By Lara Elizabeth Vyas, APLD Certified Landscape Designer

Every year, Seattle's WA State Convention Center comes alive with 'Spring Vibes' as the landscape and gardening industry puts on a plethora of lavish display gardens, stunning city vignettes, a roster of seminars/workshops and a vibrant marketplace that features just about everything even remotely related to plants! It is such a treat to start off the season with ideas and inspiration for outdoor living, edible and ornamental gardening, sustainable practices and more. Believe it or not, the planning for this show starts almost a year in advance, especially if you are one of the display garden creators.

A Call to Designers
Over the past year, we have been seeing interest from our membership in creating a display garden for our association. Well, now is the time to start planning. APLDWA has set aside a budget for a 2024 display garden and would like to form a 'core' team of 4 members. The roles of the core team would be – Project Manager, Design Lead, Procurement Lead and Build Lead. We are reaching out to our members to submit a short statement of interest by April 15th to We would also like to hear back from members who are interested in mentoring this core team or would like to support them with their expertise and time.

Many members of our APLD WA chapter have been veterans at the show. The chapter also has built show gardens to represent our entire design community. In fact, the last garden that our association created, in 2015, won the Founder's Cup and a Gold Medal. Titled "Over the Moon" to represent the 'Romance Blossoms' theme, it was designed by Susie Thompson, Lisa Bauer and Katie Weber. Unique features in the garden included a mounted and backlit photo of the moon and taxidermy owls on loan from the Burke Museum! Garden description: There are myths about the powerful forces of a full moon on love and passion. This garden hosts a bonded pair of owls, a glowing full moon, a reflection pond, romantic hammock and a Lusthus or place for romantic retreat and escape from the everyday world or work and family life.

Display Garden with Swedish pavilion, hammock, flowers, and trees with moon in the background.
Photo Credit: Paul Gibbons

Design team standing in front of the garden, next to the award sign.
Photo Credit: Mark Hickling

Entrance to the display garden, with awards placed on the entry steps.
Photo Credit: Paul Gibbons

What goes into designing and building a display garden?
Teamwork, teamwork, teamwork – from initial concepts to sourcing plants and hardscape materials to managing the garden build process and to actually building it in less than 72 hours in a frenzy of adrenaline rush! The experience is amazing, and the connections made within the industry are priceless.

Lisa Bauer of Chartreuse Garden Design was an integral part of APLD's show design-build team in 2014 and 2015. Bauer says "creating a display garden had a huge impact on my design business. It gave me confidence in my ability to make my creative ideas a reality. The connections I made within and beyond APLD especially with contractors, artisans, and nurseries has been a cornerstone in growing my business."

Display Garden with birdhouses on posts and a patio area surrounded by plants.
Art-itechture For Urban Wildlife' NWFGS-2014
Design Credit: Lisa Bauer and Susie Thompson, Photo Credit: Lisa Bauer

Garden description - The art in this garden aims to create a "dynamic interplay between humans and wildlife". The idea is to elevate bird (and bat) houses to an artistic level so that they can be enjoyed visually by humans and more importantly create habitat for the wildlife that comes to use it. The birdhouses and inhabitants become 'performance art', literally serving as a stage for observing wildlife. Food, water, and shelter are provided to foster this performance.

Here are some tips that Lisa would like to share with aspiring garden show creators –

  1. Think 'big'. To arrive at a good concept, define clearly what you want to say and don't skimp on the 'dream' part of it. Showcase your creativity using your theme and execute this down to the small details.
  2. Don't be afraid to take the leap. You are working on a team, and you are surrounded by professionals who will help and support you.
  3. Plan way ahead of time. This is a great way to gain experience in project and construction management.
  4. Connect and build relationships by going above and beyond. During the 2015 garden planning, we worked with the Burke Museum to showcase some of their owls to promote wildlife in the garden and we worked with a Scandinavian manufacturer for that unique pavilion.
  5. Experience the camaraderie of the show from the inside and get to know the show staff, media, and other garden creators. This is the fun part and a reward for all the hard work!

Kryssie Maybay of Kismet Garden Design speaks of her show garden experience in her podcast – The Process Driven Designer. Listen to get a glimpse of what it takes to design, construct, and deconstruct a display garden.

Display Garden with silver metallic spiral sculpture in front of an outdoor living area
Design Credit: Sublime Garden Design, NWFGS-2013, Photo Credit: Kryssie Maybay

Garden description – Heidi Skievaski, owner of Sublime Garden Design and Sublime Gardens has written a superb article about this beautiful show garden and shares all her resources that made this garden possible. You can read about it on Sublime's website page - Living Amongst the Stars, the Garden Takes Center Stage. Don’t miss the time-lapse video at the end of the article, it is amazing!

What are the hallmarks of an award-winning garden?
Many of our design members are invited to be a part of the panel of show judges every year. This is a wonderful way to promote the stature of APLD, meet other industry titans who are also serving as judges, and get to see the display gardens up close and personal with the luxury of time to truly critique them and maybe even gather some great ideas from them.

Barbara Lycett of Barbara Lycett Landscape Design was one of the Show judges this year. Her top 3 parameters for judging a show garden are:

  1. Adherence to design principles of balance, focalization, scale, proportion, and unity, thus making it visually pleasing.
  2. Creative use of the materials available at that time of the year, which can be very limited.
  3. Uniqueness in planting design and combinations.

Courtney Olander of Olander Garden Design was also one of the judges this year, representing the Fine Gardening Magazine for the third year. Her top 3 parameters for judging a show garden are:

  1. Unity: Does the garden unify the theme consistently through the design details and the craftmanship?
  2. Inspirational: Can the showcased ideas be imagined and replicated in the viewer's own garden?
  3. The X-factor: Does the garden exhibit the contemporary trends in the industry?

Team of 7 show judges who are also APLD members
APLD Peeps judging at the 2023 Northwest Flower and Garden Festival From L to R:
Tina Nyce, Christie Coxley, Robin Parsons, Barbara Lycett, Grace Hensley, Courtney Olander, Alan Burke
Photo Credit: Courtney Olander

Let the fun begin!
When you ponder the possibility of joining forces to create something unique for the 2024 NW Flower & Garden Festival, does it generate a spark of excitement? If so, contact the APLDWA Board and let's start planning!