Colorful Garden Show Unveils 30th Year

You’ll see plenty of color, crowds and cake at the big Northwest Flower & Garden Festival, going on right now in Seattle. The annual gardening season kickoff turns 30 this year — hence the cake — and fills the Washington State Convention Center — hence the crowds. The opulent show gardens are the big draw — hence the color.

I always enjoy the show gardens, although this year I saw hardly a nod to edibles, which is disappointing. I get it — it is hard to force tomatoes to fruit in winter. But when I see edibles incorporated into the lush landscapes, I am more inspired to imagine elements of the fancy designs into my own garden. Maybe next year.

It’s also great fun to see friends from the gardening world, like other garden writers Lorene Edwards Forkner of Pacific Horticulture or Laura Watson, formerly of Plant Amnesty, who knows more about clematis than I thought any one brain could hold. She’s sharing her expertise at a seminar, another important segment of the event for me — and not just because I’ll be doing the same. If you’re at the show on Sunday, look for my talk “Eat Your Year: Month-by-Month Actions for Continuous Edibles” at 4:15 p.m.

Vendors performing the difficult task of staffing a booth for five long days get my admiration too. I like chatting with Charlie and Carol of Charlie’s Greenhouse, the folks at Diggit and other local tool manufacturers, the always-helpful University Bookstore staff, and the volunteers at the non-profit booths, like aforementioned Plant Amnesty and the Washington Native Plant Society.

Far beyond the colorful gardens, the show is truly a wide-ranging gateway to the gardening year.

Here are images of my day at the show yesterday.

Arboretum garden

The Arboretum Foundation garden showcased plants of the Witt Winter Garden, plus a well-painted arbor and a reproduction of the new loop trail. It opens officially in April.

Chess set

A giant chess set, luxurious grill setup, and sculptural slices of ancient tree trunks combine for this imposing garden.

Beehive gate

This hive-inspired gate, complete with a bee at bottom, welcomes you to the Bee Simple garden.

Bee Simple

An orchard mason bee house sits hopefully next to an espaliered apple tree.

Colorful greenhouse

This show garden’s multi-colored greenhouse, accessed via a floating wooden deck, grabbed me.

Spa Garden

A “spa garden” inspired by Japanese “wabi-sabi” is themed in white.

Vanilla Farm

Orchids and a vanilla vine (in pot on left) surround a funky shed in the tropical Vanilla Farm garden.

Vintage Market

The Vintage Market provides a funky corner to the show.

Plant Amnesty

The Plant Amnesty booth was busy. It’s heartening to see the organization doing well after the tragic loss of its founder, Cass Turnbull, last year.


The ikebana display is always cheery.


The folks at Diggit have created another comfortable tool — a hardened stainless steel hori-hori with their signature colorful soft handle.

Useless shovels

Useless shovels. But cool!

Raintree Nursery

Sam Benowitz dispenses wisdom along with edible fruit starts at the Raintree Nursery booth.

Tiny Terrarium

A tiny terrarium sits in the window of the convention center’s skybridge, with Pike Street below and Pike Place Market in the distance.


These Opots come in striking colors, great to enhance a wall garden.


This Catlin Elm was raised from a cutting by American bonsai forefather John Yoshio Naka, beginning in 1970. Amazing.

Bionic gloves

Colorful hand-painted pots, yes. Bionic gloves? Definitely!

30th dinner party

A 30th dinner party is set in this show garden to celebrate the show’s 30th anniversary. Here’s to 30 more years!

Layer Cake

The festival’s own show garden resembled a layer cake of colorful flowers and plants, enhanced by art-glass candle flames.

Cheers to 30 years, and here’s to 30 more!

Nature springs back at vernal equinox

I sought signs of vernalis in my garden today. Figured it would be an appropriate thing to do on the vernal equinox, also known as the first day of spring.

Vernal literally means “of the spring,” from the Latin vernalis. And I’ve long been known to toss around Latin phrases just to show off. Carpe diem! Although anyone who tasks me with plant i.d. can quickly tell that my gardener’s Latin is suspect, to say the least. Caveat emptor.

But on the first day of spring, as the lengths of day and night are at their equinoctial point, is a good occasion, ipso facto, to assess vernalis.

In a walk after lunch (post meridiem) I found evidence in many facets of my edible garden, which should not have surprised me. Every spring that I have been alive, and to my knowledge every spring throughout eternity, sprouts have risen and buds have popped in flore as the earth rises again to life. Ad nauseum, ad infinitum.

And here, in images, is the documentum. Q.E.D.*

Asian veg in cold frame

This cold frame is planted with bok choi (back) and tatsoi that I started indoors in January.

Corn salad

Corn salad (mache) growing wild in the mulch in front of my compost bin chopping block (which itself has been colonized quite nicely by volunteers).

Early Red Treviso radicchio

Early Red Treviso radicchio overwintered in a cloche and is spicing up our spring salads while Viola tricolor (Johnny jump-up) kept it company.

Mustard greens

Mustard greens, overwintered in a cloche, are exuberantly growing.

Pear buds

Buds on the pear tree promise sweet blossoms.


The fresh, silvery leaves of the globe artichoke cheer up a border bed.

Cabbage - probably

This is probably a cabbage, sprouted up from a stray brassica seedling. I have no idea if it will make a head. if not, I’ll probably start eating the leaves.

Mystery Brassica

This volunteer, clearly a Brassica but not clearly what type, popped up on the edge of a bed. Looks like a cross between collards and dinosaur kale. Also looks like good eating!

Red-veined sorrel

Red-veined garden sorrel sprouts back to life from a dense head.

Lettuce under cloche

Lettuce seedlings, begun indoors, gain strength under my Triangle Tunnel cloche.

Purple Sprouting Broccoli

The plant is healthy but our cool late winter weather has delayed the buds on the Purple Sprouting broccoli. But they are coming.

Dino kale in bud

Lacinato (dinosaur) kale going to flower. It was planted too late last year to reach “full frame” before winter, but we’ll eat it soon and pull it up to make room for something new.

Garlic and bike

Garlic slices through the straw mulch behind a whimsical steel bike sculpture.


* Disclosure: I had to look up some of those phrases — okay, most of them — to make sure I was not misusing them too drastically.


Art Blends with Plants at the NW Flower & Garden Show

Sculptures, fountains and water features blend gracefully in garden landscapes, and the Northwest Flower & Garden Show display gardens showcased inspiring combinations.

Massive fountain

Massive square stones stacked into an imposing fountain, which is skirted by blooming daffodils, greet visitors to the show gardens.

bird scuptures

These steel and wood sculptures pair nicely and seem about to take flight.

patio pavers

The “Good Times Great Food” garden features a varied patio landscaping with an assortment of stone pavers and groundcovers.

bar fountain pool

This bar-fountain-pool combination nicely edges a patio in a small garden.

water scuplture

An artistic water sculpture echoed by another shapely sculpture behind highlights one garden.

espaliered apple

A stylish espaliered tree dresses up this shed wall.

Edible Inspiration on Display at NW Flower & Garden Show

From industrious hydroponic farming to a lot of casual living, the show gardens at the Northwest Flower & Garden Show offered inspiration, ideas and an undeniable hankering for living the good life in the garden.

The big downtown Seattle show runs until Sunday. If you attend on Saturday, don’t miss the fun and educational seminars. I’ll be interviewing restaurateur Tom Douglas and his wife Jackie Cross on their menu-powering Prosser Farm on Saturday at 11:45 a.m.

Here are some images from my visit to the gardens:

hydroponic lettuces

Hydroponically grown lettuces nearly burst from their tubular homes.

hydroponic tubes

Water coursed through plumbing pipe to hydroponically feed this lettuce crop.

A green-roofed shed faces a plastic-covered hoop house filled with hydroponic growing.

Shrunk the farm

“Honey, We Shrunk the Farm” is the title of this edibles-focused garden, highlighted by a whimsical little free library, a low chicken house and a hydroponic growing system in the hoop house.

cultery shed

This tiny house contains lounging space, but the cutlery over the door signals edibles, with strawberries and wheatgrass in planter boxes and pots below bursting with mint.

Garden on Tap

The “Garden on Tap” featured a pub shed with a lit G and plenty of Mason bee houses to pollinate the fruit trees.

beer shed

The shed promises tasty relaxation for the gardener.

Hanami garden

“Hanami – Savoring Spring” by the Arboretum Foundation shows a rural Japanese scene of relaxation under the flowering cherry trees.

Arb garden farmhouse

The front of a Japanese farmhouse in the Arboretum garden, expertly faux painted to show age and texture by my wife Susie Thorness and other volunteer painters.

deer scarer

A Japanese water hammer (aka “deer scarer) sits by the picnic area in the Arobertum’s garden.

Taste Spring at the NW Flower & Garden Show

I can almost taste spring. Can’t you? When a warm wind casts across the yard like a fishing line tossed into a lazy stream, I cast my eyes toward the ground, seeking shoots and sprouts. When they appear, my spirit soars.

.pea shoots

Another way to get that feeling is to visit the giant Northwest Flower & Garden Show–excuse me–Garden Festival being held this week at the Washington State Convention Center in downtown Seattle (blog, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest).

Over the weekend I was in the cavernous show garden area helping set up the Arboretum Foundation’s always-enticing garden, so I’ll give you a tip: brave the crowds, traffic and parking, and come on down. It looks like it is going to be a blooming success.

Here’s another tip: buy your tickets online before 11:55 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 21 and get the early-bird price, $5 off.

Display garden 2016

Giant colored pots lit from within highlighted one of last year’s display gardens.

I’ll be there a few times during the week, and look forward to meeting readers and gardeners. On Wednesday, I present “Eat Your Year: Month-by-Month Actions for Continuous Edibles” at 6:45 p.m. slide snapshot

I’ve mined my garden journal for cultivation and harvest tips throughout the year. You’ll be surprised what can be done in the doldrums of winter, and what needs to be done in the sweetest swell of summer if you want to eat from your yard year round. A book signing follows, and I look forward to personalizing a book for you.

Then on Saturday at 11:45 a.m., I employ my journalism chops by interviewing Seattle’s star restaurateur Tom Douglas and his business partner, wife and chief farmer in the family Jackie Cross. In “The Learning Curve,” we’ll discuss their quest to generate perfect produce for their many restaurants.

If you’ve eaten at Etta’s, Dahlia Lounge, Seatown, Serious Pie, Tanaka San or one of Tom’s other great restaurants in the last few years, you’ve probably eaten produce from Prosser Farm. Six years after breaking ground in the hills west of Prosser, they have learned much (I’ll ask about the rascally rabbits!) and Tom Douglas logonow deliver a significant amount of vegetables for the restaurants from their farm, taking the farm-to-table concept to a wild new level.

Tom will sign copies of his excellent cookbooks after the talk, and I’ll head up to the University Book Store’s booth (#211) to meet and greet and sign my own books for an hour, 1-2 p.m.

You might also find me at my publisher’s booth. The Mountaineers Books and their green living imprint Skipstone will have their books on display and for sale (booth #2354) and will have lots of authors as well as staff to visit with. Learn about recent and upcoming titles, including my next cycling book, Cycling the Pacific Coast: A Complete Guide, Canada to Mexico, which will be out this fall.

I hope you’ll consider attending one or both of my events, but do you realize how much there is to do at the show?

  • Attend one of the 110 seminars and demonstrations going on throughout the show. Besides learning and being entertained, you’ll get to sit down and relax after touring the giant exhibit hall and display gardens.
  • Speaking of which, tour the 22 show gardens for inspiration and that “taste of spring.”
  • Shop at the 350 exhibitors offering garden, nature-related and gourmet food goods in the Garden Marketplace. I especially like the non-profit organizations that offer information and help build our gardening community. I also enjoy touring the Vintage Garden Market to find some rusty old thing that would give my garden a bit more character.


    Old windows repurposed into a shed — probably the easiest way to build a cold frame.

  • Snack and sip your way through the Tasting Corner, a new gourmet food and beverage marketplace offered this year. Nearly 30 vendors will offer samples of their tasty wares.

This is the second largest garden festival in the U.S., so plan enough time to enjoy it fully. It’s a great way to get spring underway, even while waiting for those first buds to break.

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