Designing Dreams

Darcy Daniels

Darcy Daniels is a Portland-based garden designer whose studio, 
Bloomtown Gardens, focuses on creating outdoor living spaces and 
gardens that delight the senses throughout the year.

A conversation between Editor Lorene Edwards Forkner and 
Portland designer, Darcy Daniels.

Diagonal lines energize small spaces while large planting pockets accommodate a rich and varied plant palette like the one pictured here.  Garden design and photo: Darcy Daniels, Bloomtown Gardens

Diagonal lines energize small spaces while large planting pockets accommodate a rich and varied plant palette like the one pictured here. Garden design and photo: Darcy Daniels, Bloomtown Gardens

Edwards Forkner: How do you draw your clients into the design process?

Darcy Daniels: I do whatever it takes; my focus is on building a garden. Magazine tear sheets, books, and online image resources like Pinterest or Houzz are helpful for dreaming and scheming, but they can also be overwhelming and distracting for some clients. These often-idealized photos need lots of interpretation to translate to a real project. However, as inspiration and a jumping off point, they’re great for me as a designer. Moving forward, on some projects I develop more sophisticated drawings, on others I’ll work from pretty basic sketches, or even simply stakes in the ground indicating plant placement. It’s all about facilitating communication and focusing on the right method of planning best suited to the project at hand.

LEF: What are your most common design requests and how has this changed in recent years?

DD: I often get clients coming to me frustrated by their attempts to create planting schemes that hold up over time. Life is busy! People are looking for lush and lovely landscapes that perform over a long season and that don’t require a great deal of upkeep.

I encourage clients seeking a high impact yet low maintenance landscape to select a limited palette of what I call “Plants that Earn Their Keep” arranged in engaging relationships. Let me explain:

• A limited plant palette reduces the amount of ongoing care needed for the garden as a whole—you have fewer plants to familiarize yourself with and learn the maintenance routine for.

• Plants that Earn Their Keep are hardworking selections that contribute color, form, texture, and interest over a long season—fall color is a big consideration for me. And because most of my clients want to reduce irrigation, many are appropriate for low water use gardens.

• Thinking about plants in combinations helps you begin to see the garden as a series of relationships. My planting schemes are primarily foliage-driven with enough flower power to keep it fun. Repetition holds a design together while fulfilling maintenance goals mentioned above in working with a limited palette. The key is to strike a balance with enough variety to keep things vibrant and changing throughout the seasons—all the seasons. I love it when I hear from clients in the “off season” that they’ve discovered a plant that’s really looking good when they least expect it.

LEF: What a great framework to work within. It sounds limiting on paper but we can see in photos of your work the results are anything but static or restrictive.

This foliage-driven combination of Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’, Melianthus major and Phormium looks good all season, but really shines when the sedum flowers take on the rich red tones typical of their fall coloring.  Garden design and photo: Darcy Daniels, Bloomtown Gardens

This foliage-driven combination of Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’, Melianthus major and Phormium looks good all season, but really shines when the sedum flowers take on the rich red tones typical of their fall coloring. Garden design and photo: Darcy Daniels, Bloomtown Gardens

DD: Part of my job is to help clients reconcile discrepancies. They may show me a picture of a blowzy garden as their “ideal” but list their first desire as ultra-low maintenance. What to do? Plants, hardscape, budget, and maintenance are all connected. Lush plantings, while offering more dynamic seasonal change and less budget impact are high maintenance. At the other end of the spectrum, hardscape has a tremendous impact on a budget’s bottom line but greatly reduces maintenance—and seasonal change. As a designer I try and point out these conflicts and help my client’s most resonant wants percolate to the top.

LEF: I appreciate how much thought you’ve put into the design process from your end of the equation. What would you advise prospective clients to come to terms with—along with all those Pinterest boards, magazine tear sheets, and idealized dreams—before contacting a designer?

DD: There’s no one way to make a garden. I always start by asking clients what they’re up for: Budget? Personal commitment? I tend to think in continuums and lead clients through a discussion from that standpoint. It’s a process.


In addition to designing gardens, Darcy Daniels works as a garden communicator, teaches classes, and does freelance writing and photography. Find out more at www.bloomtown.net.