Small Container Gardens Reveal Big Ideas
One of the many highlights at this year’s Northwest Flower & Garden Show were the inspiring container gardens gracing the scenic sky bridge at the Washington State Convention Center. Fifteen designers pulled out all the stops to create their 8 ft. x 6 ft. masterpieces, artfully demonstrating that you don’t have to have a massive space (or a massive budget) to create eye-catching, functional places for outdoor living. From the sublime to the whimsical, and every style in between, these were container gardens with great take-home ideas stuffed in every nook and cranny. After all, when you only have 48 square feet of space, you’ve got to make the most of it!
The Container Exhibition is judged on Tuesday, the day before the show opens, the same time as the show gardens. This year’s judges were Tina Dixon, owner of Plants a la Cart, and one of the designers on her team, Marsha Davis-Thomsen. Their difficult task: decide which displays win one of three awards – Best Design, Best Plant Material, and Best Re-Characterization. Show attendees also got to vote for their personal favorite for the “People’s Choice Award.”
I spoke to Tina about judging the Container Exhibition. She said she and Marsha really enjoyed the volunteer gig but shared they had one challenge: the new award category, ‘Best Re-Characterization.’ “This new category really made us think about the difference between recycling and re-characterization. Almost every garden recycled old materials in their gardens. But which ones actually took items and reused them in completely new ways, in a manner that they weren’t originally designed? We decided that was the way to define the new award.”
All of the container designs were imaginative, and the competition was close. But in the end, Judson Sullivan, of design firm Cultivar, LLC, took the top honors, winning the Best Design award. Judson’s design strategy was to explore the intersection of recycled materials, contemporary design, Buddhist poetry and a flower and garden show, just to see what would happen. Tina loved the way Judson used wood and metal pieces in the garden that were “so consistent with aging. He had wonderful rhythm in the garden, and good repetition of lines and spaces.” The container garden, titled “In This Floating World,” was inspired by the poetry of the Buddhist nun Rengetsu and highlighted containers constructed from repurposed materials.
THE COLOR PURPLE
Once again Gillian Mathews, owner of Ravenna Gardens in Seattle, created another show-stopper with her bold use of color and keen eye for plant combinations, collecting another award (she won Best Design in 2010). Actually, two awards this year: the “Best Plant Material” Award and the People’s Choice Award. Their garden, titled “A Passion for Purple,” depicted an cozy outdoor living space, incorporating recycled and repurposed found objects and vertical gardening accents, including a peice of stunning succulent wall art, along with bold splashes of the gorgeous color purple in both the Adirondack chair and repeated in the plants. Tina praised the garden, explaining “Ravenna Gardens did it all – good design, sophisticated color echoes, and good use of repetition. I’m glad they also won the People’s Choice Award. The show attendees have a good eye for design.”
Mari Malcolm launched her “Lusher Life Project” at the show, with a garden titled “Seaside Succulents.” Mari mixed flotsam and treasures from the Puget Sound with a profusion of hardy and tender succulents, tucked in vintage crates and tins. It was a beautiful way to show how reusing items, and reimagining new uses for items, can enhance a design. “This garden helped me rethink about what can be used for a container in my own work,” explained Tina. “The details were amazing. Even the tiniest barnacle held a plant. They were really inventive in showing how items can be used in completely new ways, which was why they won the Best Re-Characterization award.”
Rounding out the entries were container exhibits by designer Virginia Hand; Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville; Janit Calvo from Two Green Thumbs teamed with Christina Salwitz, from the Personal Garden Coach; Sylvia Matlock, owner of DIG Nursery on Vashon Island; Marcia Bruno from West Seattle Nursery; Geralyn Rudolph, owner of Small Worlds Within Reach; Michelle Blakeslee, CPH, owner of Mudface Landscape & Container Design; Joe Grienaur, owner of Emerald City Orchids; Tim Moshier, owner of Cambium Landscape; a team from Molbak’s in Woodinville; Ragan & Associates, and designer Wendy Welch,who also designed the popular new children’s PlayGarden area.
To view a complete list of all the Container Exhibition participates, with links to their websites, go to http://nwf.gs/jAOC3n – Janet