As the Northwest Flower and Garden Festival (NWFGF) dates approach, sharing information about our preparations with our readers is paramount. Ultimately, we hope to inspire you with incremental articles and interviews about our upcoming display garden design.
I invited Toni Christianson to an interview to discuss this year's display design and vision. She is the mastermind (admitted by her husband, John) whose imagination, creativity, and years of garden experience lead the way to memorable display gardens.
Stephanie: Thanks for joining me today, Toni. Tell me about the style of planting that will take place at the NWFGF at the end of this month.
Toni: Our garden is inspired by Beatrix Potter’s Hill Top Farm, located in the Lake District near Sawrey, England. She was a very private person and her gardens were for her own enjoyment. They definitely highlighted her love of nature and her personality. She did not try to control nature but to live side by side with nature. Our garden will reflect her more casual approach with annual and biennial plants left in the garden to set and throw seeds to come up as volunteers the next year. Today, we take out most of these plants once ‘they have gone over’ so they won’t reseed and take over but she left them to add color to her borders for years to come, only taking out the ones needed for other plantings.
Stephanie: What plants will you use to get that look?
Toni: Because forcing plants into flower ahead of their normal bloom time is dependent on weather, length of day, and soil and air temperatures, (all variables we try to control using 5 different heat and light zones in our greenhouses) we never know for sure which plants will make it to the show. The plants we’re hoping to coax into the role of volunteers are foxglove, violas, bluebells, pansies, and poppies. Primroses also fall into this category but most of their seeds need a cold winter to crack their outer shell in order to germinate. However, because we love them so, we’re still using many varieties including Yellow Cowslip and 'Quaker’s Bonnet'. You therefore need to pretend that England has had several very sharp, frigid winters in a row.
Stephanie: How will you get roses and peonies to bloom by the end of February?
Toni: First we put them in the Conservatory where there is heat in the floor. We’ve learned that soil temperature is part of nature’s way of waking dormant plants. With bottom heat they are likely to push new growth sooner. In past shows we didn’t have the Conservatory so forcing roses and peonies was much more difficult and strictly a guessing game. After they are showing growth, we move them to the Propagation House until they develop buds and then they go into the Front Greenhouse until the buds are showing color. Then they go into either House #5 or directly outdoors to slow them down. This is still a guessing game so we always plan on forcing more plants than we need. Our usual success is that only one out of ten plants in this category will be blooming for the show.