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Northwest Living
Take it to the Bank
The Laurelhurst garden tour offers a wealth of good ideas

Sue Tong not only organized this first-ever Laurelhurst Garden Walk as a benefit for the Seattle Milk Fund, but her garden is on the tour. Her newly planted formal parking strips, below, are hedged in boxwood; behind the brick wall is the rest of the garden, also open for the tour.
SUE TONG will go around the globe for a good garden tour. Luckily for local gardeners, when she was looking for a new way to raise money for the Seattle Milk Fund she thought of organizing a tour in her own Laurelhurst neighborhood. On July 6, you can support Tong's favorite charity while going on the garden walk of the year: 10 Laurelhurst gardens opened for the first time to visitors.

This truly is a garden walk rather than a bus or van tour. All the properties are clustered within about a mile of each other, strung along pleasant sidewalks and leafy streets. Despite their proximity, the gardens are a wonderfully varied mix of formal and cottage, personally and professionally designed. Each one appears to be lovingly tended and well-used, with spots to relax, eat, play and often to grow vegetables and fruit. There are playhouses for kids, outdoor potting benches and barbecues, pathways designed around the routes taken by the family dog. What all the gardens have in common is challenging topography, a problem all too familiar to many Northwest gardeners. You'll find innovative solutions for steep front banks, precipitous back inclines, hot hillsides and gardens sunk below the street — even below the house in a couple of cases. Retaining walls, rockeries and terraces are skillfully integrated with houses and landscapes. You'll get to stroll through the back gardens of some of those grand old houses that appear so imposing from the street, and find that all gardeners share similar problems of too much shade, exposed slopes and no good place to put the tool shed.

Many of the gardens on the tour are vertically challenged, offering solutions to the common Seattle situation of retaining hillsides while carving out usable space. This steep back garden features a patio squeezed between house and hillside, with the slope held in place by a jagged stone waterfall.
I always think of garden tours as treasure hunts. First, you want to soak up the atmosphere of the garden, its purposes, inspiration and unique location. But after wallowing a bit in the general feel of the place, you have a unique opportunity to replenish your image bank with garden moments that will serve well in the future. Hunt down what you like best about each garden, and file it away mentally. Build up your image bank enough, and next time you're working out in the garden and need an innovative solution or plant combination, you'll have it in mind. You won't need garden books to get an idea for just the right tree, a new water feature or style of fencing. And your idea bank will all be in 3-D because you've seen and understood the real thing. Once you've experienced enough gardens, tricky issues such as scale and proportion become far easier to understand and transfer to your own garden. Perhaps because of the age of the gardens on this tour, their size, complexity and challenges of topography, they offer a particularly rich mix of images and ideas.

A sunny hillside garden features perennials, shrubs and grasses in stunning color contrasts.
Every day is different in a garden, as is each person's own experience and aesthetics, so I hope as you stroll through these gardens, you'll find many treasures that suit your fancy. Here is my own list:

• A precipitously steep back garden, where the entire slope behind the patio has been turned into a jagged, mossy waterfall. This bold approach is topped off with an urn-contained phormium backed by a huge splay of gunnera leaves.

• The play structure we all wanted as kids, complete with climbing ropes, tire swing and slide, all set onto a bed of impact-reducing wood chips.

• A composition that proves the old adage that dark houses best show off a garden; Spanish lavender, purple potato vine and coral bells set up against a brown, charcoal-trimmed house.

• A pale stone house perfectly accented with terraces constructed of light-reflecting gravel and a great number of white flowers.

• A burgundy front door on a formal fa_e, softened by the nearby cascade of a Japanese maple in just the same deep color.

Huge unplanted urns punctuate plantings, contrasting with the shapes and colors of ornamental grasses and flowering shrubs.
The first garden on the tour is Northwest naturalistic. Sunken below the street, the garden is designed to be viewed from the home's entry deck above. It is also a stroll garden with gravel paths, totem pole and a bridge over a dry creekbed.
• The sleek modernity of angled walls in dark gray and warm rust, topped with a gravel terrace scattered with stone balls and planted in cool shades of gray and silver.

• An entire retaining wall behind a back patio coated in a continuous stretch of climbing hydrangea, the white of its flowers echoed in the variegated hosta at its base.

• A thickly planted parking strip that is an exercise in dramatic color, with blue-green grasses and fluffy little willows cooling hot pink roses, ruby-colored astrantia and deep maroon barberry.

• A huge old corner lot cleverly screened from the street with plantings, providing as much privacy as a fence, but far softer, varied and inviting.

• A tiny playhouse tucked in a corner, complete with planted windowboxes and a pair of minute Adirondack chairs painted pale pink.

• A series of knot gardens contained in a lengthy parking strip, their little hedges of boxwood and lonicera as formal as the house and garden they foreshadow.

• A shady old garden delineated and made charming with the addition of a violet-trimmed white picket fence and cobblestone pathways.

• The unusual color sensibility of a drought-tolerant hillside planted in dark maples and ligularia, white-striped and blue grasses, accented by hefty brick-colored urns left unplanted.

• The tall, weathered totem pole, a remainder from the Seattle world's fair, nestled against naturalistic Northwest plantings.


Laurelhurst Garden Walk, Saturday, July 6, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. $25 for adults, $10 for children ages 4 to 12 (no strollers, please). Tickets are available from Ravenna Gardens' University Village and Queen Anne stores, or at the first garden on the day of the tour (3830 Surber Drive N.E.). For information, call 206-323-3323. The tour is a benefit for the Seattle Milk Fund, a privately funded program that has helped families in need since 1907.

Valerie Easton is manager at the Miller Horticultural Library. Her book, "Plant Life: Growing a Garden in the Pacific Northwest" (Sasquatch Books, 2002) is an updated selection of her magazine columns. Her e-mail address is Barry Wong is a Pacific Northwest magazine staff photographer.

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