Nancy Heckler makes new Indianola garden her own
For a decade, Heckler had dedicated herself to a multiacre, horticultural extravaganza that was one of the most published gardens in the country, even making the cover of "Martha Stewart Living."
NANCY HECKLER bought an old house and half-acre garden in Indianola four years ago, and has been editing and planting ever since. While the house is comfortable and the garden spacious by urban standards, Heckler spent the first couple of years in the new place mourning her spectacular Oyster Point Gardens near Hood Canal.
For a decade Heckler had dedicated herself to a multiacre, horticultural extravaganza that was one of the most published gardens in the country, even making the cover of "Martha Stewart Living." Her vegetable plot, with its dahlias, pumpkins, chard and ... well, everything harvestable you can imagine, was mind-boggling in size and complexity. She also had an orchard, semitropical shade gardens and fabulous container plantings. During those heady Oyster Point years, Heckler photographed her garden, scouted gardens for magazines and became a trendsetter for all things garden.
Now in her new, smaller place, Heckler is again doing most of the work herself, but on a more reasonable scale. When she moved in, her garden offered privacy, an overabundance of conifers and lots of native shrubs all planted together in an indistinguishable mush. The first task was fencing the garden for her beloved dogs, Blue and Niki. Next, Heckler hired an arborist to clean up the big trees to let in more light. She removed many of the old shrubs that were misshapen by overcrowding. Now there's plenty of space for the dogs to play on the lawn and run along the woodland trails.
Once she'd made the place her own, Heckler started having fun with her new garden. She built raised beds in the sunniest spot. She grows vegetables and nurtures plants in pots until they can be put out in containers and beds.
Heckler carved out a winding, woodland walk beneath the trees, and planted shade-loving, textural perennials like vancouveria, maidenhair ferns and hellebores along the pathway. The garden boasted two old outbuildings. She added a small greenhouse and turned the funky old cabin into her lamp-making studio. It's packed with all the cool shades, bases and hardware Heckler has collected over the years.
"Over here is the sweet spot in terms of temperature," says Heckler, pointing out the protected side garden where she's collecting an impressive assortment of big-leafed rhododendrons. "In my mind, it's already a rhody forest." Drifts of pale, fragrant daffodils (Narcissus poeticus) bloom beneath the rhododendrons in springtime, followed by billows of hydrangea blossoms in summer.
Around front, Heckler left all the old pink azaleas. "I feel sentimental about them," she says, sure that the azaleas are many years' worth of Mother's Day gifts. She added a gazing ball and wood-framed hogwire fence to set off the riot of springtime pink. But this is a Heckler-designed garden, so the conventionality of azaleas is mitigated by an adjacent clump of willowy martagon lilies. These beauties add a touch of the exotic in the dappled shade of the front garden.
The house, built in the 1940s, was painted an icy gray Heckler deplored. "Why that cold color in our climate?" she asks. Now the house is a soft gray-green trimmed in warm cream, a perfect backdrop to all the shades of green in her garden.
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.