Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Garden Inspiration at the 2016 Northwest Flower and Garden Show (NWFGS)

By Jeanne DeBenedetti Keyes
 The display gardens at the NWFGS never fail to amaze audiences every year. Many feel that the gardens are “over the top” and don’t relate to the home gardener. I think a gardener can take away something, anything, from the design, or the use of the plants or path materials etc. from all of the gardens but some will particularly resonate. 

This year the show theme was “America the Beautiful”. Some of the gardens captured this idea better than others. I think a garden “works” better if the plants and hardscape “fit” with the environment, the house or a theme for the garden.

"The Hoh: America’s Rain Forest garden", designed by Phil Wood for the Washington Park Arboretum in Seattle, Washington epitomizes the Olympic National Forest and shady gardens around the Pacific Northwest to the last fern frond. 

Although I am a sucker for large-leaved, sunshine loving plants like hardy gingers, cannas and bananas, there is something about the bright green, moss covered big leaf maples and evergreen trees, and sword ferns that make me feel so peaceful and at home. 

I loved the variety of native plants in this garden. There were a lot of great plants, even quite a few lesser well-known plants such as bear grass (Xerophyllum tenax) and cow parsnip (Heracleum maximum Bartram).The dripping water was a great touch and good reminder of the 140 inches of rain that fall on the Hoh Valley each year.
Another favorite was "Southwest Serenity" designed and  created by West Seattle Nursery. This garden was inspired by many of the National Parks in the American Southwest. 

I think going for a general look and feel of the Southwest was a great way to showcase plants such as the bright orange, succulent foliage of Euphorbia tirucalli ‘Sticks on Fire’ or the large-leaved agaves that may not be hardy in some of the higher altitude or more Northern Southwest Parks. 

The bright sunset colors of the lewisias (Lewisia cotyledon), while native to Southern Oregon and Northern California, reminded me of the many different wildflowers that grow abundantly in the Southwest.  The rosy colored, piled rocks were spot on for evoking the buttes, hoodoos and reefs of Zion, Canyonlands or Grand Canyon National Parks. And who wouldn’t love camping with all the comforts of home in this sweet little tent?
Elandan Gardens, Ltd, always creates beautiful gardens with great rocks and wonderfully pruned trees and shrubs, reminding me of alpine and subalpine regions of Western United States, definitely “America the Beautiful”. 

This year, though, I think they missed the mark. The plants displayed in the garden, entitled "Capturing High Desert Beauty-Oregon's Smith Rock", cyclamen (Cyclamen sp.) and checkered lily (Fritillaria meleagris) are low-growing, wildflowers. Species varieties of these plants, along with craggy, windswept evergreen trees, might grow at the high altitudes of somewhere like the Sierra Mountains. 

The landscape of Smith Rock State Park is much lusher with tall sage-brush, native grasses and robust junipers. The deep river waters of the Crooked River flow by. The rocks are made up of welded tuff or compressed volcanic ash and are very craggy; yet don’t have the same “feel” or look of the rocks in the display garden. So, while the garden is beautiful and expertly crafted, it doesn’t fit the “theme”. 

These details are minor in the grand scheme of things. Most people wouldn’t notice. However, it is the details that make up an idea, the presentation of the garden, so to speak. 

Oddly enough, I heard others express a similar criticism about another garden at the show. Maybe that is the danger of selecting a well know place to pattern a garden after. In the end, it doesn’t matter as long as you like the garden and it “works” for you. In the case of this wonderful landscape, I would just change the sign to say: This garden inspired by Sierra or Rocky Mountains!

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