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Cover Story Plant Life On Fitness Taste Northwest Living Now & Then

Plant Life
Flower & Garden Show
The serious, the silly, the poetic, the practical — it's all there
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Timber bamboo, a beach and planted roof were highlights of Ravenna Garden's display at the 2001 Northwest Flower & Garden Show. This year's garden focuses on personal expression in small spaces, featuring found objects, containers and foliage plants for year-round interest.
THE SLEIGHT OF HAND extends beyond the display gardens at the 15th annual Northwest Flower & Garden Show Feb. 19-23. The sorcery required to create 29 full, fragrant, blooming gardens for five winter days inside the Washington State Convention Center spills over into razzle-dazzle theatrics this year. Show founder Duane Kelly, himself a playwright, has transformed one of the exhibition rooms into the St. Helens Stage, where local husband-wife team Clayton and Susan Corzatte will perform "A Betrothal" by Lanford Wilson. The one-act play is the story of two mature gardeners who meet at a flower show and a romance blooms. Lanford is an avid gardener who knows his specialty gardeners.

Few experiences are more luxurious than listening to good poetry, skillfully read. Sunset magazine's Steve Lorton will also appear on the St. Helens Stage reading his favorite nature and garden poetry by Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, Sara Teasdale and others. I've seen a variation of this moving and lovely performance; Lorton knows the poetry well, and reads it elegantly.

While the performances add another dimension to the show, and a welcome respite from its bustle, most of us rush immediately to the display floors to see the gardens. You won't be disappointed. After 14 years of reflecting Northwest gardening trends, this year's show has moved ahead of the curve. A garden of black and near-black foliage and flower promises dark towers of succulents; three all-organic gardens prove beauty is possible without chemicals. Overall, urban-scale gardens, recyclables and container gardening are emphasized.

Ravenna Gardens creates a display garden every other year; last time its entry was an impressive sight with towering bamboo, a beach and a planted roof. This year, because so many of her customers garden in quite limited spaces, owner Gillian Matthews opted to work with only 570 square feet, into which her design team has packed bold foliage, found objects, a pavilion and a fence that is itself a work of art. The designers hope this garden stimulates show-goers to exclaim "Ooh — I could do that," choosing personal expression over formulaic design.
Illustration Now In Bloom
The species azalea Rhododendron mucronulatum is one of the earliest rhodies to bloom. Upright, deciduous and a little gangly, it isn't a show-stopper at any other time of year, but right now its intense, pinkish-purple color never looked so good. It prefers full sun, and grows to about 8 feet tall and 3 feet wide. R. mucronulatum 'Cornell Pink' has bright pink blooms with less of a purple tinge.
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Another urban courtyard garden has been designed not only to attract and shelter birds, but to help us understand the interconnectedness of today's world. "In Your Own Backyard" is a joint effort of designers Larson Casteel and the Songbird Foundation to illustrate that what we drink here in the coffee capital of the world affects the future of songbirds internationally. Conservation strategies have never looked so good as in this colorful garden of native and ornamental plants, designed to provide food, cover and nesting for birds. Songbird Foundation founder Danny O'Keefe hopes the garden gently reinforces that we need to support birds both in our yards and with our choice of coffee.

All is not serious at the show, despite a garden meant for meditation and a tribute to the Olmsted Brothers' grand landscape tradition in Seattle's parks and boulevards. The cool shopping corner will be restocked every day, and high-school students compete in planting up funky junk. Not all is practical, either. Be sure to track down the water garden with a musical fence and faux icebergs, and the minuscule home and garden at "13 Hobbit Lane." I'm intrigued by the idea of the luminous mystery garden created by Scotland Yards entitled "The Edgar Allan Poe Garden," where, it is promised, you'll find your darkest self. Most of us already will have become well-acquainted with that aspect of ourselves while scavenging the booths and the Cool Plant Corner.

For information, call 800-229-6311; or go to (Play tickets are $20 more.)

Hear Valerie Easton
Valerie Easton will give a talk on "Personal Touches for the Garden" using containers, recyclables, art, furniture and natural objects at 4 p.m. Feb. 20 in the Rainier Room. She'll speak on "Proven Plants for Easy-Care Gardens" on Feb. 21 at 12:30 p.m. in the Hood Room as part of the Urban Horticulture Symposium.

Valerie Easton is a Seattle free-lance writer and contributing editor for Horticulture magazine. Her e-mail address is

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