Olympia gardener spreads the beauty year-round, with the help of his computer It was nothing more than lawn, a few maples and a lone apple tree when Gary Schuldt and his partner bought their east side Olympia home in 1991. They asked a neighbor for advice on what to do with the anemic space. "Curves and berms" was the advice they got, and they took to it with gusto.
Today, most of the lawn (and the partner) has split, replaced by 4,000 plants – 2,300 unique varieties in curving planting beds and berms on the one-third-acre lot.
Ask Schuldt for details and he can tell you any number of facts about what grows in his garden: 163 conifers, 306 heathers and 66 tender plants, for example. All of this information,
and much more, is at Schuldt’s fingertips. The gardener, who teaches computer courses on system analysis, has every plant entered in a database, along with its growing conditions, care, history, source and location in the garden.
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Take those heathers, for instance. Schuldt can search by height, bloom color, location, foliage color and growth habit. Being able to reach data in a matter of seconds has allowed him to create a garden that has all-season interest. There isn’t a day in the year when his garden isn’t in flower, displaying colorful foliage or producing some interesting fruit or seed pods.
Fall in Schuldt’s garden is a particularly riotous time of year. A Cherokee Sunset dogwood is showing pink and yellow in its leaves while a coral bark Japanese maple’s leaves are a delicate pale pink-orange. Even an evergreen, such as his Japanese Mahonia, is showing yellow veining in its leaves just as it begins to bloom with fragrant yellow blossoms. A beautyberry bush will soon lose its leaves; its metallic magenta berries will remain.
But not all of spring and summer’s exotics have gone away. Pitcher plants still raise their veiny tubes out of a goldfish pond. Standing at the shore of this small watery focal point, a visitor can count 15 unique conifers in shades of green, blue, yellow and almost white. Schuldt quickly finds seven more.
Fall also doesn’t mean that flowering season is over. A group of South African Nerine, with their Agapanthus-like leaves and flowers with frilly petals, bloom near purple asters.
Schuldt and his gardening friends wage an ongoing friendly competition to find the latest introductions to the horticulture world. “When I see a new plant, it becomes a challenge to see if I can grow it,” he said.
But plants wait to get into Schuldt’s garden much the way people wait in line outside an exclusive Hollywood nightclub. He has just short of 300 plants waiting to find homes.
Schuldt admits it’s not a low-maintenance garden. There’s pruning to do and always a plant to move that has outgrown its space. “The last three years, I think I’ve taken out more trees than I’ve put in,” he said.
The garden, almost 20 years old, has a lived-in look that goes beyond its years. A giant sequoia that Schuldt bought as a living Christmas tree in 1993 now has a trunk with a 12-foot circumference. Another tree, a cedar, was salvaged before a road crew was about to cut it. It’s now 40 feet high.
A variegated sedum, practically all white, rises like a cloud in front of a group of evergreens. Nearby, a hummingbird feeds from a lobelia. A Styrax obassia is loaded with marble-size brown berries.
Schuldt’s current partner, Pierre Wilson, doesn’t have much of an interest in the garden, but Schuldt takes it in stride. “I’m out whenever it’s light. There are always chores to do, and I prefer being outside to being inside.”
His garden is an ever-changing canvas reflecting both the maturity of his plants and the maturity of his vision.
“It’s been a matter of learning how many ways to appreciate beauty,” he said.
Craig Sailor: 253-597-8541