EVERY DAMP AND dreary spring, I almost ache for color in the landscape. A day trip north to amble acres of blooming bulbs during this month’s Skagit Valley Tulip Festival is one way to restore my chromatic equilibrium. As a spectacle, it can’t be beat. But there’s an art to integrating bulbs into a garden if you want to avoid awkward gaps and keep the show going the rest of the year.
Avid plantsman and garden designer Richard Hartlage knows a thing or two about orchestrating color — and bulbs — in the landscape. You might have seen his house in Seattle’s Montlake neighborhood. It’s the vermillion-colored one with gingerbread details perched atop a steeply sloping entry garden that’s carpeted in crimson tulips every April. Tidy boxwood hedging outlines the spring display and provides a framework for later waves of allium and lilies that bloom companionably among the roses, valerian, yarrow and other summer perennials in the small but striking space.
Hartlage, a colorful figure himself with a penchant for making vivid wardrobe selections, is a principal with Land Morphology, the Seattle landscape design firm that put the Garden in Chihuly Garden and Glass. Located at the foot of the Space Needle, Chihuly Garden and Glass is a collection of interior gallery spaces and a soaring glass house conservatory set within a lush garden. All the spaces, indoors and out, are a showcase for the work of world-renowned glass artist Dale Chihuly.
Of course, the art is remarkable. But the garden is dazzling — especially so just now, when hundreds, thousands, even tens of thousands of bulbs are blazing among color-cued annuals and perennials alongside ornamental trees and shrubs. Secreted behind a mixed evergreen hedge, the kaleidoscopic landscape is a saturated call-and-response display of color and craftsmanship.
Few of us aim to achieve the level of year-round performance that this oh-so-public garden is tasked with. Even fewer of us have the knowledgeable staff it takes to pull off the five to seven color shifts per square foot of each planting bed that Hartlage and company have plotted. But we can dream, right?
Naively, I asked Richard how he goes about creating such splendid spring displays. The short answer: He begins by planning the summer garden. Then he lavishly layers a matrix of spring- and summer-blooming bulbs in and around the primary perennials and woody plants. Carefully selected seasonal annuals provide a finishing flourish and reinforce color echoes to tie each composition together.
Yes; Richard’s approach to choreographing a landscape is bold — who paints his house to match the tulips? But his design work is rooted in a gardener’s understanding of every plant he uses, combined with an artist’s eye for color and a designer’s passion for puzzling it all together into a sweeping continuum that plays out in every passing season.
Whether you’re looking for ideas for introducing spring bulbs to your garden or simply need to top up your tank with a vibrant dose of color, a visit to Chihuly Garden and Glass is a brilliant place to begin. Ticket information is available at the website, chihulygardenandglass.com.