The perfectly arranged garden

How to make every detail count. Plus: four great ideas from this garden
Jim McCausland

"Gardening is the slowest of the performing arts," writes garden historian Mac Griswold. She knows that a garden's parts go in one rock and one plant at a time, and the real goal is a grand show that develops later. Katherine Heitzman understands this too ― and knows that attention to detail is what makes the eventual show a hit.

Although Katherine is meticulous about planting, weeding, and clipping, she's fanatical about hardscape details (patios, paths, and accents). "I want the unseeable ― the parts hidden by plants and perspective ― to be as nice as the seeable," she says.

When she couldn't find steppingstones in the right color, she made her own out of tinted concrete. To get perfect containers and columns, she and her husband, Jerry, made those too.

Now that the garden in Orting, Washington, has grown in, the Heitzmans only have to step outside to see a show that gets better each day.

Four great ideas from this garden

1. Put plants up high, where you can see them. Atop matching pillars, Mexican feather grass spills out of hand-thrown pots like a fountain.

2. Make your own pillars. To create the 42-inch-tall supports (top right), the Heitzmans covered plywood boxes with roofing paper, flashing, and stucco.

3. Float pavers in a sea of plants. In the circular breakfast patio (top left), spaces between the bricks support 'Elfin' thyme, which releases its scent when crushed underfoot. Patio pavers in front are separated by New Zealand brass buttons ( Leptinella squalida). Concrete steppingstones leading to the house's rear deck are set into the lawn.

4. Put small trees in big pots; they add a markedly Mediterranean flavor to the garden. Katherine grows Chinese windmill palm ( Trachycarpus fortunei), Italian cypress, and dwarf Alberta spruce ( Picea glauca albertiana 'Conica') in pots at least 18 inches wide.