WRITTEN BY VALERIE EASTON
PHOTOGRAPHED BY BARRY WONG
Together at Last
MARYANN PEMBER came recently to gardening, although you'd never know it from the voluptuous leaf and flower of her Medina property. "The back yard was a big rectangle of nothing up until 1986," she says. That was when Maryann and her husband, Charles, first planted some evergreen trees around the perimeter.
Maryann dug into gardening with intensity after taking a couple of inspiring container classes. "I went through annuals, perennials, shrubs and small trees in four years," she laughs. "We're on the fast track because we came to this so late." Now only the shingled roof of the Pembers' Craftsman cottage is visible from the street, sheltered by evergreen hedges and veiled in birches and dogwoods.
As with many old houses, the 1916 bungalow had little relationship to the garden. Maryann focused on changing that. Along the way, she discovered the Japanese concept of "engawa," which means creating access to the outdoors from all areas of the house. In Japanese architecture, engawa is achieved through plentiful sliding doors and decks that encourage an easy intimacy between plants and people. "I did it before I even learned it," says Maryann, gesturing toward multiple sets of French doors and decks that now skirt the house.
Wisteria sinensis 'Alba' is a white Chinese wisteria that nearly covers the courtyard with its fragrant May bloom.
Old lampposts from Ravenna Gardens punctuate a corner of the back garden, giving the impression of a grove of rusty pipes rising out of a bed of yellow-trimmed hostas.
In the back garden, old rhododendrons coexist with newer plantings such as the chartreuse fernleaf full moon maple (Acer japonicum 'Aconitifolium').
The color-orchestrated theatrics of the garden and its perfectly-cared-for appeal are a blend of Charles' and Maryann's talents. Or perhaps compulsions. "He's a weed freak — the man is always on weed patrol," says Maryann. Charles also likes lilies and roses, which Maryann clusters in pots on the patio. Blueberries, parsley, lettuces and chives are also confined to pots, and grouped on the deck outside the dining room.
Maryann is a wardrobe consultant, adept at playing with texture, color and focal points. This expertise has led her to combine a great variety of plants harmoniously. The entry courtyard, shady side garden and expansive back garden are each distinct open-air rooms with their own color schemes, one flowing seamlessly into the next. The elegantly subdued green and white entry courtyard leads to the foliage-rich side garden thickly planted in ferns, hostas and sarcococca. Follow the stone path to find a large, sunny back garden decked out in shades of purple and chartreuse with touches of pink in spring.
Purple sages and the plum-colored Hebe 'Amy' fill the beds close to the deck. The lawn is surrounded by undulating beds trimmed in pale-yellow daylilies. Yellow tree peonies, Magnolia 'Yellow Bird' and Heuchera 'Amber Waves' play off the many plants with dark foliage. A 'Bloodgood' Japanese maple is underplanted with burgundy barberries. Beneath are heucheras in shades from wine through chocolate. Scale is effectively manipulated with splays of oversized foliage plants such as big-leafed rhododendrons, ligularias and Podophyllum peltatum. "Charles is adjusting to the garden being a movable feast," Maryann says of how often plants need to be shuttled around to get it all just right.
Following the Japanese concept of "engawa," the Pembers used multiple decks and doors to make the house more accessible to the yard.
Besides caring for their own garden, Maryann and Charles are active volunteers in the garden community, raising money and planning classes for the Northwest Horticultural Society. Maryann, full of enthusiasm, credits the garden for her abundant energy. "The weather forces you to be flexible," she says, "and gardening keeps you interested."
A white and green entry courtyard, featuring white azaleas and pots filled with variegated dogwood, makes an elegant approach to the 1916 Craftsman.
White makes courtyard magic
Gardens designed with exclusively white-flowering plants have had a mystique ever since Vita Sackville West created her famous White Garden at Sissinghurst Castle in England. The Pember family's entry courtyard is predominantly white and green. "It is so enclosed I thought screaming color would take precedence over the magic of the place," explains Maryann Pember of the restrained palette. Such a scheme can either be dull and dreary or cool and clean, and the Pember courtyard is definitely the latter. The white scheme is most fully expressed in May when a huge Chinese white wisteria (Wisteria sinensis 'Alba') presides. These are the other plants Pember relies on for the stylishly pale look of her courtyard:
Styrax japonica, a delicate spreading tree with little white, bell-shaped flowers in June
Cornus 'Eddie's White Wonder,' a dogwood with large, white flowers
Betula jackmanii, slender birches with white striated bark
Rosa 'Alba Meidland' modern shrub roses
White-flowering evergreen azaleas
Cornus alba 'Elegantissima,' a shrubby dogwood with broad white leaf margins
Dicentra spectabilis 'Alba,' white bleeding heart
White-variegated hostas in terra-cotta pots
Helleborus niger, a white-flowering hellebore for winter bloom
Valerie Easton is a Seattle free-lance writer and contributing editor for Horticulture magazine. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Barry Wong is a Pacific Northwest magazine staff photographer.
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