Deb Alder’s Garden Shed and Garden

Some garden sheds are lined with tools. Some garden sheds are overflowing with bags of soil and terracotta pots. Some garden sheds are catchalls for lawn mowers and barbecues.

And then there is Deb Alder’s garden shed, best described as a home away from home fashioned with an artist’s eye and a large dose of imagination.

Deb designed the shed.  A team of friends and relatives, including husband, Jeff and son, Madison put it together over the course of two years. The shed is a roomy 12’x14’ mini-house complete with comfy chair, heat and even cable. It’s “Deb’s World”.

With the exception of some siding, a few shingles and one window, everything in and out of the shed is made from repurposed or recycled materials. The front door is from a second hand store in Yelm.  The potting bench was used for 20 years at a local nursery. IMG_7967


What began as a regular gardening shed has evolved into a mini cottage with all the charm of a playhouse. It sits on a small terraced and densely landscaped 4-foot “hill” in a small neighborhood backyard complete with arched entrance. Deb calls the path that leads to the little hill her “rock welcome mat”.

The original intention was simple, the shed should house everything except a lawn mower…and from there it took on a life of its own.

A wooden retaining wall creates an upper terraced garden on three sides of the house. A lower, one rock high, wall was built from “Washington potatoes”, rocks collected from areas cleared to build the shed.

IMG_7964The small-scale landscape around the shed includes a collection of miniature hostas with names like Hosta ‘Itty Bitty’, H.Tiny Tears and H. Pandora’s Box with another collection of sedums and sempervivums spread just below the wood wall. Deb planted more than 200 perennials in the rest of the upper and lower terraces, 200 “different” perennials. Three of each is the rule but with that designer/nurseryman’s rule you forgo variety. Such a small-scale landscape lends itself to the “one of each” method.

Mini Hosta Collection

Mini Hosta Collection

Mixed in with the perennials are a few well-placed shrubs, bulbs, annuals and pretty volunteers like “Johnny Jump-ups” and Cerinthe.  The effect is a year round explosion of color in flower and form. This year Deb is trying out Tagro, Tacoma’s magic elixir compost. So far, the plant areas covered with Tagro have not been devoured by slugs or destroyed by squirrels. Coincidence?

The shed sits above the terraces and is complete with an old  bench on the ample front porch, a perfect perch to sit and survey the little, jam-packed landscape. The side of the shed is “screened in” with tall bamboo. No, not THAT bamboo. This bamboo is “Green Panda”, a non-invasive clumping bamboo that screens but doesn’t run.


And then, there is the inside of the garden shed… It’s “Deb’s World”.


Above the door hangs a carousel horse! The floor is covered with a vintage well-worn Oriental carpet used for 23 years in the retired garden shop where Deb volunteered.  The shelves are made from bulb and fruit crates from the same shop.

The artwork displayed in the crates and on the walls (yes, plenty of artwork) is either something Deb made herself, or art purchased from South Sound farmer’s markets and local artists, including a favorite crow tile from tilest Claudia Reidner from Ixia Tile Tacoma.

Pots with blackbirds, a birdhouse by a local craftsman and a British tin for seeds complete that corner.

Each wall mounted bulb and fruit crate has its own theme. One is filled with a collection of brass nozzles, one has small replicas of hands and one crate has a dial from an old telephone, the brass bells (the ringer) that were inside the old phone and a large light bulb with a kinetic spinner inside that takes off when the light hits. With Deb’s eye for detail, odds and ends are turned into little pieces of art.

Her prized possession is a rice container that her mom purchased from a man who sold his wares door to door to the local Japanese community. It’s one of those items that we all have in our lives…monetarily worth very little but never replaceable.

A reading corner near a window has ready access to garden books. A $2 chair from Goodwill fits in perfectly. IMG_8125

An opposite wall has bits and pieces of old garden tools displayed on a “rediscovered” red door found when they tore apart an old garage to make way for the shed.

One side of the shed is devoted to Deb’s other passion, her clever crafting. Right now she is making jewelry from repurposed spoons and beads she has collected over the years. Her current crafting “favorite thing” is a proudly displayed dremel kit.

Beads and thousands of “lucky stars” (tiny origami) fill up vases, bowls and jars throughout the shed.


Every corner has a theme and every item tells a story. One look at it isn’t nearly enough. It’s “Deb’s World”. Anyone who visits comes away a little happier and a little inspired.

Spring, Collecting Coleus and “Fine Foliage” by Salwitz and Chapman


      It’s finally here. South Sound gardeners wait all year for this. Now is when most of our gardens really shine. Rain is plentiful, sunshine and warmer weather arrive and nurseries are full. April/May is an explosion of much appreciated color and the prelude to months of plant, sow, weed and harvest. A collective sigh.








Annuals…not a dirty word

IMG_1765 Perennials have replaced annuals in popularity for the past several years primarily because they “come back”. As perennial popularity has grown,  “annual-love” has faded. Geraniums and impatiens are the exceptions.

Now we find out the go-to shade tolerant Impatiens walleriana (the ones most commonly planted) might be hard to find this year because of a nasty disease (downy mildew) sweeping the country. Hold on! We have a new annual to take its place… “SunPatiens”. They look like the regular impatiens but have much larger flowers. “SunPatiens” grow in full sun or part shade, rain or shine from spring until frost. They come in red, pink, purple, white and orange and grow 13”-24”. These are a “must try” but not before nighttime temps stay above 40.

 Collecting Coleus

      An annual that is rivaling the crazed Heuchera collectors is the Coleus. Yes, it’s not going to “come back” but oh, the choices!  At last count more than 20 varieties are available locally but there are hundreds more out there.

Coleus have been described as kaleidoscopic and stained-glass-like because of their wild multicolored leaves. They grow in sun and part shade depending on the variety. They take moist, well-drained soil and a high nitrogen fertilizer. Much like the Heucheras, they are grown more for the foliage than the flowers. For every wild-colored Heuchera there is an equally wild-colored Coleus. The most popular Coleus are Palisandra (dark maroon), Copper Queen (rust with chartreuse edging), Limelight (bright green), Tartan (green, burgundy, cream and hot pink) and Fack (deep purple with pencil-thin green edging).

Both “SunPatiens” and Coleus are perennials in zone 10 so if you are REALLY good with houseplants, these would work.

   “Fine Foliage” by Chapman and Salwitzfine-foliage-web-300x300

“Fine Foliage: Elegant Plant Combinations for Garden and Container” by Karen Chapman and Christina Salwitz is a small book with a big agenda…how to use foliage in garden design.

Have you ever admired a beautiful garden or well-planted container and thought, “what makes this so appealing?” It just looks right. Well, much of the time the secret ingredient is foliage.

Reading that you are supposed to mix texture, color and form sounds reasonable but…show me! That’s where “Fine Foliage” delivers. Examples of foliage use in containers and gardens are backed up with the “why” of foliage use as well as the what.

“Fine Foliage” is divided into 36 themed combinations for sun and 25 for shade. Each combination is supported with information about site, seasonal interest, soil requirements and zones. Beyond that Chapman and Salwitz explain why the combination works.

Across from each planting is a list of the foliage used ( genus, species and variety included) and why it works.  The combinations would be easy to repeat but the information in the book is so well presented that you’ll have plenty of confidence to do it yourself.

Authors Karen Chapman and Christinea Salwitz are local Seattle area designers.

St. Lynn’s Press, 140 pages, $16.95,