Garden Photo of the Day

How do great garden designers do it?

Today’s GPOD features the work of Seattle garden designer Stacie Crooks.
Regular readers of Fine Gardening have seen Stacie’s work countless times. Her designs have been on the cover at least three times and are always appearing inside the magazine, too. Here is a look at some of her work you haven’t seen, and we think we have found the clue to how she creates such amazing designs.

Stacie tends to rely on the same plants through many of her designs. Heathers (Calluna spp. and cvs.) and Viburnum davidii are some of her go-to plants. But when we use them, they never look this good.

Again, if you gave us the same plants and the same space, it wouldn’t look anything like this.

Why haven’t I thought to combine ‘Aurea’ Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa macra ‘Aurea’) with ‘Brilliance’ wood fern (Dryopteris erythrosora ‘Brilliance’)?

Of course, the bear’s breeches (Acanthus spp. and cvs.) poking through the ‘Aurea’ Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa macra ‘Aurea’) is planned, right?

That’s how she does it! She uses The Force to move plants around and coax enhanced growth and flowering from them! It all makes sense now.

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  1. susan749 12/13/2017

    Yes, garden design is very complicated. The rest of us do our best. ;-)

  2. user-7007498 12/13/2017

    Brilliant work. I love how the 2nd photo utilizes many shades of green, with few flowers. The Japanese maple really pops in the space.

    The combo of Acanthus, Hakonechloa and spirea is wonderful as well. Very inspiring.

    I will have to try to use The Force in the spring.

  3. Sunshine111 12/13/2017

    I am envious!

  4. Jay_Sifford 12/13/2017

    Awww, you don't need the force. It's not that hard. Here are two of my secrets. I'll only charge an arm and a leg for this advice.
    First, master what I call the art of juxtaposition. Plants have four parameters, or general types of characteristics, if you think about it: size, shape, color and texture. If you match different plants with regard to only one of these, there's not enough continuity to register on the brain and hold the design together. If you match all four, it's boring, rather like buying a house full of matching furniture at Rooms To Go. Match 2, vary 2, and you have enough interest to engage the mind and enough continuity to hold the design together. 3 is ok too, if you know what you are doing.
    Second, when I approach a new project, I look at 5 things: (1) how can I make the house feel at home in the landscape? In other words, what shapes, colors and textures can I pull out of the home into the garden to make a seamless blend? (2) Artistry: how can I arrange things based on juxtaposition to create a peaceful yet engaging composition? And can I tastefully introduce a good quality piece of art that relates to the overall composition? (3) Story: what's the story of the land and architecture, and how can I successfully tell the story? (4) Magic: How can I introduce a spark of the mysterious or unexpected that ignites emotion in the viewer of the space? (5) Horticulture: How can accomplish all of this with plants that will actually thrive in the conditions the space offers me?
    After that, let things grow and embrace serendipity. Nature will give you some sweet, and sometimes not-so-sweet surprises along the way. Celebrate and tweak.
    So there you go. Happy designing, and happy gardening!

    1. Chris_N 12/13/2017

      Great summary, Jay.

    2. tennisluv 12/13/2017

      You make it sound so easy. If only it were so. Lacking your talent and artistic eye, I just keep plugging.

      1. tennisluv 12/13/2017

        Addendum, I will study your words of wisdom and try to apply them as I move forward with the garden at my new home. The great thing about a garden, if a plant combination doesn't work, you just move things around a bit. Kind of like ornaments on a Christmas tree; mine get tweaked all season long until they are all in just the right spot.

        1. frankgreenhalgh 12/13/2017

          Hey Sonya - it would be great seeing some pics of your major landscaping exercise for an update on your progress etc. Oh - plants can be moved around, but it is more difficult changing the hardscaping e.g. large rocks, retaining walls etc. Cheers from Oz

          1. tennisluv 12/13/2017

            You are so right about the hardscapes. Now that I have started adding plantings to the terraced levels on my sloping front yard, I would so love to tweak the retaining walls. Unfortunately, they don't seem to respond to my attempts to dig up and move them around to suit my fancy of the day.

          2. tennisluv 12/14/2017

            Oh Frank, you have just threw down the gauntlet. Guess I have to either put up something and get the feedback from this distinguished group of gardeners on what I have done so far with my revamping of the landscape of my recently purchased 17 year old home and landscape or just fade quietly into the sunset. You are such a hard taskmaster!

          3. frankgreenhalgh 12/14/2017

            Sonya - you cannot fade into the sunset. I have seen some earlier pics. of your journey renovating your garden and it looked great. No pressure - its all on Rhonda to produce the goods with her containers etc. (only joking Rhonda). As for the hard taskmaster bit - funny that - I cop that comment down here as well. Cheers my friend

    3. frankgreenhalgh 12/13/2017

      Thanks for the trade secrets, Jay. I take it that you don't believe in group plantings because of your juxtaposition concept? Cheers mate

      1. Jay_Sifford 12/13/2017

        I do group plantings a lot. As I always say, why plant one fern when you could plant 150? Juxtaposition works just as well with groups as it does with individuals.

        1. frankgreenhalgh 12/13/2017

          Thanks again Jay.

    4. User avater
      Tim_Zone_Denial_Vojt 12/13/2017

      Well, Jay, I think you've left out something important: we're all wired a bit differently and some folks (I'm looking at you, Jay) have a great intuitive sense that works well with the great principles you've shared. I admire your unique gifting and talents and your ability to put them in words. Thanks.

      1. Jay_Sifford 12/13/2017

        Ha, Tim. Thanks for the compliment. Even if people aren't wired intuitively in this way, they can still great great gardens through study, observation, etc. I'm glad I have the intuition though. It's what makes it fun.

    5. User avater
      meander_michaele 12/13/2017

      Jay, your photo sharings here on gpod and on your Facebook page show that you "walk the walk" to speak. Your projects always seem to have a very pleasing balance of mass groupings set off with a delightful choice of accent plant. My hungry landscaping appetite never leaves the table hungry!

    6. User avater
      LindaonWhidbey 12/13/2017

      What I appreciate most about your designs, Jay, is that they’re usually contemporary and you pay attention to the house or building that you’re designing around so that the finished project doesn’t look contrived.

    7. Maggieat11 12/13/2017

      Loved your post, Jay. Thanks for sharing!

    8. cheryl_c 12/13/2017

      Hi, Jay, thanks for this summary - now, do you have a book in the planning stages? I've been reading several books lately about combining plants, and each one of them excites me in a little different way. I appreciate the discipline that you bring to the intuition! It seems, too, that the more time you spend with a plant, the more you appreciate the little nuances of it (stem color, new growth color, mature habit verses early habit) that you might be able to repeat in a different plant close by. I also appreciate your fitting your gardens to the house they are surrounding - that was an eye opener to me that I strove to accomplish with our new house and gardens.
      Thanks so much for taking the time to give us this outline!

      1. Jay_Sifford 12/14/2017

        Cheryl, thank you for the nice note. I appreciate it more than you know. We're all learning new things every day!

    9. user-7007498 12/14/2017

      Thanks, Jay, for putting great design principles into words. Where were you the first 10 years of my gardening experience. I think it took me about that long to figure out your first set of guidelines (size, shape, color and texture). There was a lot of plant relocation during my "learning period".

  5. User avater
    treasuresmom 12/13/2017

    Love that wood fern. Just looks so good with the other plants.

  6. poest 12/13/2017

    This planting looks great because time has passed for the plants to knit together vs the disconnected look of any new planting.

    1. tennisluv 12/13/2017

      I agree that is part of the draw. My plantings are all new (@ 6 months) and some are still baby plants. Five years from now, hopefully what I see in my mind's eye will come to fruition and provide the appeal of Stacie's landscapes.

  7. User avater
    meander_michaele 12/13/2017

    For me, great garden design is kind of like what a Supreme Court justice once said (in a 1964 official ruling) about pornography, "I know it when I see it". Sometimes, the most surprising combination of plants work together to great visual effect and the possibilities are endless. Great garden design can have a stimulating effect or a calming just touches the soul and looking upon it makes everything seem right in the world. Ha, how totally unhelpful was all that blather from me?!

    1. frankgreenhalgh 12/13/2017

      Not unhelpful (double negative) at all. Apart from touching the soul, I like to think about touching all our senses, Michaele.

    2. User avater
      Tim_Zone_Denial_Vojt 12/13/2017

      Thanks for the grin this morning, Michaele!!

      1. alohaland 12/13/2017

        Absolutely......thanks for the grin! Your self inflicted "blather" really sets off the "generous hand of serendipity" attitude.

    3. tennisluv 12/13/2017

      Michaele, your posting as always so beautifully written and calming to the soul.

      1. User avater
        meander_michaele 12/14/2017

        Thank you, Sonya, for your sweet words.

    4. User avater
      LindaonWhidbey 12/13/2017

      You always have the right words Michaele. I think that every gardener occasionally gets it right, maybe just not quite as often as Stacie Crooks.

      1. User avater
        meander_michaele 12/13/2017

        I know what you mean, Linda. I humbly acknowledge that some of what I might regard as my "home runs" have benefited from the generous hand of serendipity.

      2. user-7007498 12/14/2017

        The advantage we home gardeners have, is that we can continue to edit. Professional landscape designers have one shot at it.

  8. User avater
    Tim_Zone_Denial_Vojt 12/13/2017

    So gorgeous. Love love love the Dryopteris with the hakone grass. Genius. For now I will console myself with the fact that Stacie designs in PNW, hence her advantage. Not fair.

    1. tennisluv 12/14/2017

      You are so right ..., not fair as I garden in the southeast.

  9. User avater
    LindaonWhidbey 12/13/2017

    Just saw this Dryopteris this fall at a local nursery and plan on adding some to the garden this spring. Now I know where I’ll be placing them. I’ve enjoyed Stacie Crook’s designs, probably because they’re here in the PNW and the plants that she uses are readily available.

    1. user-7007498 12/14/2017

      Dryopteris erythrosora 'Brilliance', is one of my favorite landscape ferns, and I have divided it over the years, so I must have at least 25 clumps growing. It never disappoints. In my climate, it stays evergreen in mild winters, so it should look great for you. Tolerates dry conditions after a couple of years, but requires well drained soil to look good. Have fun with it, Linda.

  10. Maggieat11 12/13/2017

    Lovely combos! And, of course, those wonderful rocks are a big plus as well!

  11. hedygalow 12/13/2017

    love the garden, but also the comments under the pictures. I feel just the same, so hard to get that gorgeous look in my own garden!

  12. cheryl_c 12/13/2017

    When we visit the PNW, I am always struck by the health of the plants and gardens, but Stacie truly has 'the eye' when it comes to plant combinations! Fabulous pictures - thanks for pulling them together for us!

  13. user-7007940 12/14/2017

    Love the garden. I live in the Renton area.

  14. perenniallycrazy 12/14/2017

    Your design is simply divine and I will always be a fan Stacie!

  15. anabowers 12/14/2017

    Love looking up into the berm. It lets you see each plant specimen at its best! Thanks, Stacie!

  16. user-6536305 12/14/2017

    Great plant combination but I really want to know where to get the water feather in photo 3? Thanks for sharing.

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