A Woodland World
CALM DAWNS IN THE 'AWESOME USE OF GREEN'
Their lot is just 60 by 100 feet, but appears boundless. A borrowed backdrop of tall birch, locust and fir trees in a canyon greenbelt at the north property line adds major scope to the main garden, which is level with the first floor of the house. Closer in are a fingernail of lawn and an adjoining courtyard, where benches and Adirondack chairs line the edge of a small pond. Raised border areas mirror the arc of the lawn, while nearby plots are so intensively planted that boundaries blur. The color palette is calming, the overall effect restrained.
This carefully planned garden, which suggests an idealized forest glade, placed first in the 11th-annual Pacific Northwest Competition for Home Gardeners out of a field of 94 entrants. The Geiszlers have won round-trip airfare, lodging expenses and admission for two to London's 2004 Chelsea Flower Show. Jim and Charlene, who celebrated their 10th wedding anniversary this past summer, plan to make it a much-delayed honeymoon.
Final-round judges were struck by this garden's overall harmony, while preliminary judges noted the garden was "a stunning example of thoughtful preparation, diligent execution and attention to detail." One praised the "awesome use of shades of green."
Jim says gardening is largely a matter of paying attention to proportion, dimension and scale. Yet their private paradise also has an aesthetic sweetness, which is harder to measure. Call it a sense of ease or plain good vibes. This sought-after quality is gardening's will-o'-the-wisp.
The Geiszlers placed third in the garden competition in 2000. They knew rigorous garden maintenance would be necessary to compete this time, but decided to have fun no matter the outcome.
"The whole garden is new since February" (2003) anyway, Jim says, including a centerpiece pond outlined in river rock, an all-shade garden and a patio.
"For my 50th birthday, Jim surprised me by starting in on the courtyard" in the back garden, Charlene says. Before removing most of the lawn, he calculated the ideal proportions and created an outline in gravel. The slight curve of grass he spared offers breathing room between the courtyard and raised-bed plantings.
The couple must have a hundred pots at work throughout the garden. "We're real spontaneous," Jim says. "We can pop things in and move them around. Most of the color is in pots." Also in containers are tender specimens, such as princess flower (Tibouchina), and semi-hardy plants, including banana. Heavy pots are slid onto a dolly and wheeled under cover for winter.
The Geiszlers used a $100 gift certificate awarded by Swanson's Nursery to each of the top 15 contestants to buy a number of grasses, which they placed before the final judging and which now are among their favorite plants. They've long been fond of summersweet (Clethra alnifolia) and common heliotrope, and have placed them here and there for fragrance.
Structure comes mainly from maples. Vine maples, a Northwest native, are key; they have more than a dozen of them. They also have strategically planted 10 of the smaller Japanese-maple cultivars.
He designed an overhanging-shelf configuration for the rock lip around the pool to discourage raccoons, but unfortunately they studied the same textbook, and aquatic plants take a beating.
Every year the couple amend the soil by adding about a hundred bags of compost mix. As a result, they lost nothing to the heat of last summer, says Charlene, who goes out every day, checking for needs. "Nobody should be droopy. Everybody should be happy."
Though they decide matters jointly, Jim, who is red/green colorblind, usually leaves color choices to Charlene. Their garden has evolved into the showcase for foliage it is today because the couple came to prefer the subtlety of lime green, variegated hues and shifting shapes of leaves and branches over the punch of perennials.
Jim drastically remodeled the house in 1985, brought in 200 yards of topsoil and planted an earlier version of the existing garden at that time. The couple study books and magazines for ideas and tour other gardens. Charlene suggests gardeners stick with one all-purpose groundcover something they did not do. One never stops improving a garden, she says.
Charlene works at a University of Washington medical clinic. Jim teaches an alternative-high-school program in Bothell, where he has allowed students to contribute community service by helping turn a couple hundred square feet of unused ground at the school into a garden. "It's always three or four months down the line" for the payoff, Jim notes, and that is a useful lesson in setting goals and persistence.
When things are going well in the garden, Jim sometimes has a sense of fulfilled expression that can't really be explained. "But anyone who's in it will know what I mean. It brings a joy greater than I would have thought."
Charlene agrees, adding, "It's where I release my energy at night. I think there's no coincidence there's a renaissance in gardening. People need to nurture."
Home delivery | Contact us | Search archive | Site map | Low-graphic
NWclassifieds | NWsource | Advertising info | The Seattle Times Company
Back to top