Friday, February 3, 2023

NPA Study Weekend; Daniel Sparler and Jeff Schouten’s Garden of Exuberant Refuge

Of all the gardens on the NPA Study Weekend tours this is the one I was most excited about seeing. I don't remember exactly when I became aware of Daniel Sparler and Jeff Schouten’s garden, but I knew there were a lot of interesting plants and an "exuberant" design—I couldn't wait to check it all out. Fair warning: this is going to be another long post with over 60 photos. Here we go...

In their words (from the tour booklet): "Exactly 30 years ago Daniel Sparler and Jeff Schouten acquired the rectangular, nearly empty canvas upon which their exuberant collector’s garden gradually emerged in Seattle’s balmy Seward Park neighborhood. At the outset the interior was a blank slate of grim, moribund lawn ringed by a perimeter of overgrown conifers. Bit by bit they filled the void with choice plants from all corners of the globe, built several structures (all with their own hands) and network of pathways to link the patios, shady resting spots, a pond with dripping columns, a viewing pavilion and tiled, Italianate "piazza.

Aeonium are a favored plant here, and even though the garden is described as "balmy" by Seattle standards they are still not reliably hardy.

It's always nice to see a familiar face when entering a new garden, here are Linda and Chet of Flicker Farm on Sauvie Island back in Oregon.

I started down several pathways off the sunny drive but kept turning around and heading back, usually becasue there were groups of people heading towards me. It was kind of nice to duck in and out of the garden that way as I became acquainted with it.

Let's see where that pathway takes us...

Oh! I love this...

Back in the driveway again...

Now heading down another pathway, this one nearest the house.

I have a hard time just tossing the fruit from my Trachycarpus fortunei, it's so impressive I want to honor it in someway, this vignette did so wonderfully. 

This! I keep experimenting with rooting various epiphytes into the trunks of my palms, here Daniel has stuck in pieces of an epiphyllum, I love it! My biggest regret about this kind of thing is that when the cold weather hits I have to pull the rooted plant, or let it stay in place and possibly (likely) perish.

Pro-tip, trim your palm fronds leaving enough of a stem behind to hang things from.

The garden was packed with admiring visitors, I don't know how I managed to photograph this pathway with no people.

Ditto here! This shot really helps to illustrate just how large the garden is, all this and we're still in the front garden.

Starting to walk around the north side of the house now.

My visit was in June, but we were still enjoying the lush rain-fueled springtime growth.

Tree ferns!

Now I'm switching things up rather dramatically. We've flipped to the sunny south side of the house and I'm being treated to a personal tour around the garden by Daniel himself. On the left is the bloom stalk from an Agave havardiana that bloomed in 2020. On the right, well that's a magnificent Pseudopanax  crassifolius with it's adult foliage.  

The mostly cloudy sky made it very difficult to get a good photo, white-out conditions didn't allow the color and textures of this (rarely seen in US) New Zealand tree to really shine.

This however seems like a good time to note that Daniel and Jeff's plant collection includes upwards of 4600 distinct taxa; perennials, shrubs and trees—many of which hail from the Southern Hemisphere. Also, Daniel serves on the board of the Northwest Horticultural Society, teaches botanical Latin, and is the author of the digital newsletter Horticulturally Yours, which is available on the NHS Website.

Last May the title of the newsletter was Playing Possum with Pseudopanax, where Daniel wrote about about a few of our favorite plants (even linking to one of my blog posts) that appear to be, well, dead. Naturally Pseudopanax crassifolius and P. ferox were the focus. If you're curious about these unusual plants you really should read the article.

I'll cut to the chaise here though and share that this nicely trunking 20-year old specimen has bloomed and produced fruit, which...

Has resulted in... seedlings! It's a bit of a mystery exactly how this came to be, as, in Daniels's words: "Pseudopanax is supposed to be dioecious, meaning separate male and female plants, which in theory requires at least two mature specimens to produce fertile seed. I have only one P. crassifolius. Hmmm."

He potted up and grew on several of those seedlings and had them displayed, along with allium blooms. on a table. See the one with the white tag? Guess whose name is on that tag! (squeee!!!!!)

In addition to the mature Pseudopanax crassifolius, there are three Pseudopanax ferox of varying sizes in the garden...

Including one that refused to grow and was shamed with the name Petulant Piker in Daniel's newsletter, which of course spurred it to action and it put on a nice spurt of growth in time for the next edition of the newsletter.

Okay, enough about the pseudopanax, how about some flowers? I crushed hard on this lovely Iris variegata. Isn't it simply perfect?

Ditto for the Grevillea rosmarinifolia.

Since the garden description specified that the several structures around the garden were built with their own hands, I'm assuming Daniel and Jeff poured the forms to make the many columns throughout the garden.

And I did a bit of a double take when I saw this structure! It's nearly a twin to our shade pavilion, only the roof angle tilts in the opposite direction.

This dreamy tiled pond had developed a leak and so wasn't filled with water during my visit.

A glass agave atop a column marks the location of a pair of real agaves.

Yep, I am spacing the name* of this fabulous foliage. I think it's the same plant I lusted after in Dan Hinkely's garden and asked about. Dan went hunting through his stock to see if he had one to sell me, but sadly came up empty handed. (*update, it's Olearia ilicifolia, thanks Sound Gardener)

Bromeliads! If I were to have a mental list of plants I check off when visiting a garden—kind of a test to see just what sort of gardener I'm dealing with—there definitely needs to be bromeliads. 

What else? Well agaves, of course.

And pyrrosia! The trifecta has been achieved.

Here I'm standing on the steps of a side entrance to the house and looking out at the back garden. That's the bloomed out Agave havardiana stalk and you can see a bit of the Pseudopanax crassifolius in the upper right corner.

Signage for anyone curious about the agave bloom (read about it here)

Love those flat-top Aeonium tabuliforme.

And the variegated Agave victoriae-reginae.

There were so many good looking aeoniums throughout the garden.

Have you been keeping track of just how many containers I've shared with you in this post? Are you wondering where the greenhouse is? 

Well, there is not a greenhouse. Something I that didn't occur to me as I was touring. It wasn't until going through my photos on a cold January day that it hit me—what does he do with all of these plants in the winter? So I sent off an email asking just that. In true Daniel form I got an excellent response with lists and photos. I have to share his reply but since this post is already 63 photos long there will be an appendix post tomorrow, Saturday. You won't want to miss it if you too struggle with over wintering plants in pots.

One last shot of the Pseudopanax crassifolius...

Before I share photo of the south side of the house where a planting of large specimen succulents is snuggled up against against a brick wall.

Pretty remarkable, am I right? 

I love how the spiky guy at the end is allowed to crowd the walkway. Visitors had better be careful!

One more spiky plant as this most excellent visit draws to a close, the lovely blood red thorns of Rosa sericea ssp. omeiensis f. pteracantha, the wingthorn rose. 

What a garden, thanks so much for the tour Daniel...

...and for the baby Pseudopanax crassifolius! 

Be sure to tune in tomorrow for the bonus post!

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All material © 2009-2023 by Loree L Bohl for danger garden. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited and just plain rude.


  1. The plant with the great foliage looks like Olearia ilicifolia. This was my favorite garden during the study weekend; I'd love to see how different it looks tucked up for winter compared to its summer exuberance.

    1. Thanks for the plant ID, I love that foliage! I hope you get a chance to look at today's container storage post.

  2. What a garden! I'm sure you were in heaven and I'd have been there too. That's one plant-packed space with gorgeous, healthy foliage. I loved all the gargoyles - just the right amount to be interesting without becoming overwhelming. I appreciated the cat on a pedestal too, as well as the healthy collection of Aeoniums. I even liked the Pseudopanax, and that's the first time I've ever said that. Could the plant with interesting foliage and small daisy flowers in photo #41 be an Olearia?

    1. It is an olearia, Olearia ilicifolia. His aeonium collection would definitely be right at home in your garden.

  3. I was there last year, too - what an amazing garden!! Daniel's blog posts, videos and magazine articles are's a wonder he has time to garden with all the things he is involved with. YouTube randomly sent me his 2-years-ago video of a salvia this morning so it's a strange coincidence that your post came up on my screen too

    1. Don't you love it when that happens? The gardening stars align!

  4. Hmmm, it looks like a great collection of plants to me rather than a garden.

    I kept seeing loads of lovely plants (mostly in pots), but I don't think that I saw any lawn.

    Don't get me wrong, I am more into plants than lawn, but I do like a bit of the green stuff.

    I am curious to see how they overwinter the borderline hardy plants :)

    1. That's an interesting take on the garden Adam. I'd put your observations down to my way of showcasing it then. Well, except for the lawn situation. There was a bit, but I didn't bother to photograph it.

  5. Gorgeous garden. So many cool plants you could spend hours just wandering. It reminds be a bit of Lewis and Little's garden with the tall colourful columns and a bit like Heronswood with the tropical plants. A gorgeous fusion of plants and hardscaping.

    1. "A gorgeous fusion of plants and hardscaping"... yes! You sum it up well Elaine.

  6. For my taste and zone, I was in heaven at the second photo. Just dreamy.

    1. Isn't that vignette fantastic? The colors just pop!

  7. douglas e BallingerFebruary 04, 2023

    cool garden great photos

    1. Thanks Doug, hard to take a bad photo with so much beauty all around (kind of like your garden in that way).

  8. Seeing a garden like this makes me realize that I probably could be happy gardening in a climate significantly colder than where I live now. So much lushness! Of course from your other post I now know how many plants overwinter inside...

  9. Amanda HunsbergerApril 19, 2023

    I am a Seattle local. How can I visit this garden? I can't find an address or phone number online to find it.

    1. It is a private garden, so you need to visit as part of an organized tour. You might consider joining the NPA:

    2. Amanda HunsbergerApril 19, 2023

      Thank you very much!


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