My favorite display gardens from the Northwest Flower and Garden Show

Last Thursday I went to an early morning preview of the Northwest Flower and Garden Show in Seattle, where I and a bunch of other bloggers and social media types had two hours with the house lights on and minimal crowds (just each other) to interfere with our shots. I didn't take nearly as many photos as I had planned or wanted to. Even with the relatively bright overhead lights on, I had trouble getting shots with the lenses I had in places that were shaded. I needed a "faster" lens, one with a larger maximum aperture to let in more light, and also shorter to allow me to shoot at slower shutter speeds without worrying about shaking. Either that or a macro lens with image stabilization in the lens. Time to go lens shopping again.

A persistent migraine prevented me from doing much of anything on the computer this week. Even now my eyes are telling me to wrap this up fast. So here are a few shots from some of my favorite display gardens.

First up, The Tiny Tetons by Nature Perfect Landscape Design and The Barn Nursery (a favorite stop when I'm in the area) was popular with photographers. Here's a shot from a bit further back that shows the fantastic pieces of cut wood framing the main scene.

I liked the river of Iris reticulata and sedum. Not something I'd want to recreate and maintain in a real garden, but it makes for a nice display.

I did my best to capture the depth of perspective intended by the designers.

And admired the plantings around the perimeter, like these assorted selaginellas filling up crevices between the rocks.

One of my favorite parts of this garden were the smaller side windows that opened up on different views of the landscape within. While other photographers were still crowding around the front, I wandered around and peeked in through the side.

If you didn't look through this side window, you missed the hidden "valley" that is invisible from the front. I might actually prefer this secret ravine to the main view.

A closer view:

Southwest Serenity was another favorite. I may not plant many succulents in my own garden, but that doesn't mean I don't enjoy looking at them.

It was also at this time I realized I had forgotten to adjust my white balance setting.

That's better, a little less jaundiced.

I liked this view. I just have a thing for narrow ravines and rock clefts, I guess. In real life, they're fun to scramble through. Or, if they're inaccessible, they often have hidden areas that make the imagination run wild.

This corner of the display had dramatic lighting down pat.

Discovering Alaska made me laugh and reminisce, all because of these backpacks stacked against the rock. In my backpacking memories, we were a little too tired at the end of the day to line our packs up that neatly.

El Patio Fuente enticed with views through arches into a courtyard.

I love courtyards. Someday when I have money and an architect friend, I'll have them help me design a house with a courtyard. Oh, and the Yucca rostratas (and a few other plants) in this garden were provided by Cistus!

This was one of my favorite trees in the show: Tsuga canadensis 'Bacon Cristata'. Who doesn't love bacon? Actually, it was the intricate architecture of the plant itself that drew my attention.

Magnolias don't exactly go with the majority of plants in this display garden (neither does Tsuga canadensis or the primroses that were stashed in a container of Fremontodendron) but I try to appreciate these gardens for what they are, temporary displays meant to inspire. These backlit magnolia blooms certainly did that.

The Hoh Rainforest is one of my favorite place in the PNW, and one of my favorite gardens at the NWFGS, too.

Nurse logs and nurse stumps, some of my favorite forest features.

Unfortunately, that was about when the overhead lights dimmed and the show was opened to the general public. I went into immediate flight mode, passing by most of the gardens I hadn't seen yet to start making my way through the booths before the crowds filtered through. It was too dark to get decent pictures anyway. The one garden that managed to hold my attention at this stage was "Capturing High Desert Beauty, Oregon's Smith Rock," by Elandon Gardens and Will Robinson.

 Will Robinson is apparently a sculptor, and his work was featured in this rock-heavy design.

I loved the twisted, tortured conifers and little tufted grasses among  the wind-scoured rocks and gnarled deadwood.

There was just one hitch. Why did they use cyclamen? Lewisias I could understand, but the cyclamen had me asking, "What were they thinking?" They're pretty, but they don't exactly capture the wild beauty of a natural area in Oregon, or anywhere else in North America, for that matter.

Back to appreciating the sculptural deadwood. Peaking through the twisting wood like this, the little pops of color from the cyclamen look a little more natural.

This garden probably had the fewest plants of any in the show, but I loved it. This and the Hoh Rainforest garden were the most natural. Though radically different, those were my two favorite gardens in the show.


  1. Wow, Evan. Thanks for posting your photos of the displays. I've seen two other attendees' photos of the Tetons display (both were amazing) but I'm thrilled with these views you've captured. The view of the entire front is great, and those side views are almost an illusion of real mountains. Amazing. Want all of those rocks in my yard. I think the Oregon mountain stone garden is amazing (Mediterranean cyclamen notwithstanding). The sculptured stones, the natural stones and those amazing twisted, gnarled pines are outstanding. Wish I had been there. Cheers.

    1. Thank you, Tim! I thought the perspective from the side windows was more realistic in person, too. Those rocks are great, aren't they? Both at Tiny Tetons and Oregon's Smith Rock.

  2. I remain interested in your comments about the camera. Because it is so dark here, almost year-round, I've been wondering if my next camera should be chosen from among those that tout their advanced/superior light sensors. I almost always have to use a tripod and an exposure length that is too slow for hand-held...which makes photography just too much of a hassle sometimes. You did't mention fussing with ISO. I hate to give up higher resolution, but you can sure gain lot of flexibility/speed if you bump up the ISO. I prefer to do that rather than sacrificing focal length.

    1. I didn't mention ISO, but I had it set at 3200. For my camera, a Panasonic Lumix GX1, going any higher noticeably impairs resolution. My 12-32mm lens has a maximum aperture of 3.5, and it goes up to 5.6 quickly as one zooms in. The macro lens I'm using is an old Sears 55mm, F1.4, which equates to a 110mm on my m4/3 image sensor. It works very well outside, and even fairly well in my house, but many areas at the show were shadowed by overhead plantings and I needed to be able to drop my shutter speed below 1/100 sec. The newest models in the GX line have image stabilization in the camera body as well as the lenses, but he GX1 lacks in-body stabilization, so I couldn't drop my shutter speed below my lens length without blur. If I'd had the 20mm, F1.7 lens I've been meaning to get, I could have managed it, and simply cropped the resulting images if I wanted something like a macro shot.

    2. Thanks for your comment, by the way. I enjoy discussing more technical details about photography. I've still got a lot to learn.

    3. Hi--just coming back to this. I see that I mistakenly wrote "focal length" at the end of my comment when I meant "depth of field". I think I'll have to work through your comment in order to understand...the numbers you are using are so different than what I typically use---and that's where I am hoping to learn something by questioning how and why I do what I do (or let the camera do what it does). I probably would have tried to stay with F5-7+ and suffered with the tripod and some crazy 2-second exposure. :-)

  3. I think we're on the same page with our garden critiques....I kind of missed the Smith Rock one - I mean I saw it but did not take a lot of photos as I went when the show was open to the public and too many people were in the way and I was grumpy and hungry. Nevertheless, it was cool. I appreciate your aesthetic and photos very much.

    1. I got to the grumpy and hungry (and agoraphobic) stage later once the crowds came in. I missed almost half of the morning preview because traffic was so terrible, and then the lady at the Hoh garden tried to talk my ear off and used up the rest of my time before the lights went off.

  4. I think you did a great job photographing the show gardens, Evan. You presented different angles than I've seen in other posts and, since I can't visit the displays in person, I appreciate the opportunity to get more of the full experience in photos. As to the cyclamen, odd plants always seem to show up in garden show exhibits - perhaps they were last minute substitutions when someone else scooped up all the lewisias.

    1. Thanks, Kris! You may be right about the cyclamen. Maybe the Southwest Serenity people snagged the last show-ready lewisias.

  5. Thanks for sharing your photos of the show gardens. You probably know that I had to miss the show this year, so I am very appreciative of everyone who is sharing their pics. Sorry I missed seeing you too!

    1. You're welcome, Alison! Sorry you couldn't make it. Perhaps you'll make it down to Portland for Hortlandia?

  6. Perfect demonstration of the value of white balance. You got some excellent shots from perspectives I had not yet seen....and all with a headache? service above and beyond.


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