Garden Photo of the Day

Before and After in Kathy and Kevin’s Garden in Washington

Today’s photos are from Kathy and Kevin Schuler in Kirkland, Washington. Kathy says, “Our garden hugs the side of a hill and is surrounded on the south and west side by a forested park. The home sits on a small parcel of land with a diminutive front yard facing north; narrow strips about five feet wide are on the east and west; the back yard is roughly 200 square feet connected to the forested park. The micro-climates are deep shade to all day sun. We live in a house with a backdrop of tall Douglas firs and mature big-leaf maples. My first thought was to create a garden following the theme of the dense woodland understory. Instead, we decided on creating order and repetition with our shrubs and trees. The challenge is to give the eye focal points and a sense of order within the context of soaring conifers and an understory of indian plum and salmonberry….” Continued in the captions!  Kathy, what a great transformation! And so happy to hear via your email that you’ll be at the Northwest Flower and Garden Show!

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–Driveway AFTER–The first project was to screen a neighbor’s fence by planting 32 arborvitae along the driveway. We added a beautiful plumrose Japanese cedar (Cryptomeria japonica var. elegans).I started planting Pacific Northwest natives in 2005 when we moved into the home. There are nearly 100 sword ferns planted. Most of them come from county salvage digs. The county has yearly work party days. You volunteer 3 hours to dig natives then stay in the woodland digging up plants you would like for yourself. This is a great way to get natives into a yard. For several years I have volunteered during winter salvage digs and brought home truckloads of ferns. I recall one fern was so large I separated it into nine pieces.
–West side BEFORE–
–West side AFTER–The before picture shows the shady alley that eventually became a lush drift of sword ferns. The rocky slope is amended yearly with mulch and compost. A row of ‘Karl Foerster’ feather reed grass provides a backdrop; the drift of sword ferns runs the 100-foot length; clumps of yellow crocosmia guide the eye down the garden to a golden euonymus at the corner of the house. The grass pathway is hugged by Wood sorrel (Oxalis oregano). The two pictures that follow show the garden in both directions.

North side – House front. Because the house sits on the side of a hill we have two tiers of cement block walls leading up to the front steps. A red Japanese maple, ‘Karl Foerster’ feather reed grass and three arborvitae help provide a sense of order contrasting the wild woodland. Rows of ‘Hetz Midget’ arborvitae are planted on both tiers giving the eye a resting place.
The lower tier of cement blocks and steps are softened with sandwort (Arenaria montana).
A closer look at the contrast and textures of the red Japanese maple, swaying ‘Karl Foerster’ feather reed grass and arborvitae.

The front porch faces north. Here the deer ferns and red sorrel thrive despite the Pacific Northwest dry summer.

South – House back. The backyard is about 200 square feet with a steep slope to one side. Drifts of sword ferns cover most of the area. Before we started the garden, the slope was covered in Himalayan blackberries, which we removed. Buried in the blackberries was a beautiful golden euonymus. I keep it pruned and skirted high to provide architectural detail.
Plant groupings at the back of the house: Hosta ‘Patriot’ foreground; ‘Rose Glow’ Japanese barberry; ‘Blue Star’ juniper to the right.

Grape vine (Vitis labrusca ‘Niagara’) planted with red Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’
Devil’s tobacco (Lobelia tupa), a species native to central Chile, is a dramatic flower that does extremely well in the Pacific Northwest. A ‘Niagara’ grapevine and red crocosmia are in the background.
Mother fern (Asplenium bulbiferum) has a graceful arching fronds providing eye catching contrast in the shady landscape.

The backyard against the woodland
East side of the home. A stone walkway leads the way to the back of the home while a row of arborvitae adds continuity to the landscape theme and provides screening. Some native plants in the garden: Pacific ninebark (Physocarpus capitatus); vine maple (Acer circinatum); evergreen huckleberry (Vaccinium ovatum); red huckleberry (Vaccinium parvifolium); Pacific rhododendron (Rhododendron macrophyllum); Nootka rose (Rosa nutkana); hardhack spirea (Spiraea douglasii); orange honeysuckle (Lonicera ciliosa); wood sorrel (Oxalis oregana); deer fern (Blechnum spicant); sword fern (Polystichum munitum); false Solomon’s seal (Smilacina racemosa); columbine (Aquilegia formosa); foam flower (Tiarella trifoliata); bleeding heart (Dicentra formosa); blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium idahoensis); carpet bugle (Ajuga reptans); broad-leaved stonecrop (Sedum spathulifolium); wild ginger (Asarum caudatum); wild strawberry (Fragaria virginiana); piggyback plant youth-on-age (Tolmiea menziesii); Dewey’s sedge (Carex deweyana).

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  1. perenniallycrazy 01/07/2015

    I sooooo love your garden Kathy and Kevin! Absolute cohesive design and genius method in building your own. It most definitely looks larger than it is - probably because it blends in beautifully with the surrounding conifers and woodland area. Natives are such great additions to any garden. Thank you for sharing these dramatic before and after photos, the details of your garden and the native plant list. Hope you come back with more stories and photos of your gardening adventures.

  2. User avater
    meander_michaele 01/07/2015

    Kathy and Kevin, truth be told, I am positively swooning over all your generous swaths of ferns. They add so much serene textual interest and invite one to get lost in quiet contemplation. I love your literally hands on story of how you accumulated so many of them....your county salvage digs program sounds like a wonderful thing to take advantage of. Perennially Crazy is so right when she observed that your property looks so much larger than the dimensions you've described. Congrats on your very successful property transformation.

  3. NadjaCroft 01/07/2015

    WOW! You guys are indeed superstars! This is just gorgeous, and your descriptions are as lush as your beautiful gardens!!! Blessings upon you as you are enveloped in this gorgeous setting and regarding the natural disasters that sadly have occurred in your area!!!

  4. wGardens 01/07/2015

    An amazing transformation! Great job with incorporating so many wonderful natives. The ferns are fabulous. I wasn't familiar with the Mother Fern- interesting structure! And I love that plumrose Japanese Cedar. Nice idea with the sandwort on the steps. Thanks for sharing!

  5. mainer59 01/07/2015

    I love the ferns in your landscape, and their back story is wonderful. Your two contrasting styles are very effective. Your landscape is beautiful and it screens out undesirable views. Native wildlife, especially insects and birds, must be happy with your use of native vegetation.

  6. greengenes 01/07/2015

    Green and more green! My favorite color! What a wonderful job you both did! It looks so beautiful and natural and inviting! Your use of ferns has made me think about digging some up in our woods! The forester grass with the maple is a great combination! The before and after pictures tells a wonderful story! I love it all! And I so want to meet you at the "FGShow!

  7. NCYarden 01/07/2015

    Absolutely amazing transformation, Kathy and Kevin. Love seeing the work you have done to beautify your home garden, especially with such limited space. Great use of natives; I think it's a wonderful and sustainable application within your design. Thaks for rescuing so many ferns. And speaking of ferns I am in love with that mother fern - it looks like little dragons emerging from a nest or lair. Gotta look into that one. Looking at your plant list I envy your possession of the acer circinatum - such lovely maples. I know I am supposed to be able to grow it here in NC, but here in the piedmont of the state it really just doesn't do great, so I have avoided it to prevent setting myself up for failure.Thank you for providing before and after pics, and certainly thank you for sharing. It really is grand.

    1. Meelianthus 01/07/2015

      NCYarden, Kathy & Kevin ~ As an added note thought you might like to know that the Mother Fern is truly that - it has masses of would-be plantlets lining the rachis. To grow more ferns you can pin the entire frond down in the soil, leaving it attached to the mother plant (or in a flat of compost in a green house for greater speed). The babies will root and eventually be ready for separation in a few months. Plant into small pots where they should grow for months before they are truly ready to leave the nest. Wonderful transformation of your property Kathy and Kevin and what a lot of work ! but so worth it.

      1. user-374644 01/07/2015

        I will do this - I had no idea how to propagate this fern. This mother fern was a hand-me--down from a friend who had about 8 of them growing in a space where it looked like the fronds were dancing. Give this fern a lot of room, Joanne, my friend, had one that spanned at least eight feet from the end of one frond to the furthest. I was speechless looking at that fern.

        1. Meelianthus 01/08/2015

          WOW ! what a site that would be to see. Have fun.

  8. user-5829577 01/07/2015

    It is -25 degrees windchill in northern Illinois this morning and I thank you for the fabulous tour of your inviting garden - wow! The transformation is so well done - using natives which you rescued and artfully placed in their new home. It has given me hope that our green will come again in a few months. Well done!

  9. User avater
    Tim_Zone_Denial_Vojt 01/07/2015

    We all love a garden transformation story! So great that you took before and after photos to keep a record of your hard work in creating a beautiful yard. I think what I love the most is that, although it looks very natural and has a lot of natives, it still looks cultivated, ordered and cared for. It really says 'gardeners live here'!
    I, too, am smitten by the mother fern. Monrovia and Dave's garden says that it is hardy in zone 9 or 10. Do you bring that beautiful fern in every year?
    I am also so jealous that you can grow Lobelia tupa: what a cool plant.

  10. GrannyMay 01/07/2015

    Congratulations, Kathy and Kevin! What an amazing job you have done in creating your own private paradise in a site that many would have called impossible! You've been very wise to use so many native plants which are suited to your environment, then adding pops of colour from imports such as the flamboyant Crocosmia and Lobelia. I imagine the grapevine provides a stunning red accent in the fall. Also love your use of Deer Fern and Red Sorrel in the almost impossible bone-dry shade that is common here in the summer.

  11. wittyone 01/07/2015

    You have done a marvelous job working with such a small space. all that shade,the rambunctious forested area behind and with a hillside lot thrown in to make things more interesting. I can see that it took a lot of work and careful planning to come up with such a great result. The plant list was a great addition for all of us and I, for one, will be googling ones that I am unfamiliar with for possible additions to my shady shady back corner.

    It's good that you took the before pictures because no one looking at the result of your labors would believe what you started out with.

  12. GrannyCC 01/07/2015

    What a wonderful transformation. I love the idea of people being able to rescue the ferns etc. from areas that are being developed. We should have more of that. I love seeing the before and after photos it really shows how much your property has changed. Congratulations!!

  13. user-374644 01/07/2015

    The Mother Fern stays out all winter. I love plants but they must love to stay in the garden all winter. I use to over-winter plants in the garage but not anymore. All the ferns you see are cut back in the spring to allow new growth to flourish without the 'ring around the color' you see with native forest ferns. The tall Karl Forester grass is also cut back. Beyond these two all day spring tasks, it is surprising how little maintenance there can be to a native garden.
    Thank you all for the lovely comments!

  14. digginWA 01/07/2015

    Kathy, your many shades and textures of green are a wonderful backdrop to the forested park behind you, giving it a calm, integrated, and well-maintained vibe. I'd hang out on that porch anytime! Your use of drifts of ferns has given me inspiration for my snippet of a backyard. I recently planted Lobelia tupa for the hummingbirds and look forward to seeing how it does here.

    GPOD readers, I have to brag a little on Kathy's behalf--she is a park steward for the Green Kirkland Partnership and as such her influence has gone deep into the forest behind her house. She was instrumental in getting it added to the Kirkland park inventory, led its restoration, and pushed for its expansion to protect the surrounding green space from development. Kirkland is proud of its 41% tree canopy, and Kathy is has had a major impact in keeping it intact. Check out her blog:

  15. thevioletfern 01/07/2015

    Bravo! I love, love ferns. I love how you acquired them even more - what a great program! That Mother Fern is a rival for my favorite Maidenhair. Your garden is blessed by your beauty and hand.

  16. user-7007327 01/07/2015

    A beautiful lush garden. Love the yellow and red balls. What are they made of?

    1. user-374644 01/07/2015

      The ball is a wooden drawer pull from a typical big box home store. As I recall the little disks came in a baggie from Michaels. They are glued together after I paint them. I used acrylic paint and a couple of coats of varnish since they stay outside all winter.

      1. user-7007327 01/08/2015

        Thank you, Kathy, for the ball information.

  17. annek 01/08/2015

    What an informative and beautiful evolution of your garden. It is an impressive accumulation of interesting plants and glorious combinations. Oh, and I love the sand wort creeping down your stairs. Well done!

  18. schatzi 01/08/2015

    I absolutely concur with all the admiring comments. What an amazing transformation! I love native plants, ferns, and plant salvage operations too. I am going to have to look into that mother fern - 8' across you say? I want one! And if you desire any other types of ferns, Judith Jones in Gold Bar has a wonderful fern nursery. Hope to meet you at the F&GS.
    P.S. I think you should be an honorary master gardener by acclimation.

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