Duelling gardens, Seattle, Washington

Seattle gardeners, Jim and Suzette Birrell (with grand-sprout)

The great thing about the private gardens we visited during the 2011 Garden Bloggers’ Fling in Seattle, Washington, was that they were all designed and maintained by the homeowners, themselves. It’s inspiring to see the work of professional garden designers (which some of the homeowners were), but it’s also fascinating to see labours of love which speak to the true meaning of the word amateur.

The first two gardens were next door neighbours. While I call them “duelling gardens” in the title, I doubt that they duel – no more than any two avid gardeners. Instead, I’m thinking of our British-born mum, who’d have pronounced it “jewelling.” Each, in its very distinctive way, was a garden jewel.

Interestingly, I preferred the garden of Shelagh Tucker, whose front garden was inspired by Beth Chatto’s Gravel Garden and whose back garden was composed of flowery garden rooms accented by salvaged stonework. My husband preferred the more practical and open approach of the Birrells next door, with their vegetable beds and constructed pergolas, fences, and a stunning blue shed. Well, I think we all lusted after the shed.

It turns out that in the Birrell family – whose garden my husband preferred – the main gardener is Jim. I liked the garden created by Shelagh. This led me to wonder: is this gender divide coincidental, or are there male and female preferences in garden styles? I researched this question online, and found some discussions here and here. Now, take a look at the duelling slideshows. Then tell me: what do you think?

(For those of you who can’t view these slideshows on the iPad, I’ve embedded the links to the appropriate Flickr set into each of the titles below.)

The Birrells’ Garden:

Shelagh Tucker’s Garden:


  1. A lot of guys like to keep some lawn, so that might be why the Birrell garden appealed to your husband more. It was also much more of a "working" garden with the large veggie area and practical (also stunning) shed.

    Like you I preferred Shelagh's garden but not because I perceived it as more feminine. I liked it because it had a very strong design in front that would work beautifully in my own dry-gardening city (Austin), and I also loved meandering paths and garden rooms of the back garden.

    How wonderful for both of them to live next door to a fellow talented gardener. That can only serve to make each of them a better gardener.

  2. I preferred Shelagh's garden myself. I like the lines, the seating areas, the general flow of it all. The Birrell garden is appealing in its own right, with lovely shady beds. How wonderful to have such enthusiasts as neighbours to eachother. I would think it would foster a bit of a competitive environment as well as a cohesive one as they both obviously love to share their passion for the gardens they have painstakingly and lovingly brought to life.

  3. I just want to say you took marvelous photos. My husband rarely comes with me on garden tours, but in our own garden, he has definite flower preferences, and usually they do not line up with my own!

  4. I voted Shalagh's garden, 'Best in Show' I don't know where I shifted to preferring the dry garden, with meandering pathways and hidden areas. I used to have lawns but no longer. I'm a stone and gravel girl since moving to Austin. I have come to the conclusion that it is more representative of what is out there in nature. Of course, I love the flowers but rock and gravel give them the theater in which to perform.

  5. Thanks, everyone. It was a privilege to see all the Seattle gardens, and the local Fling committee outdid themselves creating a great event for everyone.

  6. Helen, I'm a little late getting here, but I'm going to upset the gender dynamic by preferring the Birrell garden. I think its palette appeals to me more (including the wonderful colors on that shed!). Your photos of both gardens are outstanding. -Jean

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