Don't be fooled. Inside this thin coating of sweetness is a fiery core of total insanity.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

A Small Garden That Packs A Colorful Punch

When Nigel and I first moved here, we visited a couple of new build neighborhoods, with the houses so close together you could practically watch your neighbor's television with them just by looking through their windows if they forgot to close their blinds, and yards so tiny I could not possibly imagine creating an interesting garden in them. Fortunately gardeners exist with more creative minds than mine. The day after visiting Sherri Wilson's garden, which I posted about yesterday, I visited the garden of Joan Sharp, a brand new addition to the NPA Open Gardens Program, and a wonderful garden created in one of those new build neighborhoods.

As Joan said in her entry in the NPA booklet, "Since moving to the Pacific Northwest from Southern California, I fell in love with Washington's majestic display of conifers. They offer a broad range of colors and textures. Unfortunately, my plot of gardening space is small and mostly north facing. In a gardener's tradition, I met the challenge and now have a collector's garden of about 80 different conifers with perennials and grasses interspersed. Conifers work well in small spaces if you select carefully matching rate of growth and allowable space. They stay in their own space and require very little care. Overall, conifers enable a small garden to present a colorful year round neat appearance and yet have an abundance of plantings."

I love conifers too, although I know little about them. I have a few in my garden, some relatively small, such as Abies koreana 'Horstmann's Silberlocke,' and quite a few enormous -- our native Douglas firs. One thing I've noticed about miniature conifers is the way the new growth can sometimes mimic flowers in its colorfulness.

Come with me as I share Joan's little marvel of a garden.

Probably the largest bed in the garden sweeps along the front, a mix of small conifers, shrubs and perennials

Joan also has a few interesting garden decor items, including this non-working pump with river rock spilling down the sloping bed

All the conifers are meticulously labeled --- and by the way, isn't that curly, gnarly, peely old tree limb cool?

Colorful Heucheras also make a statement

Joan's wee dog, Topaz, cleverly matched the caramel-colored Heuchera foliage

More Heucheras and Heucherellas

At the top of the slope a path of Irish moss surrounds a tree and the berm around it

You may notice that Topaz, and sometimes Topaz's butt, simply needed to be in as many shots as possible.

From there a concrete path continues up the tiny side yard toward the back, past a water feature

There's always one child that has to goof off for the family portrait

It's a good thing Mom loves you

Great foliage combos throughout

Pieces of driftwood and interesting bits of garden decor appear throughout the garden

There seemed to be two themes in garden decor -- dogs that resembled Topaz, and froggies

This Japanese maple had been limbed up to show off the mossy bark

Another Japanese maple, with matching Heuchera and fern foliage

Another nice foliage combo

As you round the corner into the back garden, you see this explosion of color.

Two healthy Camellias espaliered against a trellis

Below the Camellias, a small fountain and matching combos of golden Hakone grass, Columbine, and Mukdenia rossii

At the far end of the trellis, a Ginkgo biloba 'Mariken,' a dwarf tree that matures at 2 feet high

A large bed full of color sweeps around under the fence

I thought this screen and colorful bike made an effective distraction from the AC unit

These trellises separate Joan's garden from her neighbor

A closer look

The gorgeous purple cones of Abies koreana 'Aurea'

Larix kaempferi 'Blue Dwarf'

Nice how the edges of the Mukdenia leaves here have turned a bit caramel-colored, to match the Heuchera -- mine are never anything but green

One last look at Topaz and her doppelganger

A huge Thank-You to Joan for opening her garden for the Northwest Perennial Alliance and for being such a wonderful hostess. Your garden is definitely punching high above its weight class. The lemon and lavender shortbread cookies were delicious and the commentary was fascinating!


  1. So many drool worthy combos. Alas, I did notice some beautiful conifers that either the weather or the gardener killed.

    1. Forgot to mention that "dwarf conifer" just means it is really slow growing. I am also growing Ginkgo 'Mariken' and mine — at 12 years old is — 30" tall by 60" wide. I will need to prune it soon if I really want to keep it dwarf.

  2. Impressive how well-grown and happy everything looks. So tidy and well planned! Love the dramatic Heuchera and fern combination and may have to borrow that idea. Joan's vision and skill would be truly impressive if we didn't know that Topaz actually does all the gardening.

  3. What a great garden! As the conifers grow, she'll have to keep the perennials away from them. Smothering them with herbaceous foliage causes die back. but for now I love all of the color and texture.

  4. Wow, I'll say a SoCal expat really got into the PNW garden spirit! I'm hoping to tour a conifer-rich garden in NorCal later this month. It'll be interesting to contrast these two gardens. Thanks so much for this photo-rich post -- and all the photos of Topaz, the little sweetie!

  5. what an amazing garden, I love all the different colours of the foliage - especially the lime green. That mossy path is spectacular. I think I need more lime green in my garden ...

  6. I get all swoon-y when I see gardens that feature conifers. This one is really lovely. One of those things I wish I could grow well.

  7. Wow - this is one gorgeous garden!! Topaz is adorable. :)

  8. What a fantastic and colorful garden. I am wondering if I could grow that Irish moss like that.

  9. What a great designing talent Joan is. Every corner is a gem, filled with art, color and whimsy. Excellent use of space and screens. What AC?

  10. Love all the foliage combinations of colour, shape and texture, it makes for a very stimulating garden.

  11. Great collection of plants! The path of irish moss is wonderful!

  12. A great garden with a strong regional flavor. Like how the dog echoes the Heuchera.


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