Pacific Northwest | March 21, 2004Pacific Northwest MagazineMarch 21, home
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Besotted with Pots
Through a love of containers, a living tapestry is stitched
In summertime, Beryl Hiatt and Larry Palmer live and dine outdoors on their plant-and-pot-enlivened deck overlooking Lake Washington.
BERYL HIATT AND Larry Palmer live just about as far south and west as you can go in this city. From the street, all you can see of their house is a carport and pots and pots of roses in every color from deep purple to fragrant vermilion. Fat pots in oxblood red, glossy aqua and pleated green hold roses, petunias, tomatoes and basil, all flourishing along the warmth of the sidewalk. A trio of pots is patterned in navy and yellow stripes, while another has stars bulging on its curvy sides.

If there was a neon sign flashing "Here lives a container collector," the message couldn't be any clearer, for in Hiatt's case the pot comes before the plant. "Every year for my birthday I buy myself four or six new pots. With containers, you can control the water and the soil — you know what's happening with your plants."
Hiatt is bringing a few decorative touches to the shady lower garden, as in these potted hydrangeas and buddha backed by black bamboo.
This pot gardener supreme says fiance Palmer lured her to move in by promising to build a deck substantial enough to hold all her pots. Undaunted by either the mature trees shading most of the property or the house's location on a precipitous cliff above Lake Washington, Hiatt has managed to squeeze flamboyantly planted pots into every possible flat spot with even a sliver of sun.

Hiatt thoroughly gardens the driveway and alleyway margins with sweet peas, dahlias, lilies, coneflowers, and more and more roses. These mixed borders grow in narrow wooden planters painted vivid cobalt blue. Hiatt isn't one to shy away from color contrasts, planting up mustard-hued pots with ruffs of chartreuse coleus. Pale-pink climbing roses and honeysuckle vines clamber out of shapely blue urns to twine around the carport pillars. But there is more to the garden than this initial riotous greeting of color and scent, for most of the pots are revealed only when you walk through the house and out onto the deck.
While Beryl Hiatt usually has the nursery drill several extra holes in all her pots, she uses an intact pot as a water garden garnished with the orange and yellow hummingbird-attracting flowers of lantana.
Pots of all sizes and shapes are clustered on Hiatt's sunny deck and filled with unusual plants like this ruffled succulent and assorted coleus.
You can choose instead to veer off into mystery and discover the dichotomy of this garden by slipping to one side of the carport, where a flagstone path descends into deep shade between pines and bamboo.

A dedicated knitter since childhood, Hiatt has a fearless color sense and a talent for mixing pots and plants that may come from her expertise in combining yarns. Hiatt grew up in Vancouver, B.C., where her mother took her around to knitting shops filled with English yarns and bought her gorgeous materials to work with. "I started cooking and knitting when I was 9 years old, and that's my life — yarn, flowers and food," says Hiatt, who co-owns the knitting shop Tricoter in Seattle's Madison Valley. She started gardening when she moved to the city and learned much from nursery people.

Her years of gardening came in handy when she began renovating the dark, steep and overgrown old garden. Palmer and Hiatt's home was built in 1965 by famed Northwest collage artist Paul Horiuchi. With the help of landscaper Fujitaro Kubota, Horiuchi had planted in the Japanese style on the slope beside and beneath the house. It took nearly two years of pruning back and pulling out invaders to reveal their work, but Hiatt was rewarded by the Japanese maples and beautiful boulders she uncovered. "The pines hadn't breathed or had a drink for years, and were so overgrown they were in trouble," says Hiatt, who spent years pruning, clearing and fertilizing to bring the fine old plants back to health.
Is there any kind of plant unsuited to pot culture? Not on Beryl Hiatt and Larry Palmer's sunny deck, where the pots are filled with a montage of herbs, waterlilies, perennials, annuals, shrubs and bulbs like these multicolored iris.
Recently she laid a stone walkway and began to replant, adding hydrangeas and the burgundy-leafed Cercis canadensis 'Forest Pansy.' Pruning to open up the canopy and let more light shine onto the shady slope is a continuing, time-consuming task.

Hiatt has ended up creating two distinctly different gardens that seem to echo the two sides of her own character. The sunny deck and entry are filled with flashy foliage and flowers contained in that wild assortment of pots. This part of the garden is close to Hiatt's heart, reflective of her warmly gregarious, lively personality. The serene old garden, sparingly planted in ferns, pines and bamboo, creates the ambience of Hiatt's beloved knitting, which she describes as "soothing, allowing you to sit and rest and be in one place and meditative."

While the two faces of the garden remain distinct, Hiatt's color sense is seeping down into the shady parts of the garden. Blue pots stuffed with hydrangeas mingle with a statue of Buddha's head and a stand of black bamboo. The old slab outside the downstairs door has been replaced by a slate patio richly textured with insets of recycled glass tiles in shades of gold, green, orange and red.
Hiatt's collection of pots is planted up with a medley of lofty canna lilies, brugmansias and true lilies to tidy little herbs and succulents.
But the real fireworks happen up above, where Hiatt's peacock-colored dining room opens out to the two-tiered deck packed with pots holding water, glass floats and plants ranging from raspberries to fuchsias. An entire garden contained in ceramics grows here outside glass sliders, the blue of the lake serving as backdrop. Vivid annuals and patterned coleus, as well as highly textural foliage plants, play off the shapes, feel and colors of the pots. The spiky arms of a bronze phormium embrace the floppy leaves of the pineapple sage Hiatt snips to spice up Thanksgiving dinner. A tall, jagged mahonia lends green presence year-round, skirted in summer by lemon-scented geraniums.

How does a woman who cooks, runs a business, knits and cares for an entire garden find time for so many potted plants with their precise demands for water, feeding and grooming? The chore seems to fit seamlessly into Hiatt's summation of her daily life: "I'd never sit down if it wasn't for knitting, and I'd never get up again if it wasn't for gardening."

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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