Seattle Garden Blogger’s Fling – Day 1

Seattle Garden Blogger’s Fling – Day 1

The day was as bright and sunny as this perfect dahlia in the UWBG Soest garden

The Seattle Blogger’s Fling, a four-day jamboree of garden bloggers from around the US and Canada, is now in the history books.  “The Fling” as it is known (or #seattlefling on Twitter) was the brainchild of garden writers Lorene Edwards Forkner, Debra Prinzing, and Marty Wingate, all of Seattle, and Mary Ann Newcomer of Idaho. The Northwest Flower & Garden Show was proud to be a major sponsor of this wonderful event.


Now I don’t know what prompted these very busy ladies to take on this major endeavor, but I suspect the Seattle Fling’s seeds first germinated during a heady mix of friendship and girlfriend bonding, with an ample supply of margaritas, causing them to lose their better judgement and agree to be the organizers. The next thing you know, they were committed to delivering this gathering here in Seattle for the first time. All joking aside, our Seattle Fling organizers each had new books in the works to be published later this year, so it’s amazing that they juggled the demanding schedule of writing, editing, photographing, and general angst and also pulled together the Fling!  After nine months of fevered planning and preparing, their heavy labor was just beginning on Day 1. But the fun was at hand for all of us, the grateful beneficiaries of all their blood, sweat and (hopefully not too many) tears. Since I’m a little bit familiar with organizing major events, I was just supremely happy to be one of the lambs in the flock, going along with the herd in whatever direction our shepherds pointed.


Theresa Loe & Jessi Bloom strike a happy pose before boarding the bus

On Friday morning I carpooled into Seattle with Jessi Bloom and Angela Davis, and we met up with Theresa Loe, associate producer of the PBS show “Growing a Greener World” and later, Jayme Jenkins. Last February Theresa was at the 2011 Northwest Flower & Garden Show, managing the filming (and the star Joe Lamp’l) for an upcoming episode that features the garden show. (Shameless plug – it airs this weekend on your local PBS station!) Teresa was a nonstop whirling dervish during those days before and during the show, and I was similarly time-challenged managing the seminars and social media for the show. So we promised to be ‘bus buddies’ for the Fling, when we might finally have a chance to sit down and talk for more than 30 nanoseconds at a pop. (When we talked about this last February, July seemed so very, very far away!)


The blue shed brightens the bountiful edible garden

Day 1 started with rare but perfect blue skies and warm sunshine as 68 dynamic women (and one very understanding gentleman) rolled out of the Silver Cloud Inn next to University Village, to begin our first bus journey for the 2011 Seattle Blogger’s Fling. The first stop included two side-by-side gardens in north Seattle adjacent to Carkeek Part, the gardens of Suzette Birrell and Shelagh Tucker.


I’ve known Suzette from her many years of volunteering for the Arboretum Foundation, but I’ve never had a chance to visit the garden she has created with her husband Jim. It was a feast, both literally and figuratively. A cool, shady garden in the front yields to a bountiful edible garden in the rear, nestled against a nature preserve with towering pines adjacent to the property.


Clever - and inexpensive - light fixtures with repurposed pails

Suzette and Jim are growing a smorgasbord of vegetables, artfully arranged, and making good use of the space and sunlight. At the far corner of the garden is the show-stopping focal point – a large shed painted a striking shade of cerulean blue. Inside a freshly-picked bounty of garlic and shallots were drying. The ingenious light fixtures were simple light bulbs set in silver aluminum buckets.  One blogger remarked, “That is far too clever for me.” Creative touches and “repurposing” of cast-off materials were everywhere.


A row of rain barrels line one side of the shed in Suzette Birrell's garden

There were still more edibles in the garden directly behind the shed, but hiding along the back wall, sandwiched in the few feet between the shed and the property line, are six huge rain barrels. Suzette explained that the shed was designed with a single slanted roof in order to collect all the rain from it. The rainwater is used to keep the vegetables watered during our so-called “Mediterranean” summer, when we’re supposed to be dry and sunny for 90 days. (Really, that’s what the experts say. So far this year we haven’t gone longer than three days without rain.)


The front of the shed is actually a narrow greenhouse, and tall tomato plants were reaching for the sky in this warm, bright spot. There’s a potting bench at the front, and I imagined this could be a warm and cozy spot on a cold, clear winter day, potting up seeds, with a nice hot latte (or toddy) at hand.


Clematis and dahlia brighten one side of Shelaugh Tucker's Seattle garden

Next door to the Birrell garden is the garden of Shelagh Tucker. I have heard and read about Shelagh’s garden and missed the chance to see it when it has been open for tours in the past. Established in 2002, Shelagh was inspired by Beth Chatto’s gravel garden, and she makes full use of the sunny exposure in the front with a lush display of drought-tolerant plants, surrounded by creamy beige crushed rock that lends a wonderful warmth to the area.


Asian lilies and tall barberry make a striking pair in Shelagh Tucker's garden

As you walk to the rear garden you are enveloped by shade, and come upon a cool circular pond and sitting area, perfect for those rare days when one might actually repose and read a book, rather than tend the garden (although I suspect Shelagh is rarely in repose). Here the garden is an English-style mixed border, predominantly filled with a rich pink, burgundy and blue palette (my favorite!) and edibles tucked here and there. Shelagh has a keen sense of color, and there are beautiful combinations and echoes at play in the plantings. Off to the side sits an ample greenhouse, with tomatoes towering in open cold frames on one end, catching the afternoon sun.


We all followed orders from our fearless leaders and tore ourselves away from these garden gems, piling back into our two buses and comparing notes and photos on the tiny screens of our cameras. Next stop: the historic E.B. Dunn Woodland Garden


The patio and lawn at the Dunn Gardens were the perfect setting for lunch

It’s hard to imagine that The Dunn Gardens were once a “country” home, miles away from downtown Seattle, where the family could escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. Carved from a sloping wooded property, and designed by the famous Olmstead Brothers in 1916, The Dunn Gardens are now one of the Pacific Northwest’s premier historic gardens, on the national register. They are an outstanding example of how thoughtful stewardship of the land and fidelity to the original garden plan can result in a garden that remains timeless, no matter what age or nature might bring. Curators Charles Price and Glenn Withey manage to inject their own personality into their private garden at the rear of the cottage, and maintain a respectful homage to the Olmstead design everywhere else, eliminating invasives and replacing plants past their prime to give the garden a fresh appeal.


Bee hives were recently installed at the Dunn Gardens by the Ballard Bee Co.

The gracious Dunn Gardens docents were on hand to take us around the garden and explain the history, share a bit of gossip, and ID plants for us. I got a glimpse of the new bee hives, recently installed by Corky Luster of Ballard Bee Company. The bees were really active in the warm sunlight, swarming around the raspberry bushes that were behind the hives – raspberry honey anyone? We enjoyed a terrific box lunch on the sunny patio and lawn, with Lorene & Company sorting our food leftovers and recycling the compostables like the good Seattleites we are. Then we loaded the buses again (anyone missing?) and headed back into Seattle, fortunately not finding any major gridlock, which is rare for a Friday afternoon heading into downtown. Next stop: the University of Washington Botanic Gardens (UWBG), with the Soest Herbaceous Display Garden and the Elizabeth C. Miller Library, one of the best botanical libraries in the US.


Angela Davis & Barbara Sanderson at the Ravenna Gardens party

We were greeted by Rizanino “Riz” Reyes, a designer, nurseryman and blogger, who gave us an overview of the demonstration garden. I first met Riz 15 years ago, when he was a wee slip of a lad, and gave him his first award for the annual garden competition sponsored by the garden show. Although back then he was just a teenager, he had a gleam in his eye that people only get when they have either a serious fever – or serious plant lust. Fortunately with Riz it was the latter, and his plant lust remains today.


Melanthia Peterman & Kylee Baumle share chicken stories at the Ravenna Gardens soiree

The last stop of the day was a highlight, which is saying a lot because all of the day was a highlight, with each stop seemingly more delicious than the previous one. We headed to Ravenna Gardens, in University Village, for some hearty hors d’ oeuvres, drinks, a lot of garden gab and some terrific Swag bags filled with treats and plants.


Gillian Mathews, owner of Ravenna Gardens, has created a unique nursery and garden gift store that is filled with delightful vignettes of must-have items – books, accessories, tools, outdoor furniture, linens, soaps, containers and plants, loads of plants, even a traveling chicken coop. Everywhere you turn, there’s something to covet, and better still, we got 20% off an purchase. The Ravenna Gardens display at the Northwest Flower & Garden Show is always one of my favorites, and for the past two years Gillian’s container garden exhibition on the sky bridge has taken top awards: in 2010 they won Best Design, and in 2011 they won both the Best Plant Material and the People’s Choice Award. It’s easy to see why.


The end of a long day, but Jessi Bloom, Jayme Jenkins, Theresa Loe & Andrea Bellamy are still smiling

Then we were off to dinner, and many thanks to Piatta in the U Village for taking my reservation – for 18 people – a mere 45 minutes beforehand. We enjoyed a fine Italian dinner, and by the end most of us had hit the wall and were ready for a good night’s slumber, because Day 2 would be dawning for us only 12 hours later. 

For more photos of Day 1 of the Seattle Blogger’s Fling go to our Facebook page. ~ Janet


  • Barbara/Mr. McGregor's Daughter
    Posted at 16:48h, 30 July Reply

    I missed the rain barrels and the cool light fixtures, thanks for posting those pictures. You got a shot of the bee hives! I wanted to just stand there all afternoon & watch the bees.
    Actually, this was the 4th “Fling.” It was started when the Austin bloggers invited Carol of May Dreams Gardens to visit the gardens of Austin, then they decided to just invite everyone. Subsequent Flings were in Chicago & Buffalo. Mary Ann asked Debra, Lorene and Marty if they would host this year, and they graciously accepted, doing a fantastic job. Next year will be in Asheville, N.C. They have a tough act to follow.

    • Janet
      Posted at 17:05h, 30 July Reply

      Thanks Barbara – I knew there had been prior Flings; this was the first in Seattle. It’s wonderful it is developing into a tradition. I can’t wait to see photos posted by others – I know there will have been many things I missed; every garden was rich in vignettes and scenes. And we all have different stories to tell when we put our own “eyes” into our photos and stories, as David’s wise counsel recommended.

  • Lorene Edwards Forkner
    Posted at 17:00h, 30 July Reply

    Sweet Janet – what a lovely post about our first Fling day! It was a real treat to show off our beautiful Pacific Northwest to heat-stressed out of town visitors. I felt like Dorothy when she returns from Oz… there really IS “no place like home”!!!

    • Janet
      Posted at 17:07h, 30 July Reply

      Thanks Lorene – you and your organizing co-horts should be basking in the warm limelight of a job well done. And doesn’t that job always look sweeter when it’s behind you? 🙂

  • Debbie Teashon
    Posted at 19:25h, 31 July Reply

    What a great weekend and you captured such a great shot of the artichokes and garden house in Suzette’s garden and some that I missed.

  • Vicki (vbdb)
    Posted at 20:18h, 01 August Reply

    Each year’s Fling seems to reinvent and build upon the concept, so credit is certainly due to this year’s Seattle Fling planners. What an incredible variety of gardens and events were packed into the schedule! The great time enjoyed by all this year also prompts me to thank Austin garden bloggers Pam Penick of Digging, Diana of Sharing Nature’s Garden, MSS of Zanthan Gardens, and Bonnie of Kiss of Sun for creating the first Fling. You’ve all made my life, and garden, a better place!

  • Caroline
    Posted at 12:22h, 02 August Reply

    Fantastic overview of Day 1 of the Fling. You summed up the highlights and spirit of the day perfectly! I hope you had a good zoom lens for those bees — I didn’t, and was a bit hesitant to get closer to the swarm!

    • Janet
      Posted at 15:21h, 02 August Reply

      Thanks Caroline. I didn’t zoom in too much on the bees. They were right next to a path, so my camera was about six inches from them. I just told them I was their friend, and asked them to pose. 🙂 Check out Day 2 of the Fling.

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    Posted at 02:24h, 03 September Reply

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