When Vanca Lumsden and Judith Jones design a display garden for the Northwest Flower & Garden Show, they start with a vague idea. "Filtered through the third...

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When Vanca Lumsden and Judith Jones design a display garden for the Northwest Flower & Garden Show, they start with a vague idea.

“Filtered through the third glass of syrah,” said Lumsden.

And then comes the design, right?


Then come the costumes and then the design.

It seems to work. This year they won the Founder’s Cup for best in show out of 25 display gardens last week at the Washington State Convention and Trade Center.

Lumsden’s idea for this year’s creation, “Beast in the Garden: Marginal Madness,” came from a collection of Oaxacan animal sculptures owned by artist Elizabeth Ford-Ortiz, of Whidbey Island.

Other winners

Falling Water Designs won the People’s Choice Award with its “Yabba Dabba Do: A Modern Interpretation of a Prehistoric Garden,” which was designed by Rick Perry. Falling Water won a silver from the professional judges.

Gardens are judged based on how well the garden achieved its design objectives and execution. All gardens are awarded a gold, silver, bronze or crystal medal. Twenty-three gardens competed this year for prizes.

Other gold-medal winners included:

• AW Pottery’s “Caravanserai”

• Creative Gardener’s “Marvelous Night for a Moondance”

• Marenakos Rock Center’s “Timeless Grace and Beauty”

• New Leaf Creations’ “Summer Time Memories”

• Le Jardin Home, Garden & Ranch Design “Majito Don’t Go Away, GET AWAY!”

Nicole Tsong: 206-464-2150 or ntsong@seattletimes.com

The costumes for Lumsden and Jones were brightly colored skirts, blouses, shawls and other wraps to go with the Mexican theme and some of the vibrant tropical plants.

Pieces from Ford-Ortiz’s collection ended up among the plants, a mix of everything from palms to tulips. All the plantings were labeled with color-coded cards according to the plant’s hardiness — from cold hard to tropical.

“We are plant people,” said Jones, “so we are about education.”

They weren’t always plant people. Lumsden, 64, has worked in a bank and managed car-rental offices at airports. She got into gardening 32 years ago. Of those, she said 30 have been successful.

“It took me two years to learn to think good thoughts around plants, to talk to them and to use peat moss instead of heavy clay,” Lumsden said.

She’s self-taught, although she did enroll in a Master Gardener program once.

“I got kicked out because I didn’t agree with the instructor on all the pesticides being used.”

She ran wholesale and retail nurseries in Southern Oregon and moved to Washington state in 1997. She lives in Greenbank on Whidbey Island, where she builds “stick furniture” with her husband (www.alberustics.com).

Jones, 58, who grew up in Arizona, said, “People thought I had been found under a rock because I wanted to be somewhere with lots of theater and music.”

She came to Washington to study children’s theater and general dramatics. But in 1969 she read a book on ferns and “ended up with a hobby run amok.”

Now she operates the Fancy Fronds nursery (www.fancyfronds.com) in Gold Bar and claims to have one of the largest temperate fern collections in North America.

The two were introduced by Jerry Colley, former co-owner of Siskiyou Rare Plant Nursery near Medford, Ore., who told them “you two crazy ladies need to know each other.”

They did their first garden together in 1998 and won their first “best-in-show” award in 2001 with an under-the-sea theme.

Pamela Schwerdt and Sibylle Kreutzberger, two of this year’s judges, said the Lumsden-Jones garden “made good use of color” and had “kick, pizzazz and the best plants in the show.”

Lumsden and Jones have garden-show ideas going out five years, and as they talk of them they finish each others’ sentences, laugh with and at each other and admit they aren’t very good about keeping their ideas secret.

What they most want now is to win the Ethel Moss People’s Choice Award, which is voted by the public.

“We figure we’re going to win people’s choice with ‘Cinderella gets married in Victorian England’ because that will hit all the buttons,” said Lumsden.

And think of the costumes.

John B. Saul is a former Seattle Times deputy metro editor. He can be reached at jbsaul@mac.com.