Debra Prinzing

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Charm in the country: my early fall trip to Skagit Valley and Bellingham

Tuesday, October 4th, 2011

Isn't this border pretty? Corn, sunflowers, zinnias - all in a row!

 A few weeks ago, at the invitation of the Whatcom Horticultural Society, I spent a relaxing 24 hours surrounded by gardens, flowers and nature – as well the company of like-minded plant-lovers. 

“Why don’t you come up to my house on Wednesday morning and we’ll go see some gardens before you give your lecture?” my friend Dawn Chaplin suggested. With established Bellingham landscape designer Susann Schwiesow, Dawn organizes the monthly lectures for WHS. This is the third time over the years that the society has invited me to speak. It’s always enjoyable, especially since the drive to Whatcom County and the enticing gardens and kindred spirits make my trip north so pleasurable. 

After meeting up with Dawn, who lives on a beautiful bluff outside Stanwood with her husband David, we hopped in the car and traveled to Fir Island, a small, bucolic place that’s reached by a bridge, so you barely realize you’re crossing over Skagit River to a real island. We toured the timeless garden created by Lavone Newell-Reim and her husband Dick. I’m hoping to publish as a magazine story in the future, but I can’t help but treat you to a few of the luscious images from this very special, lived-in and loved-in landscape: 

To me, this is a perfect vignette, camera-ready for a magazine. Lavone and Dick have a natural gift for placing plants in community with ornamentation and salvaged materials.

A circular patio with a thyme garden at its center. Inviting!

Chartreuse at its finest - in twin conifers and a potted succulent.



More cool gardens, garden art, and sheds

Sunday, September 28th, 2008

Visting Bellingham and the Whatcom Horticultural Society

Bright and early on September 17th, I flew from Burbank, CA to Bellingham, WA (by way of Seattle and a 2-hour layover). I was pretty tired, having only four hours of sleep the night before, so I dozed a bit on the small Horizon Air jet that transported me from Seattle to B’ham in barely 25 minutes.

As the plane began to descend, I perked up and looked out the window to see – oh glory – Puget Sound, and several of its islands including Lummi Island. I was so happy (exhilarated, actually) to gaze upon the gray-blue palette of the water and islands, the scenery dotted witha few boats; the islands populated with cabins and summer cottages. What a “welcome home”!

My friend, Dawn Chaplin, garden designer and nurserywoman (seen with me above, in front of the Whatcom Museum), invited me to speak at the September meeting for the Whatcom Horticultural Society. I have a special place in my heart for this group, thanks to my friendship with the late Stephanie Feeney, who was one of the founding mothers of WHS. Stephanie, creator of the Northwest Gardener”s Resource Directory, originally started her garden touring “reference” (as a few photocopied pages stapled together at the corner), for her use and for her WHS friends. Upon her death in 2000, I inherited the editorship of her book and produced the 9th edition, still in print.

Dawn and her husband David met me at the airport and whisked me off on a whirlwind tour of Bellingham’s fantastic gardens and even a few magical “sheds” and shelters in the garden. In this misty, foggy maritime place on the map, people in Bellingham use color and art in very exciting ways. Here is a travelogue of our garden-filled afternoon:

Our tour kept gathering up friends and bringing them along. In front, from left: Dawn Chaplin, landscape designer Susann Schwiesow, and Laurie Satushek discussing plants in Susann’s glorious front border; In the back, Steve Satushek and David Chaplin.


The wild and crazy landscape owned by Steve and Laurie Satushek

Photographer Steve Satushek and artist/teacher Laurie Satushek live and garden on about 8 acres overlooking the Nooksack River Delta and Bellingham Bay. They have transformed a nondescript ranch house and unkempt field into a colorful residence and equally brilliant landscape. Every surface of their residence is embellished with mosaics, mirrors, three-dimensional objects, and Steve’s oversize “outdoor” photographs — all rendered in a crayon box-inspired palette.

The informal but exuberant garden makes creative use of cobalt glass wine and water bottles (seen above, at left and below) and Steve’s cleverly-engineered and equally beautiful photography (he combines nature and botanical photographs with several innovative processes for weatherproofing oversize canvases). Together, the gallery-house and gallery-garden lure visitors to explore, observe, and fill their eyes with a surprising interpretation of art infused into every aspect of life.

More blue bottles: Here, they are mounted upside down on rebar posts. Staggered “rows” create a waist-high blue wall that lines the driveway. Citrus-cutouts of dancers add whimsical contrast.