Finally posting about the Northwest Flower and Garden Show

It's finally time for me to get around to writing my post about the Northwest Flower and Garden Show. I feel a little guilty attending the NWFGS Tweetup event when I'm writing about it about a month later. At least this year I have an Instagram account to provide some more instant coverage.

I'll admit, I wasn't expecting much this year and I have a tendency to focus on the things I don't like. I try to approach things like this with an open mind, though, so hopefully this post will show a good balance of the good and bad.

The City Living displays were even more sparse than last year. Most of the displays failed to capture my attention or imagination as complete visions, though bits and pieces did draw my eye in many of them. Rather like real city living, actually. I like some things, but on the whole I'd rather avoid it.  One display was leaps and bounds beyond the rest, though. Rocky Bay Garden Creations presented a truly unique and creative display.

I loved pretty much everything about this garden. There was so much to see. Hypertufa containers, both on the floor and hanging from the sides. Cool shades of grey brightened by vivid green mosses and succulents. I wanted to sink down into one of those chairs and read in the wonderful ambiance created by this display...or I would if I wasn't so self-conscious and there wasn't a flood of people passing by...

Kokedama! I've been wanting to try my hand at these delightful hanging mudballs, and this just makes me want to try it more. Maybe I should finally get around to that this year, and making some hypertufa. This to me is the mark of a good display, sending viewers off with a feeling of inspiration and a desire to try something new.

If it seems like I jump around a bit in this post, it's because I do. I went to the show on Wednesday and walked around a bit, though I saved the main display gardens for the Tweetup on Thursday Morning. So here are a few things that caught my eye in the market.

I really loved these pieces at the French Prairie booth, created by Tom and Nancy Giusti using the Japanese Raku technique. I'm not generally a fan of garden art, in fact I'd probably choose to display these in my house rather than out in the garden. They're just so gorgeous.

This one, too. I want it, but things like that will have to wait.

And now we're jumping straight to the vintage market. I didn't even bother to look last year, assuming it would be overpriced to take advantage of city slickers at the show. I'm glad I explored it a bit this year. Not only was there affordable junk, some of it was even good!

If you had a pair of disembodied legs crossed next to you, you might have a similar look of fear to those frogs clinging to each other on the left. I'm choosing this as my Wednesday Vignette this week, because sometimes you have to laugh at the ridiculous, even if it worries you or makes you afraid, like much of what's been happening in real life lately. If only it were as innocent as a pair of legs with nowhere to go.

These glazed metal dishes had my wheels turning. I could see turning them into budget Hover Dishes. And for only $5 each! Kind of wishing I had gone back for them, but I just don't have many places for hanging planters.

Now we're jumping ahead to Thursday morning at the Tweetup. I did take more photos of the display gardens, but these were the highlights (and a few lowlights).

I like peaking behind the scenes at hidden details, like these lights. I forgot to come back after the house lights were turned off to see the glow through the moss on top.

Points to this designer (whom I regretfully forgot to note the name of) for including an Arctostaphylos in their design. I wish more designers would expand their use of regionally-appropriate plants that can tolerate (or even love, in this case) our natural summer dry season.

This garden, designed for the Washington Park Arboretum and the Arboretum Foundation by Bob Lilly, Phil Wood, and Roger Williams, caught a bit of criticism for the massive red picnic blanket on one side. Taken from the opposite end, this photo makes it seem much less intrusive. Personally, I didn't mind it that much, but I was entranced by the moss.

So much moss! I loved it! I wanted it... I sort of have it in some areas, actually. Well, now, that's settled. Apologies for the color in some of these photos. Many of my images came out rather yellow. This was my first time using my current camera and lens in these kinds of conditions and I got a little impatient.

Stone gabions too lifeless for you? Why not add some soil and cover them in a moss-like coat of sedums? I poke fun, but I kinda liked it.

Again looking at things from odd angles, I peered over the wall to photograph this water feature from behind instead of photographing the front. I liked this angle better.

This simple design, along with the mossy Japanese wonderland, were probably my favorite display gardens this year. Sue Goetz of Father Nature Landscapes designed this serene, sedgy sitting area. I loved the clean simplicity. I'm a big fan of Carex, too. If this was my entire garden, it would be far to boring for my plant addict nature. It wouldn't be long before it was a crowded jungle. I imagine this as a garden room, right off the house, where one can sit and look out into the larger garden where more diverse plantings grow. It's perfect to me from that perspective. Relaxing and inviting. It's simple and very clean-cut, but not outside the realm of possibility. It wouldn't be that hard to maintain in real life. I think that's my favorite part of this garden. I can actually see it as part of a real garden, the lack of which is a frequent point of criticism for me.

I came back to this garden after the house lights were turned off for this photo.

This garden is one I enjoyed and could see taking inspiration from, but it didn't have the same realism for me. Maybe because it was too grand? Unlike the previous garden, I can't picture this as part of a real garden. It doesn't invite me to relax. Rather, it sends my mind into overdrive worrying about keeping everything immaculate. It's not bad. I guess it's just too fancy for this nervous country bumpkin.

Can't go to a flower show without enjoying the orchids! I love Miltoniopsis like this one with the extensive waterfall pattern on the lip.

So much to look at!

These little red pipe cleaners belong to Dendrochilum wenzelii, long a favorite of mine, though I've never grown it.

These Stenorrhynchos(?) have both attractive red flowers and beautiful green leaves spotted with silver. I've wanted to try this plant, but it has a period of dormancy in which it looses most or all of its leaves and I have trouble with houseplants that do that.

Remember how I said display gardens that lack realism irritate me? Plant combinations are probably the biggest part of that. Manipulating plant material in an unrealistic way feels like lying to me. Sometimes, you can find reasonable facsimiles for the combinations seen in these shows, but other times people who don't know better will be severely disappointed when they plant something and find out it grows completely differently. Often, I see plants put together that need completely different conditions to survive in a garden for more than a season. I realize these gardens are meant to be temporary display gardens and the designers are going more for certain visual effects rather than portraying real possibilities, but I have seen a small handful of displays achieve both realistic and visually stunning effects. It just takes a bit more effort and knowledge.

 Oh look, crocus planted with teeny tiny starts of Calluna vulgaris and Helleborus argutifolius in the background. Never mind that the heather and hellebore would swamp the crocus in a real garden. The hellebores aren't too bad, being mostly at the back of this part of the arrangement, though their portrayal as tiny clumps of leaves with flowers a few inches high irks me. What bothers me is those little heathers. Making this combination realistic would have been as simple as replacing the heathers with something like a sedum or other low groundcover. It can be done.

By far the most dumb-founding use of plant material was the "ground-cover spiders web fatsia". What were you thinking? I wonder how many people will now plant tiny fatsias along the front edges of their flower beds and wonder why they keep trying to grow into large shrubs or small trees. I hope that number is zero, but I'm not known for my faith in humanity. I don't see why the designers couldn't have used something that was actually a groundcover. There are non-invasive ivies with somewhat similar leaf shapes that are variegated, though not in the same manner as these fatsias. Of course, then you'd be constantly trimming the ivy so it doesn't smother the daffodils. Non-invasive just means it won't seed into the woods, not that it won't take over a whole garden bed. There are other groundcovers they could have used, too. This is just ridiculous.

In the same display as the stupefying fatsias, I did find this combination that I love. Juncus patens and silver Astelia. See, I'm not a total stickler for realism. Those are probably small starts of Astelia chathamica which, if grown in a climate that doesn't get too cold, can grow up to 5 feet tall. Even Astelia nivicola will grow over a foot tall. But I still like this combination. I can easily see something like Carex platyphylla in place of the Astelia in a real garden. It would be a little different texturally, and the color of the Carex is close to the blue of the rush than the silver of the astelia, but I think there would be enough difference for it to still work. The one problem is that the carex, unlike the astelia, is semi-evergreen to deciduous. In a mild winter in the PNW, it can remain mostly evergreen, but there would be other years, or colder gardens, where it would be deciduous. Not necessarily a bad thing, but I can see why the astelia might have been used instead of the carex in this display garden. It was February, after all.

Another patch of that fatsia ground cover. Why? Why?! I honestly try to be understanding when it comes to these displays, but this is where I draw the line.

Moving on. Oh look! A giant raven! Seriously, it was bigger than a human. I really wanted to take photos of this sculpture from other angles, but I didn't want people in my photos.

Ok, I guess I can't resist including one image with people for scale. They are standing several feet back but, even so, that is one big bird.

Popping into part of the marketplace I hadn't seen the previous day, I spotted this wonderful owl. Things I'm a sucker for: blue flowers, ravens, and owls. There are more things, of course, but I'm not going to reveal all my secrets.

Going back after the house lights shut down to look at the gardens again. The fatsia groundcover people do have a way with light and shadows. Corylopsis stems casting shadows on a boulder.

Vibrant green stems of Kerria japonica casting shadows on an abstract sculpture. Again, sorry for the weird yellow color. I need to take some time to familiarize myself with my photo editing software.

This Buddha made me laugh more than was likely appropriate. He just looks so ecstatic to have those Japanese maple leaf shadows on his face. "Oh, yes! These are fabulous!"

Ahem. Who was that commenting on that last photo? Well, moving on. Bare with me for a minute and stretch your imaginations. Can you see this Cephalotaxus harringtonii 'Korean Gold' as a possible substitute for a leucadendron in a cold climate? Maybe? If you squint a little? Maybe it's just me, but the fat, round buds at the tips of the stems, and the more yellow needles around them, reminded me of a very narrow-leaved leucadendron. If you were truly desperate and lived in a climate too cold for them, this might be your best option.

And we're back in the market place again. These wind chimes were absolutely fascinating. Designed and created in Portland, OR, by Deborah and Richard Bloom, the chimes themselves are pieces of obsidian. Each wind chime also incorporates various seed pods, cones, flowers, bits of wood, antler, and bone into the designs. They were amazing, and sounded great, too.

Most of them were a bit much for me, even though I enjoyed looking at them. This simple design is a bit more my speed. I'm fairly certain the circle is formed by the claws of a devil's claw seed pod (genus Proboscidea).

One more photo of a smaller version of my raven friend.

I did look around the plant market a lot, but wasn't very excited about the offerings. Not to say there weren't good plants there, but they were largely those special treasures and finishing touches that people can fit into a garden that already mostly full and just has a few spots open. Or else really basic plants that I knew I could get for less elsewhere. I did end up purchasing one plant at the show. Podocarpus 'Chocolate Box'. It was the only one left at Christianson's booth, that I could see, and it had (yes, HAD) to come home with me. You can see it here in combination with a Yucca recurvifolia and Erica arborea 'Estrella Gold', which I picked up at Flower World while I was in Seattle for the show. But that's another post.


  1. I like it when the NWFGS posts continue for a while as it allows us to relive the fun of the event even longer. The fatsia ground cover is a bit much. On the other hand, spider's web is very slow growing, especially in poor soil. I've one planted in a harsh space that hasn't put on much growth in five years but still looks happy being tiny. There is another plain fatsia that seeded itself too close to a path in my garden. Every year I think about moving it but usually just cut it to the ground every other year. The bottom grows back and the top is rooted or thrown in the compost heap. It would be a bit of work to have it as a ground cover but could be achieved.

    1. True. If we all posted at the same time, it would be a little overwhelming, too. Maybe the fatsia ground cover could be done, especially around the base of a large tree where you could let it grow 1-2 feet high, but why go to that much trouble?

  2. I guess technically, Doug fir can be a ground cover, depending on what your scale is, or how far you zoom out. But no, as you know, I agree wholeheartedly with you, Evan. Some of those plant combos were real doozies... I like your Leucadendron alternative - very cool! Your vignette did indeed make me laugh! What a crazy coincidence, huh? I haven't gotten to my NWFGS post yet either, and after reading yours, I think I need to wait awhile longer. We took a lot of the same photos, I'm afraid! :)

    1. Hahaha! Yes, even redwoods could be considered a ground cover depending on your scale. Oh dear, I guess we think alike. Well, that just gives you an excuse to put off your NWFGS post, if you were looking for one.

  3. Like Peter I agree that it's nice to have the NWFGS posts stretch out for awhile, this was fun to read. Believe it or not I had that very same conversation with someone else, about the Cephalotaxus harringtonii 'Korean Gold' as a possible substitute for a leucadendron. Funny. I also don't recall seeing the legs in the vintage market. Do you suppose someone bought them?

    1. I do believe it. You were the first person I thought of when I saw that Cephalotaxus. It's narrow, too. You could shoe-horn it in somewhere! Maybe someone was worn out after a day at the show and needed a spare set of legs?

  4. I enjoyed your review of the show, especially the mix of appreciation and annoyance. By comparison to the "local" Orange Country show here (so bad after recent changes that I may just skip it this year), your show is of stellar quality all around but I understand your concerns. I laughed at the disembodied legs and the poor frogs and I loved the raven and the wind chimes.

    1. I hope you get to visit some great gardens this year to make up for your poor local garden show. Those legs were just bizarre, but funny.

  5. This excellent post about the show was well worth waiting for! I appreciated your insights and thoughts. I can see where you're going with the Leucadendron substitute. I chuckled when I first saw those crossed legs at the show. I was tempted to buy them, but had no clue what I'd do with them when I brought them home. I noticed they were gone the next day. Sue Goetz's garden was one of my favorites too, I just wish the Carex had been more orange.

    1. Thanks, Alison! Mixing in some more orange sedges into the green ones would be fun.

  6. I love Podocarpus--you got a gem there.

    All your photos and descriptions were interesting. I like the Big Bird, and the Raku pieces are gorgeous.

    Someone who did show display gardens told me they usually had to work with what plants were available, not what they wanted to use. The choice is either to use something inappropriate, or have big empty gaps in their display. It made me more sympathetic.

    But, yeah, Fatsia groundcover is pretty funny!

    1. I know I shouldn't be quite so hard on the people who put these gardens together. I understand that it's often a matter of what's available, so I try to imagine plants that would work together and give a similar look. The Fatsias, though. I can't imagine the thought behind that.

  7. Hay, you like owes? I never would have guessed ;-)
    The NWGF show is a distant memory now and I'm happy for the re-visit. I too rolled my eyes at fatsia ground cover, especially when I heard less experienced gardeners admiring it. Should I have jumped in and warned them? Nah. After all, it was visually appealing.
    The Arboretum garden display leaflet said it "...depicts hanami, the lively Japanese tradition of picnicking under a canopy of cherry blossoms". It worked well with the theme of the show, even if the red was a bit startling.

    1. I suppose my photo does sort of give that away. :-)
      It's funny. Now I'm thinking it would actually be a good thing to wait a year and post about the last show right before the show of the current year, if the point is to drum up interest. Ah well. Like everyone has been saying, having bloggers publish their posts throughout the year let's people revisit it.
      I liked the Arboretum garden. I didn't mind the red and agree that it fit the theme well.


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