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Originally published August 8, 2014 at 12:06 PM | Page modified August 15, 2014 at 10:21 PM

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Hillside garden is tamed with native plants and decks

The couple use every inch of their two-thirds-of-an acre hillside to grow everything from native Northwest wildflowers to hops, from cactuses to cranberries.


Special to The Seattle Times

BEER-MAKING and cranberry drying are regular activities at Dave Flotree and Ellen Hauptmann’s place in suburban Innis Arden. The couple use every inch of their two-thirds-of-an acre hillside to grow everything from native Northwest wildflowers to hops, from cactuses to cranberries.

When the couple bought their home in 1996, the front garden was Japanese in style and so thickly planted they could hardly find the house. Now frogs sing a chorus in a pond in front of the house, and ducks hang out in the network of waterfalls and ponds that weave down the back slope. The front garden is no longer shrouded in stiff, bland hedging. Designer Cameron Scott of Exteriorscapes replaced it with a mixed hedgerow of deciduous and evergreen shrubs that provide privacy while delighting a variety of birds.

Rainwater harvested off the roof and stored in cisterns is used to replenish the ponds and to water new plants until they adjust to the tough-love, no-water regime. A rain chain directs water into the frog pond, which overflows down streams, over waterfalls, into ponds and on to the cranberry bog. The overflow then drains into a dry stream bed in the lower garden, preventing storm erosion and runoff.

Flotree and Hauptmann built a series of decks down the back slope so they’d have level areas for enjoying their view of Puget Sound and the garden. They took out all the grass on the back hillside, wrestling to remove St. John’s wort and bracken fern. Then they hired Scott to help them stabilize the slope and beautify the garden.

“Cameron seems to have the knack of making stone look natural, as if it had always been here,” says Flotree of the stone paths and steps that now contour the back garden and make it navigable. Scott brought in not only lots of stone but also fresh soil, which the couple promptly planted in native trees, shrubs, food and flowers. They grow tiny treasures like lewisia and cactuses in the warm microclimate between stones.

“I like to tinker” Flotree says of his cranberry growing. He converted part of a pond to a bog by adding a liner and peat, then figured out how to dry the cranberries. “That wasn’t easy, it took experimenting,” says Flotree, who also cultivates blueberries and huckleberries.

When they took out a diseased old willow, the couple ended up with a sunny space toward the bottom of the slope. “We wanted to create habitat with native plants,” explains Hauptmann of the wildflower meadow she tends. Pacific Coast iris, penstemon, shooting stars (Dodecatheon spp.), dicentra, camas lilies and a host of little bulbs brighten the meadow through the seasons. Hauptmann collects the seed to share, trading with other native-plant enthusiasts.

“If you’re a weed, you don’t want to grow in Ellen’s yard,” says Flotree of his wife’s careful tending of the meadow. She deadheads regularly, waters new plants by hand, adds compost and mulch. “It’s weed as you go, weed all the time,” Hauptmann says with a sigh.

Woody natives like winter-flowering currant, shore pines and vine maple line the paths in the lower garden. Pacific wax myrtle (Myrica californica) has proved a good choice for evergreen screening. “We have to be concerned about tree height in this neighborhood of views,” says Flotree.

“It’s almost like . . . what hasn’t done well?” he says of their native-plant arboretum, the cranberries and his latest project, a bed of hops for brewing beer. And, yes, the refuse from making beer, as well as coffee grounds and garden waste, goes into the compost, then back onto the garden.

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



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