Congratulations on being awarded a silver medal at the show as well as the Sunset Western Living® Award. Very well deserved!



4 NEW Easy Care Shrubs to Look For

Recommended level of gardening maintenance....

Recommended level of gardening maintenance….

I’m a lazy gardener. I want to enjoy my garden – not be a slave to it, which makes me really picky when it comes to selecting plants.

You’d think by now that I’d have enough plants wouldn’t you? Funny how we always find an excuse to go shopping come spring. Something has always been moved, eaten, or succumbed to drowning (as I write this it is raining AGAIN and I am considering building an ark). In other words I NEED a few things for the garden.

My criteria is that they have to be deer resistant, drought resistant once established, and low maintenance.  With that in mind I’ve been reviewing some of the new offerings for 2018.

Here are my top contenders.

Electric Love weigela

The first dark leaved weigela with RED flowers! Photo credit: Bloomin' Easy

The first dark leaved weigela with RED flowers! Photo credit: Bloomin’ Easy

This got my attention when I noticed the dark foliage – and also the red flowers; a new combo. Weigela are a favorite of mine , with a proven track record for performance and an easy going attitude, and this color scheme would certainly work in my garden too – what about yours? (Incidentally if you want dark leaves and pink blooms they also have a new one just for you! You can read more about both these new introductions from Bloomin’ Easy here.)

Bloomin’ Easy tells us this Electric Love weigela gets just 1-2′ tall and 3-4′ wide so consider it as something for the front of the border or even in a pot! Really pretty cool. Hardy in USDA zones 4-8

Wasi-Sabi doublefile viburnum

 Wasi-Sabi viburnum. Photo Credit: Proven Winners, Spring Meadow Nursery, Inc.

Wasi-Sabi doublefile viburnum – exciting new dwarf introduction. Photo Credit: Proven Winners, Spring Meadow Nursery, Inc.

I’ve had my eye on this for some time as it promises to be a superb foundation plant. This is a dwarf version of the popular but much larger doublefile viburnum. It still offers the distinctive layered habit, stunning, white, lace-cap hydrangea-like flowers and fiery fall color, but at just 2-3 feet tall it can be comfortably placed under most windows. The shrub spreads 3-4 feet wide so you can enjoy those horizontal tiers. Kudos to Proven Winners for a shrub that the home gardener truly needs. USDA 5-8. You can see the rest of their 2018 shrub introductions here. (There are some stunners!)

Cool Blue ceanothus

Cool Blue ceonothus - a stunner from Sunset Plants

Cool Blue ceanothus – romance in a pot. Photo credit: Sunset Plants

Oh this is soooooo tempting. Maybe I can find a spot that is warm enough?? Or maybe I’ll grow it in a pot? Cool Blue ceanothus is my color, it has gorgeous foliage, and it passes my criteria for deer resistance and drought tolerance in spades. My only hesitation is that the hardiness rating is 7b-10 (I’m 6b, 7 on a good year). Maybe I’ll get one anyway, just to test it for you! Major brownie points to Sunset Plants for producing a knockout shrub though, and at a demure 3-4′ tall and 4-5′ wide is much easier to fit into the typical garden then the well known but much larger variety Victoria. Just imagine this in one of my blue containers.….

First Editions® Virtual Violet® Lilac

Inhale deeply and slowly……. If you love lilac but are frustrated by their susceptibility to mildew check out this new introduction from First Editions. The foliage emerges deep violet on dark purple stems then matures to a dark, glossy green while the color of those blooms is every bit as bewitching as the perfume. At 6-8 feet tall and 5-7 feet wide this has a good upright shape making it suitable for hedging or as a stand alone shrub. I DEFINITELY need this one! I have the regular, old-fashioned lilac (Syringa vulgaris) in my garden and while it smells divine the foliage gets horribly disfigured by disease. I also have a dwarf variety which is very pretty  but the flowers don’t really have the ‘wow’ factor that Virtual Violet clearly displays.  Hardy in USDA 3-7. If you want to see the rest of the new introductions that Bailey’s Nursery has this year, including their First Editions shrubs, check out this link.


Be aware that some of these are new to growers in 2018 so they will become available to retailers beginning in summer/fall in limited quantities with much more volume growth beginning in 2019. But I know you love to see what’s just around the corner and start planning for new treasures!

MORE Low Maintenance Plants

Do you know how to tell a potential garden thug from a well mannered guest? The tags don’t help much! That’s why I’ve created this short online course:

Secrets to Selecting Low Maintenance Plants

This will save you money, time, and frustration. Open registration has now closed but is  offered to new newsletter subscribers. There are two videos, plant lists, and design ideas as well as my selection tips! You can sign up for the newsletter (and receive a free gift) here:


Make this the year you transform your garden from one that takes all your time and energy to the restful oasis you’ve always dreamed of.


The Less is More Garden – Book Review & Giveaway.

I recently asked a group of gardening friends, if they could change anything about their garden, what would it be. The first – of many comments read ” Make it bigger, much bigger! So many plants, so little space…”


A common lament,  yet having a modest sized garden does not mean compromising on function, style, or beauty. Designer, author and friend Susan Morrison makes this abundantly clear in her inspiring new book “The Less is More Garden – big ideas for designing your small yard” (Timber Press, 2018). She explains the less is more philosophy as one where there is

  • Less space, more enjoyment
  • Less effort, more beauty
  • Less maintenance, more relaxation
  • Less gardening-by-the-numbers, more YOU

If you are looking for doable, practical ways to make the most of your garden you need this book. With superb photography to illustrate her points, Susan begins by walking the reader through a series of important considerations to help them determine how much space – and budget to allocate for key design components, with suggestions on how to accommodate a family’s needs as children grow up, or strike a balance between creating an intimate space for two homeowners who occasionally need to host a much larger event outdoors. But that is just the start.

The Magic of Illusion

Tantalizing glimpses into the space beyond these green walls creates the illusion of greater depth while a calming, monochromatic color scheme allows the tapestry of layered textures to shine. Photo credit: Doreen Wynja

With suggestions for ways to include disappearing paths, maximizing the diagonal sight line, incorporating permeable walls (what I the call scrim effect), borrowed views, and artistic ways to use mirrors, this book offers a magicians hat worth of illusory tricks to make a small space  appear larger.

Lawn or Not?

Have you been considering what your options might be if you remove the lawn? Need to get a sense of what your garden would look like without one? Susan has you covered with ideas for strolling gardens , ecological lawn mixtures (no-mow grass alternatives) and an array of groundcovers – all beautifully photographed to help you decide.

Design Ideas To Copy


Susan’s personal garden retreat – a curvaceous wall breaks up the corridor effect and helps to create distinct spaces.

I especially like the section on Design Templates where Susan has used a mix of photographs and sketches to show how she transformed her own narrow backyard into an intimate jewel box garden with a capped, serpentine sitting wall, a bubbling fountain, multiple sitting areas and a bounty of colorful plants that bring fragrance and texture to the patio.


A clever linear patio design brings plantings up close while also organizing the footprint. Photo credit: Saxon Holt.

Another design in this section that really appealed to me was the one above where contemporary geometric lines have been softened with a bounty of foliage and flowers. Breaking up an expanse of patio with promontories of plants is an ingenious way to create unique garden rooms separated by low hedges without enclosing the spaces fully.

Signature Style


Artist Keeyla Meadows is known for her bold use of color both in her artwork and her garden.

If you are concerned that with so little space there won’t be room to personalize the garden to reflect YOU, the chapter “A sense of Place, Regardless of Space” should allay such fears, as Susan takes you on a tour of several very individual gardens including that of artist Keeyla Meadows shown above.

Less Maintenance

Susan and I are in total sync with this, which is interesting considering that we design in different states using different plants. Just goes to show you that the principles we use to design your low maintenance gardens are solid. Her book provides tips on selecting plants that are lower maintenance, tips for redefining what a four season garden means in a smaller space, and oodles of photos to get you thinking about your own garden plants in a new way. (And if you’re interested in knowing more about selecting lower maintenance plants be sure you sign up to receive my newsletter as I’ll be inviting subscribers to enjoy my new mini online course on that very subject – at a special introductory price!).

Enter to win your copy!

Morrison author.photo

This is so good I’d recommend it to professional designers as well as homeowners – we all need fresh inspiration and this book has that in abundance. In fact I’d put “The Less is More Garden” right up there with Julie Moir Messervey’s classic “Outside the Not So Big House” (Taunton Press, 2006), a book I constantly reach for.

If you can’t wait any longer you can order your copy of The Less is More Garden here.

If you’d like to be entered to win a copy just leave a comment below telling me why you need this book! The winner will be drawn using a random number generator at 9pm PST, Tuesday January 30th

The boring small print.

The winner will have 48 hours to respond to my email notifying them that they are the winner. After that I will draw another winner.

Comments left on social media posts will not count.

Comments must appear in the comment thread (not on images) to be included in the drawing.

Entries limited to USA and Canada 


BONUS! Meet Susan at the Northwest Flower & Garden Show next month! Details here.

Disclaimer: This post contains some affiliate links

The winning name has now been drawn and the person notified – thank you to everyone who took part!