Northwest Flower & Garden Show: Display Gardens

This week at Chickadee Gardens I bring you images from the 2016 Northwest Flower and Garden Show in Seattle. The show, now in its 28th year, celebrated with the theme of National Parks, which are in their 100th year. There were display gardens, demos, seminars, and, of course, vendors at the marketplace as well as the antiques market. Today we explore the display gardens:

The theme "America the Beautiful" was used for designers to come up with their best interpretation to celebrate America's national parks and landmarks. With 22 gardens in all, it was a mind-boggling amount of ground to cover. I took many photos, but have distilled it down to a few highlights.

First up is one of my favorite gardens. I half expected to see Danger Garden living in this vignette. Its title was "Southwest Serenity" and was inspired by the national parks of the Southwestern United States. Created by West Seattle Nursery, one might be surprised that a dry Southwestern garden-style would be featured in rainy Seattle. Not all of the Pacific Northwest is a rain forest, much of it is high desert and chaparral landscape. Granted, not all of these plants would survive our wet winters, but it was a great inspiration to see something different and architectural - a plant-driven design.

I heard moans from people saying "it's not that lush" or "I can't stand this type of landscape." While I do understand the sentiment of not being lush, I do think a take-away here is that we are in a rapidly changing climate. Although you may not appreciate this style, it's wise to be thinking of more climate-appropriate plants instead of a garden solely comprised of water-sucking perennials to baby through another hot, dry summer.

Some of these would fare just fine in our climate, others would need to be brought indoors, so not entirely practical.

Nevertheless, it was stunning and my favorite.

Lewisia! Native and very hardy given excellent drainage.

Great mix of plants and rock.

This was one garden where the horrid lighting didn't seem so bad, especially when backlit.

Just yes.

OK, not every garden will get that many photos. I just got a little happy there.

Next up is "The Hoh: America's Rain Forest." This was created by the Washington Park Arboretum and celebrates one of the best examples of a temperate rain forest in the world right here in Washington state.

With up to 170 inches of rainfall annually this part of the world is where trees go to decompose into nice little wet ecosystems.

Using exclusively native plants, it is a wonderland for native fauna. Many of these same plants can be ideal for the home gardener in the Pacific Northwest. Not all of these require such extensive rainfall, they can survive on much less. I see sword ferns, licorice ferns, flowering currant, salal, Oregon grape and much more. Even cultivars of these great plants are readily available in most nurseries and are, frankly, very adaptable and wonderful plants to mix into a garden border. One of my colleagues' criticism of this display garden was that it was a fantastic garden with a terrible painted backdrop. They should have just painted it black - that would have been better. While I do agree, I looked past that detail.

Nurse logs are a wonderful idea for shady wet areas of your garden. They will gradually decompose and in the process invite countless micro-organisms that are beneficial to the soil and eventually to vertebrates. They provide shelter and nutrients for many forest inhabitants and are a very natural part of the forest ecosystem. Many insects love these environments, too.

Native Ribes sanguineum 'White Icicle'. Stunning.

This is "Mountains and Rivers Without End," created by Holloway Habitats Garden Design and Installation.

The focus was on the sub-alpine setting typical of Washington state's North Cascade mountains. Another wonderful example of native Pacific Northwest plants used in a landscape setting.

Here, the contrast of red-osier dogwood with native iris was particularly striking, if a little jarring with the crazy overhead lighting. In natural light I think this is a fabulous combination.

As the theme of this year's show is National Parks, these little plant signs are not only appropriate but very interesting -- they caught my eye right away and scream "vacation" to my juvenile mind.

Mixed border - coniferous and deciduous trees, sub-shrubs, bulbs and herbaceous perennials. It had it all.

This is "A Room with a Garden View" created by English Landscape Group.

It is supposed to "encompass views of Seattle's sparkling skyline, Cascade peaks and snow-clad Mt. Rainier in the background" -- I really noticed the cat, personally.  A lot of bulbs and azaleas, it smelled wonderful. It's a lovely landscape that even had an outdoor shower. The take-away from this was to incorporate long-distance views. If only we were all so lucky to have views of Seattle's skyline.

This is "Discovering Alaska" by Adam Gorski Landscapes, Inc. A stream ran through this wild landscape, complete with salmon spawning. 

The stream here was particularly realistic for an indoor garden show and the plantings felt believable, not contrived. Many native plants were also used here which is the take-away, i.e., go native!

This works for me because of its loose and organic feel -- it's not trying to be seven things at once, rather, the idea is clear and they stick to it throughout. 

Plus, it was very attractive.

Next up is "An Orchid Eruption - Honoring Volcanoes National Park." It's true, orchid-lovers -- even these tropical-looking beauties can be incorporated into your garden or greenhouse. Created by the Northwest Orchid Society, it was a mega-volcano enveloped in a boggling amount of orchids.

Here, for example, is Epi fragrans. I know nothing about orchids but appreciated the variety.

Clowesia x mormodes's the volcano. Not that practical for the home-gardener. Still, a bit of fantasy goes a long way. It was also one of the few display gardens that you could actually walk through, a very helpful way to see a garden rather than from afar.

My colleague calls these the "sleeping bag orchids"...can you see the little woodland critters tucked in their best North Face down sleeping bags?

This is "From Sea to Shining Sea, Nantucket, Massachusetts", created by Susan Browne Landscape Design. This is a counterpoint to Coupeville, Washington, which has a similar coastal feel. There is a patriotic red, white and blue theme here. I don't know how this relates to the theme of National Parks...maybe I'm missing something.

Here's the Coupeville version "From Sea to Shining Sea - Coupeville, Washington" with a more pastel color theme. This is created by Fancy Plants Gardens, Inc.

Coupeville is the second oldest town in its state. Described as "colorful and quirky", it represents real places in the town such as the Blue Goose Inn B&B, which is depicted in the building. While the ideas are sweet, I really am at a loss for what the take-away is. They say the plantings are low-maintenance, but lawn never is. It's cute and pretty but not to my taste. Again, not sure about the National Parks theme. I think something was missed here.

This is the back area of the "A World Away on the Na Pali Coast", a garden representing Kauai's Na Pali coast. This deck, called a "live edge" deck really stole my heart. This was an idea worth replicating. A simple gesture flawlessly executed that has a striking impact. This is made of sustainable cedar.

My colleagues and I loved this idea. Bravo, Plantswoman Design, Inc. 

This is "Edible Neighborhood - A Food System on Every Block" created by Cascadia Edible Landscapes. First off, those pots are cool. The idea was that gardens provide a catalyst for community connectivity - back when people used to share plants and seedlings, that is before plants were as commercially available as they are today - and hoped to evoke the same sense of community and shared gardens. In urban areas this is increasingly more crucial to ensure the well-being of city dwellers through fresh food and living things.

Chickens! Urban chickens are all the rage, although I wonder how much fun Ms Hen was having. 

 Raised beds and veggies. Very practical and attractive, but I have to say, I don't know what this has to do with the theme of National Parks. Nice for urban dwellers, however. Having lived in Portland for many years, I will say this is a very common scene to my eyes.

This is "Park it in Your Own Backyard" by Dakara Landscape Design. Well, I guess if you can't live in a National Park you can feel like you are if you have a camper. I'm a bit confused, but that's nothing new.

The take-away ideas are "a rich variety of plant material grown here in the Pacific Northwest"....okay - it's lovely but nothing really new here.

This was a show-stopper. "The Tiny Tetons" was created by Nature Perfect Landscape and Design. They tried to achieve a sense of depth with this garden, something they most certainly achieved.

The plantings are drought-resistant plants and the take-away ideas are to create depth in your own landscape. This was stunning for several reasons. It is simple, using a limited palette of color and plant materials. Large groupings of any plant are appealing -- it doesn't need any fancy outdoor grills, tons of color or frills. It is a vision pure and simple, realized very successfully. If you're going to do a garden show in this environment of an expo center with terrible lighting, it pays to go big and simple with a focused message. This one wins my heart on many levels.

This is "El Patio Fuente" by Treeline Designz 360 Design Company. Here the designers created a Spanish-style courtyard filled with domestic plant species and a fountain. The idea is to create a hybrid between indoor and outdoor spaces, typical of the kinds of gardens seen in many warmer climes across the globe. It can be done with local plants as they are highlighting here, although again with the theme of National Parks...I have to scratch my head. Again.

A beautiful Tsuga canadiensis 'Bacon Cristata'.

Yucca rostrata, yes - it's hardy in the Pacific Northwest.

Pittosporum tree.

Those were just a few of the many display gardens in the main hall. There were others but perhaps I'll save them for a rainy day and spare you a 300-photo post today. Rest assured, these pictured are among my favorites, the show was well-represented in this post for a general overview.

On the skybridge to the marketplace there were several "City Living" gardens. This one is: "Northwest Wild" by Sky Nursery in Seattle. It had a lot to love.

The carnivorous swamp planter.

Great looking wood chairs and a potted Arctostaphylos. Moss-covered soil makes a fresh top-dressing. Much to see in these little vignettes.

This is "No Place Like Home" from Third Springs Landscape Design. Clean, contemporary lines showcase a variety of plant material in a comfortable setting. Subdued colors make this feel very sophisticated.

"A Maker's Garden" by Mya Kerner. Very cottage-y and rustic feeling, romantic, really. Very sweet.

This is "Independence Day in the City" by Cobble & Birch, Seattle. I liked it for the lighting and the views of downtown Seattle at night. By the time we got to this row of gardens, we had been in the Expo center since about 11:00 a.m. and it had gotten dark. Wow. Tired by this point, I was ready to call it a day.

"From Sea to Shining Sea" by Ma Petite Gardens had a lovely feel, very Oregon coast. The turquoise pottery was something I really liked.

And last but not least, that good ol' urban garden called Seattle - as seen from the Expo Center.

Last year, I visited this show (that post can be revisited here) and was not that impressed. The theme of Valentine's Day was too sappy, the gardens underwhelming (mostly, there were some good ones) and the marketplace was baffling. Very few plants and a ton of non-garden related wares to purchase. Plus, I was tired and had a headache. This year visiting headache-free and with my jolly colleagues was much more fun - and the gardens were more -- how shall I say it -- applicable. I did see, however, the same overwhelming use of spring bulbs and common plant materials for good or for bad. I suppose that's not such a bad thing if they are used in inventive ways that have valid take-away ideas, but many of these gardens were splashes of 48 different colors, pavers and rocks expertly placed and patio lighting of some new sort or another. In other words, nothing new. I say the ones that really grabbed my attention and did give me garden ideas (which is the point of all of this, right?) were clear of vision and had a limited palette of colors and kinds of plant material. There was a focus.

We didn't get to the antiques marketplace and while I love antiques, I see no reason to pair them up with gardens. There is too much to see anyhow, don't tempt me with more overwhelming shopping. There were also many guest lecturers and workshops of which I attended none. I hear, though, that they were very well-attended....a very good sign. It's not that I didn't want to hear and see certain speakers, on the contrary. We just had limited time. We did get to visit three prominent Seattle-area nurseries the next day, I will be highlighting those in future blog posts.

There it is, the good, bad and ugly for you to distill as you wish. Hopefully, there are some take-away ideas for you to use somewhere in the library of photographs here, for that is as I said earlier, the point of all of this.

That's it for this week at Chickadee Gardens (whew!) -- until next time thank you for reading and happy gardening!


  1. The arid landscape, if they used bigger spikies I bet they'll get lots more ohhs and ahhs!

    1. Oooh, good point, guys. I bet it would. I'm sure there were plenty of us who loved that garden, though....might have just been the few people I heard complaining. I loved it!

  2. It seems that the themes used for garden shows make as much sense as those used for the annual Rose Parade here. However, I loved 'Southwest Serenity' and 'The Tiny Tetons' and, overall, the NWFGS is still much better than our local show which is all about selling furniture and other stuff with only the thinnest or connections to gardens.

    1. Yes, you are so right, Kris. I have to remind myself that yes, we are spoiled in the Pacific Northwest as far as gardening is concerned. The other stuff for sale baffles me, too, to be sure. BUT if it came down to having it with the junk or not at all, I prefer the former any day!

  3. I won't mince words, Park it in your own backyard, from sea to shining sea, and a room with a garden view were trash in my opinion. A tenuous connection to the theme at best. "A Room with a Garden View" just made a regular "pretty" display and lamely connected it with the theme using the background. Park it in your own backyard seems more an advertisement for that camper and fireplace than a display garden, and frankly the plants just look slapped together as a second, or even third, thought. I'm not surprised by those comments you overheard concerning "lushness." The selection of plants available for sale at the NWFGS struck me as a very old school climate denial palette of thirsty plants more suited to the east coast. There were new and interesting plants, but Seattle nurseries (and by extension, most local gardeners) seem to be in denial regarding our dry summers. I know it's cooler and a bit moister around the sound in summer, but still.

    Ha, I must be feeling extra cantankerous right now. I know not everyone's garden gets as dry as mine does in summer. I just couldn't get particularly excited about 99.9% of the plants at NWFGS. I was hoping for interesting plants from Mediterranean climates, or plants from areas like the southwest that, while adapted to summer rainfall, can handle our summer droughts with relative ease. Working at Cistus may have ruined me for most other nurseries.

    1. Oh, Evan, you hit it spot on. I felt the same way about the selection of plants in general - I just think that there should be a bigger emphasis on our REAL climate -- that is to say the hot, dry summers which no one seems to want to address (except the Southwest themed one).....if only Cistus would do a booth! Cistus and Xera have both brought excellent climate-appropriate plants to the forefront of my thought and I am forever grateful for it. I want to garden effectively, not chasing my tail watering all summer long. Thank you for your comments, I'm glad you said it like you saw it. Cheers.

  4. Thanks so much for showcasing all your pictures of the garden with the southwest theme. I didn't make it to the show this year, and that was the single garden I am very sorry to have missed. I'd like to have seen a couple of others, but on the whole, I think if there was a year to miss, this year was it. In all honesty, I was disappointed many months ago already, as soon as I heard what the theme was. If you want to have inspiring gardens, you need an inspiring theme. There are always several gardens, every year, that seem to have no connection whatsoever to the theme. And every year, fewer and fewer plant sellers. And the ones that do come cater to the casual gardener (not us avant garde types who want to push the envelope).

  5. I think it's hilarious that we both focused on (and took a photo of) the Arctostaphylos uva-ursi sign. Loved your commentary, as always.

  6. Enjoyed the details and commentary. Those little national park signs have to be the best for incorporating the theme. The cedar deck is a beauty and what gardens shows should be about, inspiring.

    Negative comments about cactus and rocks are common even in their native range where I live and where they are easily grown. The only national park with tulips I know of is the National Mall in Washington. Now I'm on a roll too, the national seashore in MA is on Cape Cod, not Nantucket. I could go but let's just say I share your confusion.


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