APLDWA Featured Designer:
Heidi Coffee Skagen

Owner and Principal Designer of Coffee Grounds Garden Design, LLC
Member since 2014

This quarter Heidi Coffee Skagen is telling us her story—from mitigating a problematic steep slope to creating a 10-acre lavender farm.

When did you start designing gardens? Tell us about your path from then to now.

Heidi Coffee Skagen, designer and owner of Coffee Grounds Garden Design, sits on the patio in her garden surrounded by plants.
Heidi Coffee Skagen sitting in her garden.
All Photos: Heidi Coffee Skagen
In 2006 I was growing increasingly concerned about the integrity of the slope on my property. I had a structural engineer design a retaining wall to hold up the hillside. The process completely erased everything that had been there before. A blank slate! I got the chance to design my yard from below ground level on up. When it was done, I had a garden party to celebrate its completion. The process took a full year! The structural engineer who had designed the wall came and commented on how beautiful everything had turned out. He made the offhand remark, “Too bad you don’t do this for a living.”

I felt my life flash before my eyes. My mother regularly taking me as a child to the Los Angeles County Arboretum. Following my maternal farm-raised grandmother around as she harvested fruits and vegetables from her extensive garden. I was fascinated by my paternal grandmother and her greenhouse filled with exotic plants—the green floral decor with white trellis shelves I designed for my bedroom as a teen. The plant shelf my dad built for me to grow things in my window. My high school horticulture class teacher telling me how impressed he was with my project and that I had a future in that industry if I ever pursued it. Working with a bare-bones budget to make a beautiful garden when I was a young mother. But, despite all of the chaos I went through in 2006, the part that brought me the most peace and joy was designing and implementing the new landscape that resulted from that retaining wall.

A concrete pathway, featuring a natural boulder bench, winds through flowerbeds.
Boulder bench with a concrete path leading into the back garden.

Until that moment when my engineer friend made that comment, I had never thought about a career in horticulture and design. But then, I thought to myself, “Why don’t I do this for a living?” So I sought out the Edmonds Community College Landscape Design Program and enrolled.

I met such a wonderful variety of people (many are now a part of APLD!) from all walks of life. But, what we all had in common was our love for the plants and stewardship of our beautiful planet.

Photo of the construction of a concrete retaining wall and anchor in the author’s back yard.
Retaining wall and anchor being installed in Heidi’s back garden.

While in school, I started my business, Coffee Grounds Garden Design, LLC. That was over ten years ago, and I have loved it! Now, I’m taking my business in a different direction. I’ll be mainly designing for myself as I work on developing a lavender farm on the 10 acres where I currently live near Covington, WA.

Image of the garden with the completed retaining wall and a dining area surrounded by colorful plants.
Back garden after the retaining wall was completed.

How would you describe your design style?
My design style is definitely eclectic. I tend to follow the Japanese Shakkei (borrowed scenery) concept that includes incorporating the adjacent landscape into the composition of a garden. Since I live and design in the Northwest, I create gardens that may have rocks or boulders to represent the mountains; some kind of water aspect to represent the lakes and rivers; textures that capture the breeze, and plants whose fragrances waft through the air. At the same time, I want the design to meet the needs of the client’s lifestyle and exceed their expectations—a place where they can be at peace when they are by themselves, or confident and comfortable when hosting gatherings.

The author lays sod strips in her garden.
Heidi unrolling sod in her new garden.

Who inspires you and your designs?
My clients definitely inspire me! I want the gardens I design to reflect and bring out the very best of who they are. Sometimes they don’t even know those things about themselves until the garden is installed, and they realize that it is just what they have always needed.

My mom is also a huge inspiration to me. She started a community pocket park in a vacant lot near her home. It’s a place that the young and old from her neighborhood visit regularly. She is all about using gardens to help make the world a better place.

People are so diverse that each project is unique. I have never been bored with my career choice!

Photo of the author and a classmate sitting on a stone bench in a small neighborhood park.
Heidi and a classmate from the Horticulture program sitting on a bench they made for the pocket park Heidi’s Mom had installed in her neighborhood.

What experiences as a designer have you found to be most challenging?
The most challenging part of being a designer and having my own business, especially at the beginning, was learning about permitting and licensing, dealing with municipalities, billing, finding contractors, and paying taxes. It was (and still is!) a continual trial that I struggle with.

A small stone pagoda surrounded by a variety of ornamental grasses.
A stone pagoda in a client’s garden.

What experiences have you found to be most rewarding?
I love to bring concepts to my clients. I usually bring three, including a sketch of what each concept idea will look like if implemented. I bring one that is what the client thinks they want. Then, another that takes that idea and tweaks it by pushing the boundaries of their thinking. Then I bring one that is entirely different from what they thought. I like to guess which one I think they will like the most. It’s so fun to watch their faces light up when they see things they like. Sometimes I’m completely surprised by their choice, and other times I guess exactly right. Many times they end up choosing the one that is completely different from what they thought they wanted, and love the results.

I also love it when a client can implement my design right away so I can see it come off the paper and become reality. As Hannibal from the ‘A Team’ used to say, “I love it when a plan comes together!”

A gravel path with stairs that wind down through grasses to a client’s back garden.
Stairs descending to a client’s back garden.

What would your ideal project and client be?
An ideal client would be someone that is unencumbered by budget; is friendly and a good communicator; who gives me a blank slate to work with; loves my design and then has it installed right away.

A stone patio surrounded by colorful plantings overlooks Lake Washington.
A colorful garden overlooks Lake Washington.

Tell us about one of your favorite or most memorable projects.
I had a project overlooking Lake Washington. The clients had a reasonable budget and a mostly blank slate to work with. They were also super nice. I got to install high-quality materials that brought the design in my head to life instead of having to find less expensive alternatives. Back then, I did a lot of the installation myself. I thought I was so blessed to be working in such a beautiful space, in an environment with an amazing view, and implementing a design I had dreamed of for them. And, getting paid to do it!

Image of colorful grasses and perennials along a stepping stone path that features seating boulders.
A stone path leads to boulders that provide a place to sit and admire the garden.

These clients have also kept in contact with me over the years, and it has been a joy watching the landscape mature.

I’ve had a few clients who needed a design they could implement themselves over time. I love it when they send me pictures of their progress. These clients tend to keep their gardens up very well because they know firsthand all the work that went into putting it together. As a result, they take pride in their work, and enjoy their gardens in a deeply personal way.

An outdoor dining area surrounded by a raised veggie garden, a Grecian urn with succulents, and hydrangeas.
This patio is surrounded by a raised veggie garden, a Grecian urn with succulents and hydrangeas.

A pink and red colored mural on a public urban garden wall in Seattle that says Why not Grow? in a whimsical font.
This mural on a public urban garden wall in Seattle encapsulates Heidi’s lifestyle philosophy.

Heidi Coffee Skagen
Coffee Grounds Garden Design, LLC
206-300-9127 coffeegroundsgardendesign@gmail.com
Follow Heidi on: facebook.com/coffeegroundsgarden | instagram.com/coffeegroundsg