In her layered garden, blogger Tracie Fish adds flowers and plants that inspire whimsy.
TRACIE FISH HAS a way with plants, but can’t quite articulate where her wisdom comes from. As a garden consultant and blogger, her Instagram account (@fishtailcottage) is a constant feed of vibrant blooms — vintage roses, perennials, trees — and portraiture of her eight Silkie chickens.
She and her husband built their Bothell house in 2005, leaving intentional space for a garden. It is a rare property, having only a few spots of shade and mostly sunny garden beds year-round.
Fish brought in good dirt as part of the initial budget for the house, but otherwise worked on the garden bit by bit without a specific plan, buying only young and inexpensive plants. The Japanese Stewartia tree was a little 6-inch sapling when she planted it, but now it stands 20 feet tall.
“They’re hundreds of dollars retail, but cheaper to start it this way,” she says.
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For Fish, patience is key to a successful garden. She wanted a cottage garden from the start but was flexible with changes throughout the years. “I’ve moved things around. I had a vision years ago, but it’s cool to see it all come in” and then make choices, she says.
When she started planting, she went to nurseries weekly, scouring the grounds for inspiration. She would buy a plant, then wait a year to see how the landscape filled in.
“If I find a plant that works, I plant 100 more — bleeding hearts are everywhere. They’re supposed to be a shade plant, but I plant them in full sun. They’ll bloom earlier.”
Trees are among the main plantings. “Almost all of my trees will bloom and flower,” says Fish.
She tucks plants in where she wants blooms and leaves no open spaces — a good trick for keeping out weeds. “It makes my heart happy to see flowers,” says Fish.
Her front yard is a welcome oasis for guests and passers-by — Blush Noisette and Zephirine Drouhin roses grow up and hang over an arbor, framing the walkway to the front door, and Champneys Pink Cluster roses grow near the gate of the white picket fence that wraps around the property, thick with plantings on both sides.
“I do a lot of antique roses, because the older roses have more fragrance,” she says.
Fish cultivates 114 rose plants on her property; she says the Olivia Rose Austin is her favorite for now. It is disease-resistant and fragrant, and, “The blooms are massive and beautiful, and it (will have) hundreds of blooms that make a great, long-lasting cut flower,” she says.
They are planted next to the patio in the backyard. “I am definitely from the South in a previous life,” Fish says. “I just love roses and flowers and rusted metal” garden pieces.
The garden sits in layers — tall, short, ground cover — a trifecta of planting that is incredibly successful. Everything feels full and lively, and blooms come year-round. Nothing is labeled in the garden, but Fish does keep a journal and blog in order to recall which plant is where.
Along the front entrance walkway, Fish plants so there is always something in bloom. Tulips along the walkway are the first, then tall tree roses that blossom in midspring, and hip-height peonies to follow.
Columbines in yellow, pink and purple pop up all over the front yard; Fish allows them to self-seed and grow wherever they land. Primrose blooms bright-red along the short staircase to a small front porch, and will have a second bloom later in spring.
Whether standing at the street, in the driveway or at the front, there are flowers as far as the eye can see.
Beneath all the blooms, Fish plants ground cover. “This one kind of glows in the dark,” she says, walking by a clump of star-shaped Impatiens omeiana that has red stems and lime-colored leaves.
The backyard opens up into a mini-oasis for relaxing. A large patio is filled with comfy furniture and overflowing container plantings. In the neighboring beds, Fish layers again — a Japanese snowbell tree (planted because it was her grandfather’s favorite) blooms over tall Olivia Rose Austins that bloom over peonies and a miniature Boxwood hedge.
A pond-less waterfall feature gurgles pleasantly close by, and an elegant chicken coop houses heirloom Silkie chickens just off the patio. “This was probably my best investment,” she says of the waterfall and adjacent pathway.
A small lawn is dotted with garden art — a cement bench, a birdhouse — and holds a bevy of blooming plants around its perimeter. Late-summer blooming hydrangea, lilacs, a rose trellis, tall Cyprus trees that create privacy from neighbors and nine Northern Hi-Lights azaleas. “My first one was a gift from my father, and the fragrance is like no other, so I had to plant more,” she says.
The north and south sides of the house offer areas for shade gardening. On the south side, hostas, ferns, hellebores, astilbe, Solomon’s seal and Vanilla Strawberry hydrangeas that get “massively huge” flank camellia trees with big red blooms. She keeps the row of camellias narrow, and thins out the center, pruning these trees vigorously so they don’t grow tall and unruly.
Fish comes out to the garden every day starting in February, but sometimes only to make a mental note about some future chore. “A lot of it just takes care of itself because I’ve already done the work,” she says. “Keeping things in control is key.”
Fish pays attention to when plants grow outside borders or are shrinking away in too little sun and moves them accordingly.
How do you know when to do this? “You feel it,” she replies.