Pacific Northwest | April 11, 2004Pacific Northwest MagazineApril 11, home
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Intimate, Intense, Individual
A happy, harmonious garden emerges from shade and decay
The bluestone front terraces are edged with a low stucco wall, capped in stone, for additional seating, and set at an angle to increase the spacious feel of the front garden.
RENOVATING AN OLD garden can be more daunting than a house remodel, with challenges ranging from tough access to a plenitude of prickly junipers. Designer Richard Hartlage faced these problems and more in designing a new landscape for a classic 1930s home on a wide, gracious street in Seattle's North End. A juniper-clad slope and what homeowners Hans and Tina Mandt describe as "a monstrosity of a tulip tree" greeted guests, whose only route to the front door was a stretch of narrow cement stairs leading up from the driveway.
A gravel terrace, square pond and wall fountain are features in the updated front garden.
The desire for a more welcoming entrance served as impetus for a dramatically updated front garden. When they had to tear up the driveway to take out an old oil tank, the Mandts decided it was time for a fresh approach and ended up transforming much of the back garden as well. "It wasn't a very happy garden for a long time," says Tina of the overgrown rockeries, heavy shade and decayed sprinkler system.

Hartlage, of Dietz/Hartlage Landscape Architecture in Tacoma, brought a modernist approach to creating a number of small, intimate garden spaces in harmonious scale to the old house. Now the garden presents a series of experiences ranging from quiet, private patios to the intensely planted, extravagantly flowery parking strip. The design needed to satisfy two clients with quite different ideas about the garden, for Tina was concerned about the overall architecture and Hans is a self-described "plant geek."
Hans and Tina Mandt's new front garden brings a contemporary feel to their 1930s house. Designed by Richard Hartlage, the russet stucco walls, paved terraces and lushly planted parking strip are far more welcoming than the steep old cement stairs and juniper-clad rockery that used to greet, or perhaps discourage, guests.
The result is a garden both highly designed and provocatively personal. The new design adds architectural oomph, while providing plenty of space for Hans to experiment with new plants. Hartlage designed the architecture of the garden on paper, and all three discussed the major structural plants. It was agreed to move the old nandinas, and to keep the aged cherry tree, which lends scale to the front terraces. "We did much of the infill planting by shopping at all the specialty nurseries from Canada to Oregon," says Hans with relish.

The three worked together to pick the deep, velvety oxblood-red color used for the home's front door, trim and patio pots. The warm, rich shade serves as inspiration for the many burgundy flowering and foliage plants. Choosing just the right color for the stucco walls along the street and front steps took a little more deliberation. Hartlage spot tested 10 different colors, but ended up with mellow red walls to contrast with the gray-black tones of adjacent walls.
The bluestone patios dug out around the back of the house are warm and sheltered spaces that trap the fragrances from the plants growing in the steep terraces above.
The theater starts at the parking strip with a colorful explosion of the red 'Bengal Tiger' rose, hot-orange kniphofia, purple allium and dramatic Astrantia 'Hadspen Blood,' with its deep burgundy flowers. The fireworks are cooled in spring with the Siberian iris 'Dwarf White,' and later with blue oat grass and silvery-gray perennial sages and lavenders. In late summer, the diaphanous moor grass Molina caerulea 'Skyracer' adds its hazy texture to the plantings. The entire strip blooms brightly in early springtime, thanks to hundreds of narcissus and the little species Tulipa kaufmanniana 'Stresa,' a brilliant school-bus yellow trimmed with orange.

Perhaps the redesign's most striking aspect is the geometry Hartlage injected, then softened with generous planting. The front garden is a series of angles that creates an entry with comfortably wide stairs running along a fountain drizzling water down glistening stucco walls. The patios at the top of the stairs are set on the diagonal to capture the longest view, visually expanding the small space. Low stucco walls ideal for seating outline the space. A square pond features water bubbling out of a granite ball, its gurgle audible in the master bedroom above.
The dramatic color scheme and simple lines of the pond and fountain echo the angular modernity of the front terraces and stucco-walled entry staircase.
In spring, glossy, fat burgundy pots and taller urns hold sweetly scented coral hyacinths and 'King's Orange' tulips, vibrant against the cream-colored house. "It doesn't take a lot of orange and scarlet for a big impact," says Hartlage of his less-than-orthodox color combination. In summer, the pots hold dark phormium skirted with the lime-and-chocolate ruffles of Coleus 'Inky Fingers.'

Next to the bluestone patio is a gravel terrace with a visual impact far beyond its actual size, for lush seasonal plantings punctuate its desert-like austerity. The 4-inch-deep gravel, an ideal environment for growing bulbs, begins to bloom in February with species crocus and snowdrops, followed by tulips, cammassias in May, yellow iris and tall 'Globemaster' allium, dying away in summer to sweeps of ornamental grasses.

In the back of the house, bluestone patios are tucked around the dining room and kitchen. The junipers and hydrangeas that filled the steep, stone-walled terraces are gone, replaced with hellebores, ferns, dark-leafed heucheras, phormiums, little golden-leafed spireas, blue-green parahebes and a cascade of the yellow grass Hakonechloa macra 'Aureola.' Because the little patios are between the house and the stone walls, they warm up quickly and hold a parade of fragrances from the sarcococca, witch hazels, daphnes and 'Casablanca' lilies planted nearby.

The reward for climbing the stairway up to the very back of the garden is a woodland garden shaded by birches and hedged in box. There's space up here for the many gems Hans collects, including various meconopsis and arums.

Hartlage, a great bulb fancier, has underplanted borders with bulbs that bloom successively from February through autumn, augmenting the many shrubs and perennials. Tina is simply fascinated by it all. "I never expected to be so in love with the garden," she says. "Every day something else is happening — it's like a moving-picture show."

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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