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

Plant Life
At age 12, Katherine Cahoon was inspired by the Northwest Flower & Garden Show to create her own garden.
Poetry in Bloom
Out of disappointment, a girl's winsome, winning garden grew

The youngest ever winner of an award in the Pacific Northwest Home Gardeners Contest probably wasn't paying a bit of attention to the garden when she was outside jumping on her trampoline. But to her great disappointment, Katherine Cahoon was diagnosed with a slow-healing back injury that made the trampoline off-limits. Over the next two years it became clear that her medical condition would keep her off the trampoline and out of school sports for good.

Fortunately, a visit to the Northwest Flower & Garden Show when Katherine was 12 proved a wonderful tonic; she loved all the flowers, and was intrigued by the idea of the garden competition it co-sponsors. The trampoline was moved out of the back yard to make way for her own little garden — a four-year labor of love that resulted in a 2002 Pacific Northwest Gardens Golden Scoop Award for originality and inspiration.

Cahoon's theme garden, patterned after a poem she'd written, greatly impressed the judges. An excerpt from the judging sheet reads, "Walking into this garden is like walking into Alice in Wonderland — totally inspiring and very personal." In the midst of the groomed lawns and tidy shrubs of the Cahoon family's Bellevue neighborhood, the lively and expressive garden is a surprise.

Her parents aren't gardeners but plunged right in, driving Katherine to nurseries, buying plants and helping with the garden's construction. Her mother describes the family's landscape as "mow, blow and go," a definite contrast to the billowy perennials, winding blue-tile pathway and ornate gazebo in her daughter's garden.

Judges said touring Cahoon's garden was like "walking into Alice in Wonderland — totally inspiring and very personal." Among the most admired features were the bed, where Scotch moss and blue star creeper grow in squares to form a patchwork quilt coverlet.
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How does a pre-teen go about learning how to build a garden all her own? Katherine started by reading books and attending garden seminars at nurseries, in between classes at Pacific Northwest Ballet and homework. She whipped through flimsy pads, sketching schemes for her secret garden in a corner of the back yard. Nothing clicked until she remembered the imagery in her poem, "Rainbow Ranch," filled with fancies about stuffed animals coming alive, tea parties and following the rainbow. Now the stuffed animals summer in the garden they inspired, piled on a shelf in a shed Katherine's father built.

The shed caused a few problems. Katherine describes her father's style of construction as "military fort," while she was aiming for a fairy-princess look. Girliness won out, for while the shed is sturdy, Katherine painted it in polka dots and frills. Perhaps that is the advantage of making a first-time garden. You just go ahead and throw all possible color and embellishment at it that you can imagine. Katherine had the great fun of working out her fancies in dirt, plants, bits of ceramics, a flowery tea set and the crystal drops of a chandelier hung above a tea table.

You enter Katherine's garden through a rose-draped arbor to find a miniature yet elaborate metal bedstead. This is the Flower Bed (shades of Lewis Carroll) where Katherine dreams of her stuffed animals. Scotch moss and blue star creeper grow in squares to form a patchwork quilt coverlet. A plastic boat rests amid blue flowers in the pond garden, and beneath an apple tree is the pot-of-gold garden (yellow daylilies and lamium). The dining gazebo (Katherine's house), the dog's tree house and the cat's garden, planted in all seven rainbow colors, complete this poetic fantasy of a garden.
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Illustration Now In Bloom
Low-growing, trailing annuals are ideal for draping over containers and window boxes, and few fill the bill better than Calibrachoa, commonly called million bells. Introduced just a couple of years ago, the little petunia-like flowers don't need deadheading, and bloom nonstop until frost if given plenty of sun and moisture. While they come in cherry pink and rich purple, the most versatile color by far is terra cotta, for each flower mingles shades of yellow, orange and mahogany that blend beautifully with warm-colored annuals.
Katherine is now a mature 17, and taking ballet lessons six days a week. She volunteers for events at the Washington Park Arboretum to keep her hand in the gardening world and looks forward to all the bouquets she'll cut from her garden this summer. She is planning her grown-up garden (lots of pink flowers) at the same time she's beginning to think about college. Perhaps encouraged by her award, Katherine plans to pursue "something creative."

Compete for prizes

To enter part or all of your garden in the 2003 Pacific Northwest Home Gardeners Contest and compete for prizes, including a trip to London or San Francisco, cash and gift certificates, call the Arboretum Foundation at 206-325-4510 for an entry form. The deadline is June 16, 2003.

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

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