A Winning Year

By: Richard G Turner Jr

Richard G Turner Jr is the editor emeritus of Pacific Horticulture. After receiving degrees in architecture and landscape architecture from…

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The year 2000 brought Pacific Horticulture awards to three garden design firms participating in garden shows on the West Coast. Our awards program, begun in 1998, was established to help garden show visitors—and readers of our journal—to recognize and appreciate quality garden design and appropriate horticultural choices for West Coast gardens. Our awards at the Northwest and San Francisco Flower & Garden Shows are given to the gardens “best demonstrating the regional nature of garden design.” At the revitalized San Diego Spring Home/Garden Show, we bestowed the Horticulture Award to the garden presenting the highest level of horticultural excellence. Teams of professional designers, horticulturists, and experienced gardeners—all selected from the local community and, therefore, familiar with the region—selected the award-winning entries at each show on behalf of Pacific Horticulture. The winning offer a cross-section of garden design ideas representative of the three regions.

A wooden portal into a secluded retreat in “The Woodland” at the Northwest Flower & Garden Show. Photograph by David McDonald

A wooden portal into a secluded retreat in “The Woodland” at the Northwest Flower & Garden Show. Photograph by David McDonald

The Woodland

For the second year in a row, a garden designed by landscape architect Brad Pugh, working on behalf of the Washington Park Arboretum, received the Pacific Horticulture Award at the Northwest Flower & Garden Show in Seattle. “The Woodland” offered subtle beauty and a quiet contrast to the flowery gardens filling the Washington State Convention Center. Capturing the feeling and atmosphere of a Northwest woodland garden in late winter, the plantings combined both native and exotic to create a richness that reflected a thoughtful, yet restrained touch of the “hand of man” in a natural setting.

A mossy, leaf-strewn path, dotted with the earliest narcissus in flower, led up stone steps to a cleverly designed gate—a portal into a secluded woodland retreat. Here, native trees and evergreen foliage provided shelter and backdrop for carefully selected shrubs budded but not yet flowering—hinting at a colorful spring soon to follow. A thick mulch of leaves, twigs, and mosses protected herbaceous plants just beginning to poke through the ground cover; a few hellebores blossomed among the unfurling leaves of spring wildflowers and ferns. An clear sheet of water slid into a quiet pool; water also trickled from a hollow log spanning the tiny pool, its edges hung with mosses. The delicate music of the water mingled with the imagined sounds of songbirds.

“The Woodland” stood apart from the other show gardens because of its quiet beauty—so characteristic of the Northwest’s signature woodlands. The plantings woven into the design reflected the season outside the hall, with nothing forced into early bloom; the intricate beauty of bare stems, buds, and unfolding leaves captivated those who stopped long enough to study the scene. The scene, of course, was representative of the landscape of much of the Washington Park Arboretum, and surely enticed many to visit the Arboretum for further inspiration in the design of their own home garden.

Bright colors and whimsical shapes in architecture and flowers highlight “Urban Waves” at the San Francisco Flower & Garden Show. Photograph by David McDonald

Bright colors and whimsical shapes in architecture and flowers highlight “Urban Waves” at the San Francisco Flower & Garden Show. Photograph by David McDonald

Urban Waves

Bold colors, a rich plant palette, and whimsy might easily sum up the state of garden design in the Bay Area at the turn of the millennium. Brian Maloney, of Ballingarry Gardens, working with Dan Svenson at the Horticulture Department of Foothill College, created a garden at the San Francisco Flower & Garden Show that captured the attention of thousands of visitors—and the collective eye of the judges for our Pacific Horticulture Award. Their design, “Urban Waves,” was a whimsical interpretation of a mediterranean terraced hillside garden, filled with bright colors, strong foliage, and striking flowers—all surrounding a simple, but colorful and original artist’s cottage.

The central hall of the Cow Palace allows gardens to be built on two levels; “Urban Waves” took advantage of that opportunity, resulting in a garden full of inspiration for the many small gardens built on steep slopes in San Francisco and surrounding communities. A simple gravel and stone path in the larger, lower garden meandered through a lush mediterranean shrubbery, accented by the whimsical flowers of South African pin cushions (Leucospermum ‘Veldfire’) and kangaroo paws (Anigozanthos flavidus ‘Bush Gems’) along with kinetic drifts of grasses. The bold foliage of Cordyline australis ‘Atropurpurea’ and Furcraea longaeva gave substance to the plantings.

On the upper level, a tiny garden incorporated a sitting area for two beneath the arching branches of a pepper tree (Schinus molle) and surrounded by drifts of Melianthus major and New Zealand flax (Phormium tenax cultivars). Masses of bear’s breech (Acanthus mollis) and other characteristic mediterranean shrubs confirmed the water-conserving nature of this garden. The rustic cottage, with artistic flourishes direct from the recycling center, reflected a thoughtful nod toward sustainable design.

Orchids, bromeliads, and palms carry out the theme in the sub-tropical section of “Water...Colors” at the San Diego Spring Home/Garden Show. Photograph by Lucy Warren

Orchids, bromeliads, and palms carry out the theme in the sub-tropical section of “Water…Colors” at the San Diego Spring Home/Garden Show. Photograph by Lucy Warren

Water…Colors

Fountains, falls, pools, and streams—water in all forms—were combined with plants of many kinds in this boldly conceived garden by Mike Hirsh, of Anderson’s La Costa Nursery, at the San Diego Spring Home/Garden Show. Filled with perfectly groomed cacti, bromeliads, orchids, and tropical foliage plants, it easily won the Horticulture Award at this newly revitalized show.

Tall ficus helped mask the uninspiring building with its too-low ceiling and provided a backdrop for this large garden, whose singular purpose was to present both water features and plants in great variety. Plants were grouped according to their cultural needs, with orchids and bromeliads arranged in front of tropical foliage, and cacti presented in dry, “sunny” island beds separate from the backdrop. Color was used lavishly but masterfully, both in the sculptured water features (mostly of colored marble and granite) and in the flowers and foliage.

Setting it apart from other gardens in the show was the fullness of its plantings. Not only were the plants well-grown and immaculately groomed, but they were arranged with a fullness seldom seen in garden shows. Neither nursery pots nor mulch were visible, except where the pebble mulch was an integral part of the design. “Water…Colors” was clearly a garden about plants, lovingly assembled by a team of talented and dedicated horticulturists.