Pacific Northwest | February 1, 2004Pacific Northwest MagazineFebruary 1, home
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First Place
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Special Garden Issue

 Illustration Pacific Northwest garden contest
Third place
Sanctuary in Snohomish
Karen Guzak and Warner Blake see their garden as a combination of nature and art. They freely muse over its mythic and poetic qualities while savoring its bounty of fresh lettuce, tomatoes and dahlia blooms.
KAREN GUZAK AND Warner Blake have taken a neglected former churchyard and created an artists' garden painted in living pigments and highlighted with vibrant meaning. Their goal: an environment where inspiration thrives and symbols guide the way.

These industrious artists and filmmakers live and work in what had been a Victorian-era church and rectory in the historic district of Snohomish. They have given their property two names: Angel Arms Works and, for reasons obvious to all gardeners, the Church of Perpetual Chores.

They placed third in the 11th-annual Pacific Northwest Competition for Home Gardeners, winning $500 cash. Preliminary judges were struck by the effective integration of Guzak's sculptures into the garden and by the refined sense of balance in planted spaces, including the path layout and a meditation area. They also praised the owners' handling of color combinations and the vibrant good health of their well-chosen cultivars.
No, this isn't France. An especially sunny area opposite the couple's living quarters has a table and chairs encircled by delphiniums, pelargonium, variegated iris and dahlias. Gardener Peter Moore works with the homeowners to keep the landscape looking its best.
Guzak defines gardening as "a harmonious combining for excitement and interest that manifests itself in a kind of melding of order and chaos." Blake, who likes to play devil's advocate, says, "I think you should grow for food."

Both sentiments are intertwined in the partners' courtyard garden and up on the porches of their living quarters, where raised beds and planter boxes brim with perennials and annuals — some edible, others not.

Meanwhile, order and chaos slug it out in the mass planting, added in 2000, along the street on the north side of the property. The result is a harmony of Arizona cypress 'Blue Ice,' Senecio 'Sunshine,' thymes, beautyberry, Mexican feather grass and sedums with their valiant little blooms. Rugosa roses and buddleias are here, too, along with assorted tall grasses, including the large-scale feather grass Stipa gigantea. These cutlass-in-the-teeth plants persevere through heat, neglect and wayward dogs.

"We lined 'em up on the sidewalk in their little 4-inch pots and did a slam-dunk," Guzak says.

Just around the corner, the above-street-level courtyard garden also has a lush, natural appearance from the sidewalk. Along this border are iris, the lime-green leaves of spirea, climbing vines, strikingly tall plume poppies, sedums, rhododendrons and a brace of stately New Zealand flax.
Though the immature flower head is usually eaten as a vegetable, this artichoke survived to full bloom. Blake grew it in a container and values its decorative quality.
This fringe area is so alluring that strangers sometimes wander past an iron gate and into the private court, thinking it a public park.

Guzak planned the centerpiece garden in 1994, seeing the big picture from a second-story rectory window. (The rectory — the pair's residence, now restored — is joined to the church's south side at the rear of the double lot.)

Because the courtyard space is fairly small, Guzak wanted grassy paths to weave through curving beds to encourage lingering. She and Blake cut thick cardboard to the planting-bed shapes she visualized, including a large heart halved by the center path. Then they shoveled more than 40 yards of fresh dirt and compost on top of the paper.

Next, they laid down a diamond-shaped patio near the center of the court, using recycled chimney bricks, then added a cross-shaped arbor to support clematis and grapevines. Here are benches for sitting quietly. A statue of the Buddha oversees a small fountain. Water trickles over a stone sphere into a bowl. Two apple trees symbolize the trees of life and knowledge, whose branches they intertwined. Irish junipers were added for columnar height.
This view from the second floor of the former rectory shows the present-day courtyard garden. A driveway is at right. Guzak planned the layout of the grassy paths and planting beds after reflecting on the scene from this window.
The pair framed one edge of their driveway with copper pipe, then planted blueberries between the supports, and strawberries under them. Blake fabricated abstract angels to watch over the delphiniums, Asiatic lilies, iris and dahlias, as well as his neat rows of lettuce, onions and kale. Dwarf boxwood outlines many of the beds.

Meanwhile, Guzak, who had buckets of leftover scrap metal and machine parts she had used in a public-art commission, shaped abstract flowers and spiritual symbols, which they installed as sculptural elements and plant stakes.

Guzak and Blake had been living in separate loft spaces south of downtown Seattle when they bought the former St. Michael's at a bankruptcy sale in 1993. Guzak had had a rooftop garden and Blake had what he calls a "little squatter garden" of vegetables and flowers.
History is honored and tomorrow is welcome at this former rectory in Snohomish, now used as living quarters. A dual-purpose planter box and railing brings herbs and flowers close to the kitchen.
They saw an opportunity to stretch in all directions, so devoted several years to renovating the buildings even as they planned the garden and pursued their careers.

Guzak and Blake nearly placed among the final three winners last year. Since then, they refined their plant choices and added improvements, including trellising along a driveway fence. They've begun to invite poets and performance artists; the old church sings with new life.

Just off their kitchen, in the former rectory, deck-railing planter boxes overflow with vegetables, herbs and colorful annuals. Summer guests settle here, where vines scramble over a latticed canopy toward a potting shed and the golden-orange flowers of an angel's trumpet (Brugmansia) spill sweetness into night air.

One version of a miracle, you might say.
A handsome handmade gate divides the courtyard garden from the outside world but doesn't impede views to the former rectory. A world of layered greenery is just beyond the overhead arbor.
Guzak worked with welding students at South Seattle Community College to make sculpture from recycled machine parts, and later brought home prototypes and culls as support staffs for her dahlias and delphiniums.

First place | Second place | Third place

Dean Stahl is a Seattle-based freelance writer and editor. Mike Siegel is a Seattle Times staff photographer.

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