Home & Garden

Northwest nature built on a small scale

Linda Andrews' and Gene Walker's garden in Olympia includes a dead snag in their front yard.
Linda Andrews' and Gene Walker's garden in Olympia includes a dead snag in their front yard. The Olympian

A creek springs from an alpine mountain and flows across a Mediterranean desert, ending in a boggy rain forest. And it all takes place within a 100-foot span.

The northeast Olympia garden of Linda Andrews and Gene Walker is a reflection of the split personality of the Pacific Northwest climate: soggy winters and bone dry summers.

Andrews and Walker own Patterns in Nature, a landscape design and build company. The couple is raising two sons in their brightly colored stucco home.

Andrews started the garden 12 years ago when the property was little more than lawn. Today, it’s a lush oasis of plants that belie their water-wise ways.

“Bit by bit we took out all the lawn,” Andrews said. The last of it was banished in 2007.

Though Andrews uses a lot of natives in her design, both for their water needs and as a benefit to wildlife, she’s not a proselytizer. As a plant collector she likes to experiment with nonnatives – as long as they are water wise or a benefit to wildlife.

“The environmental goals are as important as aesthetic goals,” she said.

Plants are chosen for their flower and foliage color, texture and their contribution to more than just one season of interest. Two small sections of bamboo (black and golden) – notorious for their brutish behavior – are kept in check by two-foot-deep rounds of roof flashing.

At the corner of their lot stands a 20-foot silver fir snag. The tree died suddenly a year ago. Andrews and Walker had the top shortened and the limbs trimmed and left it in place as a benefit to wildlife and the overall ecosystem of their garden.

“In cities we just tend to whisk that stuff (dead wood) out really fast.” Andrews said, adding that woodpeckers are already using it. A local arborist figures the tree has about 10 years before it becomes a hazard.

“I’m sure some of the neighbors think we’re crazy but we like it,” Andrews said.

A fence and foliage privatize a backyard with flagstone resting areas, pathways and nooks. A brightly colored tiled table by local artist Sally Reichlin and a modern water fountain add human touches.

In one corner stands “Mount Walker” – a two foot high hill filled with a collection of colorful conifers. A dwarf golden foliaged cedar provides a perfect foil to a blue-grey abies concolor (blue white fir). A paperbark maple (acer griseum) provides brilliant fall color while a deep-purple-leaved ninebark (physocarpos ) adds summer color.

The dry creek became the organizing motif of the garden. Springing from the hummock, the creek bed winds past an old timer apple tree on its way to a rain garden.

Rain gardens are landscape features that divert water out of community storm water systems. They return the water to the aquifer while providing a landscape element to urban gardens.

Andrews’ and Walker’s rain garden, a 8-foot by 12-foot depression, was carved out of their clay soil and then filled with a mixture of compost-rich soil and topsoil. It’s fed by two downspouts from the house and the occasional wash of water from the creek bed. A section of an old walnut tree was added to become a nurse log. It’s currently sporting Oregon grape and snowberry.

The garden is not all ornamental. Besides the apple and a veteran pear tree there are strawberries, grapes and blueberries. But not all the fruits are for the humans. Two ‘Evereste’ crab apples flank the front entry and provide fruit for neighborhood birds.

Andrews and Walker not only recycle rain water but sunlight as well. Walker just designed and installed a 200-square-foot solar array (photovoltaic system) on the home’s roof capable of generating 2,800 watts of power. They estimate it will provide half of the household’s annual power needs.

Craig Sailor: 253-597-8541 craig.sailor@thenewstribune.com