My favorite garden at the 2014 Northwest Flower and Garden Show was designed by Kirsten Lints, CPH, Gardens ALIVE Design. Her long hours and hard work paid off, her garden won the best in show, or Founders Cup, as well as many other awards. The garden was sponsored by WSNLA and WALP, two Washington State Landscape Organizations. The garden install was led by Rob Boyker, owner of Avid Landscape.
From the first time I saw her design on paper, I knew it was something special. Her garden is called ‘Nature’s Studio’ and these are the characters: Edgy, urban artists retreat to the cool and dappled shade of the forest garden ‘studio’ where they find inspiration and recharge. It is late spring, the weather is warming, and their forest garden is alive with brilliant fresh foliage, tender flowers, and succulent vegetables. The ebullient sound of falling water and birdsong provides an animating soundtrack for their work. Various organic forms of art are rooted throughout the garden, displaying the couple’s talent, artistic history, as well as their passion for found treasures that inspire them.
I talked with Kirsten at the show to find out more about her and Nature’s Studio.
Elaine: What is your background?
Kirsten: I knew that being a high school science teacher would not work with having children. When my kids were in elementary school thought it would be fun to draw plans and see what could come of it. I did a years work for some friends and each design was in exchange for a cup of coffee. It was fun, with some really memorable things. Then I thought, if I could do it in a year for a cup of coffee, maybe I could make some money. I took a master gardener training class, but felt insecure. I didn’t know if I had talent. I didn’t have credentials. I didn’t have training. I read a lot of books and took an online course to fill the holes in my education. When it comes to design, I am mostly self taught. When you learn things yourself without being taught you learn it even more deeply, and then when you’re taught it, you’re reassured in what you know. When you create the wheel rather than the wheel being handed to you, you know that wheel. There are parts of design that I have a stronger understanding for because I had to create that understanding.
My husband is a bridge engineer and does lots of drawings. Once he saw my drawings and said ‘you should charge for this’. I didn’t feel comfortable charging because I didn’t have an educated background. So to begin with I decided to charge for my designs and donate the money to the school garden. I began by charging a low price and started with anyone that was willing and interested. I felt more and more comfortable every step of the way. I began to gain more clients by word of mouth. It was purposeful movement and planned steps. Yes, I am a CPH. I knew I absolutely wanted to take the test and told myself, ‘If I fail I should not be doing this’, but I passed the test with flying colors. I had no idea I could memorize all that and I felt reassured about what I was doing.
Elaine: You should have lots of confidence after winning the best in show this week.
Kirsten: I feel better.
Elaine: Tell me about the Stump.
Kirsten: It came in three pieces from Elma, Washington by Carter Evans Woodworks. They helped with the stump, stuffed moss and stayed through-out the entire build. We had this stump in mind from the very beginning. It was the best stump if we wanted to go big. It was already in 3 pieces, making it possible to transport. Several months ago one of my volunteers took a drive to Elma to look at the stump. It was carved and rounded out with a platform added for the tree. There is some real artistry. It was fun. Installation of the stump and garden is on a documentary video created by Vince Smith, part 1 and part 2. The veggie garden is another great part. It’s a specific educational piece, being a part shade veggie garden. We started it in September. Normally at the show we see little starts of vegetables, but we wanted this to be bonkers, including a root cellar and mushrooms. We were hoping for producing vegetables, their colors specifically matched to the garden.
Elaine: How did you end up working with Rob?
Kirsten: Rob Boyker and I have an uncanny coincidence in our backgrounds. We both received botany degrees from the University of Washington at the same time. We both served in the Peace Corps. We both started businesses at the same time. Strange beginnings. I did not want to design a garden this year. I didn’t think it was in in the cards, but WALP called and asked if I would consider working on a garden with Rob. At first I was not interested, but they said, ‘just talk to him’. When we found out about our parallel lives, we knew that we needed to do this. We worked together well and all of my decisions have been passed by Rob.
Elaine: Tell me about the You & I sculpture.
Kirsten: You and I is on many levels. Our spaces need to incorporate other people. This garden is designed for two artists. Also Rob and I and our parallel beginnings. Also the two associations, WSNLA and WALP cooperating together. It’s their first collaborative garden. Fist bump.
Elaine: What is the high point of building this garden as well as the low point?
Kirsten: I love working with the people. It’s the teacher part of me. I enjoy mentoring people, saying things like, that looks fabulous. It looks like you’re having a challenge, lets figure this out. What is your idea?, I love your idea, you own it . I tried to keep a great spirit in the build. There is no facade in who I am, it’s about having a good attitude. And being positive and being flexible. Letting people choose parts of the garden. Letting students create. I told them, whatever you create I know it will be beautiful. The teacher training helped with that, and being in the Peace corps. The Low point was the root cellar. When I put the canning in the cellar I was quite anxious and very nervous about it. This is where everyone will say ‘what the hell are you doing?’ It’s crazy, it might be a little funky, it’s a stretch and what if it has a backlash? I thought it would be pretty with light coming through. I picked out special jars with colors that would enhance the garden. I put a lot of thought into it and it was very challenging.
Elaine: What have you learned about yourself?
Kirsten: I’m a better leader than I ever knew. With teaching, empowering and the spirit of being positive. I could sense from people what they needed and could help to keep things going well and help problem solve. I didn’t come in with that plan, it just came through.
Elaine: What’s your message?
Kirsten: Do what you know and love. Be authentic. I want people to live, love, enjoy and find purpose in their landscapes. Some landscapes are just visual, but I think you get more love when you are interacting with your landscape.
Elaine: What’s next for you?
Kirsten: I need to build a house. ( And design your own garden? I asked... Done!) Keep business going. I had hopes that my income could help the family. I’m trying to find a balance with family and work. I shoot for up here, I always strive for that high. If I get down here, I’m happy. But I shoot for up here. I grew up on a wheat farm and drove a combine at 16, and a truck at 14. There has been a lot of pressure during this build, and it helped to have the chaos of my former life to make this smoother. I was surrounded by welding, machines and mechanics, I’m familiar with it all. All the machines and noise of the build didn’t bother me. I enjoy it all , even the mesmerizing sound of the chainsaw. There are harder things in life than this. This is tough and I would say this has many levels of challenge, but there are harder things. It was an amazing process and will continue to go smoothly through the take-down. I’m not thinking of the future, just concentrating on the present.
Elaine: Did you have fun with it?
Kirsten: 110 percent!
For more information on this beautiful garden, including plant lists and art suppliers, please visit the WSNLA website.