Palette of Possibilities
Starting with a blank slate allowed one creative Northwest couple to cultivate a color-packed garden for year-round appeal.
Produced and written by Debra Prinzing | Photographed by Laurie Black
Country Gardens Fall 2013
While other homeowners might be discouraged by a yard with poor drainage and a steep, 10-foot bank, Rudell and Jay Hegnes were undaunted by such challenges. Located in Gig Harbor, Wash., near Tacoma, their one-third-acre site’s pluses included a quiet neighborhood and sunny exposure. As for the hillside, Rudell says: “We knew it could be an asset, a place to display our trees.”
Since moving there in 2004, the Hegneses have treated their slope as a “stage” for cherished specimens. They have thoughtfully arranged shrubs and trees, both evergreen and deciduous, to showcase diverse needle and leaf textures — from blue spruces and silvery-green pines to golden Japanese cryptomerias. Deciduous Japanese maples produce leaves ranging from lime to burgundy, while barberries provide wine-red accents to this anything-but-green plant palette.
“Our garden has a mixture of dark green, blue, yellow and red foliage,” Rudell explains. “To us, if you mix — and repeat — forms and textures, it gives the garden a yummy feeling. And we wanted a garden that was as much about how it feels as how it looks.” She credits Jay’s passion for photography for inspiring some of their most successful plant groupings, because, “when you observe your garden in a photograph, you can suddenly see what needs to be added.”
A small section of lawn serves as a grassy walking path at the base of the hillside, connecting numerous perennial borders and providing play space for two pups: Bailey, a Cairn Terrier, and Rose, a miniature Schnauzer.
To correct the drainage problems, Jay and Rudell elevated the planting beds with stone edging. Crushed gravel, French drains, berms and a dry creek bed (over which passes a sweet footbridge) also help to draw excess moisture away from the garden.
This exquisite landscape has evolved along with its owners’ gardening style. Each season brings new changes, as Jay and Rudell observe how plants respond to weather patterns, temperatures and cultural conditions. For example, they’ve removed turf to enlarge planting spaces, designing perennial beds and borders to complement the house, patio and fencing.
“We wanted these areas to be wide enough for layering all our favorite colors and textures,” Rudell says. “And it has been fun finding each plant that fits in just the right spot.”
At the heart of the garden stands a 20-by-30 foot aggregate patio that is as spacious as any interior room could be. To enhance its proportions, the couple added two L-shaped corner arbors, constructed by Jay and Rudell’s brother using 4-by-4 inch, rough-cut cedar. “We wanted this space to feel enclosed,” Rudell explains.
The twin arbors frame views out to the garden and create a vertical backdrop for the surrounding perennial beds. On the patio itself, large containers of trees and shrubs are clustered at the base of the beefy posts, while the arbor’s overhead beams support six lavish hanging baskets. “Most people don’t have enough space on their patio, but these dimensions allow us to layer lots of pots,” Rudell says.
When they are seated here, sharing morning coffee or hosting a dinner for friends on a warm summer’s evening, Jay and Rudell enjoy the garden’s many vistas and vignettes. “I get a lot of joy from looking at our plants,” Rudell confides. While this is admittedly not a low-maintenance garden, its plant-obsessed owner chooses perennials for their easy-care features.
“I like plants that I don’t have to stake, that bloom for a long time, and that will reliably return each year,” she says. Some of the tender succulents and tropical plants of this Zone 8b landscape thrive during the summer months because they have spent the winter protected inside an attractive 6-by-6 foot greenhouse.
Adding to the garden’s sensory experience are several water features – fountains and bowls that are both ornamental and attractive to bird life. “We love the sound of water when we’re outside,” Jay explains.
For this husband-and-wife team of 37 years, it’s hard to imagine moving away from the garden that reflects their personal lifestyle, not to mention including plant collections and artwork. “This is our seventh house,” Rudell explains. “We love working on our gardens, one section at a time. At each area means something special to us.”