Pacific Northwest | February 8, 2004Pacific Northwest MagazineFebruary 8, 2004seattletimes.com home
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CONTENTS
COVER STORY
PLANT LIFE
TASTE
NORTHWEST LIVING
NOW & THEN
PREVIOUS ISSUES OF PACIFIC NW


WRITTEN BY VALERIE EASTON
PHOTOGRAPHED BY JACQUELINE KOCH

Measure for Measure
From woods to waterside, crafted gardens unfold in perfect harmony
 
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The bathtub in the glass-sided guesthouse was sited so it would look out to a little pond and bubbling stone fountain.
LEGEND HAS IT that Clark Gable stayed here. Developed as a summer place in the 1940s by animal trainers from Hollywood, the quiet, woodsy nature of the nine-acre property overlooking Hood Canal belies its glamorous heritage.

When Henry Vigil, a vice president at Microsoft, bought the estate more than seven years ago, he didn't plan many changes. The original cabin-like house remains, as do the tall conifers and wide-open view of salt water and mountains. Deer, bats, eagles, raccoons and bears still hold sway here, where a theme of coexistence reigns. No chemicals are used in the gardens, and much of the property remains wooded. Vigil hired garden designer Paul Repetowski, who had designed Vigil's Asian-inspired Seattle garden, with an idea of creating vegetable, fruit and cutting gardens. The plan evolved a little more ambitiously, and now Repetowski's hand can be seen in acres of gardens, a state-of-the-art greenhouse, ponds, patios, a meadow and an Asian-inspired guesthouse.
 
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A granite-chip pathway is lined with one of the most beautiful of the small evergreen grasses. Shown off to best effect when planted en masse, pheasant's tail grass (Anemanthele lessoniana) turns to shades of gold and russet as the weather cools.
Repetowski used to choreograph dance in New York, and his expertise in theatricality and rhythm is apparent as the series of gardens unfolds in measured time, revealing one delight after another. Each element blends melodiously with the rest to take full advantage of the unique topography and expansive scale of the place.

The estate opens up at the end of a long, gravel driveway, the greenhouse to one side and a sunken circle garden straight ahead. Filled with pots of fragrant brugmansia and red foxtail grasses, this is the first circle you come upon in the three acres of cultivated gardens. Circles and curves repeat throughout the property, the beat of the motif linking gardens that run from waterside to deep woods.
 
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Decking that floats on a sea of river rock encircles the glass and cedar guesthouse, providing a subtle transition between indoors and out as well as a place to sit and enjoy the garden. The dove tree (Davidia involucrata) is a focal point behind the guesthouse, where its white spring bloom and heart-shaped leaves are shown off against a backdrop of dark conifers.
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A series of waterfalls and rectilinear ponds introduces a formal element into the mostly naturalistic landscape. The huge, roughly pleated leaves of the gunnera rising up from the bog below contrast with the sleekness of the concrete walls and reflective smoothness of the pool's placid surface.
While much of the estate is intensively planted, Repetowski's work around the old house leaves hardly a fingerprint. A new outdoor shower and sauna are tucked into a patio at one side of the house, a reminder that the home is surrounded by acres of privacy. He added a low stone wall and patio, strung a hammock between towering cedars, and shaped salal into a hedge between the lawn and the cliff down to the beach. All is restful and mellow — a subtle foreground that emphasizes the magnificent sweep of water view.

On the entry side of the house, away from the water, is a stone-floored courtyard filled with urn-shaped pots holding unusual little conifers, bulbs and grasses. The nearly 200 pots, as well as the rest of the gardens, are cared for by both a full-time gardener, who lives next door, and Repetowski, who works at the property two to three days a week.

The breadth of meadow that stretches between the guesthouse and the vegetable garden offers relief from the intensity of all those pots and plantings. Repetowski made a series of drawings for this area, including ideas for a swimming pool and tennis court. Vigil decided on the stretch of eco-turf, a textural, ever-changing mix of grass, alyssum, English daisies and yarrow. The view from the guesthouse deck is across the meadow to thousands of red poppies, followed by nasturtiums and stands of sunflowers. "Hank loves red poppies and nasturtiums — "they make him happy," says Repetowski of the colorful masses.
 
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At the entrance, above, urn-shaped pots are planted with unusual little conifers and bulbs. Japanese blood grass (Imperata cylindrica 'Rubica') is in the foreground. On the Hood Canal view side of the house, below, a low stone seating wall and terrace were designed to look as if they had always been there. Mature madronas, firs and cedars complete the quintessential Northwest setting.
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The far side of the guesthouse faces the woods, and here is a distinct shift of atmosphere. Three interconnected concrete ponds and water channels span the grade change between the guesthouse and the hill into the forest. The geometry of rectangular pools and semi-circular patio, as well as a hill of white shrub roses (R. 'The Gift') soften the transition between cultivated gardens and woodland.

It is beyond the guesthouse, where the experience of moving through the garden no longer relates so closely to architecture, that the most meticulous choreography guides your steps. A long, curved alleyway, or allee, is formed by rows of maple trees underplanted with undulating hedges of Lonicera nitida. Two hundred gallon-sized plants were needed for the hedging, and literally tons of manure, gravel and wood chips were brought in to make this whole difficult area of woodland transition plantable. A walk through the allee affords a view to a sea of purple and white Siberian iris planted in a wet depression where a bear occasionally wallows.

A series of destinations, such as patios, benches, ponds and groves, coaxes you along the path into the woods. Low, massed plantings lead the eye to the long vistas. After passing through these colorful stretches of plants, you reach the serenity of the yew bower, which Repetowski calls a "palate cleanser" — a place to pause, rest and choose whether to follow a path toward the orchard or the woods.

Here is the entrance to the hushed forest, thick with ferns, moss and old-growth stumps sprouting huckleberry bushes. The main path leads to a secret garden in a clearing, planted with texturally bold mahonia, Solomon's seal, tree ferns and weeping sequoia. "I kept it all green because I wanted it to feel like it belongs here," says Repetowski.

The trail continues to a pond and birch woods underplanted with the large, lush leaves of ligularia and petasites, and a grove of golden full-moon maples. "The owner doesn't want familiar plants like primroses or rhododendrons," explains Repetowski of the inspired and unusual array of plants growing beneath the trees and along the woodland pond.

While the garden was designed for interest in all seasons, it peaks in August and September when the sweeps of lilies, purple monkshood and ornamental grasses are at their best. In all seasons, the garden offers drama with hundreds of iris, banks of white roses, the rhythm of birch trunks, the laciness of maidenhair ferns massed beneath the conifers. When such large-scale theatrics are trimmed in tidy granite-chip paths, stone circles and curves of concrete, the effect is worthy of the property's spectacular site as well as its colorful history.

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 writer and photographer living on Whidbey Island.

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