APLDWA Featured Designer:
Jonathan Morse

North Shore Garden Design
Member since 2010

This quarter we welcome Jonathan Morse as APLD Washington’s featured designer. We hope you enjoy Jonathan’s story and this focus on his projects.

Hillside meadow planting
A hillside meadow garden in Dockton, Washington, is alive with birds throughout the year.
(All photos by Jonathan Morse)

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

Headshot of Jonathan Morse
Jonathan Morse
of North Shore Garden Design
After a number of years of preparatory work, I launched North Shore Garden Design – a design-build-maintenance company – fulfilling a lifelong dream to create beautiful and sustainable residential gardens. My work at North Shore Garden Design serves clientele in the Vashon Island market. I offer everything from simple design consultations or irrigation installation and repair to full design and installation of landscapes, complete with ongoing maintenance services to ensure the garden matches its intended vision as it matures.

My interest in design and gardens seeded itself in my childhood when I would spend time tending my family’s gardens. I have fond memories of seeing a planted seed grow into a robust plant in my mother’s vegetable garden. My youthful interests in gardening were further cultivated by Sunday afternoons spent watching “The Victory Garden” on PBS.

As an adult, I chose to explore both landscape architecture and horticulture education, which led to nearly two decades working in the horticulture industry. Years of work in horticulture broadened my appreciation and understanding of the diversity and complexity of the plant world. It was this foundation of horticulture, along with my passion for art, design, and the creation of beauty, that drew me to landscape design.

orange and yellow.perennials
Yarrow, Kniphofia, Martagon Lilies, and Eremerus create a warm and vibrant streak of oranges and yellows in a hillside meadow planting.

Hillside Meadow
Bold colors and textures create a vibrant composition when viewed from a high vantage point in a hillside meadow.

Who inspires you and your designs?

I view a new design opportunity much like a painter views a blank canvas. It is no wonder that I am so inspired by the works of the English landscape artist Gertrude Jekyll. Jekyll started her life as an artist. Later in life, as she developed myopia, she began to focus on garden design. Her planting style was characterized by broad strokes of color and texture. In 2006, I spent three weeks traveling through southern England visiting gardens she had designed. That experience left a lasting impression on how I view landscapes, particularly the temporal nature of the landscape. On that journey I saw gardens, like Hestercombe, for example, that had been conceived more than a century previous by Jekyll and architect Sir Edward Lutyens withstanding the tests of a century of change. Undoubtedly, Hestercombe in 2006 was changed from its original form. But the structure of beauty was still present, and the powerful forces of nature had manifested even more. On a towering stone wall, lavender and Erigeron daisy had seeded into cracks and crevices as the space had weathered over time. The initial design was driven by vision, but over time it was the task of the garden’s stewards to nurture that vision and allow it to adapt to changing times and conditions.

plants soften paving edges
An entry garden “remodel” left the strong patterns of an existing aggregate concrete paving while softening the surfaces with new plantings.

Patio and firepit
A patio and firepit nestled into meadow plantings provide a gathering space for entertaining and enjoying views of Quartermaster Harbor.

How would you describe your design style?

I try to approach my design work with openness and adaptability as much as I can. In my initial meetings with prospective clients, I like to get a sense of whether my company is going to be a good match. Do we have similar goals with the landscape? Are we going to be able to meet the client’s expectations of timeliness? We are a small firm and balancing maintenance needs is always a priority over installations. North Shore Garden Design services many irrigation systems, and there is nothing like an irrigation emergency that will make you drop everything. We also maintain and install landscapes without the use of synthetic chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and insecticides. We want our clients to know that we are committed to stewarding our environment. During initial consultations, I also try to understand the client’s long-term commitment to the cultivation and care of their landscape. I want to be sure that the design and services that we offer align with the client’s physical and financial capabilities.

wildlife habitat in meadow planting
Meadow plantings provide year-round drama and habitat for birds and insects.

What experiences as a designer have you found to be most challenging?

The most challenging part of my work is aligning vision with reality. These days, there are so many mediums from which we are fed images of beautiful and ideal landscapes. What we see in those images is always a garden in its best state. What a picture does not reveal is the work that goes into creating that garden. And weeds always look smaller in a photo! Another designer that has inspired me over the years is Piet Oudolf. His gardens are known for their natural look and year-round interest; they have a degree of wildness. However, that level of wildness is highly orchestrated and requires a great deal of management to maintain the design vision over time. I do not offer one stop shopping for a landscape. When taking on a new client, I am hoping that it is the beginning of a relationship that will see my design be realized in its mature form. The service I offer is very much an orchestration of beauty over time.

Alpine garden
A xeriscaped entry featuring a raised trough of succulents dripping into the alpine garden planting.

Which experiences have you found to be most rewarding?

I find the most reward in my work when go back to a garden that I have designed a number of years later to see it in maturity. There are times when the transformation of a landscape as the result of our work is so extraordinary that I can hardly picture what the home was like before I arrived. Ideally, I would be given free reign for my design creativity, but I know that every client has wants and needs for which they come to me. I prefer to meet clients via referral, having already seen and visited a project of mine. I do a lot of design on the fly, particularly with planting designs; something my horticultural background allows me to do. My design process includes initial consultation, rough plans, revisions, and a final plan. However, even with a final plan I find flexibility is always key. A landscape installation, particularly on an existing residence, is often like a home remodel. You don’t know what you are going to uncover! One time I found an existing gravel patio filled with nails, pea gravel, and sand 14 inches deep. Apparently, the previous homeowner had installed some concrete steps and then covered up the resulting detritus with gravel to make a patio. We had to excavate everything before starting our install.

front of home with path and arch with plantings
Bold patterns and lines draw out colors and materials used on this residence into the surrounding landscape.

Tell us about one of your favorite or most memorable projects.

My most memorable project has to be the Dubin-LeVasseur installation on the Burton peninsula. I had shown them three rough designs, and we were going over the ins and outs of each when they asked me which I liked the most. I told them, and that’s the one they have today. Because they had given me the freedom to express my creativity, I could pour my whole self into the work. I am always overjoyed to go back and tend that garden. It is a true vision-to-reality experience.

Woodland planting
Beds of rare woodland plants combined with native species blend the garden into the surrounding forest.

custom garden table with seats and paving
A custom table nestled under a Forest Pansy Redbud provides architectural continuity through the garden.

Jonathan Morse

North Shore Garden Design