Seattletimes.com home Pacific NW Magazine home

Cover Story Plant Life Northwest Living Taste Now & Then

Northwest Living
WRITTEN BY VALERIE EASTON
PHOTOGRAPHED BY MIKE SIEGEL
spacer
From Flat to Flourishing
Plants prevail in a perfect union of house and garden
 
spacer Photo
spacer
Photo
The watch cat Earl Grey keeps to his post along the front walkway, his neutral color a fine foil to the lively mix of perennials and annuals that line the route to the front door.
spacer
A GREAT BENEFIT of writing about gardens is that I get to visit so many. My life from spring to late fall feels like a perpetual garden tour, and nothing pleases me more on these explorations than finding a garden that perfectly suits the house it surrounds. There is always a moment of delight when I realize a gardener has achieved compatibility between house and garden.

When Ann LeVasseur bought her house on Phinney Ridge in the late 1980s there was no such synthesis between indoors and out. The old house sat on the flat, grassy lot as uneasily as if it were merely passing through. As with so many houses built early in the last century, it rose out of the garden like an intruder, the only connection between the indoors and out being the strictly necessary, like a couple of windows for light and a short flight of front steps for entry.

"It seemed so unfriendly," says LeVasseur of the original fence and gate. She took it out, along with much of the old lawn, and began planting. Without making major structural changes, she linked house to garden by adding a simple entry pergola. Most of the effect is created with a profusion of plants in a loose cottage style that softens the lines of the house and integrates it into the garden. Cottage-style gardening is unstructured and colorful — the perfect foil for the simple, pale, square old house that centers the garden and anchors the lushness of the plantings. Such an unrestrained planting style might overwhelm a more modern house, and it would certainly be difficult to maintain on a larger piece of property. Its charm comes from how the garden is grounded in the Craftsman style of the house. The property has been transformed from a featureless lot into an intriguing journey through color, texture and fragrance as you travel from the street to the front door.
 
Photo spacer
spacer
Since LeVasseur's garden is now all about plants, we can start with the sensory experience of walking along the front pathway. The pole and bamboo entry pergola is bedecked with a cup-and-saucer vine (Cobaea scandens), an annual that grows 20 feet in a single season. Its bell-shaped flowers start out green and turn a rosy purple as the summer progresses. The large chartreuse leaves of a golden hop vine (Humulus lupulus 'Aureus') and the pale single Rosa 'Sally Holmes' complete the leafy and flowery decoration of the pergola. Beds of roses entice toward the front door with their fruity fragrances and softly cupped blossoms. The roses are underplanted with a rich blend of fancy-leafed geraniums, verbena, ornamental grasses and sturdy perennials that come into their own late in the season, such as monarda, gaura, rudbeckia, asters and Japanese anemones. An inspired combination is the brilliant red Lobelia tupa, grown with the fiery Rosa 'Bengal Tiger.' The flower colors are similar, while the tall spiky form of the lobelia contrasts with the cascading shape of the rose.

Familiar perennials mix with hardy fuchsias and unusual trees and shrubs such as the winter-blooming paper bush (Edgeworthia chrysantha) and the European spindle tree (Euonymus europeaus). The paper bush has fragrant, pale yellow flowers in February, and large, soft leaves; the foliage of the spindle tree resembles a dogwood and it has showy pink berries in autumn. LeVasseur credits her friend, garden designer Ben Hammontree, with sharing good ideas and introducing her to prize plants. It probably doesn't hurt, either, that she is past president of the Northwest Horticultural Society and continues as an active board member. "I like to do all the work myself," says LeVasseur of her neatly kept garden. "I go in spells when I work on it."

spacer Photo
A jug fish (made from a gallon milk jug) LeVasseur found at the Indianola General Store floats in an undrilled pot in a shady corner of the garden. Keeping careful watch over the fish is a rusty metal heron made by Rella Schaefer, purchased from the Schaefer Gallery in Eatonville.
spacer
Though the unfriendly old fence is long gone, the garden is now shielded from the street by several gnarly apple trees and a spreading rhododendron, all original to the garden. She added the surprise of a hardy banana tree (Musa basjoo), surrounding it with colorful asters, dahlias and ornamental grasses to tie its exotic looks in with the more traditional plantings.

In the back garden, a raised, south-facing deck off the kitchen provides a sunny spot to sit and sip morning coffee. Plants prevail here, too, for the railing appears to have been swallowed up by the curly tendrils and glossy green leaves of a passion vine. Its intricate white, purple and green flowers spangle the deck railing all summer long, each so perfect that it looks more like a painting than a living thing. More roses, hardy geraniums and the perennial sunflower Helianthus 'Lemon Queen' bloom in the beds beside the deck. A hedge of nandina growing atop a low rock wall, jointly planned and paid for with her neighbor, provides privacy on the deck that LeVasseur says "feels just like a resort it is so warm and quiet out here."

Phinney Tour

Eight private gardens in Ann LeVasseur's neighborhood will be open as part of the Phinney Neighborhood Association's 2nd Annual Garden Tour on Sunday, Sept. 8, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. (LeVasseur's garden was on the debut tour last year.) Each is a small, urban garden featuring space-enhancing ideas such as making level changes gracefully, using birch trees for privacy, and stacking bird houses to create a rustic aviary condo. Tickets are $5, and are available in advance from neighborhood nurseries Fremont Gardens (4001 Leary Way) and Piriformis (1051 N. 35th St.). On the day of the tour, tickets will be sold at the Phinney Neighborhood Center, 6532 Phinney Ave. N. The tour will also raffle off what every small, urban garden needs: 1,000 pounds of zoo doo. For information, call 206-783-2244.

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 vjeaston@aol.com. Mike Siegel is a Seattle Times photographer.


Cover Story Plant Life Northwest Living Taste Now & Then

Pacific NW Magazine home
seattletimes.com home
spacer
Copyright © 2002 The Seattle Times Company