WRITTEN BY VALERIE EASTON
PHOTOGRAPHED BY ALLAN MANDELL
In a classical setting, an Eden of edibles offers glorious temptation
Despite expanses of creamy limestone, paths of pale, crushed marble, and displays of sophisticated European antiques, at its heart the Kirkland garden of Eric and Mary Horvitz is all about food.
Seasonal change is marked in the sprouting, maturing and harvesting of crops. A long arch forms an attractive bare spine in winter while in summer it supports the abundance of pear and apple trees. Along the street, tomato plants and sunflowers grow large in the heat reflected off the sidewalk and stone walls. Every microclimate in the lakeside garden is used to grow herbs and ripen fruit and vegetables. Italian terra-cotta pots hold bay laurel as well as espaliered fig trees, their spidery, fruit-laden branches stretched out along the stone walls. A series of garden rooms softens the home's Mediterranean façade while offering seating and space for edibles and ornamentals.
Such synchronicity of style is no accident. Garden architect David Pfeiffer worked with the Horvitzes on redesigning the house in midstream so it would better match the garden. "David suggested we needed to think more about how the house related to the garden. That resonated with us, and we stopped the job for months," says Eric Horvitz, laughing about the bulldozer driver's surprise at being halted mid-dig. Their first architect quit over the delay, and Seattle architect Patrick Brennan took over alterations in the home design.
The couple showed Pfeiffer photos of what they wanted in a garden, a look he describes as "a sophisticated, Mediterranean working garden." Perhaps because she was reared in the Azores and Angola, where growing your own food was part of daily life, Mary thinks plants should earn their space by looking or smelling good. As a result, every inch of her new garden is productive; planting pockets and pots have been squeezed into all sorts of spots.
Because the property is steep and the house a full three stories, circulation and scale were Pfeiffer's main challenges. "We took the time to get it just right," says Pfeiffer, who spent two years of the four-year project layering the garden with plants.
Mary Horvitz is pleased with the layout and relishes how easy it is to graze your way around the garden. "We have so many tomatoes and bowls of salad it's like we're living on an agricultural piece of property," she enthuses.
Attention to detail prevailed. To make sure the scale was right, the dining pergola was mocked up in cardboard before it was built. Stepping stones were set into sand so moss and groundcovers could green the look and cushion the feel of the terraces. "The stone settles a bit with age, creating a subtle undulation," Pfeiffer explains.
Rather than chafing over the extended timetable, the Horvitzes enjoyed the process. "It was all about exploring ideas and concepts; we're very patient," says Eric, who spends his days researching the nature of human cognition for Microsoft. "We kind of massaged the garden into being," Mary adds. "It feels right because it was done so slowly."
Three years after the planting began, Virginia creeper and trumpet vine stretch toward the home's top-story balconies. Carefully selected fruits and vegetables, bulbs, shrubs, perennials and Pfeiffer's signature boxwood balls and cones grow in a well-orchestrated tumble. "We wanted to grow fruit and vegetables that are hard to find at the market," says Pfeiffer, who credits Mary's interest in edibles as changing both the focus of his work and the way he gardens at home.
"I don't know what I'd use now if I didn't put in broccoli," smiles Pfeiffer, who obviously enjoys plumbing the ornamental possibilities of edible plants. Somehow, he tucked in the sweetest white strawberries imaginable ('Italian musk'), black and white currants, blueberries, huckleberries, edamame, piles of lettuces and plenty of Mary's favorite 'Sunburst' and 'Old German' tomatoes.
The spacious dining pavilion presides atop the property's highest corner with a wide-open view to Lake Washington. Pfeiffer's design of hefty pergola laced with grapevines turns an exposed corner into a private place for an outdoor dinner party. The scale and formality of the imposing columns and limestone slab table are made comfortable by the eclectic planting of red dahlias, fountain-shaped Rosa glauca, nasturtiums and feathery fennel in a virtuoso performance of structure and abandon.
Despite all the architecture, the result is a surprisingly sensual garden that appeals to taste, touch and smell every bit as much as to the eye. Raspberry canes dripping red and golden berries arch over the boxwood-, lavender- and nasturtium-trimmed pathways. Fuzzy kiwi vines drape and clamber, lending a touchable texture to walls and arbors. The scent of jasmine, honeysuckle, gardenias, daphnes and Casablanca lilies combines with the spiciness of herbs, lavender and rosemary for a heady mix of fragrances.
Even with the abundance of plantings, the garden has very few flowers. "I'm getting farther and farther away from color," says Pfeiffer. The subtleness of green layered on green is enlivened by dark-leafed heucheras, white-blooming crape myrtle, white lilies, variegated daphnes and a few dahlias and apricot daylilies.
Eric Horvitz admits the project was a learning curve for him. "We weren't building just a house, but a living environment," he says. "It's the garden that brings the house down to earth." For more than two decades, Mary carried around a photo of a Mediterranean-style house overlooking the water. With Pfeiffer's help, they've achieved that long-sought vision.
Valerie Easton is a Seattle free-lance writer and contributing editor for Horticulture magazine. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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