The 2018 Garden Riots Awards for the Northwest Perennial Alliance Seattle Study Weekend!

Abies koreana, in Jim Gutherie’s garden, looking exquisite.

These are my own personal favorites for the Northwest Perennial Alliance’s Study Weekend in Seattle. This is not official, nor the result of even a casual survey of attendees, just my own selfish opinions….

All of the speakers were great!!! I mean this, seriously. I am not known for my PC’ness or empty platitudes. First, goes to the brother and sister team Jimi and June Blake from Ireland for their informative and infectious talks on their gardens and plant loves, for the attention that June brought to us of the history and unique contexts of the place where she gardens, her design sense and ways of working. I particular enjoyed Jimi’s understated wit and sense of humor and our shared plant sympathies, including his for Salvias and his many other favorites as well as willingness to tear into and completely revamp his own garden. If I’d only had the list of plants that they chose to talk about, that would have been plenty enough to have gotten my attention, but their abilities as presenters, as interesting people and characters, brought it all ‘home’. Loved the ‘blue’ Jimi. You’d never catch me dead in it, but on you…it fit perfectly.

Dan Hinkley for his ability to make us all feel good about this obsession we share, his ‘fresh’ perspective that he always seems to add to this thing that we do…and his reminder of how Helen Dillion would continuously ask if a plant combo was working or was this or that plant pulling its own ‘weight’….how we need to ask our gardens to meet evolving standards in order to fulfill us.

Janice Currie, whom I met last summer in Victoria, for reminding me that I do really need to travel more, that trips to New Zealand, South Africa’s Cape region and the South American Andes should not sit too long on the back burner and that I really need to tear out my front bank and construct a crevice garden.

A special ‘award’ to Riz Reyes, the horticulturist/gardener, at Mcmenamin’s Anderson School in Bothell, for being such a wonderfull tour guide who was able to stretch our 20 minute ‘tour’ into a 2 hour experience in the rain….None of us left!  We walked the grounds listening to his stories of the garden’s construction with plenty of personal anecdotes, particularly of his own ‘donations’, a few plugs and prompts for us to come back, a little of his own story and favorite plants in the garden today.  He responded to our questions with great humility, a characteristic that any serious gardener eventually learns, beaten into us by our failures and difficulties inherent to our sites.

This was the only photo I took at Mcmenamin’s Anderson School in the steady drizzle. Several in the group were struck by this plant, Allium ‘Red Mohican’. There were many remarkable plants here including a Chain Fern, Woodwardia unigemmata, with 4′ fronds leaning over a low planter wall, which I saw later growing at Old Goat Farm, which prompted me to go home, dig mine up to put in a pot, saving it from where it was struggling in the roots of my neighbor’s Kwanzan Cherry! The many, very different gardens at Anderson are especially impressive in their design and size when you consider that it is only Riz and his assistant, Michelle, who are the sole worker bees there.

Claudia West’s joyful and infectious enthusiasm for what can be a very overwhelming and depressing topic, melding our traditional approach to gardening with an awareness of nature’s own ways of blending species into communities that are not only beautiful, but call into question our aesthetic and practices that don’t just put the world at increased risk, but are a drain on our own resources and energies as we struggle to care for our gardens and landscapes.  She makes a great team mate with Thomas Rainer who presented a few years ago in Portland.

Thank you Julia for your hillside garden, for offering us perhaps the best obscured view on the tour of Mt. Rainer, for your still blooming Calycanthus chinensis and its gorgeous white flowers.  I couldn’t find my picture of it, as I’d saved it somewhere! but found it and posted i later.  Thanks for your graciousness and the gift of an individual serving size cup of Costco guacamole that saved us from our plain chips.  A mature garden doesn’t mean boring.

The story is that the mountain is perfectly framed by the trees here, and, that not only had it been looking wonderful over the entire weekend, was still so this Monday morning! Myth or fact?  Several years ago her Tetrapanax, middle distance, to the right of the frame, would have been the plant everyone was talking about.  Here, like many others in her garden, it fits comfortably in with the rest of the plantings, still a cool plant, but now a role player.  I like that.  Not every plant should get to say ‘look at me’!  Good design requires this.

The flower on Julia’s Calycanthus chinensis, beautiful, and very different than the flower of either of North America’s two species.  Julia pointed out that there is some question as to whether they should be in the same genus…but, in botany, and most other things, ‘looks’ aren’t everything!

Thanks as well to host, Lisa Bauer, for opening her garden, showing how to do it right in a small space with excellent design and plant choices, clean lines that included a pool/rill/fountain that fits perfectly and for your humor and taste level in your use of details like your ‘chopsticks’ and ‘swimmers’.

In Lisa Bauer’s front garden, Senecio candicans ‘Angel Wings’ one of the weekend’s stars of many pot vignettes, said to be of unknown hardiness for the wet PNW, but but gorgeous with its somewhat succulent leaves.

Millie gets the ‘Holy Crap’ Award for her audacity and perservence in gardening on a slope that is as close to a cliff as can possibley be gardened upon. Her energy would seem unbounded and her design sense, or her good sense to utilize the good design of others in her paths and water features, was spot on for her site.  Her bridges and stair/ramp system of steel, anchored somehow to a slope, made it possible for those of us with energy to climb up which would have otherwise limited the brushy copse above to mountain goats!

How many people would even consider gardening on this site. That’s Millie’s house above. The only street to the site is on the other side of the house! and…the garden continues on down the hill from here. This ‘patio’ is a pickle ball court built by the previous owners years ago when they could drive equipment down here, but all of the other hard surfaces, paths, retaining walls etc., are courtesy of Millie!

This retaining wall is faced with steel. We particularly liked her planted ‘sconces’ here.

3 Billy Goats Gruff would have been very appreciative of this fabricated steel series of stairs pinned to this steep slope.

Who doesn’t love a good suspension bridge! Very fun to walk on once your get the rhythm.

I was impressed by many of the pots gardeners had created, both as free standing vingettes and for their innovative, to me, and beautiful use in the garden…I need to up my game!

How Equisetum should be grown in the garden. I love this plant, it is so architectural.  After spending so much effort over the years trying to limit its spread in Parks I was once responsible for…this is how it should be done.

This looks like Fargesia spp. ‘Scabrida’, looking especially fine in this pot that picks up the color in its culms, next to well executed Tori Gate.

I love the Restios as a group. This one, Elegia capensis, has gorgeous bracts and as a zn9b plant this pot shows it off well and makes it easy to move inside to protect.

Beautiful, cleanly grown Agave…what’s not to love.


Not every plant need be planted…this one makes a well placed fountain

I’m going to give a little special mention to the town of Edmonds.  We had dinner and spent a little time wandering its downtown area noting its many little public ‘gardens’ planted and cared for along the street by volunteers.

Just a single example of what the folks of Edmonds are doing. All of the street side plantings we saw were in great shape and showed very little damage. Such plantings often show the indifference of the public or, neglected, don’t grow very well and get out competed by weeds.  There are some choice plants in these, including one of the Weekend’s young star’s, Senecio candicans ‘Angel Wings’!

I’m not a Petunia fan, after too many years of laying out and caring for so many annual beds, but this one is very nice.

This beautiful rock fountain was in a little plaza where we got gelato. It was lit perfectly by the evening sun.

Jim Guthrie’s Japanese inspired hillside garden took every possible advantage of its site and the design elements were executed to a high standard. I have to note his naturalistic use of stone on his steep site, in his water features and placement in paths and as ‘bridges’ across his stream, beautiful. Even the music playing in the garden resonated perfectly creating a coherent and wonderful ‘whole’. His koi pond and structures were amazing, his plantings well suited and several of his specimen, i.e., his large Tree Fern, were show stoppers.

Another well executed fountain, this one below his large Tree Fern he takes pride in and protects every winter.

His 4′ deep pool with vertical sides has protected his koi from raccoon predation for several years now.

All of this rock, brought in, carried down slope and carefully placed!

Hakonechloa continues as a work horse plant in his and many other gardens, often as a repeating motif throughout.

I particularly enjoyed Jason Jorgensen’s xeric hellstrip and front garden for its all in boldness and commitment.  None of my pictures of it turned out very nice though…arrgh!  It will be fun to see how it evolves.

Paul Smith and Julie King’s small garden in an old urban neighborhood resonated with me as it shares scale with my own garden. For those of us who are on such small and ‘limited’ sites it is important to see how others have dealt with this ‘problem’ which really afford us only one chance to get it right…but we keep reworking it…for now. At the last Portland Study Weekend we spent a long time with them and some other friends, after hours, at our own garden when it was on the tour!

The last garden we visited on Monday, belonged to Camille. It may have been our all around favorite on its hillside location above the Orting Valley with views, across…of thick clouds, its flowing design, well built and appropriate structures, ‘Best Tori Gate’ and an eye for plants that sated my own desire for the unusual with enough discipline to pull all of its parts together.  I ended up taking more pictures in this garden, partially because it seemed less crowded with visitors, I’m sure because it was on Monday and all of the way it in Puyallup!

Husband Dirk went above and beyond the call of duty and expectation for the entry gate to the asian portion of the garden.

Fatsia ‘Camouflage’, a Tree Fern and a Cardiocrinum bulking up for bloom next year, join with Persicaria microcephala ‘Red Dragon’, Hakonechloa macro ‘Aureola’ and Aralia cordata ‘Sun King’…all keeping company with Buddha…what’s not to love?  Good combinations abounded in this garden and throughout the Weekend’s gardens.

Hmm. This looked familiar, and nice! We too spent time talking to these Culver Oregon guys at the Seattle Flower Show about such a structure in our own garden…Haven’t pulled the trigger yet.

I have to give an honorable mention here to our Air BnB hosts, Victoria and Doug. Their Hideaway, in Lake Forest Park, just west of Bothell, was wonderful, including their garden which was on the tour for the previous Study Weekend in Seattle. Wonderful hosts, Victoria has created a beautifully designed and planted garden that is filled with both the uncommon and dependable of plants that utilize foliage and flower, in good measure, with enough texture and color to bring it alive…without making it too busy. Their’s is primarily a woodland shade garden that abuts public greenspace, which provides the conditions for this garden to win the award for ‘best’, cutest, plant eating bunnies…of course they had the advantage over others because we spent more time here in our home away from home. And, by the way, they have a Kiftsgate Rose that is to die for!

This Kiftsgate Rose is truly impressive and also serves to screen the guest’s parking area from the garden.

Truly massive heads of flowers on this rose. It is a one time bloomer, but keeps it up for a month or so, depending on the weather.

These two pictures combine to form the view as we left our room.

This is just to the right of our room. Beyond the garden lies the public forested ravine with a spring and creek that continues on down through the community, home of many notorious ‘bunnies’ and natives, including some nice sized specimen Devil’s Club, Oplopanax horridus….gotta love that species name.




Another special award, ‘Best Tiki Bar’, goes to the Anderson School for its execution of said theme of its North Lagoon Tiki Bar!

Mid-Century Modern architecture proved to be a dominate theme amongst the open gardens with many lovingly restored and updated, some offering gorgeous views of the Lake and sometimes of the mountains. We stumbled across a sad example of what seems to be happening everywhere on the left coast these days, in Lake Forest Park, when, on an evening walk, we passed by what was once a gorgeous example on the shore of Lake Washington. You can’t buy good taste or common sense!

Mid-Century Modern Ranch style homes were predominant on the tour. This one, of Ryan Smith and Ahna Holder, settled perfectly on its site offering several formal patio/social areas for entertaining. Very nice!

We checked this place on Zillow and saw pictures of it prior to demolition. What a waste. It was estimated to sell for over $2 million! No one I know can buy a tear down for that!

Any gardener who open’s their garden for the Study Weekend gets an award for bravery, as the stress level is ratched up even more than when you open it for the Open Garden programs due to the numbers of visitors and the fact that program visitors are often the most obsessed and dedicated of gardeners. The flip side is that the experience is incredibly positive for all concerned, so here is a thanks to both all of the hosts and all of the volunteers who make it happen!

Plants starred in the gardens and it interests me how certain plants stand out in my memory whether I’ve photographed them or not. I’m often drawn to the rare and ‘weird’ so it interesting to note that one of the first such plants to attract my eye was in the very first garden we visited on Friday. It was, gasp, a pine….What?  I still don’t know which pine it is, but it has an overall glaucus look with soft yellow variegated 2-needled fascicles. It jumped out at me in a few other gardens. but in retrospect I don’t think the first one was the Pinus Contorta ‘Gold Coin’ I saw in other gardens.  Aralia and Podophyllum where everywhere which made them no less seductive, but their were also gardens like Dr. Wott’s that revels more in the ‘weird’ with such plants like Amicia zygomeris, an odd Pea Family relative, and Helwingia chinensis, I think Preston told me, which forms its flowers along the midribs of its glossy textured leaves…very cool.  They are eagerly awaiting fruiting and seed. At the time I was unaware of Dr. Wott’s role as a mentor and professor of horticulture at U dub, an incubator for some of our most notable NW horticulturist.

This one, in Millie Livingstone’s garden, turned out to be Pinus sylvestris ‘Gold Coin’ I believe.

This beautiful little Pine, caught my eye, in the first garden we visited, the Hampton garden.  It’s in the long border facing the house, and like several other gardens utilized well mixed beds with yellows and chartreuse in a balanced blend.  The Pine, I don’t know which it is, shows a similar ‘softened’ effect in its own foliage, its glaucous blue/green needles over laid with soft yellow.

This Cupressus arizonica var. glabra ‘Sulphurea’ echoes the same colors as the Pines shown here, again in Camille’s garden…in a very different textural ‘package’! It has very different soil and water requirements, that have thus far caused me to hesitate before buying it. Previously I’ve tried a few other Cupressus cultivars that in my rich soil has grown too quickly, requiring excessive bracing and toppled, or threatened to do so where I planted it in my xeric bed. I still love this tree.

i first came across this curious oddity in Judith McLauchlan’s Victoria garden last year, Amicia zygomeris…kind’a makes you go, ‘whaaat’? Its distinctive leaf shape, the bracts at the base of its petioles and flowers give it a unique look for a plant from Pea Family.  Here it is in Dr. Wott’s garden.

How many plants can you think of that form flowers on their leaves? That’s not a bug on the midrib here. Helwingia chinensis with its very clean and shiny medium green leaves, the foliage is what really caught my eye from a distance..  Another cool oddity in Dr. Wott’s garden.

The Aralia family provided a lot of stars in the Weekends gardens, including this Pseudopanax ferox, zn 8b, Paul Smith moved to this garden. I saw P. crassifolius in another garden with a very similar look. I didn’t see any Arailia echinocaulis that jimi Blake is so enamored with, a Dr. Seussian plant with an entirely different form.  And do you see the Itea chinensis trained up the south facing chimney? Gorgeous!

I’ve always admired Blechnum penne-marina, the woodland ground cover fern, and here Julia grows it very well!

Loved this variegated Hedge Maple. It helps illuminate this shadier part of Camille’s garden.

This Golden Oakleaf Hydrangea was in several of the gardens…wherever it was, it just called out to me!

I had to include this shot of Kari and Walter Thompson’s Cornus controversa ‘Variegata’, a beautiful plant on its own, here well grown with its distinctive form, set off by its dark background. This was maybe the ‘stealthiest’ garden, the front garden quiet, established and unassuming, the back a riot of well placed collector plants and knitters!


We stumbled across the Kruckeberg garden and nursery on our way between Shoreline and Edmonds gardens…must come back here, himself an important figure to many of us still on our horticultural paths in the Northwest.

Thank you John, the artist son of hosts Sandy and Sterling Clarren, for your suggestion of dining at ‘The Shambles’, whose co-owner, Joel, the tall guy, helped make eating their a wonderful experience, because dining is more than just the food.  Turns out Joel is also a plant nerd and operates a greenhouse where he specializes in smaller growing succulents and cacti….We’re everywhere!

We enjoyed the weekend immensely, not just for the chance to see the gardens, to be reinspired to go back to our own, but also for the chance to get to know more of the Seattle area. It was good to get to meet a few more people along the way /whom I’ve only heard of, but so many people! Too much for my limited brain to grasp! The gardens were all in areas we knew little about and we enjoyed the opportunity to fill out our mental maps of the area a little more while it all continues to grow crazy fast and, oh my god! where do all of these people make enough money to live in all of these million dollar + homes with all of these incredible views? They didn’t do it in the nursery or landscape business!


3 thoughts on “The 2018 Garden Riots Awards for the Northwest Perennial Alliance Seattle Study Weekend!

  1. Loree / danger garden

    I really wish I had been able to attend this party! Andrew’s family planned a reunion for the same weekend in New Mexico so it was off to the desert for me. Your coverage filled in a lot of holes in what I’d seen and heard about. Thank you for including names! Nobody else has and it was good to know who’s garden I was looking at. Finally…a crevice garden!? Can’t wait to see that…get to work!

    Liked by 1 person


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