meet me at the beach

experiencing the islanders' garden

I was ecstatic to take on the challenge of helping a lovely couple realize the garden for their newly remodeled beachfront retirement home, though I soon felt a bit intimidated as the design parameters of being on the shores of Puget Sound began to unfold.  For one, the views...I mean, the garden has some stiff competition for attention with this scene unfolding out the front door!
year-round drama...sunset view from the front deck
The site is perched on Utsalady Bay on Camano Island; the foundation literally just a few footsteps from the water's edge. 
Jeff & Bonney affectionately referred to their home as a 'cottage' before it transforming it into the fabulous, custom-built, contemporary, comfortable water-front home it is today.  Throughout the new home there are several 'beach cottage' elements tastefully incorporated in both interior and exterior.  So we all agreed when embarking on the garden's design that it felt natural to keep the feel of a casual, cottage-like garden as the material choices for stone and other details presented themselves.  
Covered composite deck
The proximity to Puget Sound presents special environmental considerations when it comes to planting.  Especially challenging were conditions were salt, high winds, and flooding.  Over the past three years since this garden was substantially completed the weather has taken its toll.  However, I am happy to report most of the plants have proved to be survivors, and the stonework and deck remain securely in tact.  

Front view
For the front (sound-side) the resilient  rosa rugosacryptomeria, and shore pine (pinus contorta) have proven to be the best enduring species for ornamental woody shrubs.  Keeping it simple was key to planning for this mico-climate.  It's only a small space between threshold and bulkhead and the focus of course is on the expansive view and great water access.  To maximize enjoyment and keep the maintenance low there is an all composite deck; mostly covered to keep it cozier.  For site specific 'mulch' we allowed the sound to add its personal touch with the addition of beach debris in the form of shell fragments and driftwood (as you can see in the beds). 
Stewartia psuedocamellia
Much to my delight, Bonney is an avid gardener. She really took the reigns and realized the palette that became the fabulous 'entry courtyard' garden. Once the flagstone path was laid, the soil and rock placed we focused on the primary trees and shrubs and lighting locations. I guided her with selections, but overall, this garden was a family effort.  I simply supplied a solid schematic layout and some coaching from my year of experience.  

Bonney fastidiously weeding
Now in its 4th full season, this sweet seaside garden is looking better then ever, yet still evolving (as a good garden should).  Though the past few years, Bonney and Jeff have add hints of personality, herbs and veggies, and some new plants here and there.  

Glamour perennial of 2014- Digiplexis

You can check out more of this sweet 'beach strolling garden' on June 28th during the 7th Annual Camano Island Habitat Garden Tour. It is one of several lovely private island gardens that will be open to the public from 10am- 4pm. The focus is on the establishment of wildlife habitat. 

Fun details- imprints of sea life in the concrete
remnants of coral and beach glass as a decorative gap along the foundation
Crabs like pineapple sage...who knew?!
A big thanks to both Bonney & Jeff for being so wonderful, fun to work with, and hands-on.  Not to mention the bonus of fresh crab, incredible views, and giving me good excuses for more island excursions:-)

Happy summer everyone...enjoy your garden, the beach, or wherever you wander! 


finding restoration through restraint

After posting my 2014 goals and offerings on Fitness Studio AB I'm ready to dig into other facets of my life...namely: design, business, (i.e. my design business) and art. 
helleborous niger... blooming today!
To get into the right frame of mind I took a long walk with a dear friend though Washington Park Arboretum.  I make it a point to browse the Witt Winter Garden annually to ignite my senses with the perfume of daphnes, witch hazel, and winter honey-suckle (among others).  Equally stimulating is the magnificent display of varying bark colors & texture, and of course those winter-bloomers whose flowers nab your attention against the typical northwest background of constant evergreen.  What I realized whilst observing 'the scene' of the winter garden is that minimalist design principles play their part here well.  Whether it is intended or not, the eye is drawn to only a few elements at a time.  For example- the ground plane under the coppery, exfoliating trunk of a large Stewartia tree is peppered with several neon-hot-pink cyclamen flowers, all not more than 6 inches tall.  So much is the allure that from across the garden you focus on the splash of brightness; quite the contrast from all that green and brown.  Overall, the choice of material here emphasis winter blooms, fragrance, structure (revealing the forms of plants as sculptural elements) and interesting bark color and/or texture.  All that being said, the parameters of designing for winter enjoyment utilize restraint.  That in turn yields a beauty that is simple and elegant.  
tiny pink cyclamen in bloom beneath the coppery frame of a stewartia

hamemalis pallida (witch hazel) is a favorite for both its bright color and sweet winter fragrance
its hard to beat the heat of cornus 'mid-winter fire'!

What I appreciate most about this approach; as with many minimalist garden designs, is that I am led into feeling calm, focused and sensually restored.  Does a garden really have the ability to do this?  Yes, indeed!  

"Simplicity and repose are the qualities that measure the true value of any work of art."- Frank Lloyd Wright

a mass planting of equisetum + the wall elegantly emphasis the mature grove of trees in this garden designed by Andrea Cochran
+ the equisetum (horsetail) doubles as a 'traffic director' and provides excellent textural contrast
Through my design practice I want to explore this further.  Restraint in the garden can mean many things.  Predominately I see it as the use of limited palette of both color and form.  The realized beauty of this practice often results in a garden that has both repetition and focus.  It can emphasis certain elements, such as the elegance of a single mature tree, or it can help frame desirable views.  Moreover it can even draw attention inward, offering solace in the fact that the experience is less busy, less visually stimulating, and likely less work to maintain.  
the amazing gardens of Luciano Giubbilei- stellar examples of combing nature, light, space, and art
Additionally, I look forward to exploring minimalism via painting.  I'm naturally drawn to creating scenes in nature.  What I love about 'going minimalist' with the medias of oil, acrylic, or encaustic (which I typically work in) is that the controlled palette can generate a work that is less about subject and more about the mood, color, and texture.  Of which, within could 'live' a statement, subtle or not.  For now, I'll explore...less = more!

minimalist landscape paintings by artist Toni Grote


Waiting for the Night to Fall

The days are noticeably shorter and the weather a cooler shade of gray.  Welcome to that season that seems like endless fall!   These are the days that darkness seems to be a way of life for us here in Pacific northwest, especially before the holiday start revving up.  
Earlier this month I went to a great 'lunch & learn' on using lighting in the landscape; particularly LED.  
Makes sense to me.  Enjoy your garden at any hour...all you need is a bit of lighting in the appropriate places and you are set!  
subtle illumination for pool deck
by Chris White Inc
I love experiencing gardens at night.  Beyond using white flowers, and playing with night-bloomers for scent and water for sound; lighting can be a key component.  Lighting design not only is great for safety considerations; just the right spectrum and intensity can provide a soothing sense of calmness, a feeling of mystery and magic, or direct what the eye should be drawn too.  
My clients have often expressed that their favorite thing about their new garden or landscape is coming home from work (when its dark by 5pm) to a warm-looking home; complete with an illuminated path to the front door and trees that appear to be impressive 'sculptures' due to a glow coming from a carefully composed directional spot light.  
Get beyond the basics:  go for up-lighting significant features garden features such as arbors, or better yet; set off elements that one may not even notice much during the day for a 'surprise effect'.  
Lighting a piece of art or water feature and hanging fixtures for mature trees are even more ways to create ambiance.  

The Northwest Flower & Garden Show
features many great, fun lighting ideas, like
highlighting this kinetic piece by Troy Pillow
These new LED fixtures are aesthetically a simple, clean design; though burly (in a good way) and seemingly solid. They are a bit more of an investment initially when compared to regular low-voltage, but companies like LumaStream seem to have it 'dialed-in' for the residential design-build market.  I'm looking forward to designing with them soon!      
Please don't even bother with those solar-powered and 'low-budget' lights you can get at various home-improvement stores.  I see more cracked, discarded remnants of them tossed aside in clients' yards and garages.  
My dream project would be to experiment with how to create the illusion of a backyard full of fireflies (some serious simulation) or perhaps special lighting for a garden party featuring a life-like aurora borealis!  

Other considerations as we look outward this time of year is of course warmth.  What shelter and several layers of wool, down, and gore-tex can't provide us; a fire-feature surely can.  I've designed many in the past.  Most are rustic; of natural stone or sleek and modern and of steel.  Others have been recessed (built into) patios and decks; to be easily kept concealed, take up less space and keep things cleaner.  
instant winter warmth
However I am becoming more and more a fan of fire bowls as of late. The greatest thing about them being that they are easier to transport and seemingly most can convert to a table with a simple cover.  Eldorado Outdoor, a manufacturer offers some nice options for these.  However, I would prefer to explore more custom options and work them into the overall design of the garden.   Additionally, this site has some decent 'basic considerations when getting a fire bowl'.  

Next up....more encaustic painting, plans for a backyard studio, and tasty winter cocktails! 

Inspiration for a winter painting


New Digs!

Studio AB is moving to east Ballard! 
This transition feels timely, healthy, and exciting.  Though leaving my home + studio/office of nearly six years will be bittersweet.  The 'Canal building' with it's 1920's character & charm close to the heart of all that is old Ballard will be missed.  Not to mention, all the lovely memories.  By the end of this October Cooper and I will be gone; on to greener pastures!  
Since I am combining households I'm preparing to sell several pieces of furniture, small appliances, excess supplies, and other household items....yep, we're cleaning out the closets!  

Please come on down to see the goods on Sunday, October 20th from 10AM-4PM.  For more details find the link here on Craig's List.  

Enjoy some pix of the old place....


Open Studio & Artists' Sale!

Saturday September 14th 6-9pm

snippets of recent works

Please join us for an evening of art, casual gathering, and community giving!  Meet local artists, including:  

Zetamari Mosiac Artworks
Ben Brackin
Patricia Ridenour 

who will be exhibiting along with myself and more!  

This event will be held in conjunction with the Ballard 2nd Saturday Art Walk.  We hope you will partake in supporting our local art scene. 

There will be refreshments (great local brews and snacks) and opportunity to chat with the artists. 

Partial proceeds from the sales of my pieces will be donated to the Seattle Children's Play-garden.  If you are not familiar with the place, I encourage you to check it out, as it truly is a garden for everyone!

Studio AB is located upstairs in 'the Canal' 1556 NW Ballard Wayjust west of the Ballard bridge.  Please stop in for some fun; who knows....you may find just what you need! 

My emergence as an artist....

Exploration in encaustic painting has proven to be the most fun I've had expressing myself.  It has become my current preferred media, due to its range of techniques and dynamic nature. It leads me into an experience that is intuitive and addicting like no other. 
carvings in the works

My 'involvement' started shortly after a downtown art walk experience several years ago; witnessing a piece in a gallery that had a unique ethereal quality to it.  Needless to say, it captivated me so much that I decided to take a four day work shop at Pratt, a great local organization that I recommend to anyone contemplating the exploration of any type of media.   Local artist and instructor, Larry Calkins, a highly creative, prolific soul; taught the workshop.  After the first day, I was hooked!  I love the fact that it can be as simple as a transfer with a wax layer, or as complicated as using a mix of clay, coffee grounds, wood glue, detritus, and tar paper.  I can get lost in this for hours...
my break-room
In the past few years I've enrolled in workshops as it motivates me to stay working and dive in without distractions.  Northwest Encaustic provides great facilities, atmosphere, and supplies.  Here I have found what I need to start and substantially complete several pieces, plus the freedom to practice, experiment, and feed off other artists in the group.  

freshly made wax pigments made by Northwest Encaustic
I've put together some great pieces during this time of emergence and transition.  Please come check out what I've got.  If you cannot make it to the open studio you may also contact me for an appointment.  Thank-you for your support!  -ab
Gnomey has been working very hard!


Turn it up...here we grow again!

Early March blooms of helleborous niger
Its that time...SPRING!  Really?  Yes, but by the ominous, gray Seattle March skies I would beg to differ.  Alas, since the Northwest Flower & Garden Show the phone has been ringing more and I have installed two container garden projects, plus have churned out a half dozen design proposals.  Despite a lapse of spring fever when the sun is actually out (for real it happens here!) I am focused and ready to make beautiful things happen.  
The following are some of my favorite tools and a few little tricks of the trade when it comes to the art of gardening and 'plant-smithing'.  
My most frequently asked question post completion of a landscape is how and when to prune.  'When' can be tricky and is primarily determined by the species, bloom time, and age of the plant to some degree.  I am not a big fan of highly manicured hedges, though the lovely emerald green boxwood has its place.  So I try to avoid mechanisms such as power sheers and even hedge clippers.  Plus, I'm not going to go to the depths of pruning 101 here, but feel free to contact me if you would like further, more plant specific info.  
The best beginner home gardener needs to first arm themselves properly.  So go out and buy yourself a shiny new pair of red-handled Felco's.  Hands down the most used tool in my arsenal.  Though pricier than your Home Depot special, you won't be disappointed.  Not that names are everything, but quality talks. They claim that they will 'change your life'...seriously!

Next- consider getting a good pruning saw, such as these by Corona.  They're a safe bet for the thicker woody stuff.  Be cautious however to try to prune cleanly and close to the node.  This is for the stuff your hand pruners (Felco's) and loppers can't handle.  Check out their line of pole pruners too, for the hard to reach stuff.  The less you need to get on a ladder, the better.
For the more tender herbaceous stuff, we need a lighter hand tool to get a clean cut.  Forget the kitchen scissors, Fiskars (among others) make a sweet pair of floral snips perfect for dead-heading perennials and cutting seasonal blooms.  Their site is resourceful too.  I regret not touring the plant when I was in Finland when I was next door to it, but I prioritized squeezing in more sauna time.

My other fave is the groovy looking and stellar performing round handled shovel designed by Radius Garden LLC in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  So far I am a fan off all their tools, but most especially the sharp edged spade for planting and chopping  through thicker roots when removing or transplanting.
Irish moss in a small Ballard garden
Pruning your woody trees & shrubs, planting & transplanting, and snipping those purdy cut-flowers is all good fun for a sunny weekend day...almost as much fun as chopping wood...ha!  What about our least favorite past-time (unless your nutters)?  Weeds!  Isn't it amazing how they pop up all over the place out of thin air like that?  Here is you basic gardening 101 'low maintenance garden-design' equation: Soil and/or mulch + light = WEEDS!  Unfortunately in most yards, its inevitable that there will be weeds.  The best advice I have is to engage in manual combat tactics. Do this after a good rain if possible because the roots will be looser.  Get a Hori-Hori knife... the best tool ever!  The garden centers carry the good ones, but I've got a Fred Meyer version and I have to say it works just fine.  The high end versions are more ergonomic and best for those that have hand and wrist issues for sure.  Regardless, get a hard plastic handled one (less likely to wear and break off).  

If your invasive weed collection is more extensive, you may need to wage and all-out assault!  If you've got a slope or large area of blackberry and/ or English ivy you should stop messing around and call out the big guns...i.e. hire a crew and get that stuff out of there so something good can get in.  I admit, I have applied some Round-up systemic herbicide a time or two on a sunny day to eradicate blackberry.   Then had it ripped out and reapplied it to any stragglers and I am happy to report that it has not been back in over a year (knock on wood).  
Honestly, I have not tried the black plastic method, but I have heard good things; especially with vicious and nasty species such as Japanese knotweed and horestail.  The key here is to kill the entire plant and sterilize the area (basically it gets baked by the sun), then till it up, remove the debris (dead vegetation) and maybe add a fresh 1-2 inch top-dress of soil then plant anew.  Remember the equation above!  So when you plant the area with the right plant (of your choice) the idea is that it sustains itself and in turn shades out the vile, noxious weeds from returning.  Now get those tools out and get your hands dirty...oh yeah...gloves... get these Atlas ones!  Now you are ready and go to work.  Show that yard whose boss.  Use good tools.  Be safe and mind your body too.  
Oxalis or 'shamrocks'
Good luck! 


Creating Creative Community

After almost fifteen years of designing residential spaces I continue to welcome the opportunity to be influenced, inspired, and mentored by other creative minds.  Especially the great garden designers, builders, and landscape architects in my circle.  I am fortunate to work with some amazing people on a regular basis; such as Chris White, Bryan Lacoma, and Susan Black.  I relish a good charette and thrive on the collaborative design environment even if I don’t always agree with the others’ ideas or direction.  I find this practice immeasurably valuable.  Over the past two years I have had to work at build a design community for myself.  Working independently (meaning mostly solo) on projects can be isolating in both a good and not so good way.  
my messy analog station
The good is finding solace in those quiet, mostly undisrupted days in my home studio.  This is my typical ideal situation when I begin a concept.  After experiencing the site first hand; probing, pondering, measuring, visualizing; I gather and spread it all out analog style… base-plan info, initial concept sketches, magazine clippings, catalogs, site photos, dog fur, etc. and start immersing myself.  

Then I stop myself at a certain point, before getting too detailed. I often need a check for 'buildability' and am often convinced I am missing the site's full potential (despite all my creative juice).  So I invite in another set of eyes and brains.  Each project and client being an unique situation makes this step is even more relevant and important to the end (best) result.  Therefore I intend to broaden this circle and look forward to connecting with others to expend my community, including studio artists, graphic designers, architects; even chefs and musicians.
preview of pocket park concept
Gardens themselves can create a community too. Especially a geographic one. In May of this year I am exicited to announce that I will be breaking ground on a very plot of triangular-shaped earth near my home on Ballard Way.  It will be a small garden built for my community, by the community and will serve as a space for art as well as a sort of 'gateway' to old Ballard.  So stay tuned for more info on this exciting project! 

Another way I’ve gained a tremendous sense of community is through my part-time gigs (i.e. other life) in the fitness industry.  It has been an enlightening journey for me to say the least.  One that I may not have taken if I had not gone through the displacing effects resulting of this recent long economic decline. 

breaking the ice with my new trail runners

To find out more about my offerings as a trainer and group fitness instructor as well as my journey into the realm of health & fitness please take look at my new blog:  Fit Studio AB!


before the ball drops

I spent most of 2012 trying not to let the ball drop and in fact many times I tried desperately to stay on it.  Now... finally... it is time to let it go!  
Indeed, it was a very good year.  A year of experiences in my case.  Like my first (and hopefully not last) visits to the jungle of New York City and the wilds of Alaska.  
Sunset from Anchorage, AK

I tried Bikram yoga for the first time.  It was hot and uncomfortable, but I kept going and will go back since I found it to be a great relief of tension for both mind and body.  I led a group fitness class for the first time; successfully (to my relief).... it was easier than I thought it would be. 

reflection lake
I saw several  amazing sunsets and sunrises, tasted many a good brew, made new friends, got to know some better, and through it all I managed to stay healthy and sane.  

2013 eve marks yet another chapter, turning point, crossroad, or what have you.  This is the beginning of my third year of doing  business, but the first year not having a part-time gig to coincide with it.  However I plan to continue to be a fitness trainer (as well as garden designer/ maker + artist) seeing the value of it both personally and professionally.  So the new year means much to me (& Studio ab).  
Sunrise from Orcas Island
I now have the opportunity to put forth 100% of my creativity, resources, and knowledge.  So I am diving deeper, moving forward and feeling good about building the future.  With much appreciated support from my amazing friends, mentors, clients, significant other, dog, and family I feel altogether resolute.   It feels good to reflect, acknowledge the positive, see where there is need for improvement, focus on setting new goals (or better defining some), and celebrate. 

With a little luck and a lot of balance; I will try to stay on the ball another year
2013...go...Happy new year!
Fresh Hood Canal oysters