Hillside Hideaway, Seattle WA

The owner of this Seattle home, a garden enthusiast, wanted to upgrade the landscaping and asked me to come up with a plan.

The sloped lot on a wooded hillside provided both opportunities and challenges. I created a series of terraces along the side of the house to transform an awkward slope into a place for a new patio surrounded by plantings. The terraces themselves function as a series of connected garden rooms that flow together, making it easy to move about the site.

On the home’s entry level, we enlarged the main patio using architectural slabs that reflect the clean lines of the house and blend seamlessly with the existing concrete. Steppable groundcover adds visual interest and natural stone risers provide a graceful transition to the woodland garden below. The natural flagstone patio underfoot, with lush plantings all around and mature trees overhead, enables you to feel as though you’ve been transported far from the city. Beyond the woodland, and visible from the patio during summertime, a collection of shade-loving perennials is bordered by organic timbers. A combination of native, woodland and ornamental plants keeps the garden palette interesting.

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Ballard Neighborhood, Seattle WA

A lovingly restored Ballard bungalow deserves a fitting garden. The owner, a master gardener, loves plants and hired me to create a comprehensive plan to solve problems like screening the apartment house next door. The pathway is made of repurposed brick from the original chimney and recycled stepping stones add to the relaxed air. I focused on plants that create structure and continuity with emphasis on seasonal focal points. The result: there is always something interesting popping up or coming into bloom.

Financial Center – Credit Union Headquarters, Seattle WA

The client purchased the building for its headquarters intending to renovate inside and out. The exterior landscape was outdated and overgrown and needed to reflect the modern, fresh image of its new owner. After exploring some preliminary design concepts with the client, in concert with the project architect and interior designer, a plan for a pedestrian courtyard was born. The new landscape includes usable outdoor space for the building’s inhabitants and fosters a sense of community. Plantings include Salal (Gaultheria shallon) and other Pacific Northwest native plants that reflect the company’s branding and local roots. Large boulders and the simplicity of mostly green foliage ground the structure and support its clean lines, giving it new relevance. Permeable pavers meet current storm water codes and reflect the grid pattern on the building while designating the plaza as separate from the surrounding sidewalks.

By The River—North Bend, WA

This home came with the ultimate back yard water feature: the Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie River. However, on the other side of the house, the front yard was overdue for a renovation. An assortment of overgrown and ailing plants obscured the house and hid the entry from visitors.

My client was enthusiastic about the opportunity to start fresh with a cohesive plan that would provide curb appeal and also pleasant views from living room. The goal: To create a welcoming garden that blends with its natural surroundings. The result: A low-maintenance landscape with year-round interest and a defined sense of entry.

Now an unstructured natural stone border defines the edge of the garden and blends seamlessly with the informal crushed rock driveway, while re-enforcing the natural feeling of the setting. Flagstone replaced the existing aggregate landing and now a lush carpet of bright green Isotoma fluviatilis (Bluestar Creeper) grows between the stones and among plants, echoing the mossy floor of the surrounding woods. We used stone risers as steps leading to the garden where natural stepping stones create a meandering path to the backyard and river beyond. New dwarf conifers and broadleaf evergreens look at home among the towering Douglas firs overhead and provide structure during the wintertime when some plants are dormant. During spring and summer, perennials will add color and texture to the garden.

May Plant Of The month

For May we’d like to introduce you to Styrax obassia, the Fragrant Snowbell tree. In the same family as the better-known Styrax japonica (the Japanese Snowbell Tree), it shares some of the prominent characteristics like the white bell-shaped flowers and a graceful silhouette. Otherwise, the Styrax obassia is has some noteworthy characteristics of its own that make it a sophisticated choice for your garden.

The Fragrant Snowbell is perfect for a city garden, topping out about 25- feet tall over many years. Although I have never seen one that large, it is a manageable size that grows moderately slowly and can be kept more compact with careful pruning. However, careless or unskilled pruning can lead to misshapen growth that will ruin the natural form of the tree. It’s a good idea to take classes on pruning, learn about it on line, or hire a qualified professional.

What to consider when planting Styrax obassia

Styrax obassia should not be cramped. Position it as a focal tree. If you up-light it you can enjoy it in the winter, too. Tolerant of soil conditions, it does best in average soil and should not be fertilized—you want to avoid weak, fast growth that can look awkward and out of character with its natural growth pattern. Plant it out of hot afternoon sun, as it is prone to burning—especially if it does not receive sufficient moisture. With its large (over 6-inch wide) ovate leaves and lively bright green color the Fragant Snowbell stands out beautifully among more finely textured foliage in the surrounding garden. The Fragrant Snowbell is not picky, but it sure looks exotic.

To learn more about garden planning, landscape design and successful plants for your garden, contact us.




February Plant Of The Month

The Silver Dollar Lenten Rose is one of the first Hellebore to bloom during winter.  Its muted emerald green foliage is mottled with soft yellow variegation and begins to emerge in late fall just a couple months after going dormant.  Once the stems and leaves develop in late fall, flowers buds begin to appear at the end of the year.  Each blossom consists of a profusion of intricate flowers clustered on large, arching, stems. The creamy moon yellow flowers bring out the same color in the foliage.  Together they create an eye catching display at a time of year when most plants are not doing much.

In contrast to other Hellebore, it foliage is as interesting as its flowers and holds up throughout summer, even though it is technically a perennial.  Because of it long life cycle,  it can be a mainstay of an ornamental landscape.  It prefers some indirect or morning sunlight to keep the foliage robust, large and brilliantly colored, but keep it out of deep shade or afternoon sun for best results.  Like most Lenten Rose it is pest resistant and doesn’t need rich soil or much water once established.

Silver Dollar is a good companion with dark green or blue-toned conifers, burgundy foliage and any rich, deep green.  Pure white and bright yellow are best avoided in direct vicinity as the tend to compete with the otherworldly lemon chiffon color of the flowers.

Contact us to learn more about garden planning, landscape design, and stunning plants for winter landscapes.

Shrubs With Berries Bring Back Color and Spirit

Winter BerriesIn the stretch between New Year’s and Valentine’s Day, a Northwest garden risks seeming anti-climactic or even bleak. To add color and spirit, look to trees and shrubs that have berries. In the winter landscape they provide an awe-inspiring silhouette, whether set against a backdrop of white snow or gray skies or shimmering in the winter sun.
Plants with fruits and berries that ripen in winter bring lively colors. They’re also an important food source for winter birds and early returning flocks.

When I design and update gardens, I use an all-seasons approach that includes plants and trees that produce berries in winter. A few of my favorite choices for winter interest include:

Winterberry – Ilex verticillata:

A deciduous holly bearing lots of big, juicy bright red berries on erect stems. Winterberry looks stunning against a backdrop of coniferous evergreens like the Blue Ice Arizona Cypress.

Arrowhead Viburnum — Viburnum dentatum:

A striking deciduous, woody shrub with drupes of deep blue berries. Arrowhead Viburnum is excellent mixed with variegated or golden-colored foliage that set off its fruit.

Scarlet Firethorn — Pyracantha coccinea:

An evergreen shrub with loads of big, red berries, often grown on trellises or espaliered. It’s a favorite with birds. I have seen a flock of hungry robins strip a Pyracantha bush of fruit in just minutes!

Gray Dogwood — Cornus racemosa:

A large deciduous shrub or small tree with dusty green leaves and white berries held on deep red sprays in winter. The Gray Dogwood mixes well with burgundy or dark-colored foliage that complements its foliage and berries.

Now is a great time to look around at berries. Take note of what you might like to plant this spring for next winter.

I hope these tips keep you active and motivated to be in your garden space.
 Contact us to learn more about garden planning, landscape design, and winter landscapes.

Old Can Be New In Landscape Design

If you have been active in your garden space for more than a few years, you might remember the arrival of the New Zealand Flax as a trend in the 1990s. This episode was testimony to the fact that garden design is as susceptible to the influences of trends as architecture and fashion, with many great new discoveries and the occasional strategic mishit. When Flax was first introduced as a landscape plant, it was often used without a plan as a garden accent and surprised many unsuspecting gardeners when it catapulted up to 10 feet high and became the visual and spatial equivalent of a hostile-takeover.  In the following years, exotic and showy cultivars were developed.  Stunning varieties of Flax, such as the Phormuim ‘Jester’  returned to the catwalks of garden design as an annual or a focal point in a seasonal plantings. Today it is still a good option in the right setting.  Not always as hearty as the original variety, it may not last through a tough winter. Plan to use it as a short term addition to your landscape and you won’t be disappointed. It might survive, which would be an added treat.  If you are worried about trying marginally hearty species or experimenting with a new plant, think about trying it in a container or plant  just one in the perfect spot in your garden.  Then, see what happens!

With some of our emerging issues with climate change, temperature zones could shift just enough to impact what thrives in any given location. In fact, the USDA recently made small adjustments to a couple temperature zones in the southern United States.  Having worked as a garden designer in the Pacific Northwest for my entire career, I am in tune with the best plan picks for this area and subtle changes in the local environment that influence the best plant choice for any garden location.

Trends can be a positive and a fun way to experiment with seasonal changes.  You can also take trends in the opposite direction too. If you have an older and established Rhododendron, you can prune it and shape it to bring back an element of a classic look next to older homes and buildings.

I’ll never stop being captivated but what’s new, adjusting my vision on what is “old” and enjoying how this turns out in my garden space. If you are feeling restless about your garden space, think about adding something new. Give me a call and I am glad to help you experiment with this.

Plant Early Bloomers Now

Fall is a great opportunity to reevaluate your garden. Coniferous evergreens are an excellent way to add color and structure to the winter landscape.  There are many dwarf varieties to work with. Try the slate blue ‘Globe Blue Spruce’ paired with golden- yellow ‘Gold Drop Dwarf Hinoki Cypress’. Think about plants and trees that bloom in late winter like Sweet Box, Chinese Witch Hazel and Star Magnolia. Early bloomers remind us that the days are getting longer and the garden is beginning to stir.
Plant fall annuals and trim back weepy perennials, adding ones that bloom late into fall like Penisetum, Redbeckia and Echinacea. When choosing a palette for bulbs, select varieties that bloom early, mid and late season, ensuring a long colorful show –  starting with Snowdrops in late January.
Many nurseries have sales at this time of year so it is a great time to shop while supplies are still good!
Contact me for a design consultation and more on planning a fall garden tune-up.
Best of the season to you.

Michael Muro Garden Design offers garden planning and comprehensive landscape design in Washington State.