Northwest gardeners' outbuildings charm and delight
Plant Life columnist Valerie Easton says that whether an outbuilding is meant as a garden focal point, a social space or a quiet retreat, it's always a playhouse.
Easton to talk at show
Valerie Easton will talk about her new book, "petal & twig: Reap the Rewards of Simple, Fresh Bouquets Year Round," at the Northwest Flower & Garden Show, 10 a.m. on Thursday, Feb. 9, in the Rainier Room at the Washington State Convention Center. She'll be signing her book after the talk.
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Valerie Easton writes in her blog about gardens and the people who make them. A columnist for The Seattle Times' Pacific Northwest Magazine for the last 14 years and author of four books on gardening, she lives on Whidbey Island where she loves to hike, read and garden.
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A STRUCTURE in the garden, whether rustic or polished, vast or tiny, catches our imagination. Perhaps because they're built more for fun than utility, such outbuildings tend to reflect the spirit of the gardener, showcase his or her sense of beauty and play.
Whether an outbuilding is meant as a garden focal point, a social space or a quiet retreat, it's always a playhouse. I can't imagine four more different buildings than those at the heart of the gardens in this special issue. Varied as they are in purpose, style and size, each is a great success because it's a genuine expression of the gardener who created it.
The teak house in David Smith's garden was imported from Java to Vashon Island and reassembled, but it never really looked at home on an island in Puget Sound. It was only after Smith teamed up with landscape architect David Pfeiffer to design a context for the 2,500-square-foot structure that it came alive in the landscape. Facing east to the dawn, surrounded by ancient stone, ponds and gently undulating landforms, the elaborately carved teak house has settled into its Northwest backdrop.
Now the site for meditation, gatherings and benefits, the Kudus house garden is a serene, contemporary and compelling place. "It all has a coherence," reflects Pfeiffer, who says he had the most fun of his life realizing the plan for the garden.
The materials in Ron Chew's very urban little playhouse also had a previous life, but one a little closer to home. Chew, longtime former Wing Luke Museum director and now a communications consultant, melded thrift-store finds, trades with neighbors and recyclables to create a very personal cabin in his Beacon Hill backyard.
The cabin has a small footprint but a big impact on Chew and his two sons. It's a place for both entertaining friends and escaping to read in peace. The family loves how the place exerts a gravitational pull to lure everybody down from the main house to check it out. And laying a path to the shed's door and doing the planting have turned Chew into a gardener who has come to see landscaping as creative expression.
Mary and Tom Fisher's playhouse is pure artistic expression, as custom fit to the couple as a bespoke suit. Tom built the rustic little screened porch so his wife could indulge her love of sleeping outdoors in comfort. He dragged cedar logs out of the woods around their Whidbey Island property, then let the shape and form of the split wood dictate how the project came together. The soul-stirring little building, tucked behind Mary's popular Cultus Bay Nursery, is stylishly stripped down to the essentials — a king-sized bed, a pizza oven, fresh breezes blowing through and a window overhead for moon and star viewing.
John and Toni Christianson's garden in the Skagit Valley is one long, delightful wallow in history, from a white-paned greenhouse built of recycled windows to a dovecote and gazebo with old white-painted furniture. From the sun porch they added to their 19th-century farmhouse to the white picket fence, the garden filled with fragrant old cultivars and a potting shed atmospheric enough for tea parties, their two-acre property is all-of-a-piece. Lest this sound overly romantic, John and Toni are hardworking parents who run nearby Christianson's Nursery, grow vegetables, keep chickens and sheep, pot up starts in the shed and overwinter tender annuals in the greenhouse. This is a family garden made enchanting by the couple's horticultural expertise and great skill at repurposing and recycling.
The outbuildings in these gardens are well-used and well-loved. Whether rural or urban, nostalgic or exotic, carved over a century ago by Javanese artisans or built of indigenous materials hewn on site, these playhouses have magic.
Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer and author of "petal and twig." Check out her blog at www.valeaston.com. Mike Siegel is a Seattle Times staff photographer.