SAVE THE DATES for the Northwest Flower & Garden Festival in 2022!
FEBRUARY 9-13, 2022
WASHINGTON STATE CONVENTION CENTER
705 PIKE STREET, SEATTLE, WA
We are thrilled to return to the Convention Center as a vendor this year, and yes, we will be hosting four buses to the Festival in 2022: two 56-passenger coaches are reserved for Wednesday, February 9, and one 56-passenger bus is reserved for Thursday and Friday, February 10 & 11. Tickets for our Flower Buses will be available mid-December to purchase, and we are excited to journey down to the Convention Center with you!
Click HERE to learn more about this year’s festival.
Please note, COVID vaccination cards and facemasks will be required to get into the show and to ride our Flower Buses.
Christianson’s 2020 Plant List for ‘Hill Top Farm’
Interested in acquiring the plants we used that made our display garden complete? Here is our curated, two-page NWFGF Plant List that we used for “Hill Top Farm” display.
NWFGF ‘Hill Top Farm’
Award-Winning Display Garden 2020: “Hill Top Farm”
A Hopeful Spring
It’s hard to imagine that we only have one week left until the doors open at the Northwest Flower & Garden Festival. Today, staff begins to disassemble and load our display components and much of our plant material into box trucks.
Despite our Festival hustle, our Nursery doors remain wide open as truck after truck of springtime deliveries are unloaded and merchandised into place. Our Fruit Tree List
is now available and serves as an excellent resource in deciding which fruit and shrub varieties to add to your garden this year.
We thank each one of you for supporting us through our display garden journey and are thrilled to be able to share with you some of the inner workings that bring our interpretation of Beatrix Potter’s garden to life. Spring has never looked so hopeful!
A Garden in the Making
As the Northwest Flower and Garden Festival (NWFGF) dates approach, we hope to inspire you and pique your curiosity about our upcoming display garden design inspired by Beatrix Potter. In our second interview with Toni Christianson, we delve behind the scenes and into some of the formal choices she must make for a successful garden display set-up.
Stephanie: What is the greatest plant challenge that you and the Christianson’s Team will face before the Festival?
Toni: Set-up is the greatest challenge. We are magical thinkers when it comes to time management. We have always planned on getting what would take 5 to 6 days of set-up into 3 1/2 days. This means we work late into the night and have been known to get only 2 hours of sleep on some nights during past set-ups.
Stephanie: What are some unusual things to look for in your garden?
Toni: Step-over stile, three types of English fencing, in-place compost pile, over summering house plants, overwintering veggies, antique tools, sea kale forcer, galvanized rhubarb forcer, and rolling greenhouse.
Stephanie: As a staff member, it’s been exciting to see the vivid details of your design come to fruition. Describe a few of your favorite design elements that gardeners will wonder about and who is assisting with their creation?
Toni: Our samples of three types of English fencing styles will be of interest. We will have a rail style fence built by our master carpenters, Carl and Mike, using salvaged wood from the 300-foot shade house we needed to take down at the Nursery because of its age. We’ll also have a dry stone fence built by Joshua from Vashon Island. He will be using stones from Marenakos Stone for this wall. And, last but not least, we will have a living fence designed and built by Laura who is a master at weaving plants and vines together to build anything from a seasonal wreath to topiary to a living fence. She also plants over 600 beautiful hanging baskets and numerous container gardens for spring and summer sales at our Nursery.
Stephanie: We recently had a staff meeting where you and John discussed the logistics in preparing for the Festival display. What are some unconsidered and seemingly surprising details required to design and execute your display garden?
Toni: The fact that we will be taking 5 trucks to the Festival. They will be transporting plants and props that will be carefully organized in groups so as to arrive at the Convention Center in the order in which they will be set up. The trucks will be driven right onto the show floor and unloaded as close to our garden site as possible.
Stephanie: What motivates you and John to take on such a task?
Toni: The first two reasons that come to mind are that we love a challenge and we love sharing garden ideas and garden beauty with fellow gardeners. The third is that this Seattle Garden Festival has served us well in increasing our customer base. Our Nursery location is in one of the most beautiful places in Washington State. We are surrounded by fertile farmland, a snow-capped mountain range, stupendous cloud formations, falcons and snow geese and tundra swans, a March Daffodil Festival and an April Tulip Festival; all in one glorious place known as Skagit Valley. Our hope is that people will not only come to visit and support our Nursery but also to discover a great place for a day trip to enjoy nature and the countryside. Over the past 30 years of supporting the Seattle show, we have become a destination Nursery and we are thankful to all those involved including the show owners and our loyal staff and volunteers who help with display garden set-up.
Beatrix Potter’s Hill Top
Many of us remember England’s treasured author and illustrator, Beatrix Potter for her little animal tales such as “Peter Rabbit”, “Mrs. Tiggy Winkle”, and “Mr. Jeremy Fisher.” Today, her legacy is stronger than ever. 150 years after her death, one of her books are sold every 15 seconds!
Beatrix Potter’s Hill Top Farm: Every summer Beatrix Potter and her family rented a house in either Scotland or one in the Lake District, north of her birth city of Kensington, England. It was the Hill Top House (pictured above) where she was the happiest. As her affluent parents were over-protective, she mostly played with her younger brother and spent much of her youth drawing. She drew the world around her: nature scenes, animals, insects, and her favorite, fungi. Beatrix Potter composed many of her stories, inimitable drawings and books at Hill Top farm using the area’s rabbits, ducks, toads, buildings, ponds, and garden for inspiration.
“I do not remember a time when I did not try to
invent pictures and make for myself a fairyland
among … all the thousands of objects of the
countryside.” -Beatrix Potter
UK’s National Trust: Using the royalties she’d earned from her books, she purchased Hill Top House and Farm in 1903. With her inheritance, she bought more parcels of the land around the Sawrey area so as to preserve its outstanding natural beauty. In her later years, Beatrix focused less on her writing and more on practical things like farming and looking after her growing number of farms and acreage. In 1943, the year of her death, she bequeathed 18 farms and 4,000 acres of land to England’s National Trust with the condition that the land stays in the hands of farmers who will continue to farm the land and also tend a flock of Herdwick sheep; her beloved breed of sheep native to the fells of Sawrey. The National Trust has cared for Hill Top Farm and its surrounding farms by protecting its nature, beauty, and history since her death.
“Hill Top’s half-acre cottage garden still reflects
Beatrix’s own informal, higgledy-piggledy style.”
Drawing Inspiration from Beatrix’s Garden
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.
Stephanie: I would like to know, as our readers may, about the excerpt by Beatrix Potter you featured in the current edition of the Garden Gazette. (shown below) What made you choose it from all of her other writings?
“I have lots of flowers, I am very fond of my garden, it is a regular old fashioned farm garden, with a box hedge round the flower bed, and moss roses and pansies and black currants and strawberries and peas – but onions always do badly. I have tall white bell flowers I am fond of, they are just going over, next there will be phlox; and last come the michaelmas daisies and chrysanthemums. Then soon after Christmas we have snowdrops, they grow wild and come up all over the garden and orchard, and in some of the woods.”
Toni: I felt this paragraph was the most descriptive of Beatrix Potter’s personality and her “higgledy-piggledy” garden style. She also uses a charming English garden phrase unknown to most of us. I think I will start saying ‘they are just going over’ to describe plants in our garden that are finished blooming.
Stephanie: What other elements will you include?
Toni: We will have three examples of English fencing; dry wall fencing, hedging or platted fencing, and rail fencing. We will also have many examples of antique garden tools.
Stephanie: Will you and John be hosts at the display this year?
Toni: Yes, we are delighted to be present and look forward to visiting with fellow gardeners – possibly some who have been to Hill Top Farm. Joshua Barwick (a ‘waller’ from Vashon Island) will be randomly present and we will also have valued staff members as well as our youngest daughter and our grandchildren host during some of the days. We plan on having a wonderful time.
Northwest Flower & Garden Festival 2020
John and Toni Christianson have been planning this year’s Northwest Flower and Garden Festival ‘Hill Top Farm’ display garden since 2011 when they won Best in Show and the People’s Choice award. Their current design inspiration is drawn from their Lakeland travels to Beatrix Potter’s Hill Top, 17th-century house and countryside in Near Sawrey in the English county of Cumbria.
The Lakeland vernacular architecture consists of cottages, banked barns, drywall stone fences, and other charming out-buildings, along with a magical combination of lakes, fellside, and bluebell woods which is typical of Lakeland.
Building the cottage and planting gardens for this year’s display includes a collaboration with specific creatives, including master carpenters, a drystone ‘waller’, and our talented garden staff. And, a grand scheme was created to synchronize the blooms of bulbs, vines, shrubs, trees, and herbaceous plant material.
Resourcing plant availability months ahead of time and orchestrating proper zonal temperatures for the different species and varieties of plants are essential parts of the planning process. John and Toni Christianson have a deep understanding of specific plants that can be accelerated to leaf and bloom during the Festival dates in late February, along with those that may be a gamble to force but must be considered. The use of the common and uncommon tells their Christianson’s-esque garden story, such as Epimedium, Dicentra, Vancouveria hexandra, and mature Old-fashioned and English roses.
Timing is essential. Forcing what would bloom later and holding off early blooms requires controlled zonal conditions starting from the coldest to the warmest: 1.) Outside, 2.) Hoop Houses, 3.) Greenhouse #5, 4.) Propagation House, 5.) Conservatory. Moving plants up and down the temperature slide to control their readiness is an art and a science and not for the impatient. The plants being used for the Festival are monitored weekly, if not daily by the Christianson’s Nursery staff. For example, if Exochorda macrantha ‘Pearl Bush’ begins to bud too quickly in the Propagation House, it will be transferred to Greenhouse #5 where temperatures are 10-15 degrees colder.
While visiting the Nursery, you may see plants corded off and not for sale due to their upcoming use. And, because none of the plants being used in the ‘Hilltop Farm’ landscape are greenhouse plants and are grown outdoors, you may be delightfully surprised to see Wisteria venusta ‘Alba’ budding in the Propagation House during your next visit.
A Day Well Spent
John and Toni Christianson have been a participant at Seattle’s Northwest Flower & Garden Festival since 1991. A Day Well Spent (featured below) was Christianson’s award-winning garden design from 2011.