Janet McNae's new Whidbey garden flourishes
The garden is generous and comfortable, extravagant in its planting, yet practical in its simple, classic design.
THE LONG driveway descends through firs and ferns as it wraps toward the Whidbey Island bluff. A sweep of lawn, a grove of katsura trees, a house outlined in a precise hedge of oakleaf hydrangeas set a seaside scene of restrained elegance. After living in a historic house in Coupeville, Rod and Janet McNae moved south for a west-facing view. "Nature is the dominant feature here," says Janet of the saltwater and majestic conifers.
Cross the driveway and climb a few stone stairs and you'll find the heart of the property in Janet's kitchen and cutting garden. The scale is smaller here, and the vibe more rustic. Her 40-by-75-foot garden is pushed up nearly to the edge of the forest. Rows of cedar boxes hold vegetables and flowers at a handy height for planting and picking. Here in the sunniest spot on the property, Janet grows a colorful tumble of scented roses, herbs, sweet peas, tomatoes, nasturtiums, strawberries and flowers to cut for the house.
A stone wall topped with lavender surrounds the sturdy, 8-foot fence that protects the garden from marauding deer. The enclosure is floored with crunchy gravel and holds eight of the untreated cedar boxes, lined with landscape cloth and set on a grid. Each box is 5 by 10 feet and 28 inches high, which holds a surprising amount of food and flowers.
Then there's the "shed" at one end of the garden where Janet plans and plots her garden. The little house is pure romance, with windows and doors that open wide to breezes off the water, a wood-burning stove, high ceilings and pine paneling. Oh, and pale wicker furniture, silver tea trays and piles of English gardening books and magazines.
Janet experiments with plantings every summer in the easy-to-change-out raised beds. She says the chocolate cherry tomatoes, picked and eaten straight from the vine, taste as if they've been dipped in balsamic vinegar. Janet is an accomplished cook who puts all she grows to good use. For a summer treat, she stuffs zucchini and patty pan squash blossoms with goat cheese and chopped basil, then roasts them in olive oil. By late in the summer she's on her third planting of arugula, which grows along with lettuces and pea pods. She lets the kale go to flower, because the bees are so eager for the little yellow blooms.
Last summer Janet planted the raised beds by color. The orange and chocolate bed held coreopsis, yarrow, sneezeweed and chocolate cosmos. One bed was blued with sweet peas, dwarf delphiniums and hardy geraniums. A mostly green bed was planted with lettuces, borage, dill, sorrel and kale. Several beds hold fragrant roses like the deeply ruffled, pink 'Abraham Darby' and the pure white 'Glamis Castle,' surrounded by the soft, chartreuse leaves of lady's mantle (Alchemilla mollis).
From the tiny alpine strawberries Janet plants for the birds, to the garden house that offers respite from sun, rain and weeding, the garden is generous and comfortable, extravagant in its planting, yet practical in its simple, classic design.
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.