OLD HOUSES hold many charms, but their aged landscapes are rarely among them. It was difficult to even glimpse the facade of John and Tina Jacobs’ 1928 Georgian Revival home through the overgrown bushes shrouding the house.
“You had to fight your way through the shrubs to get to the front door,” says Jason Morse of the landscape architecture division of AHBL. Morse had designed the Jacobs’ garden in Broadmoor years ago as his first professional project. They hired him again a few years ago to work his stylish magic on their Laurelhurst front garden.
There were challenges. A steep slope slanted toward the house from the street. The narrow strip of lawn along the front of the house was perpetually soggy from water draining down the hillside toward the lake.
Tina’s vision for the garden, and the home’s architectural symmetry, guided Morse’s design. She wanted a front yard that was dry and welcoming, and offered a better view of the house. Because Tina’s kitchen sink looks toward the street, she pictured garden rooms to be enjoyed from the inside out. Tina loves subtle colors and simple lines. And she wanted plants that look good even when they aren’t blooming.
Then there were John and Tina’s differing aesthetics. John likes formal gardens; Tina prefers a more casual look. By enclosing looser plantings within layers of hedging, Morse created a garden that pleased them both. Floppy-leafed hostas and the pale-pink flower spikes of astilbe soften the garden’s geometry. A taller hedging of yews offers screening from the street and textural contrast to the shorter, tightly clipped boxwood hedges.
Morse began by tackling the drainage problem. He reversed the flow of water by creating a slight slope away from the house. He got rid of the planted hillside down into the garden and poured a new retaining wall with proper drainage.Next: installing wide bluestone pathways and patios, outlined in sandstone cobbles to complement the home’s vintage.
An old cherry tree and camellia bush were preserved, as was a huge magnolia along the side of the house. But most of the plants are new. A thick planting of the ground cover Saxifraga ‘London Pride,’ with its foamy haze of little flowers, lines the sidewalk.
Most of the plantings were chosen for leaf over flower. Morse planned for seasonal color with compact Rhododendron ‘Dreamland’ flowering palest pink in May, followed by the feathery pink blooms of Astilbe ‘Peach Blossom.’ Hydrangea serrata ‘Bluebird’ has soft blue lacecap flowers midsummer into autumn. A stately urn and window boxes hold flowering annuals. A Japanese maple (Acer palmatum ‘Osakazuki’) blazes red in autumn.
Morse extended the home’s architecture into the garden with a white arbor. He repeated an oval motif from one of the home’s old doors on the arbor and fence, tying house to garden. The home’s traditional symmetry is reflected in the garden’s rectangles, circles and view axes.
Tina is especially pleased by the garden’s sense of serenity. The color scheme is quiet, mostly green and white with touches of pink and blue. This feeling of repose lies not only in the choice of plants but also in Morse’s attention to scale. One garden room unfolds into another, each comfortably intimate in scale and enclosure.
The Jacobses aren’t quite through yet. Walk around the house, and the property opens up to a sunny expanse of grass that runs down to Lake Washington. Tina sighs as she says, “We’re getting up momentum to do the back garden.”
Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Mike Siegel is a Seattle Times staff photographer.