In a hidden place in Kingston, there lurks a plantsman’s 5-acre garden. Walk through this special place, and you almost believe you are on a tropical island.
Your eyes follow the lines of a trunk up into the canopy of fronds from the windmill palm (Trachycarpus fortunei). Farther into the garden are tall towers of Tetrapanax ‘Steroidal Giant’ with their huge leaves looming overhead. Deeper into the jungle, you find monstrous leaves of Darmera, Gunnera, Rodgersia and Astilboides. You halfway expect to hear the sounds of jungle animals in this tropical-like place.
The Kingston garden, owned by Shayne Chandler and Warren Read, is Chandler’s creation. With a strong background in fine arts and photography, his transition into the garden design was a natural fit for his talents and his love for all things flora.
Chandler had an interest in gardening at a very young age. His first memories about his gardening are as a 5-year-old. He planted seeds. At age 10, he described himself as “an orchid-crazed child.” After graduating from high school, Chandler went to the Pasadena Art Center College of Design in California.
When he moved to the Pacific Northwest, Chandler found an interest in floral design. Then he bought a home, where he planted his first garden. He chuckled when he said, “I was hooked.”
On the Seattle side of Puget Sound, he worked for landscape designers who focused on plant material. His interest developed in horticulture and the plants that grow in the region. Chandler made frequent trips to Heronswood Nursery in search of exciting new plants.
“Heronswood is what originally brought me to Kingston,” he said.
Wanting to get out of the Seattle area with Read and their newly adopted son, plus Chandler’s packed-to-overflowing garden in Seattle, the couple needed more room.
“I never knew that much about Kingston, but coming over to Heronswood, I thought, wow, it’s nice over here,” Chandler said.
They found a home on 5 acres near Heronswood Nursery and moved over in 2001.
Chandler began his own garden-design business — Shayne Chandler Plantsman and Landscape Designer — soon after their move to Kitsap County. He works with clients who want something special from their garden and interested in the plant material.
“I was fortunate that I found some great clients rather quickly,” he said.
His business consists of garden consulting with clients, giving design advice and designing and picking the best plants. Chandler also does many of the installations for his designs.
Over the years, he has traveled around the world, seeking new plants, collecting seed and bringing them home to test in the garden. He sells his plants by appointment at his small nursery, as well as at regional plant sales, such as those hosted at Heronswood a few times a year. Tasmania, China, Burma, Vietnam, Ecuador and Guatemala are some of the places he has trekked through in search of plants. Chandler found a variegated begonia while he was running in China. The begonia turned out to be hardy.
Chandler fell in love with the hardy Scheffleras and collected them in India, Vietnam and Burma. In the last few years, he has tested some of his 2018 collections from Tasmania for cold hardiness in the Northwest, including some Leptospermums he planted in an area he recently cleared for them. He tests many plants in his garden to see how they perform, so he knows how best to use them.
When Chandler designed his garden, he turned to the tropics for inspiration.
“As a kid, I wanted to live in the tropics, and I started seeing what we could grow in the Pacific Northwest,” he said. “I wanted a tropical paradise look that warmed me up. I was always a bit too cold here.”
To keep the winter landscape from looking too bleak, he sought out plants that have a tropical look or evergreen interest during the coldest months.
“As soon as we moved into our house, there wasn’t probably a day that I didn’t start working in the garden,” he said.
Working from the house, Chandler expanded out from there. At a certain point, he installed an irrigation system to spend more time with his family instead of dragging hoses around to water the garden after dark.
Chandler first created a tropical allée that you can observe from the kitchen and dining room. The courtyard, framed by windows, gives the impression that you are in a terrarium.
After making an addition to their home, Chandler created a round lawn area — a sunny, level area of grass with a stream passing through it.
He did not stop there. Lawn paths that wind through the acreage access more gardens added over the years. Each step takes you through the textures of ferns with large-leaf plants towering above, such as Gunnera and Darmera. Turn the bend, and the scene opens up to more luscious foliage.
Walk back toward the back of the house. You find a bed with Arisaema consanguineum rising from a sea of Saxifraga stolonifera ‘Maroon Beauty’ and Begonia ‘Shayne-grila’ (sold as Begonia ‘Shangri-la’ by Monrovia), Chandler’s collection from China.
Even though the gardens are all about plants, Chandler also built water features, brought in boulders and created nearly hidden waterfalls that are delightful to discover.
“One thing I am always looking for is something with more year-round interest. I’m a foliage and texture guy first,” he said.
Flowers are secondary for Chandler, as he wants a plant to look good for an extended period.
“I’m always looking for interesting textures in my garden and foliar color I can compose with, and then the flowers are nice on top of all that,” he said.
Chandler believes that an empty garden bed during the winter — the most depressing time of the year — is only useful if you are going to pack and leave for Hawaii. One of his favorite plants for the winter garden is the evergreen hydrangea relative, Dichroa febrifuga UBC form with sapphire berries that stay on the shrub for most of the winter. The first time he saw one was at Heronswood Garden.
In early spring, his favorite plants include the stunning hardy orchids Cypripediums, a favorite from his orchid-crazed, childhood days.
When asked how he maintains the gardens, he said, “It’s triage gardening. When you have limited manpower and a lot of gardens and a lot of plants, you have to do it that way.”
The garden has hosted weddings and parties galore. The events pushed Chandler to create more additions to the garden. After claiming he swore off adding new beds to the garden, he laughed and said, “We’ll see how long that lasts.”