A Seattle urban garden sanctuary
The chaplain at Seattle Children's Hospital, who is developing ideas for healing gardens, has an eclectic and personal garden at his own house.
THOMAS ALLSOPP, priest, artist and garden designer, is a Renaissance man with a garden as classical as his aesthetics. Undeterred by a city lot barely larger than his little house, Allsopp has amassed columns, pots, statuary and dwarf evergreens in a way that lends year-round distinction to his Green Lake-area garden.
When I first visited Allsopp's garden more than a dozen years ago it was stuffed with not only plants but also recycled elements from angels to lanterns. The ambience was funky, and the little wine-colored house engulfed by the garden.
Allsopp's life has changed in the years since, and his travels and enthusiasms are reflected in his garden's pared down, more sophisticated aesthetic. He left his longtime job as chaplain at Bailey-Boushay House, has designed gardens for clients, taught drawing in Italy, house sat in France, shown his artwork in New York, Rome and Seattle galleries, and is now chaplain at Seattle Children's hospital, where he's developing ideas for healing gardens.
French formalism caught his fancy, especially the geometry and hedging. He set out to simplify his garden with layers of greenery and white, fragrant flowers. "I've taken up perennials and roses and planted little rows of boxwood until I'm green in the face," he says. Yet despite the newfound design aesthetic, the garden remains eclectic and personal. Touches of blue enrich the pared-down palette, and an old yellow rose passed on from Allsopp's grandmother still blooms every June.
Working on such a small scale has taught Allsopp that every detail is important. "Plants must thrive or go," he declares. Pots feature mostly textural evergreens — fluffy autumn ferns punctuated by columnar dwarf junipers (Juniperus communis 'Pencil Point'). Rather than creating vertical accents with tall, classic Italian cypress, Allsopp gets the same effect with narrow little evergreen sky pencils (Ilex crenata 'Sky Pencil'). Dwarf boxwood has as much effect as its larger cousins when you squeeze 60 of them into a tiny garden as Allsopp has somehow managed to do.
Allsopp links house and garden by orchestrating vignettes that work indoors and out. When you walk in the front door, you can see all the way through the house to the back porch, where diminutive French doors open to a lattice-backed mirror reflecting back the home's interior. "I don't have any view or privacy on this little lot," says Allsopp. So he's created views out the windows that reflect his love of classical elements. An oval frame hung inside a living-room window seems to magnify a bust of the Emperor Caracalla (the guy who started the Roman baths) elevated on a pedestal just outside the window. The dining-room window frames a view of a terra cotta torso. At night, the statuary is spotlighted for even more drama.
But what lingers in your memory is how harmoniously and clearly his garden expresses Allsopp's spirit and aesthetics.
Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer and author of "The New Low-Maintenance Garden." Check out her blog at www.valeaston.com. Mike Siegel is a Seattle Times staff photographer.
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