Debra Prinzing

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Got Rocks? Here’s a savvy design solution for all those nuggets you’re digging up

Tuesday, August 29th, 2017

Love this tall console-style table made from hog fencing, rocks and a stone top — Design by Greg Graves and Gary Waller of Old Goat Farm.

If your garden is like ours, well, rocks are in abundance.

Our six-month-old garden occupies the 20-foot-by-60-foot backyard of a suburban home completed just months ago, right before we moved in on February 11th.

By the time we started working on the garden, no surprise! We realized what everyone who moves into a new-construction house learns. Landscaping crews simply move a lot of dirt and rocks around (usually destroying topsoil in the process). Then, they push any excess mixture of native soil, debris, the random screw or nail, and rocks up against the perimeter of one’s “new” yard and toss some bark dust on top. Not exactly “prepared soil,” right?

Rocks of all shapes and sizes have been piling up. We’ve had to muscle them out of newly dug planting holes for shrubs, perennials and trees. Said rocks range in size from a pingpong or tennis ball to something the size of a large dinosaur egg.

Case in point:

Yes, this is from the ground in our backyard. It was definitely a “two-person” rock, as they say.

Clearly, the rocks are winning. And it’s not like you can toss them into the compost bin and let the city deal with the mess.

Right now, along the side of our house next to the foundation, a long row of rocks is on display. There are mostly 6- to 12-inch diameter nuggets; some are surprisingly smooth; others more shard-like. I wasn’t sure what to do with them until I returned to Old Goat Farm this past weekend. And I was reminded that it’s possible to turn unwanted rocks into very-much-wanted garden furniture and art.

Old Goat Farm is owned my my friends Greg Graves and Gary Waller. Old Goat Farm is out in the country, as one might expect, in the town of Graham, about 45 minutes south of where we live in Des Moines. It is a combination display garden, specialty nursery and animal sanctuary, all of which surround a charming Victorian farmhouse where Gary serves his famous holiday teas (there’s usually a waiting list, so check it out ASAP if you’re interested). I have written about Old Goat Farm’s holiday teas a few times, and you can read those posts here from 2010 and 2012.

Both men say they themselves are “old goats,” but the only reason you would believe that is their combined gardening and horticulture wisdom. Together, Greg and Gary know more than many of us will ever learn in one lifetime, not to mention two. Old Goat Farm is always open to the public the second weekend of the month, April through October. You can learn more about other special sales and events by checking out the Facebook page here.

Bruce and I spent a lovely evening last weekend at Old Goat Farm, where the guys hosted their first ever farm-to-table dinner in the garden. The food was out of this world – all vegetarian, of course – and presented in such a visually appealing manner by local chef Meghan Brannon of Conceptual Catering.

Between courses, we were encouraged to stroll the display gardens, and they are magnificent. I hadn’t been to Old Goat during the summer months for several years, and so I’d missed how much these borders, paths, islands and vignettes have matured over the dozen-plus years that Gary and Greg have tended to this land.

With rocks (and what to do with them) on my mind, what jumped out at me during this visit was how masterfully the guys handle their rock containment. Let’s review a few of these special pieces:

Twin gabion towers that serve as pedestals for beautiful urns to mark the entry into Linda’s Garden, a special destination honoring our late friend Linda Plato.

A small garden bench (right) and a square side table (left). Both utilize stone slabs for the “top.”

Another view of the fantastic gabion fern table. This is a stunner!

A detail of the planted surface of the table.

Another beautiful view.

You’ll want to read Greg’s blog post  from a few years’ back, in which he discusses his wire-cage designs and his personal relationship with the rocks in his garden. I found it inspiring!

Simply defying gravity, Greg and Gary make stone-filled metal orbs, too.

What a lovely way to punctuate a turn in the pathway.


A wintry postcard from the Pacific Northwest

Friday, December 21st, 2012

An evergreen yew and topiary forms are frosted with just a little snow on a December afternoon at Old Goat Farm.

Snow came early to the outerlying parts of Seattle this week, dusting the evergreen topiary forms at Old Goat Farm in Orting, Washington. Owners Greg Graves and Gary Waller hosted a holiday tea to benefit Pacific Horticulture Society, and Lorene Edwards Forkner and I drove down to the farm for the festivities. Lorene, of course, is the editor of Pacific Horticulture magazine, a wonderful quarterly journal for gardeners on the West coast (or anyone who loves reading about the hort world in Washington, Oregon and California).

Lorene asked me to donate a seasonal floral arrangement and a copy of The 50 Mile Bouquet to the event’s silent auction. How fun to step out of our car and look across Greg and Gary’s wonderful garden at the sparkling white-and-green scene. There was an old log stump and it seemed like the perfect “pedestal” for placing my bouquet for a last-minute portrait before the party.

The locally-grown lilies, snowberry, eucalyptus and dogwood branches create a special holiday arrangement. There are a few stems of melaleuca tucked in. I brought them home from San Diego last week!

Everything else here sparkled, too. Enjoy the glimpses captured by my lens. And if you want to read more, follow this link to a post from an Old Goat Farm holiday tea from 2010. Visiting at Christmas, seeing the century-old Victorian farmhouse, hearing the clucking chickens and (of course) eating delicious food . . . what a chance to while away an afternoon.

Gary, a talented floral designer and retail display wizard, decorated the barn door with a lovely wreath.

Yes, these are old goat sugar cookies. Very tasty! And eye-catching, too!

This is a picture-perfect farmhouse. Absolutely love it! Especially that wraparound porch!

Gary and Greg's famous compost fence. It even made the cover of Pacific Horticulture magazine's fall 2012 issue~

Decorative chicken (or are they roosters?) cookies!

A beautiful detail of my bouquet.

Here’s to a wonderful holiday season! And a New Year to come~

Hoe, Hoe, Hoe: Vintage Garden Tools as Holiday Decor

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

A Gardener's Holiday Welcome at Old Goat Farm

If you’re like many of my gardening friends who can’t resist the charming character of old farm implements or tools, you probably have a few elderly hand-trowels in your collection. I know I’m not the only one who actually begs, buys and forages for old nozzles, flower frogs, watering cans and metal implements for digging soil! 

Whether displayed on a shelf or hanging from a wall inside the potting shed, that slightly rusted, weathered and distressed garden trowel, cultivator, hoe or rake appeals to many of us because the paint is chipping and the handle is probably made from real wood and screws rather than plastic and staples. 

You might call them our holiday elves! In the kitchen with Greg Graves and Gary Waller

My pals Greg Graves and Gary Waller, owners of Old Goat Farm in Graham, Wash., are two such hunter-gatherers. 

It helps that the men acquired a Victorian farm house and a similarly pedigreed landscape (and a barn and several outbuildings) several years ago. Greg and Gary moved from the city to the country where they have created an appealing lifestyle-business that includes raising poultry, peacocks and goats (yes, there are a few goats here, even an “old” goat), propagating and selling unusual plants, and hosting legions of visitors to their Open Garden days in summertime and to their Holiday Teas in December. 

The farm house's irresistable covered porch overlooks the garden.

Gary, an award-winning floral designer, has amassed an impressive collection of holiday decorations (that’s what the barn is for – to store everything from santas and snowmen to ribbons, ornaments and lights). 

He and Greg decorate each room of the farmhouse with a specific Christmas theme and then invite their customers, friends, local senior groups and word-of-mouth partakers to attend their Holiday Teas.

People walk from room to room (bath included!), enjoy the highly-detailed decorations, sip a warm drink and sample the mouthwatering desserts. Greg tells me that Old Goat Farm will serve tea to 450 persons this month.

Two of the teas are fund-raisers for causes they support, but basically the entire endeavor is a gesture of community outreach. “We keep the price low because we don’t want to make it too costly for the senior groups to come,” Greg says. 

Here's Lorene, studying the tiny kitchen tree that's an ode to poultry on the farm (Gary hollowed-out all sorts of the eggs and decoupaged them with hen images).

One of Gary's hand-made egg ornaments.

Greg invited fellow garden writer Lorene Edwards Forkner and me to join last Friday’s tea when a last-minute cancellation opened up two slots at the table.

We donned our festive attire and drove to Graham/Orting. If you know about the city of Tacoma, the Graham/Orting area is due east of it. The Garden Conservancy-supported Chase Garden is a nearby horticultural destination. 

Let me set the scene up on our arrival: 

Festooned in garlands, plaid ribbons and old garden implements (!) the soft yellow farmhouse greets its guests. The entry wreath hangs from the front gate with a trowel and worn wood dibble (a planting device for enlarging seed or bulb holes). 

The front gate's wreath begins the decor theme with a trowel and dibble

Who wouldn’t love a huge covered porch that wraps around three sides of the 100-year-old Victorian residence? Each post is dressed in holiday finery, a pair of rusty old tools gathered up with an enormous lodge pole pinecone and the red-and-green plaid ribbon. 

The cheerful door decor has at its center a set of vintage child’s set of play tools – a rake and a shovel. Criss-crossed with more ribbon and cones, they welcomed our arrival (see photo at top). 

Front porch decor: love it!

A galvanized watering can becomes an impromptu vase, filled with greenery gathered from the wooded landscape. And we feel transported to a century ago (almost) while touring the garden and the home. 

One of our favorite destinations at Old Goat Farm is “Linda’s Garden,” designed by Greg to memorialize the late, dear friend to us all, Linda Plato.

We lost Linda five years ago this month, a premature death brought on by breast cancer. Linda and Greg met in horticulture school as they both began their second careers. They worked together at the Elizabeth C. Miller Botanical Garden (where Greg is still on the staff as head gardener). They traveled the world to see gardens. Lorene and I were just happy to be small stars in Linda’s orbit. And we miss her. 

In Linda's garden, the double boxwood topiaries line the path that leads to the garden shed.

Linda’s garden is an homage to topiary. For you see, Greg and Gary would never have moved here to Old Goat Farm if it was not for Linda dragging Greg out there six years ago to buy topiary from the former owner who was liquidating her stock.  As Greg tells the story on his web site: 

Story of Old Goat Farm
In December of 2004, quite by accident, we found this beautiful little place while plant shopping with our good friend Linda. It is located just outside of Orting, WA, tucked below Mt. Rainier. We fell in love with this place, and by March of 2005, we were the owners of Old Goat Farm.

It is kind of a throwback to a simpler time with its 100-year-old farmhouse and cute barn and nursery. The garden is dotted with topiaries which give it a magical quality. 

“Linda once said: ‘What’s better than a row of topiaries? A double-row of topiaries!,'” Greg explains.  And that’s why you will see double-boxwood balls, pyramids, ovoid shapes and cubes lining both sides of the pathway that loops through the shaded, secluded and peaceful Linda’s Garden. Hurrah! It never fails to put a smile on my face. Please enjoy the photos of our visit to Old Goat. May we all be so lucky to have people like Greg and Gary, Lorene, and our dear Linda pass through our lives!

A small Christmas scene adorns the front porch.

A cedar garland wraps around the porch columns and each is topped with a huge pinecone and more vintage tools.

The full view of the farmhouse front door. Naturally, it's RED!

The perky old goat welcomes visitors to the garden and nursery.

Here is the "old goat," carved from wood and sipping a mug of coffee in the garden.

One of the wonderful barn strutures.

The ancient, moss-covered apple trees, backlit by the dim December sun.

A topiary bunny of variegated box, a work in progress by Greg (and an homage to Linda).

A moss-covered "bench" resting on two piles of stones. Note the mahonia that has seeded itself in the rockery.

Yes, you can grow moss lawns here in the Pacific Northwest and this is one terrific example!

For amazing drama in the winter landscape, place an evergreen fern in an urn on top of a pedestal. Wow.

A circular stone "rug" that Greg recently added at the entry to Linda's garden - the ideal place to sit and be quiet.

Stone gabion pillars guard the entry path to Linda's garden.

Merry Christmas from Old Goat Farm. This is a miniature version, complete with sign, created by Gary Waller.

Seattle’s Miller Garden: a photo gallery

Sunday, June 28th, 2009
Here's the view from Betty Miller's house on a picture-perfect Saturday in June

Here's the view from Betty Miller's house on a picture-perfect Saturday in June

Looking out the windows of the house that Betty Miller lived in until her death, I admired a perfectly-framed view of The Elisabeth C. Miller Botanic Garden, located in Seattle’s elite gated community, The Highlands.

Her garden, now a private, nonprofit botanical garden, is a sparkling palette of green-gold, lime, dark green and silvery-blue. Impressions: Touches of burgundy Japanese Maples appear, peeking through the multilayered branches of a mostly green woodland understory. Lichens and moss create irregular patterns on grey bark. Gentle mounds. Draping foliage. A shadowplay of bright and dark. Alluring. Inviting.

I spent all day indoors, at a Pacific Horticultural Foundation board meeting (thank goodness for “lunch break”) and I will be back tomorrow morning for yet another half-day of meetings. It’s a good group and we are excited about some of our new projects and plans for the essential publication for gardeners in the West.

If you want to take advantage of a special Pacific Horticulture magazine 5-for-the-price-of-4 issues subscription rate, let me know and I’ll send you a coupon ($28/year).

Work. It's "work," people. My fellow board members gathered outdoors before being dragged to the conference table

Work. It's "work," people. My fellow board members gathered outdoors before being dragged to the conference table

If you like the photos you see here, you can actually see this garden for yourself. There are two ways to tour the Miller Garden. First of all, call for a tour appointment. Tours are limited, due to the fact that the property is in a residential community. They also fill up fast (check the web site for details about early-in-the-year-registrations).

You also have the opportunity to take a class at the Miller Garden, offered through the Northwest Horticultural Society, ongoing education series. Check out their web site for details.

In preparation, enjoy this visual tour of Seattle in June. I’ll be posting photos of my travels here in the PNW (at the Miller Garden and in other awesome gardens) all week.

The Miller Garden is the quintessential Seattle garden. It is cared for by some very talented horticulturists, including my friends Greg Graves and Richie Steffen, along with many regular volunteers. I have wonderful memories of coming here to work on Northwest Horticultural Society projects with former director Richard Hartlage (who was president of NHS when I was editor of Garden Notes) and with his successor Carolyn Jones, who is a good friend and garden gal-pal. The Miller Garden is at the heart of the plant-obsessed Seattle gardening community. You’ll see why below.

Enjoy these awesome photos from today’s tour: