Podcast: Let's Argue About Plants

Episode 150: Design Rules of Thumb with Stacie Crooks

Produced by Fine Gardening, Edited by Cari Delahanty

Stacie Crooks is a Seattle-based garden designer who has created beautiful, ecologically friendly, low-maintenance gardens throughout the Pacific Northwest. She is also a contributing editor for Fine Gardening magazine and has shared her insights with our readers through 10 feature articles and several departments over the past 17 years. In this episode, Carol interviews Stacie about the lessons that she has gained from her years of garden design experience. 

Stacie Crooks’s Garden Design Rules of Thumb

1. Identify your project.

Ask yourself “What do I want to achieve?” and “Why do I want to do this?” Having a clear goal in mind- be it lower maintenance, better curb appeal, or more wildlife in the garden- will help you make the right design, style, and plant choices.

2. Know your site.

Before you can make any changes, you need to know your limitations. Determine the garden’s light exposure and angles, soil types, drainage, topography, and size. Consider irrigation (if you need water, where will it come from?) and access (how will you get into the garden and move through it?) Bearing all this in mind, set a budget.

3. Get inspired.

With your goals and guidelines clear, It’s time for a solid plan. People always ask, “Where do I start?” Engage in activities that foster learning and friendships. Read books and magazines and go to lectures. Join a garden club. Volunteer at a public garden. Look in the newspapers and on the internet for opportunities. Take notes, make lists and make sketches. Take photos of gardens you visit and copy them.

4. No zone denial.

When you go to buy your plants at your local nursery, read the tags carefully. Choose only that which is suited for your site and to your lifestyle. If it is not clear, ask a nursery person. Be sure that the amount of care that plant needs match the time and energy you can afford.

5. Finish one garden before you start another.

Resist buying plants that are not for your current project- they’ll just die waiting for you to plant them. Stick to the list.

6. Be responsible environmentally.

Always aim to use less water, less fertilizer, and no chemicals. The better you know your site, the easier it is to achieve success naturally. There’s an importance to NOT gardening, using fewer resources and less labor and just enjoying your space more.


Front cover of Fine Gardening December 2023 issue
The front cover of Fine Gardening’s December 2023 issue featuring a photo from Stacie’s article, “So Long, Lawn”. Photo: doreenwynja.com 
backyard fence completely hidden by long garden border
By repeating hues and generously filling the space with stalwart plants, Stacie has made the fence in her back yard disappear. Photo: doreenwynja.com
close up of densely planted garden bed with color and texture interest
In Stacie’s designs, reliable perennials that require little care are often used to provide pleasing pockets of color and texture. Photo: doreenwynja.com
garden border with lots of evergreen plants
Bold colors and forms take center stage in Stacie’s back garden. Photo: doreenwynja.com 

05 Agave planted in gravel 

Silver Surfer agave
‘Silver Surfer’ agave thrives in Seattle’s temperate climate. Photo: doreenwynja.com
close up of plant combination in garden designer's home garden
Another stunning plant combo from Stacie’s home garden. Photo: doreenwynja.com
concrete path and steps leading to house
A path that is at least 5 feet wide allows two people to walk side by side. Photo: doreenwynja.com 
garden hose in a pot
Coiling a hose inside an empty planter is an attractive solution for keeping a hose handy but out of sight. Photo: courtesy of Stacie Crooks
lawn replaced with low-maintenance and hardscaping
This lawn replacement project features low-maintenance plants and hardscaping that can accommodate a wheelchair or walker. Photo: doreenwynja.com
garden patio in backyard
Outdoor living areas have experienced a surge in popularity in recent years. Photo: doreenwynja.com
garden bed with cool colored flowers
A palette of plants adapted to Seatte’s dry summers and mild, rainy winters blend beautifully in this low-maintenance landscape. Photo: doreenwynja.com 
lawnless front yard
A seating are in the center of this garden bed feels set apart from the world, but in reality it is just steps away from the home’s front entrance. Photo: doreenwynja.com

More from Stacie Crooks:

View Comments


  1. heidid 01/07/2024


    I've been a fan of FG and the podcast for years- centuries! But I was appalled to hear Stacie's blatantly stupid explanation for why she can't use native plants in the Northwest. YOU KNOW thats complete BS. Native plants are essential. I know your magazine's business plan relies heavily on "cool new plants" but PLEASE do not allow your "experts" to dis native plants!!! If I hear someting so idiotic, irresponsible and unethical again, I will need to end my all-access subsciption.

    Heidi Dollard
    Massachusetts Pollinator Network
    [email protected]

    1. ericbowles 01/09/2024

      I agree. It was a cringeworthy moment on a program that was otherwise excellent. In addition, her rationalization that she could select plants from any Mediterranean habitat and be confident that they would work in her area indicated a lack of sensitivity to the relationship between native plants and native wildlife.

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