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One of the big-three garden shows in North America, this Seattle-based annual extravaganza is more than a plant showcase – it’s a trendsetter. But trend-spotting is not as easy as it seems without a practised eye, so I asked gardening guru Brian Minter to walk me through the heart of the show – the 27 spectacular display gardens – to identify what he sees as the emerging gardening trends for the coming year.
One of the most obvious new directions evident at this year’s show is a strong move toward maximizing benefits from the garden. For example, almost all the display gardens featured water – from mini cascading waterfalls to streams, ponds, fish tanks and channels. And it’s easy to see why. Water has been prized for millennia, not only for its visual appeal, but also for its soothing, hypnotic effect. These days, as our daily stress levels skyrocket to new heights, calming water features are becoming a must-have in many gardens. Another interesting trend is the migration of vegetables and herbs from raised beds in the backyard to the front garden, once the sole domain of flowers.
Perhaps the most fascinating new direction evident at the show is what Brian dubs ‘gardentainment,’ a Minteresque term for “putting features in your garden for entertainment value.” The first display garden in this category to catch his eye is Moorehaven Water Gardens’ Simplistic Harmony. Here, six giant koi glide around a 13,500-litre reservoir, mesmerizing showgoers as they pause to watch the fish through the transparent side of the tank. “This is naturevision at its best,” observes Brian. “I love the idea; the movement of the fish in the tank, the gentle sound of the water.”
We move on to Urban Sanctuaries, a display created by Swanson’s Nurseries, where a spiral mound of herbs and lettuce reminds us just how aesthetically pleasing edibles can be. “This is a garden that satisfies our sense of taste in more ways than one,” says Brian. “Harvesting fresh from your garden is big, big, big, and if you can combine that asset with colour and beauty you will have a winner every time.”
A few steps away is LBL Landscape Group’s impressive With Water and Stone. “This garden has something so many are lacking: the dimension one gains from elevated beds or sunken relief,” says Brian. “By elevating or lowering beds you create a sense of depth and spaciousness. This is especially useful in a small garden [the display garden itself is 73 square metres]. Because the water feature is small in relation to the rest of the garden, it leaves enough space for pockets of colour, which you can change with the seasons.
The analogous colour scheme [of daffodils, tulips and hyacinths] is accented with white; the calla lily [Zantedeschia aethiopica] act as a refreshing highlight. And the gazebo placed at the back and above the garden also gives two perspectives; it allows you to appreciate the height and depth variations. This garden also makes good use of perennials like New Zealand flax and the purple-foliaged Heuchera ‘Can-can.’ It’s definitely a show garden, but it is also the type of garden anyone could have.”
Depth is also evident in Your Home is Our Watershed by SH Landscapes, a project that clearly focuses on water-conscious design. The backdrop is a naturescape of native and non-native trees: Colorado blue spruce, vine maple and Western red cedar combine to make the effect richer, greener and warmer. Shrubs such as variegated dogwood and yellowtwig dogwood, planted against the backdrop of the trees, create an interesting contrast. “This is something we can all do in our gardens,” says Brian. “Remember that texture and tone are so important. By introducing the correct contrast you are making the environment warmer and more soothing.”
If a single tree could be dubbed a showstopper, it would have to be the Acer palmatum var. dissectum (laceleaf maple) in Woodland Retreat. Stunningly backlit to enhance the effect of its bare branches, this tree was the undisputed star of the display. “The value of a specimen tree like this is priceless, philosophically and monetarily,” muses Brian. “This is a great example of building a garden around a specimen tree. The lesson here is that if you see a tree like this, it is worth the investment. It captures your imagination. By making the laceleaf maple the focal point of the garden and blending natives like evergreen huckleberry and bunchberry, it makes for a very soothing environment.”
Right alongside is another magnificent garden, Aqua Pelagone, created by Russell Watergardens/Russell Services. It offers an engaging compilation of audio, visual and ionic therapies that work well together. Again, it’s the use of available space that most intrigues Brian. “This shows just how much you can put into a garden. Most of these gardens are 45 to 72 square metres [this one is 63 square metres], which is about the size that many gardeners have to work with. Just look at what’s been created here; there’s good use of height and depth and there is a gazebo, the sound of falling water, and movement from the water and the fish. The pillars and statuary give the garden a sense of timelessness, and because they pick up on the theme of the Roman gazebo, it doesn’t look contrived. There is plenty of colour from the tulips and daffodils. It’s very inviting.”
Inviting is also an apt description for The Firewalk. Who can refuse the invitation to peep behind the medieval-style door that marks the entry to this garden? Brian finds it compelling. “It [the door] injects a feeling of anticipation. If the door is there you must go through it. It has that ‘secret garden’ feel. This shows the value of having an entrance to a garden; it makes it irresistible.” The garden stretches the width of the display aisle, through to the other side. This is where the ‘secret garden’ is revealed. A small wooden bridge – symbolic of faith over fear – crosses a stream of radiating colour from the Tulipa ‘Orange Monarch,’ Narcissus ‘Jetfire’ and Tulipa ‘Red’. Generous use of grasses and bamboo introduces movement, and the fragrance that emanates from plants like hyacinth and jasmine jolts the senses. The Firewalk is described by its designer, Dianna Macleod, a graduate of the University of British Columbia’s design program, as a “spiritual journey toward self-discovery.”
Which brings us to the theme gardens. “Theme gardens are great,” says Brian, “but very often people get carried away and do too much. Too many focal points can be confusing.” Even so, it was the theme gardens that took some of the top honours at this year’s show. The Founders’ Cup went to The Octopus’s Garden, designed by Judith Jones and Vanca Lumfden. This underwater garden, geared to captivating the child in all of us, features representational sea flora and fauna amid the flotsam and jetsam of human passage. The kids love it. How can they resist, with brightly coloured fabric fish ‘swimming’ through the exhibit, attendants masquerading as mermaids blowing bubbles, not to mention the chance to sneak a few minutes in the wooden boat while mum’s not looking?
The Exhibitors Choice Award, voted by the garden creators themselves, went to When the Deep Purple Falls by Dean Backholm Landscape Design. Brian sees it as a superb example of creating a seamless transition from outdoor living space into the house. He lauds the “gentle use of water,” noting that “the water is reflective because the trough is painted lavender in keeping with the theme. The use of colouring throughout the garden is very relaxing. They use all the hues of purple: Spanish lavender, ‘Gartenmeister’ fuchsia, blue hyacinth, purple verbena, the ‘Negrita’ tulip. The strength is in the analogous planting. The strong link with the house, plants trailing down the gazebo, vines growing up. The use of chairs designed for inside, being ‘gardenized’ for use outside. The walls of the house give a sense of privacy and seclusion. This garden just feels right on every level.”
The romantically themed Wedding Night Garden was voted tops by visitors to the show and won The People’s Choice Award. White and purple colours dominate the Pamela Richards design. Brian is captivated. “The fragrance of the clematis, tulips and lavender and the white birch is quite lovely.” Even the stones between the pavers in the path are white. The garden also features an outdoor shower, a dining table and chairs dressed up in flouncy white fabric to complement the draped arbour that defines the bedroom. Complete with bed. “It’s a little risqué,” says Brian, “but big on romance and fun. It is a theme with power; it’s a theme that works.”
As we are about to turn away, his keen eye notes yet another detail. Near the entrance to the garden is the sweetly scented Narcissus ‘Bridal Crown.’ It’s a fine touch that indicates just how focused the designers were on developing their theme to its fullest. All that’s missing is the fairy-tale couple.
And all that’s left for me is to drive home with a head full of fresh possibilities for my own garden.
Show booth photos by David McDonald, courtesy of Northwest Flower & Garden Show.