Pacific Northwest | February 22, 2004Pacific Northwest MagazineFebruary 22, home
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Shaped for STROLLING
Shielded, shaded and strewn with paths, a wooded acre is a walker's dream
Ornamental grasses soften the edges of the mossy boulders Lane loves for their unchanging, year-round appeal.
A DOZEN YEARS AGO Denise Lane and Bruce Allen's Medina back yard consisted of a soccer field and a blackberry jungle. You'd never guess the turf and tangle was sufficiently spacious to be transformed into a shady stroll garden trimmed in generously scaled borders of shrubs and perennials. Let alone a sport court, bog garden of big-leafed wonders and a columned ruin.

Now the house, which faces away from the street toward the back garden, has good reason to do so. In just under an acre, Lane has created a garden of vistas and destinations. Traditional Japanese stroll gardens entice visitors to follow winding paths to view a mossy boulder or perfectly pruned pine. Lane has created her own Northwest version using the property's topography, mature conifers and natural bog, while adding a few surprises along the garden's many paths.
A boardwalk, hemmed in on both sides by vigorous water-loving plants, crosses a soggy swale where the bog overflows and forms a stream during winter rains.
The hotter-colored borders are a profusion of orange daylilies set off by the broad, showy leaves of Canna 'Tropicana.'
When she graduated from high school, Lane was sure she wanted to be a landscape architect, but came hard up against the reality that she just couldn't draw. She spent some time working in nurseries and learning about plants. Now Lane's a commercial appraiser, serves on the board of the Bellevue Botanical Garden and gardens as a consuming hobby.

Medina remains more or less a wooded community, and the property is shielded from the street and shaded from the sun by firs and cedars. Instead of lamenting the darkness, Lane worked around the trees' majestic trunks, limbing them up to form an overstory prized by the plentiful squirrels and birds that share the property with the Lane family. The birds love the native ferns and Indian plum left to flourish beneath the conifers. As Lane began planting, her goal was to create a garden of year-round interest, so she layered in witch hazels for winter flower, Parrotia persica for a blaze of fall color, and plenty of callicarpa, viburnum and red twig dogwood. "I have just about every color of berry," Lane says, in part because her grandsons so enjoy collecting them.

She describes her early plantings as an exercise in trial and error, finally settling on a scheme of arranging plants by color, acknowledging that all too often they don't bloom when you expect. Starting with the sunny lawn around the sport court, Lane carved out curvaceous borders planted with cabernet colors. Fluorescent purplish-pink petunias are backed by fountains of pewter-foliaged, pink-blooming Rosa glauca and a feathery blue spruce. The tones of pink and purple are set off by an edging of the shimmery golden-yellow and green-striped grass Hakonechloa macra 'Aureola.' "The last few years I've worked on planting in drifts," says Lane. "Now I start out buying at least seven of anything — that's hard for a plant collector."
In this garden of destinations and views, visitors are lured along the paths by delights such as this timber swing shaded by its own little roof.
The purple area segues seamlessly into a border filled with daylilies in various shades of orange, the richly butterscotch rose 'Just Joey' (the only hybrid tea rose in the garden, Lane points out), and a showy stand of striped Canna 'Tropicana.' The colors gradually morph through bronze to peach, then on to yellow and white, and end in tones of blue. A little stone patio and wooden bench provide incentive to pause and appreciate the crescendo of color play.

These are extensive borders. When her son left for college, even his pitching mound was turned into one of the perennial beds. The sunny lawn and borders give way to the shade beneath the trees, crisscrossed with wood-chip paths and punctuated by mossy boulders, the result of annual pilgrimages to Marenakos Rock Center in Issaquah. At the central point where the paths intersect, Lane removed two big-leaf maples that were impossible to garden beneath. This left the house's three-story glass wall overlooking a void in the garden. Lane explains her solution by saying, "The older I get, the bolder I get."
The surround of tall, old trees lends scale while serving as a perfect backdrop to the extravagant ruin, or folly, created by Bainbridge Island artists George Little and David Lewis.
Now a watery ruin rises at the heart of the garden, designed and crafted by Bainbridge artists Little and Lewis. Lane wanted color and interest year-round outside her windows, a wish more than fulfilled by statuesque, gently dripping columns and a mammoth gunnera leaf that trickles water into a round pond. Plantings of purple heuchera and yellow grasses lap over the edges of the pond and fill in at the base of the columns. For another hit of color, Lane topped the ruin's pediments with pots planted in deep red coleus and frills of white bacopa.

The water theme continues in a nearby natural bog that stays wet all year with no liner other than its own pottery-quality clay soil. In winter, the swamp overflows into a natural stream lined with native skunk cabbages and crossed by a boardwalk nearly buried in a textural mix of water-loving plants. At the far side of the boardwalk lies yet another destination, this one a rustic swing seat sheltered by a pergola. Made of timbers topped with a little shed roof, it provides a spot to pause before following the path on to the new rock garden along the street. Here, filling in where trees were removed beneath overhead wires, Lane indulged her love of rocks. She planned the streetside garden to take care of itself, planting thickly around the rocks with ornamental grasses, hemlocks, snowberries, vine maples and the tall, toothed Mahonia x media 'Charity.' "I'm keeping this area simple because I have enough work to do elsewhere," Lane points out in a gardener's classic understatement of the time and travail involved in caring for an intensely planted acre of gardens.

Valerie Easton is a Seattle free-lance writer and contributing editor for Horticulture magazine. Her e-mail address is Barry Wong is a Pacific Northwest magazine staff photographer.

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