the list

A well designed garden has a great start in life, but truthfully a garden must be edited over time as it matures.  And quite honestly, this editing should be somewhat ruthless.  I often hear a client confess that they try to nurse and save every plant in their garden, even those that are looking to check out early because they are so unhappy with the cultural conditions.  The end the result can be a hodge-podge of unhealthy & unhappy plants.   I understand the inclination for preservation, we have a spider relocation program in our house (no squash – capture & relo outside).  In the garden, sometimes we are too tenuous for our own good. Plants can easily be given away (as long as you do not have persistent weeds intertwined) or just composted. You will be much more satisfied with your garden when you give up an unhappy plant and replace it with something that adores the conditions you have to offer.

Driving this need to edit is the fact that conditions change over time in a garden.  Typically its when trees mature and part sun becomes full shade resulting in plants that grow leggier and leggier each season.  On the flip side, a tree can come down unexpectedly, exposing a once shady glen to blasting sun.   In other cases, plants that performed quite well for the first few years either peter out altogether or need division to revitalize.  Sometimes we’ve (or let’s just blame someone else) planted things too close and years of hard pruning to establish a peaceable kingdom have left things with awkward forms, bare legs and unhappy foliage.   If these issues are left untended too long, a garden may need a complete renovation to restore balance and good health.

In my own garden, which is a combination of pre-existing hardscape & plantings and my ongoing renovation, I see room for improvement every season.  I am also a bit of a perfectionist and I like to tweak the design.  Rather than rushing to implement changes, I keep a running list of ideas & tasks that I review each season.   Writing it down often quells my desire to resolve the issue immediately and allows me to wait for the right season.  Sometimes the notes are nothing more than general ideas and sometimes I have multiple perspectives for one area over the seasons.  What bothered me in spring, may completely resolve in summer and I always weigh these pros & cons before implementing a change.  My overarching rule though is if it bothers me long term or requires too much care, be it coddling or clean up, it will be changed.  There are a few exceptions – an ancient tree with a beautiful form that drops debris all summer on my patio or tall miscanthus that look fabulous until the tail end of the season and that first fall rain.  I still try to design my way out of these problems, like elegant supports for the grasses.

When I review the list, I organize the work seasonally and then delegate what I need help with vs. what I can take on.  I also keep a running tab of plants I need on the list so I know just what to get when shopping.  This approach is extremely helpful come fall when its time to make changes and I know exactly what I want to do.

this plant rocks

The longer I design, the more plants I fall out of love with.  A pessimistic view, particularly for a plantaholic.  There have been many hopefuls through the years that end up finishing weak over time or just require too much coddling.  On a happier note, Geum ‘Totally Tangerine’ is decidedly not one of these plants.  Much to rave about here (unless of course you do not like orange, in which case move along).  Buttery apricot peachy-orange blooms top tall stalks in early spring and keep coming well into summer.  A sterile flower enables a long bloom time, but the bees still go bananas over it!  But wait, there’s more.  A plant cannot be just about blooms, the foliage must perform too (listen up daylilies, you are permanently banned from my gardens for foliage failure).  The basal foliage on this geum is positively lovely.  Large, robust deep-green leaves mound to about 18″.  Such a wonderful foliage contrast in the sunny garden where many plants have fine texture.  Here in the Pacific Northwest, the foliage persists well into winter.  I have paired it with Salvia nemorosa ‘Caradonna’ for a deep violet & peach combination and Berberis thunbergii ‘Royal Burgundy’ for a stunning peach & burgundy.  This one is a must-have.

A few shots of Geum ‘Totally Tangerine’ – last one is obviously a ploy just to post a picture of my cute dog, Owen.

Happy Gardening!




checking in

Its been a long time since I’ve written anything of substance about gardening.  I’ve been incredibly busy creating gardens for my clients and there is not much time left to do some of the other things I love like writing about gardening.   I’m blessed to have many opportunities to design gardens and I do get a bit obsessive about each one – it is this attention to detail that makes the difference.  Although I am very proud of every garden, I need to do better on the work/life balance.  There is no badge of honor in working into the wee hours or every weekend, despite what our culture praises.  My challenge is I have a hard time saying “no” – so many projects sound interesting!

In spite of all the work, I’ve still managed to slowly carve away, section by section, the redesign of our garden.  After almost two years of work, the garden has really blossomed.  All the more reason why today I was particularly frustrated as I stood by and watched the garden get hit by an unseasonably hard rainfall that wreaked havoc on a few things – particularly the large stand of Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’ which is now completely flat because it was caught with the heaviest seed load.  At least I got a few photos before the rains hit.  It’s not looking good for a bounce back and I will probably have to trim those beautiful seed heads off.  A reminder that as much as we plan and think we are in control, we truly are not.  On the other hand, this lack of control has produced some of the best surprise shows in my garden – nature almost always has a better eye.

A few photos of the garden (before the deluge!)




I am so happy to say that Garden Design Magazine is back!  I love this magazine and was very sad when it disappeared last spring.  The subscription is a bit steep ($45) for 4 issues a year, though still less expensive than subscribing to the UK’s Garden’s Illustrated which is also beautiful.  Magazine promises to have no advertising – just page after page of gorgeous gardens & garden goodies.  If you subscribe now, they will donate to $12 Garden Conservancy for every subscription.




beautiful book


A very big thank you to Kathy Brenzel and the wonderful people at Sunset for including a Bliss garden in the just released Sunset Western Garden Book of Landscaping.  This is a gorgeous book with mouth watering photography.  I am humbled to be included in a roster that features my favorite and some of the best landscape designers on the west coast like Arterra, Lenkin Design, and Bernard Trainor.  I have many garden and landscape books, but this is one of the loveliest!  Be sure to check it out.

NW F&G 2014

Pot Inc’s superior display

Another spring…another show.  This year, the opening day of the show did battle with the Seahawks Victory Parade.  Or at least I did.  In some kind of mental fog, I planned to go to the show on Wednesday…the same day that 700,000 other people decided to go to Seattle for the parade.  In 20 degree weather.  After arriving at the ferry naively thinking maybe parking would be a “bit” tough – I found that not only were there zero spots available and not only were people parked illegally with notes taped to their windshield pleading for mercy from the parking lot gods, but there were zero parking spots in a 2-mile radius from the ferry. After I changed plans (and missed having tea with designer/author Karen Chapman and hearing Duncan Brine’s talk on naturalistic gardening, wah!) I heard at our local market that the wait time for walk-ons was 2-boats!  Considering that each boat holds 2,500 people and I was not wearing any Seahawks gear, I guess I made the right call.

The title of this post is “NW F&G Show” and not “Seahawks parade”, so I will move on.   As always, I planned my attendance around the seminars.  On Thursday, I caught Karen Chapman’s talk on container gardening which was entertaining and choc full of lovely photos.  After the talk, I zipped through the large displays.  I always find these a bit overwhelming and unrealistic – maybe the point is to be larger than life, but I just can’t relate them to how I design.  The small displays are what consistently catch my eye – I wish there were more of these.  They are like little vignettes – windows on a corner of a garden or patio.  Though smaller, they are more compelling to me.   My favorite was Pot Incorporated’s succulent set-up with the reclaimed barn wood backdrop.  Reminiscent of Flora Grubb’s style, I was not surprised to see that her unique San Francisco nursery carries Pot Inc’s Hover Dish Planters (also for sale on Pot Inc’s site & at Dig Nursery on Vashon).  Spare forms, limited color palette and loads of succulents – how could you go wrong?

I say this, even as I swaddle my aeonium, echeveria and agave (brought back in a suitcase from my Mom’s…yes they did have spines…poor TSA) in about 7 layers of Reemay & frost cloth to get them through this second freeze.  Sadly, all the smothering with this love leads to gray mold, even with the little teepee contraption Adam built.   We shall see how they fare this hard freeze, they survived the last one. I vowed to treat them as annuals, then could not bear to let them die.  Especially the aeonium that are now as large as dinner plates.  I hedged my risk and pulled what I could into our bright garage, but the 7′ long planter…no way.  We gardeners can be foolish.  On the up side, this past winter I’ve made about 4 arrangements for friends from pups & clippings.  Its quite a treat to have the stock on hand.

Also found an interesting reclaimed metal piece by artist Steve Farris.  Note how strips of steel have been bent to form the urn shape and welded.  You can faintly see the weld joints down the middle.  Unique.

Finally, I’ve been in love with Ragen & Associates Clayfiber pottery for a while now, though the photo below does not do this lightweight pottery justice.  It’s quite beautiful and organic looking.  They had several on display around their pop-up wine bar, a good addition this year.   They have some very cool shapes in my favorite neutral – gray.  Visit their shop on Capitol Hill for a full selection.

If you have not stopped by the show yet, it will be on all day Saturday and Sunday.  The seminars continue all weekend too, so be sure to catch one or two while you are there.  Happy Spring, er at least when we thaw out…

a few mentions


Thanks so much to the Houzz community for including Bliss in the Best of Houzz 2014 for Design!  Houzz is wonderful and very addictive!  I could spend hours looking at gorgeous homes and gardens.

Another big thank you to Carolyn Mullet of Garden Design by Carolyn Mullet, for highlighting a Bliss garden on her well loved Facebook page of gardens and all things gardening –

Happy February, the month of daffys, hearts and the NW Flower & Garden show kicking off tomorrow…

buttery palette


The above plant palette was designed for a Pacific NW garden on Bainbridge Island (USDA 8a/b; Sunset 5) with an emphasis on soft yellow & orange cooled by blue hued foliage. These plants include some of my go to favorites like the Carex and Salvia as well as some special selections that I only get to use occasionally such as the ‘Moonrise’, which has gorgeous peach-colored new growth. Recently designed, I look forward to seeing the combination planted and mature.

Plant list (as pictured above left to right):

  • Geranium cantabrigiense ‘Biokovo’
  • Acaena microphylla ‘Blue Haze’
  • Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’
  • Salvia nemorosa ‘Caradonna’
  • Paeonia x ‘Bartzella’
  • Carex oshimensis ‘Evergold’
  • Berberis thunbergii ‘Royal Burgundy’ ‘
  • Phygelius aequalis ‘Yellow Trumpet’
  • Choisya x dewitteana ‘Aztec Pearl’ (2 photos)
  • Thuja occidentalis ‘Fire Chief’
  • Helleborus argutifolius
  • Philadelphus lewisii
  • Acer shirasawanum ‘Moonrise’ (3 photos)

anatomy of a design: interior courtyard


Our new house features light, light and more light which was a prerequisite for us to move just a few miles away.  The prior owners (also architects) achieved this bright interior by designing the house in a “U” shape around an interior courtyard.  Its helpful that the house gets unobstructed SW exposure and is on the water, a highly coveted position in this northern climate.

Five rooms in the house look out to the courtyard, with two opening up via French doors.  It acts as a link between the “old” cottage wing (now completely remodeled) and the modern open floor plan of the newer wing that faces the water.  Despite this, the courtyard was neglected or perhaps just unfinished. We knew it was important to make the space work as another room in the house not only as a focal point, but also to create better flow between the two wings.

Here’s what we started with:



run owen run

Reclaimed chunks of concrete formed a very tight patio space that stopped just at the edge of the patio doors, with a similar path out to the side garden.  The planting was a bit wild, though there were nice selections such as Ribes sanguineum ‘Brocklebankii’ and an Acer palmatum dissectum, possibly ‘Crimson Queen’ – both getting too much sun in their current positions.  A mature Clerodendrum trichotomum dating back to the original cottage garden was an essential cornerstone to build the new planting around.

Given that we had just bought a new house and waterfront property to boot, we needed to be budget minded in our choices so constructing the new patio space from stone was ruled out.  We also wanted a permeable surface to avoid getting into drainage enhancements.  We had some elevation discrepancies to deal with and were not wanting more wood to care for, so decking was also eliminated.  24″ prefab concrete architectural pavers were considered, however I was keen to reuse the existing concrete and wanted an organic & rustic feel for the space in step with the interior & rest of the garden which definitely has a casual beach cottage vibe.  I also wanted a warmer tone than gray.  The design solution was to use the largest concrete slabs (also the most difficult to remove) as edging and inlays in a crushed rock patio.  The concrete slabs were also used as a stepping stone path leading out of the courtyard.  The extra concrete was repurposed in another part of the garden.  An earthy & warm colored gravel was selected for the floor to echo the Moabi interior wood and seagrass area rugs.  We knew we wanted more patio space.  With the elevation differences and Clerodendrum root system to work around, we ended up with a curved design.

First up, plants were cleared and reused in other areas.  90% of the plants were salvaged, most ending up along the fence opposite the courtyard.  Next, the soil was amended.  The design was spray painted on the ground and the slabs reorganized – weeds clinging to the slab edges carefully removed.  Weedcloth was laid out and gravel backfilled.  A few extra Nassella sat in as understudies for planning purposes.  A rounded rock border provided a clean finish under the eaves where plants typically do not want to grow (too dry). The border also prevents backsplash from gutter overflow & the fascia dripline on our light colored siding.  From my pottery collection, pots in a copper red glaze were grouped (with a few additions, of course) echoing the colors in the entryway that looks out to this space.   Although we have sun just about everywhere in the garden, the Clerodendrum and structure cast shade in the new planting area (amplified by the fence screen, see below) so plants were selected accordingly with Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’,  Acorus gramineus ‘Ogon’, Helleborus ‘Pink Frost’ and Dryopteris wallichiana in the shadier areas and Anemanthele lessoniana in the part sun positions.  Though this grass does best in full sun, I wanted an evergreen grass that had soft movement.  Anemanthele tolerates part shade though will green out without enough sun. A mixture of Elfin thyme (sunnier spots) and Corsican mint (shadier spots) nestle the stepping stones.








The next step was critical – completing the enclosure.  We were stumped why this was not done during the original construction.  Instead, deciduous plants provided screening, only to leave the space wide open in winter.  We love our neighbors and their main living space does not face the courtyard, but we needed an emotional division.  Galvanized siding had been used on the house & the interior, so this was an obvious choice for the fence screening panels.  The metal panels were held slightly higher than the property line fence for more enclosure.  Trimmed in cedar with a driftwood gray-brown stain, the fence echoes the aged color of shingles used on the upper portion of the the house.  Adam took on the fence project and created a beautiful work of art that shines in simplicity and workmanship.  Small details like countersunk exposed bolts and trim drop shadows add just the right amount of interest.





As a bonus, Adam also built a succulent planter using similar design details and the same stain to draw the driftwood color into the courtyard.  The long trough planter sits under the eave and is bottomless – permeable cloth holds the soil in but allows water to drain quickly which the succulents need.   With the protected enclosure, proximity to the house and southern exposure, the courtyard will be a place to experiment with non-hardy succulents such as Echeveria, Sedum, Dudleya & Aeonium.  All will require protection during the coldest days, and I am already designing portable hoop houses for Adam to build out of PVC & Reemay for a quick drop on when we have a cold snap.  We shall see…probably will just become “expensive annuals.”  No worries, I have already been harvesting cuttings for interior arrangements and holiday gifts.  Just love that chocolate colored Echeveria ‘Black Prince’ with its coral flowers.

The final detail – furnishings.  Originally, I had envisioned a long, rectangular rustic teak dining table paired with metal chairs running down the center axis of the space.  However, we decided that the space should be multipurpose and include some lounge chairs for lazy summer afternoon napping away from the neighborhood hubbub.  To make this all work, we needed to go with a smaller round table.  All weather wicker loungers in a driftwood color pull color not only from the fence trim & planter, but the sky blue Sunbrella cushions (“Spa”) echo glass tiles in the adjacent kitchen and the surrounding pots of succulents.  A small spot was perfect for our pint sized BBQ, conveniently just steps from the kitchen.   On the hottest days, the courtyard really bakes, so we experimented with a sun sail shade this year to help cool the house, though a cantilevered umbrella probably would provide the best flexibility.   The Clerodendrum needs a haircut in the below pictures, but I couldn’t bear to do it until after the bloom.  I do prefer it with its skirts lifted a bit, makes the space feel larger.







Best of all is the new view from my office.

A before & after recap: