A Garden Makeover

Garden MakeoverIt takes time — as well as imagination, desire and commitment — to turn a yard into a garden.

Sam and Karen Brindley had the latter two necessities when they moved to Indianola from Kirkland 10 years ago. The house they found had a spectacular southern view across Puget Sound toward downtown Seattle, Bainbridge Island and Mount Rainier.

The Northwest contemporary house had little else to offer in the way of character. The water side was a sweeping field of green lawn. The front entry and drive were unassuming, to say the least. The Brindleys looked at it as a clean palette just waiting for the right people to come along. It’s amazing to look at the “before and after” photos of the now show-stopping garden and landscaping.

Garden MakeoverThe couple would have probably created a lovely garden on their own. But during the closing on the house, they had stumbled on the best piece of luck any new homeowners looking to enhance their property could have possibly hoped for. Their new next-door neighbors were none other than the revered plantsman Dan Hinkley and his partner, architect Robert Jones.

The rest is history. A wonderful relationship began between the neighbors. The Brindleys asked Jones to design their new garden. He and Hinkley recommended fellow plantsman and designer Shayne Chandler for the planting. The design incorporated a complete reconfiguration of the house’s façade to blend in with the landscape design, create privacy from the road and make the water-facing side of the house blend with the new garden landscape.

Garden MakeoverSam Brindley is very much a hands-on kind of guy and he was involved in the new design of the front entry, the walks, the decks and the walls that became the backbone of the new garden. He used the stone from an existing straight wall to create background walls for the curved beds next to the lower deck.

Brindley loves glass. He built a beautiful pergola with glass skylights to enhance the entry to the house and prepare guests for the gorgeous view of the gardens and wide expanse of water that makes up the stunning view from the living room.

Garden MakeoverThe first year of the makeover involved removing the lawn behind the house and contouring the whole area to create curving, raised island beds interspersed with meandering paths. A diversion ditch at the bottom of the property carries off water for the whole neighborhood. With its banks decked out in water-loving plants, it has become a feature of the garden as a natural stream.

Garden MakeoverThe road side of the house was graded into a circular drive with an oval garden area in the center (christened the “Amoeba Garden”) and borders on the sides that would be planted for privacy.

Karen Brindley originally wanted a French country-style garden but, under the influence of plant hunters Chandler and Hinkley, she came to the conclusion that her new garden could be that and so much more.

She wanted to keep the sweeping view of Puget Sound from the living room but also wanted lots of color — not just grasses and shrubs. Hinkley and Chandler recommended looking for plants at Far Reaches in Port Townsend, Cistus and Xera nurseries in Portland, and Dancing Oaks in Corvallis, Oregon. So while the year of the bulldozer was happening in Indianola, the Brindleys, with plant lists in hand, began an exciting search for plants for the new garden.

With such a large garden (3 acres with about 2 acres cultivated), they found they could have a variety of garden styles in different areas.

Garden MakeoverThe back garden has a Mediterranean feel with sunny, hot, dry summers; windy storms and sea breezes in late autumn; and cloudy, wet winters. Plants such as hebes, artemisia, mulleins, alliums, poppies, roses and lupines, as well as agave and yucca, thrive in this atmosphere just as they would in the south of France. Grasses and sedges add a softness and feeling of motion.

Arched entryways created by espaliered pear tree provide the entrance to the circular Amoeba Garden, with “arms” that form paths leading in and out. The central focal point is a huge, potted Brugmansia.

Garden MakeoverPacking the driveway borders with a mélange of trees, shrubs and foliage plants, some native and some exotic, all the way from the entrance gate down to the house, solved the privacy issue at the entrance. One of Sam Brindley’s favorite plants here is the Marlborough rock daisy from New Zealand, with daisy-like flowers and leathery leaves. Though he claims not to be an expert at taxonomy, he rattles off its Latin name, Pachystygia insignis, like a pro.

The stylish green house and kitchen garden fulfilled Karen Brindley’s love of French country style. The greenhouse is used for propagation as well as for storage of tropicals during winter. The parterred herb and vegetable beds of the kitchen garden are enclosed by low boxwood hedges and are home to onions, tomatoes, asparagus, grapes, blueberries, raspberries, rhubarb, quince, persimmons, pawpaws and an array of culinary herbs.

Garden MakeoverKaren’s own design is the “Woodland Garden” on the cool, shady, eastern side of the house. This terraced area with huge rocks is planted with ferns, hostas and shade lovers such as Cardiocrinum giganteum, Brugmansia and other exotics.

A garden for all seasons, there is something beautiful to see each month of the year. Spring welcomes tulips and lots of small ephemeral bulbs, followed by bearded iris sent from an old friend in Texas, as well as native camassia and Pacific Coast iris. Summer follows with roses, eucomis, hydrangeas, fuchsia and wonderful exotics from New Zealand, Australia and South Africa planted in sweeping waves in the curved island beds.

Garden MakeoverColor is everywhere: Beds are composed of bright floral swaths in complementary shades accented with glass art (including a brilliant mobile centerpiece) that echoes the flowers’ hues and increases the feeling of windy motion in the garden.

In autumn, the grasses and sedges take the leading role in shades of gold and beige, orange and tan. The breezes give a feeling of constant, flowing movement set against the backdrop of sea and sky.

Evergreens and hellebores provide winter interest along with the grasses that are left to sway in the wind until very early spring.

All in all, this garden is magnificent and the Brindleys love to share the beauty with others. They have been on the Northwest Perennial Alliance’s Open Gardens tour for many years. They also sponsor fundraising activities and have had visitors such as Martha Stewart and John Anderson, Queen Elizabeth’s gardener. You should visit too.

Maintenance Notes

Watering: The Brindleys, on the advice of expert garden developers, held off on putting in an irrigation system until recently. “We dragged hoses for nine years and were glad we did because, if we had put in a watering system, the plants would probably be blocking most of them by now,” Sam Brindley says. A great many of the plants were chosen for their ability to get along with low moisture.

Soil: The sandy glacial soil had to be amended according to the types of plants that were going in. The borders and island beds were mounded to provide better drainage, leaving the lower areas for meandering paths and driveways.

Visit the Garden

If you would like to visit this garden, as well as many other wonderful gardens every summer, join the Northwest Perennial Alliance. The organization sponsors Open Gardens, an annual tour featuring a wide array of member-owned private and public gardens throughout Western and into Eastern Washington. northwestperennialalliance.org