Featuring Joanie Clarke’s Garden; Molbak’s Plant Specialist and Certified Professional Horticulturist
Our Home Garden Tour at Joanie’s is a view into a pollinator’s paradise. When she’s not in her garden, you can usually find her at Molbak’s helping customers with great plant suggestions and helpful tips and tricks. Joanie, with Molbak’s for over 12 years, is a beloved member of our team.
Day lilies, a perennial flower, mark the edge of the lawn. Joanie’s greenhouse is across the lawn at the side of the property. She uses it to propagate plants and to start seeds for her seasonal vegetable garden.
Joanie, how long have you been a horticulturist?
I received my Certified Professional Horticulturist (CPH) designation in 1995, after completing the Environmental Horticulture Program at the Lake Washington Institute of Technology.
This is one of the highlights of my life! To receive your CPH, you must go through a five hour examination covering everything from insects, landscape design, soils, plant identification, pesticide application and more. It is also a requirement that you work for 2,000 hours in the “green” industry.
I went on to work in a small, family-owned nursery where I unloaded trucks, assisted customers, and everything in between. At that time I was also doing some on-site landscape consulting, which enabled me to hone my skills and see a lot of incredible gardens.
After working at that nursery for about ten years (I had gone on to be Office Manager in the landscape division as well as part-time designer), I went on to run my own design company. In 2008 I applied to Molbak’s and have been here ever since.
Golden hops grow over an arched trellis – an entrance to another area of her garden.
What is it about gardening that keeps you coming back season after season?
Gardening keeps pulling me back – it’s like a magnet. During the early spring season, I can’t wait to get up in the morning, pull on my gardening jeans and get outside.
Sometimes I can be found standing on my patio, coffee in hand, just surveying the landscape. Do I need more color in this area? Does this Japanese maple need a bit of shaping?
I don’t write any to-do lists. The tasks are all in my head – one day I might focus on fertilizing; one day on weeding; one day on pruning. Or all of the above. I rarely stop for lunch as it just interrupts my “flow!”
The simple rock path, small pebbles lined with “found” rocks, winds around the side of the yard past grasses, evergreen shrubs, and flowering perennials to her she-shed. Joanie found the larger rocks as she landscaped and put them to work for her in the garden.
When designing a garden, where do you start?
There are a lot of factors to consider. I look at books, pictures on social media, and visit friends’ gardens as well as public gardens. Then I sit down and make rough sketches.
For the home I’m living in now, I invited the Garden Team at Molbak’s to a potluck and handed them pen and paper. Their designs were all so different, but I actually took some aspects of my colleagues’ ideas and incorporated them.
Joanie’s layers of plants – tall, deciduous, flowering, evergreen, ground covers and shrubs – create an ever-changing escape in her own yard.
Which elements of design do you begin with?
The elements of design are: mass, form, line, texture and color.
Mass: Mass is the area an object occupies – your home, patio, maybe a shed. You want to balance the mass of objects in the landscape: a planting bed, a deck, a play area are all sized according to the existing objects.
Form: Form refers to the shapes of the objects in the landscape. Plants, the topography, your home – all have form, whether it is round, rectilinear, square.
Line: Line is the way your eye is carried through the landscape. Consider line when designing pathways and planting beds. Rounded, curvilinear lines denote a friendly feeling; straight pathways and angles denote a more formal feeling.
This Black-eyed Susan ‘Goldsturm’ is a favorite of Joanie’s backyard bees.
Have your designs changed over the years, or do you keep to a tried-and-true style?
My designs are truly different from landscape to landscape; I’m talking about my own gardens now as I am not currently in the design business. In assessing a property, I’d take into account the homeowners’ needs, wants and would-like-to-haves. Is the property hilly? Are there soil erosion concerns? Do they want to screen an unsightly view? Do they want a grassy area for the children to play? Do they want a vegetable garden sometime in the future? When those issues are solved, we begin discussing plants.
I’d ask clients to browse nurseries before our discussion. I want to know if fragrance is important; color of flowers; trees for shade. Is there an unusual plant they want to incorporate? Do they want a cutting garden, a shade garden, a place where they can sit under a tree?
Vegetable gardens are also an integral part of any pollinator paradise. Bonus: more bees enticed into the garden with flowering plants = more pollination in the vegetable garden = more fruit and veggies to eat!
You mentioned you are new to vegetable gardening. How is it going?
It’s going great! With one disclaimer: I have a 3′ high, U-shaped raised bed we constructed about three years ago. We were going to outsmart those bunnies!
Little did I realize that it took the voles three years to figure out how to burrow under all that soil, make their way to the top, and tunnel from one veggie plant to the next. They ate the roots of our snow peas and sweet peas. At first, I couldn’t understand why my snow pea vines were turning yellow and crispy.
I thought they needed more water. Nope – that’s when I was planting more green beans did I notice my hand all of a sudden sunk into the soil halfway up to my elbow! They left alone our green beans, cucumbers, all the herbs, lettuce, beets and arugula (my favorite).
Penstemon is also a tried and true, long-lasting flowering perennial and pollinators flock to it.
Your garden is buzzing with hummingbirds, bees and butterflies. Do you have a favorite pollinator-friendly plant?
I do. Two favorites, actually. Crocosmia and Salvia ‘Hot Lips’.
All paths lead to the greenhouse.
Do you have any tips for beginner gardeners that you wish you had known when you first started?
Don’t run right out and start buying plants, although it doesn’t hurt to start making lists of what you would like to have.
When you start designing your planting beds, remember the form and line elements. It’s better to have four or five kinds of plants (with three to five of each), rather than one of this of each. Avoid the “onesie” garden. Make “drifts” with like plants, rather than polka-dot one of this or that in the bed – put the like-plants together.
The one caveat is, the “one plant” may be a specimen tree; i.e. an unusual Japanese maple or Hinoki cypress, for example.
I would say, if your home is new, don’t rush into anything! Live in your home for a while and determine how you are going to use the space.
Drive through neighborhoods that look well landscaped, but don’t linger too long. When I was in school I pulled up in front of a house and was taking pictures when the lady came to the front door – I was afraid she was going to call the police!
Scour Pinterest for landscape design ideas and make note on what catches your eye. There are lots of ideas our there – choose the forms, lines, colors that speak to you!
No matter how you find your inspiration, even if it’s at a garden nursery, you can create a beautiful space for yourself, your friends and family, with a few simple garden elements.