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.

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