Two lushly planted east Pierce County gardens are stops on an open garden event on Sunday.
The Garden Conservancy, a non-profit garden preservation organization, holds its Open Days garden tours in 300 private gardens all over the United States. The event on Sunday allows the public to see four gardens in Pierce County.
23517 Orville Road E., Orting
In the five years that Ted Van Velzen has owned Homeranch, he and friend Ruben Corpuz have revamped cutting and rose gardens, and added several new planting beds. And it keeps getting bigger, literally and psychologically.
“At 8 a.m. it’s four acres. At six in the evening it’s 10 acres,” Van Velzen said. The pair cultivate three of the four acres, some of which is grass.
In the cutting garden, benches and trellises offer respite for the feet and eyes. They were made by Corpuz who holds a degree in the industrial arts from his native Philippines. Corpuz travels from his home in Bothell to work at Homeranch on the weekends.
Along the cutting garden’s fence that borders the highway is a hedge of Scotch broom. But these aren’t the invasive yellow thugs that line freeways and fallow fields. These are blooming in white, pink and fire red.
Lillies, monkshood and peonies provide color while the three-foot wide leaves of Petasites offer foliage interest.
Under a stand of cedar, once a tangled mess, now grow native maidenhair ferns and mock orange. A big leaf maple protects a smaller vine maple. A fallen log lays where it crashed, covered in moss.
Shady areas hold a variety of trilliums as well as Solomon’s seal. But in full sun sits dozens of pots of cactus – Van Velzen’s first introduction into horticulture. A garden shed looks straight out of a display from the Northwest Flower and Garden Show, surrounded by azaleas in a variety of hot colors.
Van Velzen, a retired entomologist with the Food and Drug Administration, uses few chemicals on his garden. A mason bee box is attached to a tree trunk.
A brilliant golden chain tree is within sight of a koi pond filled with six large fish. A more formal part of the garden, surrounded by masonry columns, contains roses and iris.
This is the third time Van Velzen has opened the garden to the public and acknowledges there’s a lot of pressure to make it look good. The little free time he has he devotes to his charity, The Prison Scholar Fund, which provides prisoners with funding for higher education.
OLD GOAT FARM
20021 Orting Kapowsin Highway E., Graham
At Old Goat Farm visitors will be hard pressed to find any bare soil. That’s because owners Greg Graves and Gary Waller have filled the garden to the brim with plants.
“It’s a collector’s garden – way too many plants,” said Graves who served as head gardener at the Elisabeth C. Miller Botanical Garden for 13 years. Old Goat Farm holds thousands of cultivars.
While the garden has many rare and unusual plants, there is plenty of whimsy and art.
A recent addition – a table made from stacked rocks inside a metal mesh frame – holds 26 different miniature plants: ferns, trees, hostas and rhodies.
“It’s a good way to have a full garden on a table top,” Graves said.
Nearby is a section of boxwoods that are being transformed into fanciful shapes, including a rabbit.
The pair spent six weeks cleaning up from last winter’s ice storm. Many trees, large and small, were lost. A fallen walnut was left in place – it’s now a bench.
“We cleaned it up, planted some new trees and called it good,” Graves said of the mess they had faced.
But Graves did a lot more than clean it up. Using horse fencing, he made a three-foot-wide, eight-foot-high and 60-feet-long enclosure and filled it up with neatly stacked storm debris. Not only does it serve as a visual barrier, but it makes an architectural statement in itself.
The garden holds 40 different kinds of peonies, including tree varieties and a white variety that Graves grew from seed. “It’s an exercise in patience,” he said.
Graves, the horticulturist, often brings home new plants. Waller, a former floral designer, approaches the garden from an aesthetic viewpoint.
“I’ll put it where it needs to be and he moves it to where it looks good,” Graves said. The pair operates a retail nursery adjacent to the garden.
Other worldly Jack-in-the-pulpit grows near a six-foot-tall Himalayan lily (Cardiocrinum giganteum) getting ready to bloom. A relative of the stinging nettle (lamium orvala) doesn’t hurt, but instead offers pink tubular flowers. The shady beds are a riot of leaf shapes, colors, sizes and textures.
Waller has organized the garden beds by color. A yellow Trillium grows near a stand of yellow Pacific coast iris.
A sunny border near the house holds red-tinged rhubarb already in full bloom. In the spring, the beds display a variety of bulbs.
The garden takes up one acre of the three-acre property. The other two belong to a large collection of chickens, ducks, turkeys, guinea fowl, peafowl and, of course, two old goats, Ozzie and Harriet.
The two other open gardens on Sunday are the Chase Garden, 16015 264th St. in Orting, and Mount Tahoma Nursery, 28111 112th Ave. E. in Graham. A portion of admission proceeds from this Open Day will be used to support the Chase Garden.
Kitsap County’s Open Day is July 28 and Thurston County’s is Aug. 18.