When it comes to creating a dream garden, Judith Jones and Rick Perry probably are the Sky Valley’s most qualified experts.
Both own garden and landscaping businesses; Jones owns Fancy Fronds, a specialist fern nursery in Gold Bar, and Perry owns Falling Water Designs, a landscape and water-feature supplier in Monroe.
Both are also regular exhibitors—and award winners—at the exclusive Northwest Flower and Garden Show, at which this year each won medals for their elaborate gardens built in the Washington State Convention Center for the duration of the show.
Planning any landscape requires some thought; planning an exhibit at the Northwest Flower and Garden Show can take a year or more of preparation, including forcing entire trees to bloom before transplanting them, roots and all, into the Convention Center, then adding entire ponds or streams, patios, greenhouses and hundreds of plants and shrubs.
Jones and Perry have a lifetime of experience building spectacular garden-scapes, but there are some basic principles that go into garden design, and anyone can use them. Here are top tips from the Sky Valley’s top garden designers:
Widen the frame A typical Pacific Northwest home has a yard shaped like a rectangle, bordered by a picture-frame bed in which there are some shrubs, roses or flowers all planted in a line against a fence, wall or sidewalk.
There are several easy ways to make that sort of yard a whole lot more interesting, said Perry, whose art-inspired garden “Monet Dreamed Here,” created in partnership with McAuliffe’s Valley Nursery and Under the Arbor Landscape Design, won a silver medal at this year’s garden show.
“For one thing, three feet is never wide enough for a planting bed,” he said. “That’s only one shrub.”
People tend to think that the border beds are going to be a lot more labor intensive than the lawn in the middle, but that’s just not the case, said Perry.
“It’s just the opposite,” he said. “Lawns are what take all the work.”
A six-foot wide bed offers a lot of room for creativity. “That is much more practical for creating layers,” he said.
“You can put plants that are four feet high and three feet wide in the back, then place plants two feet high and two feet wide in the middle and foot-tall plants in the front. That’s how quickly you can fill a six-foot bed,” said Perry.
Think outside the box
Most lawns have corners. But not only is that boring, it’s unnecessarily difficult to mow, said Perry.
“Let your borders curve,” he said. “We try to make lawns and take away the corners, so you don’t have to push a mower in and then pull it back out and turn. Instead you just mow in concentric circles, moving in the center.”
Unless you really want a formal look or like a geometric, angular design, a curvy edge to your landscape softens lines and adds interest, he said.
Plant densely All too often, gardeners plant shrubs spaced widely apart and cover the ground in between with beauty bark. While tidy enough, a garden like that is missing out on a lot of potential, and a lot less work.
Plant things so their edges meet. That allows you a lot more color, variety and interest, and allows for a lot less weeding. “You don’t want too much open space,” said Perry. “Where you don’t have plants, you’ll have weeds.”
Create a better backdrop
In urban environments, chances are you don’t get to choose what makes the backdrop for your garden. A neighbor’s fence, a blank brick wall, or a scraggly hedge can make it difficult for you to create your perfect space.
That certainly was a challenge for Judith Jones at the Northwest Flower and Garden Show, where the space she was given to create her gold medal-winning garden “The Art of Upcycling” was at the edge of the convention center and backed up to an enormous wall of corrugated grey metal.
She solved the problem by building a low wooden fence in front of it, placing shrubs behind the fence that were tall enough to peek over, then affixing bright, gaudy, six-foot-tall flags to the top of fence, thus creating enough visual interest in front of the wall as to draw the eye completely away from the unattractive backdrop.
Create focal points
A long row of rhododendrons, perhaps interspersed with some juniper shrubs, is a ubiquitous sight in Pacific Northwest neighborhoods.
But a much more interesting alternative is to instead place one large item of interest at a prominent point in the yard, and then pull the theme through the rest of the space.
“Say you have a fabulous focal point tree, and it has yellow leaves,” said Perry. “You can repeat the yellow in other ways throughout.”
A giant rhododendron with purple blooms could be repeated with mountain lupine elsewhere in the garden, or a snowy white cherry tree could be reflected with sweet alyssum or andromeda at two or three other points in the landscape.
Other focal points could include a large tree stump, a granite boulder or a piece of art such as a sculpture.
If you have more than one such focal point, don’t stick them all in the same place, said Perry. For example, don’t put a columnar basalt fountain right next to your largest flowering tree.
Instead, look for opportunities to give each one its own area of interest.
In Jones’ garden, a rainbow-hued bench that reflected the colors of the flags lining the fence rested at one corner of the garden, while a whimsical yellow greenhouse with a small patio set rested at the other. In between were several small works of art, including a glass sculpture and a ceramic snail.
And in Perry’s garden, which was dominated by a grass-framed pond and a patio, at a far edge a school of sculpted fish swam over densely-planted beds of grasses and low shrubs.
“You need balance,” said Perry. “Don’t cluster all your gorgeous things in one place.”
But clustering things that are not focal points can look great, he went on. Instead of one cyprus shrub in a corner, try putting three or five together. And if you have room, three small trees in a group creates a visual event.
“That way, as you move through the garden, there is always something to see,” said Perry.
Pick two or three colors
There are so many hues of flowers and plants that it’s tempting to try to include them all in your garden. But it’s generally a lot more restful to the eye and spirit to hold to just two or three colors, said Perry.
“It’s just like interior design,” he said. “Pick the colors and repeat them in different ways, large and small.”
As you choose your plants, do be aware of what they look like throughout the year. When planting a plant that dies off in the fall, make sure there’s something behind it so that autumn doesn’t leave you with a gaping hole in the landscape.
And be sure to include plants that look great in the winter, such as shrubs with red bark, or interesting evergreens.
Add a water feature
Both Jones and Perry included water features in their award-winning gardens, and that’s because there’s hardly anything more inviting.
Many homes have a second-floor patio with stairs down to a backyard, Perry said.
“People almost never go down the stairs,” he said.
But if you place a water feature such as a koi pond with “spitters,” or small fountains, that appeared in his display garden, somewhere in the backyard, suddenly the backyard will get a lot more visits.
“Put the feature from where you can see it from the deck,” he said. “Then maybe put a second little patio next to it; maybe with a bench where you can sit with a cup of coffee or a glass of wine and look at your fish.”
Given that the weather of the Pacific Northwest isn’t terribly inviting half the year at least, also make sure you put your water feature, which could well be the biggest investment you’ll make in your yard, somewhere you can see it from the house.
And for Jones’ ideal garden, a water feature should invite play, especially for children. The water feature in her garden was a shallow stream that ran over a bed of river rock and made a shallow little wading spot.
After all, she noted, the purpose of a garden is more than simply to plant pretty flowers. A garden, she said, should be created to be enjoyed.
Falling Water Gardens, the Monroe branch of the Falling Water Company, is holding a special Mother’s Day event Mother’s Day weekend, Saturday and Sunday, May 10 and 11 at 17512 SR 203 in Monroe. Mothers get free flowers, as well as a plant in a four inch pot, and there will be refreshments served.
For more information see http://fallingwaterdesigns.com.
To learn more about Fancy Fronds, visit www.fancyfronds.com.