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Originally published Sunday, May 18, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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The Beauty of Basic | Heaven on a Hill

Designers Glenn Withey and Charles Price say by way of explaining the kaleidoscope of a garden that lights up Queen Anne Hill.

Planting for perennial perfume

Casey Margard loves fragrance as well as color, so Withey and Price planted for year-round scent. Witch hazels, mahonias and the shrubby evergreen tree Azara microphylla perfume chilly autumn and winter days, followed by daphnes, hyacinths and Osmanthus delavayi in spring. The garden explodes with fragrance in summer when the star jasmine, roses and lilies bloom. Big stands of freckle-faced 'Stargazer' lilies grow along the front staircase, their perfume drawing you up toward the house.

"Casey likes color," designers Glenn Withey and Charles Price say by way of explaining the kaleidoscope of a garden that lights up Queen Anne Hill.

Because I walk past this gift to the street every morning on my way up the hill for a cappuccino, I've long suspected these clever colorists had been at work in Casey and Jim Margard's garden. Who else would stud black mondo grass with deep purple hyacinths or march a phalanx of yellow striped yuccas up a rockery? A dark-leafed 'Royal Sunset' climbing rose tumbles over the garage roof, mounds of purple anemones and golden, orange-cupped narcissus line the front steps. And this is just the view from the street.

Up at the top of the stairs, containers bloom brightly in Casey's preferred color scheme of darkest purple and hottest orange. In springtime, Withey and Price stuff planters with orange violas, purple and violet hyacinths and double orange tulips. The contrasting color scheme continues into summer with coleus, geraniums and trailing petunias in the same riotous hues. The display is set against a privacy screen of white willows cut back every year to keep them in check.

The front patio looks out to a wide view of the Space Needle and Elliott Bay. Yet step around the corner of the old brick house and you're engulfed in the feel of the tropics. Despite the narrowness of the side yard, Withey and Price brought in a hedge of stately fan palms that lends privacy and scale to the house. They even planted a few appropriately named Tetrapanax 'Steroidal Giant' with tabletop-sized leaves.

At the back of the house, the tropics give way to a Mediterranean microclimate. Tons of honey-hued sandstone retain the steep hillside that rises sharply away from the house, paving and terracing it into a series of steps, terraces and patios. Inspired by their honeymoon in Crete and Jim's childhood in Albuquerque, the couple hired architect Louise Durocher to transform their back garden into a warm, sheltered retreat. The sandstone, chosen to blend with the brick on the old house, looks so natural it might have been carved from an ancient quarry rather than hauled up the front steps.

Every nook and cranny is planted with sedum, eucalyptus, lavender, yuccas, agaves. Rosemary, jasmine and ceanothus drape luxuriantly over the walls. Tomatoes, Italian honey figs and Asian pears ripen in the warm microclimate. Little terraces at various levels hold chairs and benches so the family can sit and soak up the sun reflecting off all the stone.

Creating a Mediterranean atmosphere on a steep Northwest city lot was no small matter. The only access to the property is up the front stairs, so all the excavated dirt needed to be carried down, and all the new stone and plantings carried up those steps.

About all that's left of the original garden is the front rockery and a few hinoki trees. "The old garden was a hodgepodge of generic plants," says Withey. Now the flora is anything but generic. The darkly tinted Tasmanian conifer Podocarpus lawrencii 'Purple King' grows into a Dr. Seuss-like shape. Parading along this steep, well-drained site are all manner of unusual plants, including olive trees, variegated osmanthus and a sweet-smelling hedge of daphne, named 'Moonlight' for its luminous leaves.

How to maintain such a richly planted garden?

"We work here weekly," says Charles Price. Glenn Withey adds, "Casey has a great eye, and she does love her garden."

Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer and author of "A Pattern Garden." Her e-mail address is valeaston@comcast.net. Jacqueline Koch is a freelance photographer based in Seattle.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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