Cover Feature

The Delightful Gardens of Karol and Don Stevens

Gardens of Karol and Don StevensKarol and Don Stevens have a magical and delightful garden in Keyport. These lifelong community volunteers and supporters of all things Keyport bought their first small, cozy home near the Keyport Mercantile in August 1975. After their fifth attempt at placing earnest money on a larger forever home, they ended up with the home on the lot right next door to where they had been already living for three years.

In 1978, they began a labor of love and creation on the home next door. Their historical home built in the early 1900s was once located on the shoreline across the road. It was moved in the ’50s onto the property next to their first home. This area was once possibly a field but was covered and overgrown with knee-high grass and weeds.

Karol Stevens
Karol Stevens

“We found seven dead cars buried in the tall grasses,” Karol Stevens says.

Besides clearing the land and rebuilding the home, the couple began bringing the garden back to life and sustenance with donated plants from friends and family. They added several fruit trees and areas to grow vegetables, along with ornamental plantings of small trees, seasonal bulbs and other lovely shrubs and edibles.

Gardens of Karol and Don StevensThe house was falling apart and the Stevenses rebuilt the home, literally hand hammering on all the shingles on the roof and the shingled siding. They decided to do the same with their smaller home next door, which became their office space and currently is the home of their daughter and son-in-law.

The Stevenses call their home “the sweat equity palace” — Karol notes they both worked full time and only took two weekends off during the 14-month home project. One of the fun discoveries inside the home was the six layers of wallpaper, old newspapers and even fabric that had covered the walls.

“These layers served as insulation between the inside and outside of the home,” Karol Stevens says.

Don Stevens adds, “We used 5-gallon buckets filled with concrete and a red wagon to hold the cement as we made it. This cement was used to form the root cellar.”

Gardens of Karol and Don StevensAs they worked on the remodel through those months, a young man drove up and presented them with historical photos of the home, which had been in his family. The home and land belonged to a cod fishing captain. The brown building on the waterfront nearby, still standing, harks back to those fishing days.

Gardens of Karol and Don StevensTo prepare the land for future productive and enjoyable gardens, they brought in truckloads of leaves and woodchips. Local kids from FFA used a tractor and tiller to mix all these amendments throughout the whole area where paths would be made and gardens would grow.

“We’re still making compost and adding in soil amendments,” Karol Stevens says. “I actually used a post hole digger to get down through the hardened old soil in order to put plants into the soil.”

They hired Hedahl Landscape to design the landscaping surrounding the home and connect the two properties together. Later Hedahl designed a patio around their pizza oven, forming a gathering place in the middle of the garden. Both Karol and Don Stevens are active in the Keyport community. A celebration takes place in the pizza oven area at the end of each garden tour or later in the summer, depending on how much rain falls in Keyport that particular year. The annual pizza party is a tradition since 2019. Karol makes the dough for the pizzas and they purchase the toppings and ingredients from Costco.

(Photo courtesy Karol Stevens)
(Photo courtesy Karol Stevens)

The pair have always been involved in their community. They were volunteer firefighters and emergency medical technicians (EMTs). They joined the Keyport Fire Department in 1975.

“The siren would go off and we’d head down to the fire house,” Don Stevens says. When he first volunteered, he was told that “women can join too,” — so his wife, who has a nursing degree, did so immediately.

In 1980, with Trident impact funds, EMT services came to Keyport. “There was a whole team of women who would watch over our daughter while I went out on aid calls,” Karol says. The Keyport Volunteer Fire Department was merged with Poulsbo and they collectively became North Kitsap Fire and Rescue. Don still serves in an administrative role.

They both became members of the KIC (Keyport Improvement Club). In the past, he has served as president of KIC and she is currently president. The KIC celebrated 100 years in 2023.

(Photo courtesy Karol Stevens)
(Photo courtesy Karol Stevens)

The Keyport Garden Tour began as a KIC function in summer of 2022. The Stevens garden was on that first tour. This summer, the tour is on June 15. Tickets are available at the booth in the parking lot of the Keyport Bible Church. The tour also features local artists and other items to purchase.

In 1980 through 1982, what was then the Washington State Energy Department sponsored a project to grow edible vegetables year-round. It was a $1,000 grant for home gardeners to develop and record plans to grow, process and store edible produce from home gardens. Karol Stevens was inspired by garden guru Steve Solomon of Territorial Seeds to pursue and edible garden, so the couple received a grant and produced records, tips and documentation of their efforts.

The Stevens garden is at the bottom of a hill. Water runs down into their land. The couple looked into a rain garden grant from the Kitsap Conservation District to slow the water flow down and have it absorbed into the ground. A rain garden would not work in their layers of clay, but there is a 1,500-square-foot seasonal pooling area and a grass-lined area between the road pavement and the landscaping. The U.S. Geological Service tested their land and provided advice on how to handle the water flow in an environmentally friendly way on their property.

(Photo courtesy Karol Stevens)
(Photo courtesy Karol Stevens)

Karol and Don Stevens came from gardening families. Many of their plants were either starts or whole plants from their parents’ gardens. Karol is a member of the Peninsula Fruit Club and took grafting classes from Chris Smith, Kitsap Sun horticulture columnist and retired Kitsap Extension director.

Keyport Garden TourKeyport Annual
Garden Tour

Saturday, June 15
11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

A set of seven or eight espaliered fruit trees forms a decorative, beautiful, edible fence along the invisible property line between their home and that of their daughter. The apple trees include those with red, yellow and green fruit, adding pops of color during much of the year. One is a gravenstein and another with yellow fruit is called banana. Each year, some of the early-bearing apples are covered with nylon socks to protect them from apple maggot.

A row of marionberries screens the street along one edge of the garden. Each year, Don Stevens makes marionberry freezer jam and a Christmas aperitif. The Stevens family have a tradition of having the neighbors over each Christmas to share the brandy.

(Photo courtesy Karol Stevens)
(Photo courtesy Karol Stevens)

Large, silver metal planters are arranged in a row. These are festooned with tomatoes, lettuce, carrots, peas, beets, cabbage, squash, pumpkins and every sort of edibles imaginable. Herbs like lavender, sage, thyme, rosemary and mint scent the walkways throughout the garden and, of course, are used in cooking.

A beautiful Japanese maple takes center stage in one part of the garden. When it is bare of leaves, purple crocus and white Galanthus (snow drops) blooms cover the ground. Groupings of these purple and white delights can be seen throughout the garden. In the summertime, abundant hydrangea blooms provide colorful backgrounds as visitors and family walk through the paths woven throughout the garden.

The Stevens family loves living in the Keyport community, where neighbors look out for each other. The KIC has teams who visit the elderly. Every neighbor has been called on and has volunteered in a host of activities and services throughout the year.

The upcoming third year of the Keyport Garden Tour is just a very small sampling of the spirit of this Keyport community — and the gardens of the Stevens family is just one example of that caring and nurturing spirit.