Serenity in Seattle; my favorite display


While most visitors to the 2016 Northwest Flower and Garden Show were jostling for position to photograph the large display gardens, I found myself drawn to the smaller City Living  exhibits. Each designer worked with a 6 x 12 space defined by pavers to represent a high rise apartment balcony. The criteria was that all materials used in the display  could be carried through the home to the exterior. In addition the glass walls of the Skybridge where these exhibits were located should be kept open and the Seattle skyline view incorporated.

Ten designers took the challenge and created lavish displays incorporating edible gardens, lush container plantings and furniture that ranged from rustic to contemporary; something for every taste and style. While each one sparked ideas the exhibit that was my personal favorite was From Sea to Shining Sea, designed by Dee Montpetit of Ma Petite Gardens.  From the dusky purple and silver plant palette to the watery hues of the containers and the innovative use of fence pickets it afforded a wealth of take-home ideas for every gardener.

Create Your Own Style

When selecting containers many homeowners will opt for a matching set, perhaps varying the size while keeping the same shape and color but there are other ways to create an interesting cluster. For example one could stick with the same style (rustic, contemporary or traditional) but vary the color or do as Dee did and select a number of pots that are all  in cool shades of aqua but vary the style and finish.

aqua pots

A stunning selection of ceramic containers from AW Pottery were featured

This is a wonderful way to add some interest into a small space with different textures yet avoid the overall look being too busy. From a rustic finish with  detailed embossing  to a traditional high gloss and smooth finish and an intriguing ribbed detail, these ceramic containers are beautiful independently but become works of art as a composition.

Notice also how Dee used these containers in different ways.


This container cluster has it all; water, tropicals, perennials and fragrant spring bulbs


A shallow rectangular container was used to grow a vine up a woven fence panel for vertical interest, a tall vessel is used as a bubbling fountain, others hold shrubs, perennials, grasses and fragrant spring bulbs to give the illusion of garden borders, creating a sense of intimacy for the sitting nook.


Notice how the deeper brown-grey tones of the container are picked up by the New Zealand flax and wooden fence pickets

Plant Selection

It is important when viewing show gardens to realize that considerable license is taken when combining plants. Shade and sun lovers share space, while drought tolerant and thirsty plants also co-habit for the brief duration of the show. Likewise tropicals and Pacific Northwest natives mingle for a few days. The designer wants to inspire you to look for interesting foliage and flowers, to vary the height, leaf texture and form and to have fun. To that effect Dee used whatever she could find in Seattle in February! The result is a soothing but visually exciting palette in shades of blue-green, dusky purple and silvery white.


Westland astelia has beautiful dusky lavender foliage with silver overtones

Intriguing Details

Does your patio have an unattractive wall that you need to disguise? I love the way Dee addressed this in her display.


The careful placement of a wood framed mirror gives the illusion that this space is larger while also bouncing additional light onto the patio. The reflection even appears to work as ‘art’, bringing color to an otherwise blank space.


On the opposite wall, weathered wooden pickets are tied together with jute , creating an informal trellis on which the evergreen clematis can climb. This mix of materials was a lovely  personal touch, crossing stylistic boundaries to marry rustic with elegant. You could probably use old pallet wood for this project if the length of each board was sufficient.

Lighting is important in any garden and what could be easier than this string of patio lights?


The organic nature of these vine spheres doesn’t compete with the other elements in this small space the way Edison bulbs or dragonfly shaped lights might for example. A hurricane lantern containing a mosaic glass candle added light to the table.

Dee even added frosted beach glass as a mulch to several pots, again in the soft watery shades.


Dee has demonstrated unequivocally that small in size doesn’t mean sacrificing style. Rather it is about expressing your creativity in such a way that it balances your desire for individuality with an eye to scale, proportion, texture and color. Has this given you some ideas for your own garden?


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Fit for a Princess


As Ruby Glow spurge blooms with acid-yellow flowers the smoky purple stems and leaves highlight the striking purple flare at the base of each tulip petal.

It’s raining – again. Trying to work in the garden at this time of year means donning full waterproofs and accepting I’m going to be as muddy as the dogs by the time I come back indoors. Those on the east coast are probably jealous of my mud, however,  since they haven’t seen the ground for snow in months!

With the log fire burning, a mug of steaming tea by my side and the steady flow of raindrops visible through the window it’s hard to believe that most of these photos were taken almost a year ago. Yet somehow seeing these glorious tulips – a promise of spring – makes me smile.

So to cheer us all up let me introduce you to one of my favorite springtime tulips – Princess Irene, named after a Dutch Princess. This debutante entered the gardening world in 1949 when she received an award for merit by the Royal Horticulture Society.


The classic shaped flowers are a rich burnt orange with a purple flame flaring upwards from the base, and whereas many tulips have rather nondescript leaves the foliage on this variety is a rich blue-green.

Variegated Ascot Rainbow spurge, spiky Angelina sedum and coral flowers of Flamingo heather - great options to consider

Variegated Ascot Rainbow spurge, spiky Angelina sedum and coral flowers of Flamingo heather – great options to consider

Ideas for plant partners

Highlight those remarkable purple markings by combining the tulips with a dark leaved spurge (Euphorbia sp,) or purple coral bells (Heuchera sp.). Add a golden conifer for sparkle and perhaps one of the spring blooming heather with light orange flowers for a color echo with a unique texture e.g. Calluna ‘Flamingo’. Plant the whole caboodle in a bold orange pot and you have a sassy spring combo that will chase the rain away.

Planted the previous fall this container now bursts into life with 'Princess Irene' tulips bringing great color and vertical interest.

Planted the previous fall this container now bursts into life with ‘Princess Irene’ tulips bringing great color and vertical interest.

Vital statistics

Height; 18″

Bloom time; early-mid spring

Best in full sun


Plan now for fall

Tulips are planted in fall but you may be able to find these for sale as potted bulbs ready to bloom in your favorite nursery. If not, don’t despair. Order now for delivery in time to plant for this fall. I highly recommend Brent and Becky’s Bulbs. Fabulous service, great products and frankly they are just two of the nicest people I’ve ever met. Tell them I sent you.


If you love tulips, you’ll enjoy reading about my amazing tulip-filled trip to Filoli Gardens in sunny California this time last year.

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Fall Containers Boot Camp

IMG_7558 Are you ready to refresh your containers for fall? When your coleus turns to mush you know it’s time!

Yet many of us have a complete brain freeze at the start of a new season and can’t remember what fun things we have used in the past to create the ‘wow’ factor. I call it seasonal denial – we are still in a geranium mentality. So consider this your Fall Container Boot Camp.  Enjoy these three colorful designs to remind you just how exciting cool season pots can be.

1. Swiss Family Chard (see photo above)

A fun medley focused around the edible Bright Lights Swiss chard. Yes you can use edibles in your ornamental containers! The chard keeps company with two conifers (Blue Star juniper at the front and the mounding Rheingold arborvitae on the right). A dwarf New Zealand flax (Tom Thumb) adds a strappy texture in the middle and the gorgeous big rosy leaves are from Fire Alarm Heuchera. The bright pink berries are Olivia St. John’s wort (Hypericum sp.) and add the finishing touch.


All day sun or half day sun. (There isn’t much difference in Seattle between sun and shade during fall and winter! As long as the container isn’t in a lot of shade it will be fine).

How long will it last?

The chard will get eaten and St. John’s wort will lose its leaves. No problem! Take them both out and add curly willow twigs for height and tuck dwarf spring bulbs where the berries were e.g.  Tete a Tete daffodils or purple crocus. The bare soil could be disguised with some pine cones, beach glass or holiday accents.

2. Fall Fiesta


Celebrate fall with this colorful combo featuring evergreens, perennials and annuals. This was designed for a fall party so I was less concerned about individual plants going through winter.

Height was provided by the tall purple millet (an annual) – don’t you just love those fuzzy heads?! The variegated spurge, Euphorbia ‘Ascot Rainbow’ set the color palette of lemon, lime and rosy-orange. This is an evergreen perennial so can be left in the container. The vibrant orange Sombrero coneflowers have great party attitude and although these will die down in winter they can be used in the garden next year. A rust colored chrysanthemum and two Limelight licorice plants (annuals) round out the scheme.

Incidentally this design is featured on the cover of the current issue of Gardens West magazine, Prairie Edition!


Full sun

How long will it last?

Just until a hard freeze so enjoy the fiesta while you can.

3. Four Seasons Concerto

IMG_0541 Who doesn’t love Japanese maples? Did you know that there are many which are suitable for containers? This beauty is Acer palmatum Beni-ubi-gohon, which means ‘five long red fingers’. Summer color is a rich wine red, fading to bronze and then lighting up the garden with shades of crimson in fall. It tolerates sun well (this location is tricky because the front of the container gets sun while the back is shaded) and grows to 4-6′ tall and 3-4′ wide. In fact I would love two more for other clients!

Such delicate foliage needs to be kept free from competition so the other plants are lower; evergreen Japanese sweet flag (grass), Blackcurrant Heuchera and a dwarf spurge called Tiny Tim circle the trunk while the woody, evergreen groundcover bearberry cotoneaster trails to the ground. Its winter berries work nicely with the scheme.


This pot gets full sun at the front and shade at the back so plants have to be adaptable!

How long will it last?

Year round! Everything here can stay. However the homeowner and I both love to switch a few things out for a splash of summer color but that is just our preference.

Fall Round Up

So what have we included in just these three designs? Conifers, deciduous trees, shrubs, groundcovers, vegetables, evergreen perennials, herbaceous perennials, grasses and annuals! So what exactly are you doing dithering between an orange pansy and a pink one? There’s a whole WORLD of plants out there to explore. Go and celebrate fall!

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A lesson in abundance – Filoli Garden


There are tulips – and there are Tulips. As I strolled around the magnificent Filoli Garden in San Francisco last week there was no doubt that these were TULIPS.

tulip collage

For the most part these had been planted in simple, terracotta colored pots so that the flamboyant flowers could be brought out for display when each variety reached its peak.  Both the tulips and I reveled in the warm spring sunshine – life seemed to slow down.


Pots were clustered together on steps, in doorways and used to flank pathways. Every garden had its own color scheme which the tulip displays highlighted.


Where tulips were planted in the ground they were corralled by manicured boxwood hedges, vibrant under the dappled canopy of the flowering cherry trees.

But this is a grand estate garden with a team of 14 full time horticulturalists, numerous student interns and more than 100 volunteers. What can the typical home gardener take away from this?

I see my lesson as being abundance.  Rather than planting just a few tulips in my mixed containers I like the idea of filling simple pots with just one tulip variety, and waiting to display them until they are in full bloom. Perhaps a succession of colors in different pots? Maybe I can just plant them in black nursery pots and slip these inside my decorative pots when the moment is right?

IMG_2517 The other thing I learned? It’s OK to sit once in a while and simply enjoy them.

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Hot Colors for Cold Days

I have a fabulous orange container. It’s not a color I would ordinarily have chosen for our home but it was perfect for a magazine photo shoot we did this summer and I had been really looking forward to replanting it for fall and winter knowing that I would have fun playing off its exhibitionist personality!

Earlier this year I purchased a beautiful dwarf vine maple (Acer circinatum ‘Little Gem’). I knew this was the perfect focal point for my design since it had been clothed in fiery shades of red, orange and gold since August – a great way to emphasize the sassy container color. Even when the leaves eventually fall the vibrant red branches will be striking.

The difference in the light reflective qualities of these two leaf surfaces make the partnership all the more striking. 'Ruby Glow' spurge with 'Spellbound' coral bells.

You can’t be bashful with orange and I knew I needed bold companions to really make a statement. ‘Spellbound’ coral bells (Heuchera hybrid) has had everyone talking this year. This is no ordinary purple. Rather its oversized ruffled leaves have a silvery sheen on top and a delicious berry colored reverse. Partnering this with the deep purple ‘Ruby Glow’ spurge (Euphorbia amygdaloides) created a dramatic yet monochromatic combination.

'Wickwar Flame' heather adds a warm note before changing to green in spring


With the bones established it was time to add accents. I wanted to play off the orange some more so selected the spiky grass-like ‘Goldfinger’ New Zealand iris (Libertia ixioides) and the richly colored ‘Wickwar Flame’ heather (Calluna vulgaris), both easy container plants in full sun.

Add a little sparkle with 'Wojo's Jem' periwinkle







So as not to get too hung up on a strictly orange and purple color scheme I added a lighter note with brightly variegated ‘Wojo’s Jem’ periwinkle (Vinca maculata). This trails over the edge of the container together with golden rosemary.

All these foliage plants are winter hardy and evergreen here in the Seattle area (zones 6b-8). No flowers were really needed but I couldn’t resist adding a couple of deep ruby-red pansies to draw attention to the tips and stems of the spurge. (The pansies were rather camera shy when this photo was taken due to several days of torrential rain)!


The glowing foliage of the 'Little Gem' vine maple pick sup on the color of the container and forms a great backdrop for the sultry spurge


The beauty of this design is that it will evolve with the seasons yet is a year round planting. In spring the pansies will be in full bloom and the spurge will explode with chartreuse bracts. Now hidden from view, spring bulbs will push through the foliage to add another layer of interest and the tree will have its new flush of bright green, pleated leaves.  I’ll try to remember to post photos of its spring fashion show.

Summer will only need the two pansies replaced with annuals giving it a fresh new look for just a few dollars.



Sometimes we need an unexpected challenge to spark our creativity.

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