Pacific Northwest | June 29, 2003Pacific Northwest MagazineJune 29, 2003seattletimes.com home
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CONTENTS
COVER STORY
PLANT LIFE
TASTE
ON FITNESS
NORTHWEST LIVING
NOW & THEN
PREVIOUS ISSUES OF PACIFIC NW


WRITTEN BY VALERIE EASTON
PHOTOGRAPHED BY JACQUELINE KOCH

Landscapes To Learn From
On Bainbridge, a garden tour feels more like a festival
 
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Circles are a unifying theme, linking plantings and sitting areas in this gracious and tranquil waterfront garden owned by Faith and Fred Stabbert.
Bainbridge in bloom is the granddaddy of Northwest garden tours, introducing eager gardeners to an impressive assortment of enviable landscapes every July for the past 15 years. More of a midsummer festival than a garden tour, the event also includes an art fair and marketplace, a book sale and lectures. Nearly every garden features something fun and extra, like the cappuccino stand and sale of unusual plants in Little and Lewis' fantasy sculpture garden.

New this year is a tour of IslandWood, an award-winning environmental center and living classroom that includes work by local craftsmen and artisans as well as trails through the woodlands.
 
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A red laceleaf maple overhangs yellow and blue ornamental grasses cascading down a slope in the Stabberts' skillfully planted, mature garden above Fletcher Bay.
Participants are encouraged to explore a corner garden of site-specific artworks, as well as the new children's garden at Crooked Post Farm. Invented just for the occasion, this extravaganza for kids has a butterfly garden and pizza-shaped herb garden, as well as ducks, chickens, goats, sheep, donkeys, peacocks and parakeets. Bainbridge's rural nature has never been showcased so stunningly as in the seven gardens open for touring, and the little farm made just for the kids.

This year, tour officials sought out landscapes with a personal touch, including a garden detailed with pots, sculptures and statues; a large, fan-shaped landscape of ponds and waterfalls, an organic woodland of paths, native plantings and an impressive pavilion. Visitors will be stunned to realize that the flowery garden charmingly backed by a gray-shingled house is a living laboratory for a whimsically-minded plant scientist. Topiary and moss creatures, including a 60-foot hedge pruned into Puff the Magic Dragon, rub leaves with hundreds of roses and dozens of columbine, all plants that Olaf Ribiero has cured of various diseases now thriving in the Last Chance Garden.
 
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Many groundcovers, including the ornamental strawberry 'Lipstick,' fill the beds in the Stabbert garden.
"I work with lots of California rose growers," says Olaf, pointing out a long row of pink-flowered hybrid teas set off to perfection against the gray house, and a formal rose bed carpeted in ajuga, an experiment in growing roses with a living mulch. While Nancy Ribiero sculpts poodles and birds from boxwood and pieris, Olaf tests mulches and potting soils. He crosses the garden each morning to his laboratory behind the house, where he takes in sick plants shipped from around the country to be cured of their ills. Each plant is treated and deemed fully recovered before it can escape its pot because Olaf shuns pesticides in the beds and borders.

In the garden, camellias grow strong, roses sport glossy leaves, and along the shady path on the north side of the house, colorful columbines consort with heuchera and primroses. Herringbone brick pathways, a little pond, patio and trellises tie together the collection of rescued plants.

While visitors might be excused for thinking the garden an exercise in creativity (notice the reflecting eyes and bright red fuchsia tale of the dragon), the garden's purpose is to show that once-diseased plants can be kept healthy with organic products. Olaf stresses that the garden proves a working couple in their 60s can still do everything from laying brick and hauling gravel to shoveling topsoil and moving large plants as they create new space for their ever-increasing collection of born-again plants. And you'll be pleasantly reminded that this garden's creator is a plant scientist when you notice that every single plant is labeled with its full botanical name.
 
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The Ribiero garden not only shows how once-diseased plants can thrive on an organic regime, but that a working couple in their 60s can create and care for a large garden, down to the laying of the brick paths that lead from the front to the back garden.
A short distance but a world of style away is the waterfront garden of Faith and Fred Stabbert, a third-acre folded into a southwest-facing slope above Fletcher Bay. A formal garden of half circles and hedging, the topography lends itself to garden rooms, or "special little areas," as Faith calls them. The fruit garden has a plum tree, thornless blackberries, raspberries and blueberries. Seven sumptuous tree peonies color the "Friendship Garden" with a gate that opens to the neighboring garden. Nearby, an oak tree presides over the arbor with bench swing, tiny terrace and round pond with dripping urn. Three katsura trees provide leafy privacy for the cushioned swing, but don't cast enough shade to hinder the nearby herb garden. A rich profusion of delphinium, heucheras, iris, peonies, hostas and roses are contained in the elegantly pruned hedging of boxwood and sarcococca.
 
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A bower of clematis partly hides the laboratory in Ribiero's back garden where he tests out various mulches and soils, and cures sick plants sent to him from growers across the country. Only healthy plants are released into the pesticide-free garden.
A stately wind sculpture marks the sunny bank down to the beach, planted in tough barberries and rugosa roses. A woodland path winds around the back of the house, through mature rhododendrons and firs, opening up to a curve of lawn. A trellis laced with climbing hydrangeas, which should be in full July flower for the tour, runs the length of the garage wall. Around every corner is a surprise, a stunning plant combination, a new place to sit, relax and enjoy the flutter of birds and view of the bay.

The Details

Bainbridge in Bloom, a benefit for the Bainbridge Island Arts and Humanities Council, will take place from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. July 12 and 13. A free shuttle will deliver guests to many of the gardens, as well as meet morning ferries from Seattle. Tickets are $30 for adults; $15 for children ages 4-12, and can be purchased at area nurseries, via the event Web site at www.gardentour.info, or by phone at 206-219-3182. Special events include a day of kids' activities on Wednesday, July 9.

Valerie Easton is a Seattle free-lance writer and contributing editor for Horticulture magazine. Her e-mail address is vjeaston@aol.com. Jacqueline Koch is a free-lance photographer who lives on Whidbey Island.

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