Susan Calhoun

susan calhoun

My horticulture career started with an accountant (me) staring out the window trying to figure out a way to work outside. After going through a job-retraining program to study horticulture, I begged an amazing plantsman, Junkoh Hararui, to hire me as a designer. After turning me down four times, he finally said yes if only to shut me up. I worked at Bainbridge Gardens Nursery for a year and then began working on my own. Bainbridge Island, Washington, has a huge gardening community, with many wonderful artists and gardeners that I have the privilege to work with. Horticulture is such a great field to work in because there is always something new to learn, new plants to try, and challenges of climate, hardiness, and sustainability to keep things interesting.

Photo: Doreen Wynja

 

1. What do you like most about gardening in your region?

The Pacific Northwest has a HUGE plant palette to choose from. Zones 7–8 give the opportunity to grow many more plants than colder places.

 

2. What’s the biggest challenge to gardening in your region?

Winter wetness is the biggest challenge. It can be difficult to overwinter some plants that are literally being soaked every day for months.

 

3. What plant are you jazzed about in your garden right now?

I’m totally excited about Double Play® Blue Kazoo® spirea (Spirea media ‘SMSMBK’, Zones 3–8). The soft blue leaves set off the white flowers beautifully. I don’t really like the pink flowers of other spireas in the garden, yet spireas are such great plants. This one is easy to grow and use in designs. It can take sun or shade and any type of water. That plus easy pruning makes it perfect for many situations.

Double Play Blue Kazoo spirea
Double Play® Blue Kazoo® spirea is an unusual spirea with white flowers and teal leaves. Photo: Susan Calhoun

 

4. What was the last plant you killed?

I’m always pushing the hardiness margins and know several people who grow bottlebrushes (Callistemon spp. and cvs., Zones 7–10) with beautiful results. There is even one growing under a pine tree near me that gets no love whatsoever and is 10 feet tall. I would tell you the specific cultivar, but I have killed so many that I’ve lost track. They are generally hardy to Zone 7b but don’t like wetness. I’ve been told by the grower I’ve gotten them from, “They may freeze to the ground but will come back up in the spring with vigor,” but that has never happened for me. I just bought another one (thank goodness I can get them wholesale) to sacrifice this winter.

  • ferns growing in a woodland garden
    Northwest Regional Reports

    The Versatility of Ferns in the Northwest

    In the past three years I have become a firm fan of ferns. The fiddleheads, which emerge in spring, are very subtle and primeval in shape. They draw you back…

  • symmetrical garden patio with built in garden beds
    Northwest Regional Reports

    Designing From the Top Down in the Northwest

    Designers talk about sight lines, which lead the eye through gardens and pathways with a destination. In the Pacific Northwest we have another viewpoint to consider. Many of our houses…

  • Mix of perennials in summer containers
    Northwest Regional Reports

    Ditch Pre-Potted Nursery Containers for Your Own Creations

    Our gardens are bursting with growth in early summer: roses are budding, peonies (Paeonia spp. and cvs., Zones 3-9) are blooming, and dahlias (Dahlia spp. and cvs., Zones 7-11) are…

  • Galanthus Gala zoom 2021
    Northwest Regional Reports

    Online Gardening Events Are More Accessible Than Ever

    Throughout 2020 and 2021 many things have changed. We have learned new ways to greet each other, how to read eyes instead of smiles, and how to simply communicate differently.…

  • Golden foliage and spring blooms
    Northwest Regional Reports

    All-Season Golden Garden in the Northwest

    I love introducing people to my “golden garden.” This garden has year-round yellow and gold color. I managed this by incorporating plants with sequential moments of bloom and other interest,…

  • Mason bee
    Northwest Regional Reports

    Mason Bees Are Easy, Home-Grown Pollinators for Your Garden

    Gardeners are becoming more aware of the importance of pollination in our gardens. We now plant early-blooming plants for bee food and add areas of native plants to encourage native…

  • bleeding heart and hellebores
    Northwest Regional Reports

    Spring Border Design for the Northwest

    Designing spring borders is always a little challenging. Some plants are stubborn and refuse to bloom at the same time every year. Other plants are just emerging and are not…

  • deer proof shade plants
    Design

    A Deer-Proof Garden Design for Dry Shade – Plant IDs

    I live in a modern house perched on a coastal bluff and surrounded by Douglas firs and western red cedars (Thuja plicata, Zones 5–7) that are over one hundred years…

  • improving dry garden soil
    How-To

    Dealing with Dry, Compacted Garden Soil

    In extreme conditions like dry shade, it’s important to improve the soil as best you can. Here’s what Susan Calhoun did in her garden to enhance the environment where the…

  • deer proof garden dry shade
    Design

    A Deer-Proof Garden Design for Dry Shade

    There aren’t many properties left that still have massive, native evergreen trees. Sometimes, however, you find a home built among the giants. These homes capture the essence of the forest…