Gorgeous Gardens – #5 Vision of Paradise


Written By: Phil Wood

When Gary and Kerri Wood purchased a 40-year-old home in Seattle on a bluff above the Puget Sound, they knew that they wanted to update a tired landscape. The previous owner’s taste ran to expanses of lawn, a sprawl of junipers, and gumdrop-pruned trees and shrubs. The new owners envisioned a garden with year-round interest, bringing in the look of an exuberant meadow framing the dramatic view of the blue water and majestic mountains beyond.

In addition to its timeworn appearance, the garden did not function well. The existing outdoor patios were miniscule. Extending the paving made them more spacious. The old and new concrete was covered with Arizona flagstone, which matched the existing stone on the exterior walls of the house. One terrace, just off the kitchen, offers a view o both the garden and the sea. Sheltered from the prevailing winds by the house, it offers a comfortable spot for outdoor dining.

The warm pink tones of the sandstone were carried into the garden as stepping-stones. The same stone is used on garden walls, including one that surrounds an aboveground spa, giving it a custom look that blends it into the garden.

The spa required privacy from neighbors. The dense foliage of plume cypress (Cryptomeria japonica ‘Elegans’) provides both the screening and winter interest. The feathery green foliage turns to bronze in the winter, emphasizing the seasonal change.

The many mal-pruned plants in the garden were either removed or allowed to escape from their straight jackets into more graceful shapes.

New beds were sculptured out of the lawn. Gary was reluctant to part with any of his greensward because he like to entertain nieces and nephews with an egg hunt in the yard on Easter. Room was left for that as new beds were added slowly over time. Now he appreciates the richness the new plants bring.

The plants soften the boundary with the neighbor and were chosen to stay low to the ground so that they won’t grow up into the view. New plants were also selected to give a variety of foliage texture and color as well as bloom, and a combination of both deciduous and evergreen leaves so that many of the plants have a winter presence. The plant selection leans toward low water use. Even though the Pacific Northwest has a reputation as a place where it rains all the time, summers are quite dry. Choosing plants from other wet-winter/dry-summer regions assures that plants will flourish with little water once established. Those regions include the Mediterranean, South Africa, Chile, and Australia.

Lavender, native to the Mediterranean, explodes with rockets of purple bloom in the summer, and the silvery leaves add year-round texture, repeated by other silver-toned plants, including blue oat grass, looking like a soft sea urchin. The orbs of globe thistle (Echinops ritro) sit atop foliage that continues the silver theme.

The intriguing flowers of Jeruselum sage (Phlomis russelliana) parch on the stems to form tiers of soft yellow. The seed heads that follow last all winter, slowly fading to from blond to brunet. Picking up on the yellow theme, cape fuchsia (Phygelius xrectus) from South Africa covers itself with lemon-colored tubular flowers, showy from midsummer until fall.

The pink crepe-paper flowers of Lavatera luxuriantly drape themselves all along the stems, resembling a miniature hollyhock. Euphorbia offers evergreen texture, with leaves radiating cleanly out from the center of the stem and showy green flowers in spring. Another perennial with marvelous foliage, Phlox paniculata ‘Nora Leigh’ has green leaves edged in cream that echo similar tones, including the variegated foliage of a creeping ground cover, Moonshadow euonymus.

The pink and white flowers of Mexican daisy (Erigeron karvinskianus) bloom all summer. The low mounds of this little perennial, spangled along the front of the border, have the ability to tie the whole composition together. Shrubs bring blooms too. The pink buds of Korean spice bush (Viburnum carlesii) open to white clusters of scented flowers. Hydrangeas flower in the shade on the north side of the house along the path that leads up to the upper patio. Hostas flourish at their base, adding bold leaves and delicate summer blooms.

Rhododendrons are indispensable garden plants in the Northwest. They need a bit of extra water to get them established. Rhododendron PJM brings purplish-pink flowers in spring, blooming when the foliage still has the mahogany color it develops in the winter. Its compact size, to 4 feet, allows it to fit well into the borders.

Ornamental grasses express the wind t hat often blows on this exposed site. Grasses also add fine linear texture to contrast with other leaf shapes. The seed heads of Chinese silver grass (Miscanthus sinensis) turn golden in the fall and stay attractive through the winter. Looking like the topknow on an English sheep dog, the mounds of golden variegated Japanese sedge (Carex morrowii ‘Aureovariegata’) flow gracefully among the shrubs and perennials.

A stepping stone path wanders through one of the beds and t hen widen to a paved circle to provide a passage and also structure to the composition, giving a backbone to the exuberant plants.

A friend describes the garden as a flow between heaven and earth, between clouds and water. They have achieved their vision of paradise.