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Originally published Friday, September 7, 2012 at 12:01 PM

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Bellevue garden gets a taste of India

Designer Dan Borroff transforms property for a couple from intensely urban Delhi.

REKHA AND Narender Sood kept the open-air style of India's Coconut Lagoon resort in mind when they set to work with designer Dan Borroff to transform their property. The couple moved to an acre in Bellevue from intensely urban Delhi. "I came to Dan with ideas as we went along, and he brought them into fruition," says Rekha of her garden of birds and memories.

While Borroff couldn't magically change the weather from temperate to tropical, he designed a garden with a balmy feel, from a large pond to a winding stroll path leading down to an open-air pavilion. "I love how the garden is reminiscent of India," says Borroff. "But it's in no way a replica, more like a hybridization of India and the Northwest."

Undaunted by a steep hillside below the house, horsetails and patchy grass, the Soods wanted a garden filled with birds and butterflies. Borroff went to work blowing in amendments to improve the soil, and planting layers of blueberries, roses, elderberry and native flowering currants. He traveled to India with the Soods to understand their inspirations and to help pick out garden art and structures.

Up close to the house, Borroff kept the garden more formal and the palette subdued so it wouldn't compete with the view from the windows and the deck. But farther down the path, the garden grows wilder and more brilliantly colored. Masses of hot red Crocosmia 'Lucifer' and orange Euphorbia griffithii 'Fireglow' contrast with all the shades of green and bronze foliage. A little teahouse from Thailand gives a reason to pause along the path, a griffin urn overflows with sedum, and all are planted thickly enough to discourage weeds from even thinking about trying to gain a foothold.

"We put in at least 50 trees, if not 60," says Borroff, adding that a woodland requires lower maintenance than most types of gardens. Groupings of pink and white flowering dogwoods, cut-leaf Italian alders and sourwoods (Oxydendrum arboreum) clothe the slope in leaves, bloom and color through the seasons.

The hillside plantings were finished first; then the teak pavilion imported to finish the garden. It arrived in big, wooden containers, was carefully assembled, transported down the hillside by cart and placed to face the morning sun.

Even though the structure is just a short stroll down the hill, when you step into the lattice-roofed pavilion it feels a world apart from the house above. Marigolds float in water-filled bowls, birdsong fills the air, clouds drift overhead. Peonies, columbines and hardy geraniums lap at the edges of the bluestone flooring. A boulder is engraved with the Gayatri Mantra (an ancient and revered Vedic Sanskrit verse from the Rig Veda) that Rekha remembers her mother chanting when she was a little girl. Family and friends gather in the pavilion in the evening to enjoy the view and share stories.

"The pavilion is so welcoming," says Rekha, "and this is so much more than a 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.

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