Mari in the greenhouse at DIG Nursery on Vashon Island, WA.

A slice of "cake" fit for a fairy.

A slice of "cake" fit for a fairy.

So fun to be back at the show, with a crazy idea come to life!

So fun to be back at the show, with a crazy idea come to life!

Mari Malcolm, Lusher Life Maker

I'll be honest: designing with flowers and plants isn't my full-time gig. Like so many in Seattle, I spend most of my waking hours solving interesting problems for a fast-growing tech company.

But when the weekend rolls around, this is my great creative passion. When I take on a project for someone other than me, I make sure it's uniquely awesome. I love talking possibilities, but I'm very selective about what I say yes to, because I want to make sure I can give it all the attention it needs (while still tending my own garden and preserving that all-important work-life balance).

I try to make all my designs look as if they could have naturally happened, in some fantastical setting. But I'm also meticulous about the details. The containers and vessels I most enjoy using have a patina of use and a history. I've amassed a sizable collection of handmade and vintage wood, metal, and ceramic objects from estate sales and thrift shops that I use for custom compositions.

If you're dreaming of a special container garden for your home (inside or out), thinking about a gift, or planning a party that needs some super-natural plant action, let's talk: shoot me an email at marimalcolm@lusherlife.com.

More About Me

To quote the immortal Dolly Levi, I have always been a woman who arranges things.

I grew up exploring the woods and beaches of the Olympic Peninsula and the San Juan and Gulf Islands. My dad (a teacher, photographer, naturalist, and ardent amateur garden designer) taught me names and ways of everything that lived there. He showed me the importance of paying attention to even the tiniest bits of beauty. I can't remember not being a forager, collector of treasures, bouquet maker.

Fresh out of school, I found myself at a computer in a dim cubicle for most of my waking hours. I longed for light, air, soil, and everything those elements fed. I amassed books on garden making and dreamed of creating living spaces. My aunt Kathryn Crosby's cliff-side garden on Vashon Island was a revelatory blend of native plants and unusually beautiful hardy perennials from all over the world. She invited me into her world of garden designers, plant explorers, breeders, and passionate gardeners, and I rode shotgun on exploratory jaunts up and down the West Coast.

In 2005, I spent a month at the Bullock's Permaculture Homestead on Orcas Island, learning the fundamentals of deeply sustainable garden design. I returned with the courage to plant my first garden with my then-husband, metal sculptor Andrew Malcolm, whose keen eye and tireless digging were essential to the project.

In 2009, the garden appeared on HGTV’s Gardening by the Yard, with Andrew welding and me demonstrating succulent container planting techniques.

Soon after, Debra Lee Baldwin included some of my succulent designs in her marvelous book, Succulent Container Gardens

During this era, I was Senior Editor of Lifestyle Books at Amazon.com--a role I relished, but one that demanded I maximize my moments of personal time in order to keep up some gardening momentum. My monthly strategy sessions with the phenomenally knowledgeable Robin Haglund of Garden Mentors were essential. In 2010, we welcomed 850 people into the garden in one day on the West Seattle Garden Tour.

Sharing the garden was so exciting that I decided to create a container display for the 2011 Northwest Flower & Garden Show (with major structural support from Andrew).

I was thrilled when the display won an award. Here's what the judges had to say:

Mari Malcolm launched her “Lusher Life Project” at the show, with a garden titled “Seaside Succulents.” Mari mixed flotsam and treasures from the Puget Sound with a profusion of hardy and tender succulents, tucked in vintage crates and tins. It was a beautiful way to show how reusing items, and reimagining new uses for items, can enhance a design. “This garden helped me rethink about what can be used for a container in my own work,” explained Tina. “The details were amazing. Even the tiniest barnacle held a plant. They were really inventive in showing how items can be used in completely new ways, which was why they won the Best Re-Characterization award.”

Two weeks after the show, as I was considering quitting my job to make the leap to full-time container garden designer, I got a nasty surprise: a diagnosis of Stage III breast cancer. After five months of chemo, a mastectomy, and three months of daily radiation, I emerged cancer-free.

During this extremely trying time, Andrew and I parted ways. I'm thankful that he continues to tend the garden and create cool art, furniture, and medical devices in his studio in West Seattle.

Over the next few years, I flew twice to the Breast Center in New Orleans for a second mastectomy and new breasts that wouldn't try to kill me. I just celebrated three years of being cancer-free and have started breathing a little easier!

I'm currently at work/play on a new pocket garden and studio space at my compact "Pockethaus" in Seattle’s Phinneywood neighborhood.

In fall of 2014, I started collaborating on container designs with Sylvia Matlock at DIG Nursery on Vashon Island, where I'll be teaching a succulent container workshop in June 2015, in their wonderful greenhouse. Reach more about my succulent containers in this Seattle Times article by Valerie Easton.

I was thrilled to return to the Northwest Flower & Garden Show this year with my Woodland Wedding Cake (inspired in part by a workshop with the fantastic Francoise Weeks), which won Second Place and the People's Choice Award in the Floral competition. I look forward to creating planted "cakes" for real weddings and birthdays.