BY BARBARA MORAN
Whidbey Life Magazine Contributor
June 10, 2015
Among stunning attractions at this year’s Whidbey Island Garden Tour are unique yard art, water features, water views and places for peaceful reflection located within shade gardens, sun-loving gardens, a woodland garden and a romantic country garden. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the tour, which will be held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, June 20.
“There is enormous variety,” said Penny Harger, veteran WIGT event planner and board member. “Three of the five gardens offer big water views. The Westside garden features exotics and the Tale of Two Gardens was professionally designed.” What they all have in common is “passionate gardeners,” she added. The gardens are located from Coupeville to the island’s south end.
One of this year’s five featured gardens is at the home of June and Richard Davis in Freeland. It reflects June’s passion for Japanese maples as well as her extensive knowledge of garden plants resulting from her education in horticulture and many years as sales manager for Skagit Gardens in Mt. Vernon.
In addition to 30 varieties of Japanese maples and dwarf conifers, the garden highlights unique shrubs, perennials and annuals artfully placed about for bursts of summer color. Visitors will also get to stroll paths with exquisite brick and rock work designed and, in many cases, built by Richard, as well as container plantings clearly designed with June’s expert eye.
Unique birdhouses (including one that looks like their dog), as well as feeders and water stations, confirm Richard’s passion as a “birder.” The avian accoutrements attract a colorful variety of birds, inviting the use of binoculars.
A greenhouse at the edge of the garden is a bright and cozy respite. “When I was working for Skagit Gardens I didn’t work in the greenhouses, but I did visit them daily and always loved the smell of the cedar benches and the sight of all the different plants growing there,” June recalled. “I use my greenhouse to overwinter my pet plants and to grow seedlings for transplant in the spring. Also, I love having my morning coffee there in the colder months when I can’t be outside. It’s a delightful place for both me and my plants.”
It is obvious that gardening is both creative and meditative for June, whose landscape is immaculate as well as charming. She even turns weeding into a transcendental activity by listening to audio books through headphones on occasion. “Weeding can be very therapeutic,” she observed.
June is happy to participate in the Tour, she said. “I give a lot of garden talks to help people with their gardens, but there’s nothing like visiting a garden to see how plants actually grow and work together. If people are interested in learning more about their own gardens then I highly recommend they visit as many gardens as possible to gain a deeper understanding of plants, garden rooms and the hardscapes that all work together to make a garden special. You really have to see it to understand it.”
Of particular note is a stately native madrone. June said when the couple built their home eight years ago, she was very protective of it and several other natives on the property.
In fact, she recalled telling their architect that, given a preference, “I would just have a garden.” As a result, she said, “I can walk out of any door and be in my garden.”
Describing hers as a “young garden,” she added, “We picked this lot because we wanted a larger garden but not more than an acre. We wanted to be close to town so we could run to the store quickly, yet we wanted to feel like we were in the country. Our lot is on a slope and we didn’t want to have a deck on stilts—we wanted to walk directly into the garden, so our architect, Todd Soli, designed the house with the garden in mind. We had to bring in a lot of fill to keep the patios on the ground level, and then rock walls were built for the rest of the back garden. This gives the gardens layers that make for interesting plantings.”
At the opposite end of the garden from the greenhouse is the family’s well-tended chicken coop, which guests can also visit.
The four other featured gardens, fully described on the WIGT website (http://wigt.org/gardens.html), are:
Westside Garden by Louise Abbott and Dave Earp with garden art, native orchids, a conifer section, water view and many bird species attracted by particular plantings
A Tale of Two Gardens by Liz Axford and Patrick Johnson, with landscape architect Ken Philp, featuring both a peaceful shade garden and a bright and colorful sunny garden as well as a Prairie Garden
A Re-imagined Garden by Re McClung offering a spacious woodland garden with visual surprises including birdhouses, sculptures, artwork and a bridge leading to an intimate memorial garden.
Twisted Willow by Fran and Jack Spicer—a true country garden overlooking Saratoga Passage with enchanted, artistic “garden rooms” enhanced with birdhouses, benches, wagon wheels, pottery, chimney flues, water features, sculpture and even headboards.
Tickets are limited, so early purchase is recommended. Buy tickets online at http://wigt.org/buy-tickets.html or at one of several locations listed on the website. Adult tickets are $20 in advance or $25 on the day of the tour. Youth tickets (ages two to 12 years) are $10 in advance or $15 on the day of the tour. A map to all locations is provided with purchased tickets.
Gardeners interested in having their gardens considered for next year’s charitable event are encouraged to attend this year to see the variety and splendor afforded through the tour. The WIGT works to find different gardens every year and is in the process right now of locating gardens for next year’s tour.
Gardens are selected based on their unique character and charm, as well as the practical need for parking, since the event is well attended. Volunteer greeters, docents and parking attendants all help out at each garden, Harger said, and added, with a smile, “I could still use some more ‘parkers.’” Volunteers are all treated to a free tour before the event as well as a party afterward.
Planning the event takes “a lot of energy,” but Harger—a former board president and key event coordinator—devotes time, she said, because “it was [always] one of my husband’s and my favorite annual events on Whidbey, before I got involved…. It even influenced our decision to get motorcycles. We loved the opportunity it provides to explore Whidbey Island, as well as the fun and education of seeing the variety of gardens. I also love the idea of capitalizing on a truly hidden island asset to benefit the whole community. It’s a totally win/win tradition. Since getting involved, it’s the fun of working with all the people involved that has kept me engaged.”
While the event first blossomed to save Saratoga Woods 20 years ago, WIGT now benefits many island causes and non-profit organizations that support the improvement, restoration, and maintenance of our common habitat. Grant recipients have included the Whidbey Institute, South Whidbey Good Cheer, Whidbey Camano Land Trust, Whidbey Watershed Stewards and the South Whidbey School District Middle School Garden Project.
If enough money is raised, WIGT hopes to underwrite all the following this year:
- Meerkerk Rhododendron Gardens – Hussey Meditation Garden Renovation
- South Whidbey Good Cheer Food Bank Garden – Seeds and Starts Giveaway Program
- South Whidbey School District – Langley Middle School Vegetable Garden
- The Whidbey Institute – Westgarden mulch bagging attachment and supplies
- Whidbey Animal Improvement Foundation – New animal shelter landscaping
- Whidbey Camano Land Trust – Native pollinator plantings at entrance to Saratoga Woods Preserve
- Whidbey Environmental Action Network – Site mapping of 8.17 acres/wetlands and trails
As Harger noted, it’s up to garden lovers to attend and make it happen.
Barbara Moran (msbmoran.com) teaches writing and is a veteran journalist focusing on animals, nature and the environment.
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