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Originally published July 5, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified July 6, 2007 at 11:11 AM

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One-day getaway to Bainbridge Island is a gardener's delight

In the distance just beyond the barn, Terri Stanley was arranging plants in a new bed when we arrived at her turn-of-the-century farmhouse...

Special to The Seattle Times

Bainbridge in Bloom shows off island's private gardens


Ours was an informal exploration of island nurseries; to double your pleasure, combine your trip with next week's Bainbridge in Bloom organized tour of five spectacular private gardens. In its 19th year, the event includes a festival with speakers, workshops, food booths, an art fair and plant vendors, all as a fundraiser for the Bainbridge Island Arts & Humanities Council.

The event runs July 12-15, with garden tours on July 14 and 15 only. The festival is located behind Commodore Options School, High School Road at Madison Avenue. Garden-tour price: $30 general; $20 for 65 and older; $10 younger than 12. Details: 206-842-7901 or http://gardentour.org

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In the distance just beyond the barn, Terri Stanley was arranging plants in a new bed when we arrived at her turn-of-the-century farmhouse. Had it not been for the business name and hours on the small roadside sign, it would have seemed we were visiting friends.

That's the feeling one gets at Bainbridge Island's Mesogeo Nursery, created by Stanley, a landscape designer, and her photographer husband, Terry Moyemont, on a farm that dates back to 1859. Offering more than 300 types of Mediterranean and tropical plants, the business brings their professional talents together with their love of travel, particularly in the Mediterranean.

The nursery began when Stanley started growing plants to use in her landscape designs. Their Pacific-Northwest-friendly inventory -- 40 percent hearty tropical plants and the remainder Mediterranean varieties -- fills outdoor beds, greenhouse shelves and floor space, and spills out its back door.

While living in Greece seven years ago, they learned of the Mediterranean Garden Society, later joined it and have been instrumental in developing a Pacific Northwest Branch. In 2002 the pair traveled for three months through four Mediterranean countries researching a garden book on which they are currently working.

We lingered inside the barn at the checkout table, our conversation taking us from plants and fertilizers to travel and literature during our late afternoon stop. Mesogeo was one of several nurseries we visited during an easily-accomplished one-day gardener's getaway.

From grocery to gallery

Public, private, large, or small, Bainbridge Island is enamored with gardens. Gardening fever is so pervasive that some of the island's more than three dozen B&Bs and inns have garden-themed names, such as Twin Rose Guest House, SpringRidge Gardens Bed & Breakfast, and Holly Lane Gardens.

A half-mile from the ferry dock, even the grocery store kicks off spring gardening with its annual May Day plant sale. Town & Country Market's back parking lot was filled this year with 13 truckloads of plants. "The sale started at 6 a.m., and we had women waiting in their pajamas at 5:15 a.m. with flashlights, ready to start shopping," said Myle Garcia, flower and garden manager.

A 35-minute Washington State ferry ride from Seattle's Pier 52 deposited us at the Winslow ferry dock, where our self-guided tour began. Driving east from the ferry landing we crossed streets named Azalea, Park and Cherry in the residential neighborhood where a small sign tucked into a flower bed identified the Garden Gallery of Little and Lewis.

George Little, an experienced sculptor and water colorist, joined talents with David Lewis, an archaeological illustrator, 16 years ago to create garden sculptures. Their art over the years has been featured in numerous exhibits, a coffee-table book has been written about their Garden Gallery, and Martha Stewart and others have featured their work.

Yet, all the attention seems not to have disturbed their tranquil oasis. We were alone as we followed the winding pathway through the Garden Gallery to their studio. Along the way, garden areas, or small galleries, display sculpted garden art, or made-to-look-old columns, mirrors, wall hangings ... different colors and creations at each turn.

General store

and nursery

Four miles north, entering Bay Hay and Feed in Rolling Bay was like walking into an old-time general store. Housed in a near-century-old building, a maze of tall shelves offers a bit of everything: Toys are above displays of pet food and medical supplies, a section of high-end outdoor and gardening clothes is near a small shoe department. Sprinkler heads and fertilizers are on display near the gift and greeting-card section. The Rolling Bay Café serves sandwiches, pastries, espresso and cold drinks. Customers are invited to use picnic tables and benches that overlook the expansive nursery behind the store.

During their 27-years of ownership Howard Block and CeAnn Parker have fostered loyal employees and a large following. Store manager Margie Klein, a 16-year employee, said, "We are a neighborhood store. We know the customers by name, and they know us by name."

And if you seek a hard-to-find-plant and your name goes on their "plant search list," it stays there until the plant is found -- it may take years, but they won't give up, she adds.

Honoring tradition

Our stop at Bainbridge Gardens nursery, run by Junkoh Harui, his wife, Chris, and daughter, Donna, was rich in history. The nursery is situated on seven acres, four of which have been filled with theme gardens, furniture and garden-art displays and a restaurant, the New Rose Café. Another building houses a small classroom where workshops are held. A large retail area is stocked with everything from bird feeders to decorator candles.

Harui describes the nursery as being in an "amphitheater of trees" -- some of which are decades old Japanese red pines planted by his father, Zenhichi Harui. They are a reminder of the family's gardens left behind in the 1940s when the Harui family was forced to leave along with other Japanese Americans. The gardens were thought to be beyond restoration when they returned.

In 1989, after years of running his own nursery in Winslow, Harui moved his business to its present location, back to where his father had so long ago cultivated plants. The nursery's Harui Memorial Garden, where an old wisteria drapes over a bamboo trellis near bonsai pines and a pear tree grafted into shape by his father, is a tribute to those original gardens.

Freelance writer Jackie Smith lives in Kirkland.

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