Perennial Passions

Perennials and shrubs fill, soften or add piquancy to every niche in Kate and Rick Poole’s Bellevue garden.

A sourwood’s white blooms contrast with the red hips of a tall rose (Rosa rubrifolia) on a late-summer day by the front door.

Geranium trails through neighboring salvias and sedums, and buddleia “Honeycomb” gilds a corner gate. Abutilon pictum ‘Nabob,’ one of the flowering maples, is festooned with miniature Japanese lanterns.

Meanwhile, plantings at the street edge provide privacy and block noise. They include the Japanese maple ‘Nuresagi’ and such stalwarts as Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’ (contorted filbert), a silk tree and Arbutus unedo (strawberry tree). Nearby is a collection of hebes, as well as Joe Pye weed, oleria, and various grasses.

Goldfish in slow motion light the dark water in a small, stone-accented pond, their colors mirroring a golden-flowered abutilon. Also at poolside are Canna ‘Indica,’ water hawthorn, bog rosemary, Irish moss, sedums, and giant saxifrage.

Pea-gravel paths lead past curving raised beds edged by stacked Montana slate. Here are bush beans and rapini, scallions and tomatoes, garlic, tatsoi, and carrots. Artichokes and eggplant bask contentedly. This sun-oriented entry garden fairly surges with perennials and vegetables, bulbs and decorative art objects. The paths suggest further delights around the corner.

This is a small slice of the Poole garden, which placed third in the 12th annual Pacific

Northwest Competition for Home Gardeners, earning the couple a $500 cash award in addition to a $100 gift certificate for being among the top contestants.

Early qualifying judges called the garden “restful but inspiring, absolutely charming and an intricate mix of art and planting.”

These accolades were earned. Though renting at first, the couple began to pull smothering ivy from the Douglas firs, dogwoods, and maples in the ravine behind the house. Five years later, after their landlady agreed to sell, they removed a large swath of turf in front and brought in dump-truck loads of free fill dirt to use for a privacy berm. They quickly organized their entire garden-to-be into sections: full sun, dry woodland, and boggy shade.

It was then that they began to indulge in their newfound passion for unusual perennials and shrubs. Each spring they adopted a different part of the lot to transform. Now, after 11 years as homeowners and many revisions, they have an intriguing garden that is rich in variety and enjoyment.

Rick, a self-employed building contractor, has crafted innovative fences, walls, and gates throughout the garden, plus a deck in back overlooking the trees and stream. Recently, he built a fantasy-inspired gazebo in their woods.

Kate, who runs her own interior-design business, takes the lead on plant choices. Her well-organized horticulture roster — divided by planting area — holds nearly a thousand different varieties, from Abelia grandiflora ‘Sunrise’ to Zantedeschia araceae (referring to a hybrid orange calla).

When she develops an interest in a genus, she explores the species, and before she knows it a quest is underway for the best cultivar. “I want to learn everything,” she says. Careful planning keeps the garden coherent.

“I like varying heights,” Kate says. “Some of the planters in the back let me play with that

aspect. And the stacked-wall garden in front allows me to look up into the tops of plants. I also like really dark-and-bright color combinations, though the color is challenging. Once you get something just right, add one thing and it all changes.”

There’s certainly nothing static about the general design. A path winds through the combination vegetable-perennial garden and past one of Rick’s gates to the south side of the house, where a fountain bubbles softly near a table and chairs on a patio. Kate calls this the moon garden because most of its plants have either white flowers or silver foliage, or their scent is nocturnal.

The nicotiana, alyssum, and daphnes are fragrant, as are the Brugmansia, here in containers. Annual salvia, rich indigo, shares a spot under eaves with an abutilon that has lavender-colored blossoms. Rose of Sharon, morning glories and passionflower edge a path to the back of the house.

A larger, entertainment-size patio lies at the edge of their woods, with another fountain. This garden palette is darker, keyed to the tones of the native conifers. Plants here include near-black taro and a 2-year-old, lime-green Cotinus coggygria ‘Golden Spirit,’ used as a foil opposite an especially dark cotinus.

The latest project has taken them full circle, to these backwoods. Ivy is long gone. They added a greenhouse and steps down to the stream, and brought in ferns, foxgloves, and plants with outsized foliage, including Rodgersia sambucifolia, positioned so a viewer at stream-level will see light through the leaves.

The Pooles had entered the competition once before. Since then, Kate got involved with Northwest Perennial

Alliance and other organizations, and has visited many fine local gardens. They also changed a number of aesthetic factors, including replacing a chain-link fence along one side with a tasteful concrete-and-stucco wall.

The couple left Idaho in 1988 and felt instantly at home here. “I had a magazine picture of the garden I wanted, with dogwoods and all the rest I couldn’t grow,” Kate recalls. “For years I looked at that picture on my refrigerator and pined. We moved here in the month of November, and in spring I looked out the back window and nearly cried. I realized the magazine picture I had been looking at was here.”