Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Essence of a Garden

The garden story unfolds, anticipation on every page

As I entered the front garden I knew this was going to be something special. Sculpted Japanese black pines (Pinus thunbergia) marked the entrance while oversized weathered boulders and a soft planting palette rather than vibrant colors set the tone. Yet nothing prepared me for the vista which opened up as I stepped into the private back garden.

With a mature rustling katsura tree (Cercidiphyllum japonicum) on one side and the draping branches of a western hemlock (Tsuga mertensiana) on the other I peered down from the deck to view a tapestry of textures woven together by a master artist. Majestic trees formed the backdrop yet a window between them allowed a glimpse of the distant landscape effectively blurring the boundary. Layered in front were stands of bamboo and assorted evergreen shrubs while the ground plane was skirted with a waterfall of soft yellow Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’) and the mounding forms of Japanese maples in shades of burnished bronze and burgundy. From this vantage point I could also see winding paths disappearing enticingly into the garden and a Japanese tea house discreetly tucked away beckoning further exploration.

Smooth pebbles tumble into shallow pools

As I made my way down a series of stone steps I found myself pausing to peer into hidden pools, appreciate the use of simple pebbles tucked between mossy boulders and enjoy the gentle transitions in this garden journey as I passed over bridges and across creek beds. I was surprised to smell lavender as I strolled and stopped to find its source. Unusual in an Asian inspired garden perhaps, yet a perfect addition as fragrance is another way to engage the senses; the very essence of creating a garden memory.

The end of this pathway was marked by two stately deodar cedars (Cedrus deodara), rescued when the Seattle library was re-built several years ago. They had been pruned into a prostrate form decades ago and the homeowner has continued this art so that they now drape over boulders and a modest pool, their intricate structure perfectly reflected in the watery mirror.

Although Asian inspired elements are used
they support the theme rather than dictate it

Other paths took me to hidden patios and pagodas, past koi ponds and over streams. Time and again I found myself pausing to simply absorb the sense of peace and tranquility. Although the garden has an Asian flair with artwork, lighting and structures reflecting that style, it has been done with such understated ease that it doesn’t become the overriding statement.  Rather this is a garden where all the senses are engaged.

How is that achieved? Many factors play their part but I believe it is allowing Nature to lead the design. Restraint in the color palette and number of different plant varieties is balanced with an emphasis on beautiful combinations focused on textural contrasts. Dwarf stiff-needled pines are planted adjacent to soft grasses. Feathery ferns are tucked into pockets between ancient rocks and the bold leaves of quilted blue hostas echo the color of a weeping deodar cedar yet contrast effectively with the sharp blue-green needles.

Making a bold statement, this weathered
bell rises above the carpet of evergreens

Apart from such a visual feast, one can listen to the sounds of running water from any of the five different water features and the whisper of the breeze as it moves through bamboo groves. Take time to appreciate the distinct aromas of rosemary and lavender, discreetly tucked away yet close enough that when brushed against release their herbal perfumes.

If “every image should tell a story” then this garden is surely a book. Homeowner, designer, carpenter and visionary, Jim Guthrie is also a professional photographer and every scene has been set to make the most of the light from various angles throughout the year, each vignette is perfectly framed and each composition a pleasing balance of light and dark foliage. This is not a garden to be observed from afar although the views from the deck are breathtaking. Rather it is meant to be experienced. It is a garden with an ethereal quality that defies language. Feel your heart rate slow and a sense of well being envelope you as you sense the harmony between Nature and manmade beauty. Close to the city and yet a world away. 

My sincere thanks to Jim Guthrie of Woodinville, WA for allowing me to share his garden with you.


  1. I thought this garden looked familiar! I toured this garden on the Woodinville Garden Tour earlier this year. It is an amazing place.

  2. I agree. I just wanted to stay and absorb it all. With Jim's permission I have submitted some photos to Fine Gardening suggesting they do a photo shoot when out this way in February.

  3. I thought you'd love this garden! Such an amazing space.

  4. This is beautiful and some where that looks like you could just spend all day. Looks so peaceful and the plants and trees are gorgeous.


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