Gardens of the World – come for FREE!

Gardens of the World – come for FREE!

It’s that time of year when Seattle-ites go into season-denial. Sure it may be snowing or raining outside, but within the walls of the Washington State Convention Center the sun is shining, the birds are singing and the air is perfumed with the heady spring time mix of hyacinths, daphne and sweetbox (Sarcococca). It’s Show Time!

Yes in just a few more weeks the Northwest Flower and Garden Show will be back in full swing. Forget Disney – to gardeners this is surely the best show on earth! And the theme this year is Gardens of the World.

What you’ll see

One of the 2018 display gardens that caught my attention last year

There are 20 display gardens to captivate your imagination and transport you to the gardens of Italy, Asia, and The British Isles to name just a few, all created by some of the regions top landscape designers.

Dreaming of recreating the invigorating alpine scenery of a recent trip? Then you’ll want to see Escape to the Mountains – a retreat with “altitude” by Adam Gorski Landscapes Inc. I can’t wait to see the plant selection for this one.

Personally I’m intrigued to see Notting Hill Modern English Garden created by Folia Horticultural and Design – if only because that’s one of my favorite Hugh Grant movies! Join me for a peak into this artsy London neighborhood to see how the designers interpret this contemporary style using symmetry and non-plant elements.

Take heart if you don’t have an outdoor space  as Patterns of Peace on Earth by West Seattle Nursery has the perfect display garden for you inspired by the tropical forests and sandy beaches of Ghana. This distinctive paradise will give you ideas for creating the perfect indoor vacation.

You can read about ALL the display gardens here.

What you’ll learn

After traveling around the globe you’ll be ready to sit for a while so take advantage of one of the 100 free seminars on offer. Speakers include world class notables such as Richard Hartlage and Charles A Birnbaum, top notch “out of town” speakers including Melinda Myers, Nicholas Staddon, C Colston Burrell, and CL Fornari and lots of your local favorites including the one and only Ciscoe Morris, Sue Goetz, Richie Steffan, and your favorite deer-challenged, foliage-first designer: ME! I’d love you to join me for my talk The Squish Factor: Designing Abundant Containers on Sunday February 24th at 4.30pm in the Rainier Room.


And be sure to check out the fun Container Wars competition MC’d by my good friend, gardening columnist and television host Marianne Binetti will have you laughing while you learn.

What you’ll want to buy

Delicious food and a glass of wine will soon revive you sufficiently to shop from the thousands of garden-related treasures in the Marketplace.

Win two tickets

I’d love you to be a part of this great show and so I’m offering a pair of tickets that can be used on any day of the show. To enter just leave me a comment below telling me where in the world you’d most like to go and why. I’ll draw a random name on Tuesday January 29th at 9am PST and mail the tickets straight out to you.

Boring rules that have to be stated: comments must be left below, not on an image and not on social media (that just gets too complicated!) You’ll have 48 hours to respond to my email telling you that you’ve won, after which I’ll draw another name. Finally, all entrants must currently live in the USA or Canada.

And the winner is: Kathy Juracek!

Congratulations Kathy – I’ll get those out to you today!

Visit England for Real!

Chatsworth House, in Derbyshire England

Touring the Chatsworth Estate: Karen & Andy Chapman

Have you always dreamed of visiting England? Would you like to join me on an adventure there next year? Read more about my upcoming tour

“Secret Gardens, Iconic Estates and Medieval Tales of Yorkshire and Derbyshire”

and sign up here to notified of updates as they become available and the opportunity to register. I’d love to share “my England” with you.

Hedgehogs, Floral Tapestries, and Design Inspiration from Harlow Carr

Hedgehogs, Floral Tapestries, and Design Inspiration from Harlow Carr

One of four public gardens run by the Royal Horticultural Society, Harlow Carr is set in the beautiful English countryside near Harrogate, Yorkshire, so of course I just had to visit while I was there a few weeks ago. I wasn’t sure what to expect but found myself totally charmed and impressed by the varied displays that were both inspirational and educational. These are just a few highlights from the 200 or so photos I took!

Hedgehog Street

Openings at the base of the walls allow hedgehogs to pass from one garden to the next

The British love their hedgehogs. I have fond memories of setting out a saucer of milk for night-visiting hedgehogs when I was a child, but sadly their numbers have been in a rapid decline as hedgerows have been lost and their natural food sources destroyed. A national campaign called Hedgehog Street has called for greater awareness and pledges to make gardens more hedgehog friendly by:

  • planting nectar-rich flowers that encourage insects that the hedgehogs eat
  • leaving piles of dead wood and compost for nesting sites and foraging
  • Avoiding chemicals on lawns to protect earthworms – a major food of hedgehogs
  • Avoiding the use of molluscicides and pesticides
  • Including a 13cm (~5in) diameter hedgehog highway between gardens for greater connectivity

I loved this example of a hedgehog-friendly design, designed by Tracy Foster and installed by First Light Landscaping. Truthfully, I stopped because I thought what a great example it was for ‘small space design‘ – it was only on closer inspection that I realized it had been designed to be equally beneficial to hedgehogs!

Embracing the Earthworm

Throughout the gardens there were fascinating willow displays including a huge stegosaurus protecting its eggs and this  wiggly worm that made me smile.

Floral Tapestries

Expansive beds were richly planted in a matrix of colorful perennials, an exciting take on the New Perennial Movement and a twist on the traditional English cottage garden style.

Mature trees added punctuation points to the intricate displays

Each block of color was clearly defined in most areas…

…yet rivers of certain perennials were allowed to flow more organically through other beds

Edible Ideas

The kitchen garden display was especially interesting.

Apples were espaliered on wide steel arches

English gardens are often small so making the use of vertical space is always a priority.

A gourd tunnel is created around a pathway using pruned branches

Rather than growing a traditional tall bean tepee where one has to get a ladder to reach the top, I thought this was a clever idea:

Growing beans at a 45′ angle makes harvesting easier and shade loving crops can be grown beneath

These twig prunings were put to good use as “pea staking”, preventing chard and nasturtiums from sprawling onto the path

Traditional “pea staking”

A thrilling moment

Harlow Carr also has a wonderful library that is open to all: students, researchers, and everyday gardeners. The collection includes practical gardening, garden design, wildlife gardening…and MY BOOK!! Yes, Gardening with Foliage First (Timber Press, 2017), my second book co-authored with Christina Salwitz, was proudly displayed on their shelves. This was one of those moments that I would have loved to have been able to share with my Mum. I know she’d have been as proud as I was.

Post contains affiliate links

Interested in visiting England?

Check out my travel page and join me on an adventure!

Touchstones: Defining Moments

Touchstones: Defining Moments

It took me by surprise. Unbidden, my eyes filled with tears and my voice became thick with emotion as I scanned the rolling hillside traversed by ribbons of drystack stone walls. Familiar silhouettes of majestic oak trees and horse chestnut trees dotted the pastoral landscape while berried hawthorns bejeweled every hedgerow. Flocks of sheep bleated contentedly in the patchwork of green fields and wood pigeons cooed comfortingly from their hidden perches. I hadn’t realized how significant these common postcard-type snapshots were to my soul. Yet deep within me something fundamental stirred – these were a few of my touchstones to my country of birth – England.

When Mum passed away in 2015 I thought that my connection to England was forever lost. I have no more living relatives in that country – no cousins or aunts and uncles – no-one. That sense of loss compounded the deep grief of losing my last parent and I really wasn’t even sure I would return to England again. When an unexpected opportunity to visit the UK for work was offered to me, I realized it would be the first trip I had made in 22 years that wasn’t for a family emergency. I could be a tourist! I could visit friends – but would anyone remember me – or even worse recognize me?!

The best of friends and still having fun with Jill – Yorkshire Dales

Initially I traveled on my own to the Yorkshire Dales in order to spend time with my childhood best friend Jill. We’ve known each other since we were 4, lived just up the road from one another, and our mums were best friends too. As we walked, talked, laughed, and cried the healing I didn’t even know I needed began.

Holy Trinity church at Ashford-in-the-Water dates back to 1205 although there was probably an older timber structure on the site before this stone building was erected.

My husband joined me a few days later and together we drove to the Peak District, Derbyshire, where we used to live before emigrating to the United States in 1996. We re-visited many old haunts including our tiny stone cottage in Ashford-in-the-Water. As we parked outside the village church, we heard one of my favorite hymns “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah…” being sung in rousing four-part harmony. So many memories came flooding back as we listened – it was all I could do not to join in the chorus “Bread of heaven, bread of heaven, feed me til I want no more (want no more)….”.

Dating back to Queen Victoria’s reign, this “pillar box red” post box is a familiar icon. This one is set into a stone wall in Ashford-in-the-Water

We managed to surprise both an elderly ex-neighbor and a special friend, Vikki, who had no idea we were in the country. (Facebook helped me coordinate the surprise with her daughter – social media at its best!). We hadn’t seen Vikki for 22 years, yet it seemed mere moments as we chatted, laughed, teased, and drank coffee together. (She assured me I hadn’t changed…..just not sure that was entirely a compliment as I was trying to round her up for a reluctant photo at the time!!)

View of Castleton from Peveril Castle. We used to love hiking from Mam Tor (far left) across the ridge and into the village, especially at Christmas time when every store had a twinkling Christmas tree on the sidewalk

After a couple of days of independent sight-seeing that included a visit to Peveril Castle in Castleton and the spectacular Haddon Hall, which dates back to the 12th century – a particular favorite of mine, we went to stay with good friends in the delightful village of Calver.

Chatsworth House and gardens set in the heart of the Chatsworth estate, a favorite spot to walk when our children were small

Together we visited Chatsworth House and gardens, enjoying the bountiful kitchen gardens while also catching up one evening with dear friends, Keith and Sue, whom we hadn’t seen for 18 years. It was as though we had only parted yesterday. This was one of those powerful moments when you realize that friendship – true friendship, knows no time limits or geographical boundaries.

A very special reunion with dear friends: Keith and Sue

As we left Derbyshire and headed south I felt lighter, freer. It was as though I had been given the gift of sight – the ability to see England with new eyes and to cultivate new, happier memories.

Watching barges pass through Marlow Lock on the River Thames

Our final night was in Marlow, a short drive yet a world away from Heathrow airport. A series of crazy coincidences had made it possible to reconnect with a friend with whom we had lost touch 30 years ago!! He drove an hour and a half each way to spend the evening with us, and once again I was struck by how easy and natural it was to pick up as though only a few weeks had passed. (Let me just point out ladies (men don’t understand…) – it is pretty nerve-wracking when the last time someone saw you, you were a lithe 27 year old!!! Talk about pressure!)

Somewhere in the wee hours of the following morning I lay awake reflecting on the trip and came to a profound revelation. I may not have blood relatives in England anymore, but I do have family – very special friends with whom I can pick up and be myself even after 30 years. Those bonds give me a connection to the country of my birth that I thought had ended when mum died, but I see now the connection will never be broken. Likewise the essence of the English countryside is deep within my soul. It is a part of me. No-one can take that away. These are my touchstones.

The tiny (by American standards) English robin symbolizes the English countryside for me.

Definition of touchstones:

  • Person of importance. Significant other. Your constant, the person who completes you and makes you whole. A true friend without criticisms and judgements, who loves you unconditionally. (Urban dictionary)
  • A fundamental or quintessential part of feature (Merriam-Webster)

Making connections

I know this post is a departure from my usual garden design related posts, but I wanted to share it with you because I think many of you will identify with parts of my story and I hope it will be an encouragement to those who need it. As a designer I try to create gardens that homeowners will experience and feel connected to,  helping you create special memories in those spaces. My deepest wish is that you all can discover touchstones in your life. 

“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul” – John Muir
Interested in visiting England?

Join me on the adventure of a lifetime! Read more here.



Memories of the Greek Islands – Part 2 (Milos)

Typical Cycladic architecture in the Plaka district, Milos

Typical Cycladic architecture, colors and winding paths in the Plaka district, Milos

Unlike its famous neighbor Santorini, Milos is much quieter yet shares the same  whitewashed, Cycladic architecture, framed by cerulean skies and turquoise waters. After collecting our rental car at the port, we drove to our home for the week, Nefeli Sunset Studios in Pollonia,  at the northwest tip of the small island.

Our view every evening

Our view every evening

This was as picture-perfect as one could wish for. A large private terrace off our contemporary studio apartment from which to watch the sun go down over the ocean each evening, a delightful small town within easy walking distance where the store owners came to know us and greet us each day with a hug, sandy beaches and warm water for lazy afternoons, plenty of tavernas offering delicious local delicacies and a variety of historical places of interest to explore in the cooler hours.

Renovated Roman ampitheater

The renovated Roman theater  overlooks the port and offers wonderful views and acoustics. The original theater seated 7000 – the renovated one today can seat 700.

One special highlight was visiting the ancient Roman theater as the sun set, listening to a wonderful concert featuring traditional Greek instruments and several talented signers including Roula, our hostess at Nefeli.

Who sat here before us???

By the time the concert began at dusk, every seat was taken

The acoustics were perfect and it was impossible not to feel caught up by the history of such a venue, wondering who else had sat on these marble benches in centuries past?


The winding, paved streets were said to be originally designed as protection against pirates.

Many of the roads on Milos are unsuitable for anything less maneuverable than  a jeep, with narrow, winding, alleyways considered a major thoroughfare!


Weathered shutters set in an old stone wall

Definitely not for the fainthearted.

We did venture out a few times, however, and explored the capital – the Plaka district, even managing to hike to the very top of the steep hill to enjoy the 360′ view it afforded, as well as a view of the traditional church (perhaps placed there for those who wished to pray for safety on the return trip?).


View of the Panagia Thalassitra (or  The Ypapanti of Christ) from the top of the hill


In fact cars are not allowed in the heart of the Plaka – but that doesn’t mean they don’t try!

Our hosts also suggested visiting some of the picturesque fishing village, including  Mandrakia and Klima.


These were interesting in that they were created not so much to be a commercial fishing center, but rather a protected location for boat storage, the colorful garage-style buildings and overhead rooms now a popular place for photographers and artists.

The beaches of course are stunning – and the geology varied, Milos being known for its rich mineral deposits. We were able to explore more of these by joining a yacht trip for a day, circumnavigating the entire island, with time to stop off at a few otherwise inaccessible coves for swimming in the crystal clear, warm waters.

Th essence of Milos

The essence of Milos

Will we ever return? Maybe not, but only because it is so far away from Seattle! Every moment was a gift which we will store in our memory bank, to share occasionally or simply to reflect upon quietly.


Our love and thanks to our daughter Katie, who kept the barn cats fed and the garden watered while we were away, making this trip of a lifetime possible.


I guess it’s time for me to get back to writing my book – and taking care of the garden!

Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon

Memories of the Greek Islands – Part 1

VIne-clad cottages in Assos, Kefalonia

Vine-clad cottages in Assos, Kefalonia

Thirty years ago Andy proposed to me while we were on vacation in Kefalonia (the Ionian island made famous by the book and movie Captain Correlli’s Mandolin) and we were married three weeks later! (Well he had been asking me – weekly – for quite some time!) So we decided that would be the perfect place to start the celebrations for our 30th wedding anniversary. A splurge for sure, and significantly harder to reach from the USA where we now live, than it was from England, but oh so worth it.

So rather than a typical garden-related post, this is something of a mini travelogue, a glimpse into our summer so far. I’m splitting it into two parts, because our second stop, Milos, deserves a post all of its own.

Grab your sunglasses ….. and welcome to Kefalonia

Olivemare was our home for the first week, a delightful contemporary, boutique hotel set in olive groves

Olivemare was our home for the first week, a delightful contemporary, boutique hotel set amid olive groves

We stayed at the most beautiful boutique hotel in Katelios, a small fishing village at the southern tip of the island. Olivemare only has five guest rooms, each one with a private patio festooned with bougainvillea. Furnishings are kept simple but contemporary, but the food………………

Our breakfast room, fragrant with lavender and rosemary

Our breakfast room, fragrant with lavender and rosemary

Breakfast was our favorite meal of the day, prepared buffet style and eaten in the garden. From orange juice squeezed from the nearby trees just moments before, to traditional savory pastries, tempting freshly made cakes, Greek yogurt, local honey and fresh fruit  you could feast like a King – or try to watch calories as you wished. Everything was locally grown and home-made…..sigh.

The clouds eventually lifted to afford us a glimpse of the distant views from Mt. Aenos

The clouds eventually lifted to afford us a glimpse of the distant views from Mt. Aenos

Of course when you are re-visiting a place that was special after such a long time you do run the risk of being disappointed. Certainly Kefalonia has changed in 30 years, but we found the local people just as friendly and enjoyed re-visiting old haunts such as the underground lake at Melissani Caves and hiking on Mt. Aenos.

Road Trip to Fiscardo

As they say, the journey is half the adventure. So it is when traveling to Fiscardo at the northernmost tip of the island. Along the way one passes the most photographed beach in Kefalonia – Myrtos Beach.

Myrtos Beach - now accessible by road

Myrtos Beach – now accessible by road

Thirty years ago there were no roads to this beach  – and no people unless you arrived by boat. Now there is a winding, switchback road all the way to the bottom of the cliff. Progress? I’m not sure. I rather liked the mystery of it before.

Continuing on, Assos can be seen as a peninsula jutting into the sea.

Assos is one of the most picturesque, secluded villages on Kefalonia - and well worth the drive

Assos is one of the most picturesque, secluded villages on Kefalonia – and well worth the drive

Assos is still a stunningly beautiful place to visit and we spent a few hours meandering through the streets and catching glimpses of what this island looked like before the devastating earthquake of 1953.

Shuttered windows, broken doors and overgrown gardens tell a story

Shuttered windows, broken doors and overgrown gardens tell a story – yet some homes are being renovated in sleepy Assos

Bougainvillea is no resepcter of history, scrambling at will over and through old buildings - Assos

Bougainvillea is no respecter of history, scrambling at will, over and through old buildings – Assos

Of course I'm always interested to see how folks use containers! Assos

Of course I’m always interested to see how folks use containers! Assos.

From here it is a short drive to Fiscardo. We remembered this as an upmarket fishing village, still quaint, but catering to the yachting crowd. Today the number of tavernas and bars seems to have quadrupled, with waves of tourists arriving by cruise ship, yacht and car.

One of the upscale hotels that can now be found in Fiscardo

One of the upscale hotels that can now be found in Fiscardo (Love those urns!)

Thankfully if you look hard enough, there are still fascinating alleyways to explore – and gardens.

Home from home - a bounty of container spilling onto the road and sidewalk

Home from home – a bounty of containers spilling onto the road and sidewalk

Perhaps our only disappointment in Kefalonia was the typical taverna food, which sadly seemed to cater to the extremely large influx of British travelers now that there are direct flights here from at least three UK airports. A “full English breakfast” or a tuna salad – with canned tuna, just don’t do it for me!  More of a reason to enjoy breakfast at Olivemare.

It was still a wonderful start to our vacation, however, and we have no regrets returning there.

We flew from Kefalonia to Athens for one night, staying in the old, historic district at Central Athens Hotel. It was something of an eye-opening walk from the nearest metro station (Syntagma Square) with police on every street corner, graffiti on many of the buildings and folks just perched on the sidewalk stripping an old bicycle for parts. Not to be recommended after dark.

We had something much better planned for the twilight hours, however. We headed up to the rooftop terrace of the hotel where we enjoyed cocktails and a leisurely meal, watching the sun set over the Acropolis. An unforgettable experience and a perfect transition to our second island.

Acropolis at sunset

Acropolis at sunset


Early the next morning a taxi took us to the port of Piraeus where we boarded a SeaJet (hydrofoil) bound for the island of Milos. I’ll tell you more about that next time!

Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon