Three Roaring Good Display Gardens
Question: What do you get when you cross a butterfly and a dinosaur?
Answer: Whatever it is, you do not want it flitting around your garden.
This odd chimera also gives us a peek at two special attractions of this year's Northwest Flower and Garden Show. The show, which is under new ownership for the first time in its 22 year history, makes a triumphant return with all the good stuff we've come to expect - 23 display gardens, 120 hours of seminars, a gardener's marketplace - as well as first-time offerings such as a family-friendly butterfly house that allows visitors to interact with over 300 living "flying flowers." For $10, show-goers can take home a butterfly hatching kit of a native species. Proceeds benefit the Seattle Children's Playgarden.
Dinosaurs and Discovery: A Prehistoric Garden
Oooh, ahhh…that's how it starts. Then there's running and screaming. Well, maybe not, but fans of Jurassic Park will appreciate the enthusiasm of the show's first Mesozoic-themed display garden, "Dinosaurs and Discovery: A Prehistoric Garden." This primeval pièce de theater evolved from the imaginations of Adam Gorski of Adam Gorski Landscapes and Rebecca Robinson of Robinson Landscape Design.
"We wanted something that would appeal to children as well as adults," Gorski notes. "A lot of the features were designed to be interactive for children. Gardening should be a family activity."
"I used to work in early childhood education," adds Robinson, "and I know how much kids like weird things, particularly dinosaurs. For the adults, we incorporated oversized elements so they can remember what it's like to be a tiny person in a great big, magical world."
Fortunately no raptor fences were required. Rather, this garden centers on a seven-foot, pterodactyl-sized nest. Built of branches salvaged from arborists, and complete with giant "eggs," the structure is actually a tree-less tree house where - if removed from the confines of the show - children can play. In another bit of child-friendly hardscaping, eight-foot fossil walls are imprinted with a variety of plants, shells, and bones. An accompanying hand-out challenges children of all ages to participate in fossil I Spy.
Two features in particular are translatable to the home garden. The first is a water feature that trickles along with a minimum of water and relies on sculptural stone rather than massive boulders, which need to be craned into place. The second, a rustic boardwalk spanning a misty bog, is a practical solution for anyone dealing with a high water table. Fabricated of salvaged mill ends, the walkway is reported by the garden's designers to be both easy and inexpensive.
In fact, "inexpensive" is a secondary theme for the garden. Most of the theatrical elements, including eggs, footprints, and fossil walls (not to mention the impact tremors!) were created by Robinson herself. Clever girl - as Muldoon said to the raptor. Robinson points out that many of these projects would be fun to do with children.
All plant material meets two important criteria: It must either represent or appear to represent a family that existed more than 65 million years ago, and it must be non-toxic. Wonder why no cycads are included? They're poisonous (though what human could eat them we cannot imagine). The bog garden holds giant Gunnera manicata, floating water plants, and that ultimate survivor, horsetail (equisetum). The uplands are planted in palms, tree ferns, magnolia, ginkgo, conifers, Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas), mahonia, and mosses. To the relief of those who remember The Lost World, no tall grasses are included.
So how do you find the dinosaur garden? Just follow the screams (of delight).
A Family's Little Farm in the City
When it comes to raising your own homegrown produce and farm fresh eggs, you don't have to live in a little house on the prairie. That's the message of "A Family's Little Farm in the City," a collaborative effort between Jessica Bloom of NW Bloom EcoLogical Landscapes and Seattle Tilth. The garden demonstrates many sustainable practices including responsible water management, composting, solar power, salvaged materials, permaculture landscaping, and canning. The underlying approach is low-tech and low-budget as befits a generation in the midst of a recession.
Bloom, who designed the garden with her eight-year-old son Noah, made every inch count in this 1,200 square foot "urban homestead." Plants are all practical, edible, or native. In a heroic attempt at reality, everything has been planted in relation to the actual points of the compass, with sun-lovers in the south, shade-lovers to the north and east. But plants aren't the only living things in this garden. Dairy goats snack their way around the grounds, while a flock of chickens demonstrate the land-clearing power of a "tractor coop," a mobile pen that allows the birds to de-bug and aerate the garden one small section at a time. Children are entertained with a former slide repurposed as a mining-themed climbing tunnel. At the heart of the garden sits a wood-fired cob oven - molded from mixture of clay and straw, and used for baking bread, cooking stews, or roasting meat - and a barn constructed of recycled lumber. Liza Burke, Outreach and Development Coordinator for Seattle Tilth, sees recycling as a big part of the story.
"Use whatever resources you have on hand," says Burke. "Environmental sustainability doesn't have to be high tech. Our garden is about things folks can actually do. Don't waste anything, and don't be ashamed of your compost pile."
Seattle Tilth further supports urban farming with information at its Marketplace booth. In addition, they sponsor classes in everything from beekeeping and composting to fruit tree pruning and "cistern savvy." For a complete listing of classes and locations, visit seattletilth.org.
Swimming a la Naturale
Keep your shirt on; it's not what you think. In "Swimming a la Naturale," Susan Calhoun of Plantswoman Design exposes us to chemical-free swimming pools. Of course, in your own garden under the light of a summer moon, it's open to interpretation.
"We want to communicate that natural swimming pools are a viable option," states Calhoun. "They've had them in Europe for years, even public pools. I'd like to see these ponds used more in the States. They're safe for wildlife to drink from and dogs to swim in."
Calhoun recently installed an 80,000-gallon swimming pond on Bainbridge Island, but the show garden is a more manageable 3,000 gallons, looking much deeper than its 18 inches. A stone path spans the water. On one side is the faux swimming area, on the other a bog garden filled with colocasia, reeds, ligularia, and grasses. Drier areas hold big-leaved species rhododendrons and river birch with pale bark stripping off to reveal rosy-colored trunks.
A low Gabion wall frames the garden's perimeter. Steps and risers accented with native huckleberry ascend to a water-side deck. If an imaginary homeowner reclined in one of the comfy deck chairs, he or she would have an excellent view of the "fire-feature" glowing with illuminated, blown-glass flames at the center of the pool. The sculpture is by Barbara Sanderson of Glass Gardens Northwest.
Calhoun points out that in the home landscape, swimming ponds don't have to be flamboyant. They can be big enough for kids in canoes, or small enough for an urban lot. The system employs a plant-filled bog to filter the water and a pump for circulation. The pools can even be heated, ideally with solar energy.
Recent advances in pond liners have further extended the functionality and longevity of the natural swimming pool. Kevin Swann of Sprayline Technologies installed one such new-age, non-rubberized, spray-on liner for Calhoun's display pond. Of the same basic material as a spray-on truck bed liner, the product gives off fewer VOCs (volatile organic compounds) than rubber liner.
As much a water feature as a swimming pool, these man-made versions of the ol' swimmin' hole provide not only human relaxation and animal habitat, but boggy sites for growing beautiful, water-loving plants (try that in a chlorinated pool!). Calhoun invites us to dive headfirst into the delights of the natural swimming pond. Suit optional.