WRITTEN BY DEAN STAHL
PHOTOGRAPHED BY MIKE SIEGEL
FRANZ GOEBEL AND Ali Igmen waited all of five minutes after buying their house before tearing out masses of ivy. They soon hired an arborist to remove a cedar tree that was dangerously close, rented a backhoe to dig out a smothering laurel hedge and began to think about how to shape a garden. Six years later, their prize-winning collectors' garden spills over their 4,000-square-foot lot.
Given their corner position on a long-established block in Seattle's Hawthorne Hills neighborhood, they've heard frequent remarks from delighted passers-by.
Especially welcome comments came from judges for the 12th annual Pacific Northwest Competition for Home Gardeners. They awarded these intrepid gardeners the contest's grand prize: round-trip airfare to London and the May 2005 Chelsea Flower Show, including admission to the show and five nights' lodging.
The home owners terraced a once-forgotten area between the rear of the house and the garage. Planted here are maidenhair ferns, hebes, Crocosmia 'Star of the East,' Cimicifuga simplex 'Brunette' and a windmill palm, among many others.
Goebel and Igmen had entered the contest twice before but hadn't placed among the top three. For this go-around, they regrouped perennials, added a parking-strip garden and replanted the edges of the east-facing section. Their persistence and attention to detail paid off.
The naturalistic planting scheme includes a shade garden behind the house, a south-facing side garden that gets dappled light and a sunny front area overlooking an arterial and the Burke-Gilman Trail. The side garden has pavers leading to a patio, the front door and a modest deck, where one can sniff honeysuckle, in season, and survey the realm.
Deep shade on the north side of a house can be tricky in this climate, but the gardeners have made the best of the situation. Annuals and perennials brighten a planting bed, while a tree-like banana (Musa basjoo) beckons in the background.
Their sidewalk gardens' lushness and vivacity rival that of the Bellevue Botanical Garden's perennial beds. Patches of black bamboo and hardy clumping bamboo, including Chusquea culeou, a South American variety, are juxtaposed with carefully placed shrubs and sweeps of groundcovers. This is a three-season garden, but bold grasses, such as Miscanthus 'Cosmopolitan' and M. 'Giganteus,' hold winter interest. The summertime vigor of this green zone nearly bowls one over.
"I do work for balance and proportion," Goebel says, "though for some who like a spare or understated design, it can be too stimulating, too overwhelming."
You won't find much bare ground near the house — which is wood-framed, low-key and lived-in — but it's not a jungle, either. Comforting visual cadence exists throughout, from the careful siting of plants to the cozy seating areas. Small focal points within the luxuriant whole instill unity and balance, and offer the eye a place to rest.
Just out the back door, containers hold an attractive assortment of winter-tender rarities. Some are artfully placed in full view, others tucked away to meld with their more hardy brethren.
Goebel and Igmen chose Ceanothus pallidus ‘Golden Élan’ (left foreground), lirope, ligularia, California fuchsia and a hardy banana to set off this section of pathway.
In this view of the gardeners' entryway, hosta 'Lemon Lime' is positioned in front of Hydrangea serrata ‘Golden Sunlight' (center), with Mahonia x media 'Charity' standing tall behind. Baby tears creep between the stones, and golden hops climb a trellis.
Here are Himalayan blue bamboo (Himalayacalamus hookerianus), hostas, crocosmia, hebes, taro, abutilon and giant jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema wilsonii). Patience takes shape in Ilex crenata 'Dwarf Pagoda,' a Japanese holly that grows about an inch a year in a natural bonsai form.
One finalist judge commented that she could easily spend an afternoon in the shade garden admiring foliage combinations.
Near entryways stand tried-and-true scented varieties, including rosemary, jasmine, honeysuckle, climbing roses and winter-blooming sarcococca.
In the front east-facing garden are plants that demand more sunlight, including ornamental ginger, whose spicy flowers darken to orange, and hardy African daisies (Osteospermum ecklonis), which drape a sloping bank. A healthy patch of tradescantia (purple spiderwort) came from a sprig pinched from a New Orleans parking strip. Surprisingly, these plants stay in the ground all winter, as do Australian bottlebrush, hardy ice plant (Delosperma sutherlandii) and banana. Even a heavily mulched brugmansia has survived year-round in this position.
Hebes, a low-growing ceanothus (left foreground), lamb's ears and Corsican mint line the walk just off the back deck. Goebel planted Agave victoriae-reginae in a vase under an antique ceramic canteen (hanging by fence) to add eye appeal.
Goebel, who is employed by a biotech company, thrives on problem-solving and has always been passionate about plants. When he was 9, he asked for the Time-Life series on gardening for his birthday. He enjoys reading plant encyclopedias and scanning the Web for sources and ideas.
With architecture and design training, he also has a natural knack for spatial relationships. He drew a three-dimensional master plan of the garden sections, sketching with colored pencils to chart structure and tone. This is his largest and most complete garden to date.
Igmen grew up in condos and had no prior gardening experience, aside from life-long appreciation. He was finishing his doctoral exams at the University of Washington as the garden came together and discovered he enjoyed the physical work: Digging, trimming and watering are fine ways to meditate, he says.
Goebel organized the layout for private spaces, beginning with the shade garden in back, where the two dug retaining-wall footings to stabilize a bank between house and garage. Concrete block was stacked into terraces and anchored with rebar.
Dense plantings of black-eyed Susan and crocosmia are useful for quick fill-in situations.
They moved about 30 yards of compost into each planting area around the house. Tired lawns were rototilled, sprinkled with gypsum to break up clay, layered with newspaper and buried under compost.
Later that first season, Goebel and a brother installed a back patio and a bluestone-paved pathway to tie the front and back gardens together. Goebel also designed a sturdy latticework fence to flank the sidewalk. Once that went up, they put in golden hops and other climbers to add a quick privacy screen for the new patio.
In early versions, the garden was visually too busy, so Goebel massed some plants and moved others.
This section of the back patio has black taro and Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa macra 'Aureola') in the foreground under a large box elder, which provides shade and sculptural interest.
"Small, fine-leaf plants can look terrific individually, but when you put them in the garden they don't do anything. So it helps to bring in bolder, textural, more vertical plants for their neighbors. I think the only reason the outside beds work is the contrast of texture and foliage with the grasses," Goebel says.
Flowers are secondary but still important. When the iris fade, the old species roses come, as does leaf color on certain ornamentals and, in late summer, the Asiatic lilies. The pair add sweet peas and other annuals to pluck for bouquets.
Some of the tropicals, including a red banana, overwinter in the garage. The men like the bold look, the feeling large-leafed tropical plants add to the environment. Maybe it's friendliness, Goebel suggests. For Igmen, who sometimes misses the sights and smells of more arid countries, some scents carry familial references.
"Jasmine and honeysuckle remind me of home," Igmen says. A lecturer in Central Asian history at the UW, he was born in Turkey and recalls easy afternoons in relatives' gardens there.
Beauty is in the details, including this small pot with recycled glass pieces from Bedrock Industries in Seattle. Goebel made the metal bracket, as well as the many bent-rebar plant supports placed throughout the garden.
What makes this an outstanding garden? Balance and good taste, for starters. Despite the owners' serious chasing after choice or unusual cultivars, this doesn't have the atmosphere of a plant zoo. There are pauses amid the intensity, including a number of nooks for sitting quietly and pondering the surroundings.
Goebel is intrigued by structure and composition. In one recent refinement, he took scattered plantings of yuccas in the east-facing garden and arranged them together for a bold, textural statement.
Stand back and look at the whole, Goebel advises gardeners. If you have too many variegated plants, for instance, there can be a kind of smudged look, which can be balanced by bright plantings.
The men obviously love the gifts of summer, but the season's end brings the sound of seedpods in the wind — and a chance to rest.
"If you had any idea how hard it would be, you'd never start," Goebel says, reflecting. "And then you forget, and start another big project. So it's denial, short-term memory — those things let you do these projects.
"I tend to be a control freak. But a garden — you can nudge it, urge it, but you sure can't control it."
Dean Stahl is a Seattle free-lance writer. Mike Siegel is a Seattle Times staff photographer.
Home delivery | Contact us | Search archive | Site map | Low-graphic
NWclassifieds | NWsource | Advertising info | The Seattle Times Company
Back to top