Christiansons grow charm at home and in the garden
John and Toni Christianson have infused Christianson's Nursery near Mount Vernon with the same vintage aesthetic that reigns at their historic farmhouse, orchard and garden a few miles away.
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THE WELL-WORN sheds and greenhouses at Christianson's Nursery near Mount Vernon are as great an attraction as the appealing assortment of plants for sale. And no wonder: John and Toni Christianson have infused their nursery with the same vintage aesthetic that reigns at their historic farmhouse, orchard and garden a few miles away.
The couple bought their nursery in 1990 and moved into their old house high on a Skagit Valley ridge in 1993. They've been scavenging, antiquing, remodeling, building, digging and planting ever since.
Built in 1871, the tall, peaked farmhouse exudes charm that spills out the door into the nearly two acres of gardens. Take one look at the golden foliages, drifts of fragrant white flowers, gazebo and dovecote aflutter with white doves and you understand why the Christiansons' display gardens at the Northwest Flower & Garden Show are big award winners. Elements from those crowd-pleasing gardens, including the "Mole's End" greenhouse from the 1995 show, have found a second (or probably third or fourth) life in their home garden.
The Christianson aesthetic is more than peeling paint and rusty tools. It's a genuine reflection of how the family lives and gardens. Whatever these two create skillfully taps into our warm-and-fuzzy collective memories. We're reminded of our Grandma's cottage garden, our Grandpa's potting shed, even if they never had them. Such nostalgia tugs at our heartstrings while offering a comforting glimpse into the garden we all wish we grew up in.
Such authenticity takes consistency of vision and great attention to detail. Marry this to the pair's consuming passion for plants and seemingly endless capacity for hard work, and you have a property rich in flowers, shrubbery and vegetables grouped around sheds and greenhouses that beckon.
The property was a welter of blackberries when they bought it, with an old trailer and beer cans buried beneath the mess. After renovating the ancient orchard behind the house, John and Toni updated the old garden of pines and plums. The farmhouse is now wrapped in white delphinium, campanula, fuchsias, phlox and 'Annabelle' hydrangeas lit by the golden leaves of cotinus, mock orange and lady's mantle. Old metal garden furniture refurbished with a coat of white paint, whitewashed urns, statuary, an old-fashioned greenhouse, chickens and sheep in the nearby pasture complete the picture. From terra cotta pots artfully piled up in the shed to the old wheel-and-chain crank used to open the greenhouse to the breezes on warm days, the property is all-of-a-piece.
"We love history," says John, who has been busy renovating the dirt-floored old potato shed he calls the "Spud House." The couple is passing on their appreciation for vintage to their granddaughter. "She and I have tea under the gazebo on warm days, and in the shed when it rains," says Toni. She points out the little girl's own tiny tea garden, planted in fragrant mint, chamomile and lavender. And the charm goes on.
Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer and author of "petal & twig." Check out her blog at www.valeaston.com. Mike Siegel is a Seattle Times staff photographer.