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Originally published April 19, 2013 at 12:00 PM | Page modified April 20, 2013 at 12:54 PM

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Designer Vicki Scuri transforms a muddy, messy space into a lushly planted rain garden

She first tackled daunting drainage issues, connecting downspouts through plastic pipes and running them into trenches Also a rock-lined swale now soaks up excess water.

Special to The Seattle Times

WHEN VICKI Scuri bought her classic 1950s home in Lake Forest Park eight years ago, its hillside garden was a fright of poodle-ball-shaped shrubs and serious drainage issues. From Scuri's back deck, she looked down at weeds, ratty lawn and a ditch as raw and ragged as if a big bite had been taken out of the garden. An environmental designer, Scuri put her landscape-restoration experience to good use transforming the muddy, messy space into a lushly planted rain garden.

The front garden was a narrow slot running between house and sidewalk, thickly hedged in overgrown juniper. Below the house was a hillside of saturated soil and standing water; traffic noise from nearby Bothell Way was clearly audible. "It was just really ugly, like a moonscape, nothing grew in the wet clay," Scuri says.

The streetside garden above the house was easier to fix. Scuri planted her parking strip in dwarf lilacs and bulbs for springtime cheer. She updated the junipers by sculpting them into an undulating hedge. "I kept the juniper as a period piece, a reference to the era of the house," Scuri explains. She took advantage of the only flat space on the property, furnishing the entry terrace with table, chairs and pots of fragrant daphne, ornamental grasses and rosemary.

Around back, the daunting drainage issues came first. Scuri connected the home's downspouts through plastic pipes, running them into trenches to distribute runoff through the garden. She created a rock-lined swale that meanders the width of the garden to soak up excess water. "It's a good low-maintenance feature," says Scuri, who has studded the rocks with glass floats that look as if they may have drifted down a stream.

Scuri's home perches high above the back garden, with window walls and a big deck. So she patterned the space below with stone pathways and wide ribbons of plantings that read well from above. "The paths are a meditation walk for me," says Scuri. "It's easy to forget about the highway noise when you wind your way down in the garden."

Being a designer, Scuri loves the shapes of plants, choosing curly locust, weeping trees, spiky grasses and dramatic, colorful foliage plants. As she did in the front garden, Scuri clipped clumps of old juniper tams into serpentine walls. In summer, huge, hardy banana trees (Musa basjoo) dominate the scene. Masses of hosta and sweeps of Japanese forest grass are interspersed with dark ribbons of 'Plum Pudding' and 'Chocolate Ruffles' heuchera.

To cut down on maintenance, Scuri carefully chooses plants that match her garden's conditions: ferns in the boggy grotto, bulbs and annuals in the well-drained, sunny areas at the top of the slope.

Scuri, who considers her whole property to be a demo garden for her work, balances easier-care grasses and evergreens with the naturalism of self-seeding poppies and columbine. Hauling in compost and mulch has paid off with productive, worm-filled soil. "And I understand much, much more about maintenance issues," she says.

After years of hard work, Scuri has created a garden that's a source of calm and respite. "I chill out and wander through the garden to work out ideas," she says. "Gardening gets me unstuck."

Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer. Check out her blog at Mike Siegel is a Seattle Times staff photographer.

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