In late July, I was lucky enough to meet up with 70 wonderful and somewhat crazed garden bloggers at the fourth annual Garden Blogger’s Fling, held this year in Seattle. Hosted by Lorene Edwards Forkner of Planted at Home, Marty Wingate of In the Garden with Marty Wingate, Outdoor Living Expert Debra Prinzing, and Mary Ann Newcomer of Gardens of the Wild Wild West, the Garden Blogger’s Fling was a four-day garden-touring, people-meeting, drink-swilling extravaganza. Good times.
We saw so many fantastic gardens during the Fling, but one my favourites was actually the very first. Belonging to Suzette Birrell and her husband Jim, this North Seattle garden stood out for me for a few reasons: it was personal (and infused with personality!). It was full of charming vignettes and subtle garden art without veering into kitsch or having the details overpower the garden as a whole. And it had the most fabulous vegetable garden.
Considered to be one of the top traditional Japanese gardens in North America, Nitobe Memorial Garden honours the Japanese scholar, educator and diplomat Dr. Inazo Nitobe (1862-1933).
Nitobe is meticulously designed and maintained, down to each pebble; every leaf and stone. And everything is infused with meaning.
There is tranquil harmony here, in the careful balance of masculine and feminine forces traditionally attributed to natural elements: waterfalls, rivers, forests, islands and seas. Grab a pamphet on your way in – it directs you on a self-guided tour.
A number of stone lanterns, strategically placed, grace the two-acre oasis. Stone lanterns appeard in Japan during the Asuka period and were used to light the front of Buddhist temples. Their decorative use in gardens began with the rise of the tea ceremony and the need to illuminate the roji path to the tea house. This Nitobe family crest lantern (shizen doro) was not in garden designer Dr. Mori’s original design but was added later as a gift from the city of Morioka. The stone is local to Morioka district and it bears the crescent moon and stars of the Nitobe family crest.
Stones, which have many symbolic meanings in Japanese gardens (female, male, child; alarm, sensory awareness, etc.), anchor and provide the “bones” of the garden.
I love the serenity inherent here. I really want to create a Japanese-style garden when we move to our new place, but I’ve never been good at self-restraint. Maybe it will serve as an exercise in that.
Heavy Petal is on holiday until August 9. This article was originally posted September 18, 2005.
Name of gardener: Syd Carpenter
Location: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
Hardiness zone: 6
Size: Small city garden; 100 ft. long by 25 ft. wide; three garden rooms
Orientation: South facing front garden
Years gardened: 15 years
Heavy Petal says: Quite simply, wow. Syd has done an amazing job of creating a garden using a plant-driven design. So often, it’s hardscaping that holds a garden together. Not in this case. It takes experience, artistry, and guts to be able to put together plants in a way that can carry a space. Syd has done just that. And luckily, for those of us who struggle with combining plants (and I’ll admit, it certainly doesn’t come easily for me), she has shared some of her secrets below.
Gordon Harris’ Campbell River garden.
Name of gardener: Gordon Harris
Location: Campbell River, BC
Size: A narrow, trailer park lot
Orientation: South, but with a great deal of shade, and no sun in winter
Years gardened: Seven
Style: Natural/cottage mixture
Inspiration: A forested, box canyon
Favourite element: Peaceful ambiance
Favourite plants: Lilies, tellimas, hostas, Michaelmas daisies
Biggest challenge: Narrowness of the lot
Biggest save: A large, de-potted pine tree that was a cast-off from a nursery
Biggest splurge: The Russian Olive shade tree ($200)
Advice for others: Be careful what you accept from others – Welsh poppies are taking over the garden!!
Plants press in against pathways, achieving Gordon’s aim of making his garden feel like a box canyon.
Heavy Petal says: I’m delighted to be able to share Gordon’s garden with you today in this, the first garden tour of the year. In global terms, Gordon is almost a neighbour of mine: he lives on the east coast of Vancouver Island just over 200 km away. I wish he were an actual neighbour; he seems like a pretty handy fellow to have around, and is a true plant-a-holic.
What I love most about this story is Gordon’s resourcefulness. This is a guy, who, faced with a barren lot, lack of funds, and a pent-up need to collect plants after 15 years living on a sailboat, collected seeds and plants from back alleys and building sites, and even got a part-time job at a nursery so he could take advantage of employee discounts. (Come on, we’ve all thought about it!)
Here, at the back gate, you can see how close the neighbours are. Living screens do a great job of providing privacy.
Money wasn’t the only constraint. The lot was long and narrow — making its design awkward. His trailer park had a fence height limit of four feet, and the neighbouring trailer was just a little too close for comfort. As well, a huge underground concrete septic tank sat just four inches beneath the centre of the yard!
Gordon wanted a private garden, so he quickly set about building fences (keeping to the four-foot height limit) to contain his dog and to provide privacy. He planted donated raspberry bushes on the outside of the fence and a Virginia Creeper vine on the inside. Within a couple of years, these had both grown to well over four feet high and were providing privacy from the trailer behind him.
The main garden area feels enclosed and private.
To deal with the septic tank, Gordon built up a pile of compost and soil to a height of two feet over top of the tank and built a rough stone wall along the route of his pathway to hold the soil in. This later became a rock garden. In the middle of this mound, he set pieces of driftwood on end to resemble an old stump and planted a small flowering tree in the centre. This all added to the height of the tree.
The last difficulty, the long, narrow shape of the yard, was solved by fashioning the garden to resemble a box canyon. Says Gordon, “All I had to do was to cover the vertical walls with greenery!” What you see here is the result, seven years later.
The moon gate offers glimpses of the garden beyond.
You can see many more photos of Gordon’s garden here. Thanks for sharing this inspiring garden with us, Gordon!
Names of gardeners: Owen and Cait Black (aka Aloe Designs Test Garden)
Location: Vancouver, BC, Canada
Size: Roughly 15′W x 30′L
Years gardened: Renovated from June 2006 ongoing.
Heavy Petal says: Ever wonder what garden designers do in their own gardens? Do they maintain an exquisitely dramatic display garden meant to showcase their talents, or are they their own worst clients? Today we’ll peek into the backyard of garden designers Cait and Owen Black, the husband-and-wife team behind Vancouver-based garden design group Aloe Designs. Since I’m lucky enough to count Cait and Owen as friends, I can tell you that this is a couple that really loves what they do. Their enthusiasm for gardens, fresh food, and finding creative, beautiful and sustainable design solutions is truly infectious. Enjoy!
Style: West Coast Contemporary
Inspiration: Cait’s Mom’s veg patch, Terra Nova school kids’ gardens, Michael Ableman‘s talks, Jamie Durie‘s aesthetic, and all that is Jamie Oliver!
Favourite element(s): Our custom made dining set/harvest table, outdoor lighting, clothesline, water barrels (x2), back alley raised veggie beds, potting shed, bbq fire pit.
Favourite plant(s): Phormium ‘Sundowner,’ pineapple sage, potato vine, wasabi, sweet peas, agaves, jasmine vine, the ones without names that we got at a University of BC plant auction, arugula, Magnolia grandiflora ‘Little Gem’ and of course all our veg and fruit – without you there would be no garden to call home!
Biggest challenge: Wet soppy area in back north corner; hideous sinking fence that surrounds us; all the wandering alley cats that are looking for a litter box.
Biggest save: All of the used materials and plants that are leftover discards from clients’ jobs.
Biggest splurge: Installing a 10′x10′ patio of pavers and very expensive Mexican river rock.
Advice for others: Dig, Plant, Grow. It’s as simple as that. Garden because you want to, because you need to, because it is good to you. Have confidence that things will grow. Plants have an amazing way of working themselves out. Begin with a veggie patch and the rest will become contagious. If you only have a small patio, start with herbs in pots; it’s a sure way to success. Think big, bold, and soothing when laying out the plans. Start with a plan, hire a designer and make it happen. The sun will follow.
Before: Providing just a hint of the tightly-organized garden that is to come, Owen builds the raised beds that will define the patio area and produce a bounty of food.
After: The resulting garden manages to be geometric yet informal, restrained yet risk-taking: what Cait calls thinking “big, bold and soothing.”
This is a hard-working plot of land; it serves as a comfortable hangout for friends and family, produces a mighty amount of food, and is a testing ground for trialling plants and design concepts before they are implemented in clients’ gardens.
Check out their custom-made, sunken barbecue fire pit: a creative approach to the space crunch and a novel way to disguise those (let’s face it) unsightly barbecues.
Growing fresh fruits and vegetables is the garden’s raison d’etre. And it does it beautifully!
Thanks Cait and Owen for sharing your garden with us. You’ve inspired me to start planning my veggie garden for next spring.
Names of gardeners: Willi and Jon Galloway
Location: Seattle, Washington (USA)
Size: Not big enough! About 200 square feet.
Years gardened: Installed in April 2008.
Style: Geometric raised beds.
Inspiration: The garden my mom kept when I was growing up. She grew an astonishing amount of food and I loved to hang out with her while she gardened.
Favourite element(s): Our pole bean fence. We stapled panels of concrete reinforcing wire to our cedar fence to expand our growing space. It worked great! We grew beans and butternut squash on it this year and next year we want to try sugar snap peas followed by cucumbers. Also, we built a little hoop house and planted peppers and basil in it. I nicknamed it the Pepper Palace and it totally rocked. We got our biggest ever harvests of peppers and basil, even though our summer was historically cold and crappy. I’m going to build an even bigger one next year and try eggplant and okra.
Favourite plant(s): My favorite plants are always changing! But this year I really loved ‘Erbette’ Swiss chard. The stems are super tender and the leaves have a succulent texture and almost spinach-like flavor. I planted it from seed in May and am still harvesting weekly. Superb!
Biggest challenge: Keeping our big 85-pound Labrador retriever and flock of four hens from digging everything up. We lost beets, two crops of carrots, and a row of bean seedlings to our pesky critters. Jon built a fence mid-season, but the chickens somehow manage to squeeze their fat little bodies through the four-inch wide wire squares and the dog jumps over it! We’re re-evaluating our options for next year.
Biggest save: Recycling the cedar boards from a section of fence we removed. We used the boards to build our raised beds. Lumber is expensive and this really helped keep down costs.
Biggest splurge: Renting a sod cutter. Digging out grass by hand is a major pain. We bit the bullet and spent 85 bucks renting the sod cutter and removed all of the grass in just a matter of hours. The amount of time we saved (and instant gratification) was definitely worth the cash.
Advice for others: Try growing a bit of your own food. It is enormously gratifying (and tasty!). Start with baby greens and radishes. They are ready to eat in under a month and grow well in pots, which means even apartment-dwellers can join in on the fun. Also, if you don’t have space to garden at home, look into joining a community garden. We’ve gardened at two different community gardens in Seattle and it was awesome. We met tons of nice people and soaked up a lot of great, localized gardening advice along the way.
Heavy Petal says: I’m so excited to be able to share Willi and Jon’s garden with you today. Willi is the brains behind DigginFood, a fabulous site that focuses on cooking with food fresh from the garden. She’s also the West Coast Editor of Organic Gardening magazine, the garden expert on eHow, a Master Gardener – the list goes on. Let’s just say she knows a thing or two about growing food!
The garden you see at top looked like this just this past spring. Doesn’t that just blow your mind? Think about it: this rather pitiful patch of grass now supports an incredible variety of vegetables, herbs and flowers.
Oh, and chickens, too.
Here are the newly-finished raised beds, ready for greatness.
The raised beds were constructed out of cedar recycled from an unneeded section of fence. This one contains a butternut squash growing on a sturdy teepee.
Romaine lettuce grows in the shade of pepper plants to prevent them from bolting in the summer heat.
Willi with an armload of ‘Satsuki Midori’ cucumbers. According to Willi they are, “the best cucumbers. Ever.”
I’m amazed at how much Willi and Jon have managed to grow in their little backyard. So inspiring!
You really must check out the rest of the photos. It’s truly fresh food porn. :)
Thank you Willi and Jon for sharing your garden with us.
Like this garden tour? Why not join the fun? Find out how.
Gardener: Marcelle Stone
Location: Spokane, WA, United States
Size: Edges of an 8 foot-by-12-foot balcony (tried to keep the weight over support posts)
Years gardened: Three
Style: Let’s see what we can grow in a pot.
Inspiration: British window boxes
Favourite element: End-of-summer overgrowth
Favourite plants: Herbs: Lemon balm, parsley, mint, cilantro
Biggest challenge: Weight: This is a balcony garden. Aphids also figured–let’s say prominently–this year. Many thanks to Warren Wessels for his help on this, and all, fronts.
Biggest save: Free bee-and-frog visits: The frog eats bugs, the bees pollinate. How the frog found the garden/climbed up to it is a mystery.
Biggest splurge: Not-really-necessary Wellington garden boots.
Advice for others: Start somewhere: There is a lot of information out there and it can seem daunting (there seem to be a lot of ways to do things wrong). Let the plants surprise you with how hardy they can be. Expect to make some mistakes but count on a lot of pleasant surprises.
Herbs such as mint, cilantro and parsley mingle with nemesia and cucumber.
Marcelle mixes ornamental with edible for a lush effect – while restricting the weight to the edges of her balcony.
Yes, you can grow carrots in containers. These look like ‘Thumbelina’ to me.
Peppers and nasturtiums are obviously thriving on this sunny deck.
See more photos of Marcelle’s balcony here. Thanks Marcelle for sharing your garden with us!
Gardeners: Francesca and Scott
Location: Portland, Oregon
Size: The total lot is 50′ x 100′ but the backyard is only a tiny portion of that.
Years gardened: 3
Favorite element(s): Miniature fruit!
Favorite plant(s): Banana, pineapple, fly eating thing.
Biggest challenge: The rocks were our first hurdle. Now we are combating the moles.
Biggest save: There really wasn’t anything but rocks when we moved in so we didn’t have to get rid of many invasive plants, just several tons of river rock.
Biggest splurge: I can’t stop purchasing containers and pots.
Advice for others: Just do a little at a time as you feel like it. Don’t underestimate rocks. Don’t plant too many cherry tomatoes. Pumpkins are unhappy in the shade and in small containers.
This little container grouping holds unusual edibles like coffee, limes (not shown) and even pomegranates among the ornamental plants.
Fennel and curry find their way into the perennial side garden.
And check out the bees on this artichoke flower!
See more photos of Francesca and Scott’s garden here, including “before” photos that show just how much this garden has changed in three years.
Thanks Francesca and Scott for sharing your garden with us!
Want to share your garden with Heavy Petal readers? Do it now!
Today marks the launch of Rock n’ Scroll: the Heavy Petal Garden Tour (woot!). See gardens from around the world, and share your garden with the whole wide web. Here’s how. To kick off the tour, I’m sharing my own back patio with you. Enjoy!
Gardeners: Andrea Bellamy and Ben Garfinkel (with daughter Lila, five months)
Location: Vancouver, BC, Canada
Size: 195 sq ft. 13′ (4m) x 15′ (4.5m)
Years gardened: 2.5
Style: West Coast modern.
Inspiration: Modern architecture, Japanese gardens and the West Coast forest.
Favourite element(s): The fence (it was time-consuming, but relatively inexpensive and made such a huge difference in the feel of the space). I also love my little woodland garden bed.
Favourite plant: This garden contains predominently green foliage plants, and it doesn’t really have any one plant that steals the show. I like the way all the different greens work together – it’s such a soothing effect – rather than one particular plant. That said, Acer palmatum ‘Fireglow’ (‘Fireglow’ Japanese maple) provides the only foliage that isn’t green, and as such, is a focal point.
Biggest challenge: Coming to terms with the fact that I couldn’t have everything I wanted in such a small space.
Biggest save: The furniture (bought second-hand and refurbished.)
Biggest splurge: The Galiano Grey basalt pavers.
Advice for others: There are almost always thrifty ways to mimic big money magazine ideas if you’re willing to put in the time.
Cladding the inside of the existing fence with 1″x3″ strips of cedar gave the space a different feeling without completely remaking the fence (or breaking strata rules).
The furniture was bought second hand and completely refinished.
Before: Boring pavers, a rough-looking fence, crappy furniture and a motley collection of containers.
After: Sleek and polished, and way more appealing to hang out in.
See more photos of our garden on Flickr.
Share your garden with others. Click here to copy and paste the survey into an email, attach photos, then email me!