A couple created a dream garden space, complete with a pizza oven and conversation pit, on a steep, hillside property.

Share story

JANET AND JOHN WALKER fell in love with a house in the Denny-Blaine neighborhood six years ago and left their huge yard in Woodinville behind to move into the heart of the city. But soon enough they missed their garden and began thinking about how to squeeze favorite plants and spaces for outdoor living onto their new property.

Glass-topped stakes help fill out pots near the front of the home. (Mike Siegel/The Seattle Times)
Glass-topped stakes help fill out pots near the front of the home. (Mike Siegel/The Seattle Times)

Which wasn’t easy, because the new place is steep and awkwardly shaped. The lot is long and narrow, sits high above the street and falls off sharply in front. The property was mostly ratty lawn and tired shrubs shaded by a venerable old big-leaf maple.

“We sat in a couple of chairs in the dirt out there in front of the house and imagined an outdoor room,” says Janet. “We asked ourselves if we couldn’t get more out of this space.”

The couple turned to Kat and Tim King of Land2c Landscape Architecture for help. And the designing duo immediately saw the possibilities in the property’s challenging topography. They set about turning the garden into a private outdoor perch, aided by the demise of the maple, which opened up a wide territorial view.

The Walkers had quite a wish list for their new garden. They love to entertain, so asked for al fresco seating for at least a dozen guests, plus a conversation pit for lounging around and chatting. “We’re obsessed with 1950s houses and those conversation pits with all the pillows,” explains Janet. “And from the very beginning, we’d been talking about a pizza oven.”

Janet and John use their outdoor pizza oven to cook fresh pies for guests. (Mike Siegel/The Seattle Times)
Janet and John use their outdoor pizza oven to cook fresh pies for guests. (Mike Siegel/The Seattle Times)

When it came to plants, Janet was adamant about low-maintenance. She was so over deadheading, and wanted to be able to take off on a trip without worrying about the garden. And yet … she missed all those plants she used to grow in her Woodinville garden. “I love low-growing grasses and ferns,” she says. “Also astilbe, peonies and lily-of-the-valley.” She also hoped to carve out space for a small vegetable and herb garden.

Somehow, the Kings were able to find enough level land to accommodate all the Walkers’ garden dreams. Now a narrow vegetable garden runs along the sunny side of the house, planted with greens, fennel, rhubarb and rosemary. An orange bistro table and chairs brighten the shady side of the house. Here a brick pathway winds through beds of ferns, hosta, fuchsias and Japanese forest grass.

Garden designers Tim and Kat King realized the potential of Janet and John Walker’s hillside garden in Denny-Blaine. They planted the old rockery thickly to keep the soil in place, and created an outdoor room up top by adding a paved terrace and cantilevering a deck out over the steep slope. (Mike Siegel/The Seattle Times)
Garden designers Tim and Kat King realized the potential of Janet and John Walker’s hillside garden in Denny-Blaine. They planted the old rockery thickly to keep the soil in place, and created an outdoor room up top by adding a paved terrace and cantilevering a deck out over the steep slope. (Mike Siegel/The Seattle Times)

Foliage plants predominate to save Janet from the task of deadheading flowers. The contrasting colors and textures of the plants, accented by Janet’s collection of brilliantly colored glass spikes and spheres, keeps the garden vibrant in all seasons.

“Kat stretched me a bit on plants,” Janet says of the burgundy-leafed loropetalum, oak-leaf hydrangeas, dwarf conifers and epimedium that soften the edges of the rockery, walkways and expansive new cantilevered deck that is the showpiece of the renovated garden.

After pizza has been served, guests toast marshmallows over the still-hot embers in the oven. (Mike Siegel/The Seattle Times)
After pizza has been served, guests toast marshmallows over the still-hot embers in the oven. (Mike Siegel/The Seattle Times)

Because the property is in an environmentally critical area, the designers consulted a soils engineer before engineering the new patio and terrace out front. Following the engineer’s advice to leave the old rockery undisturbed, they cantilevered the deck out over the slope. To help hold the soil on the steep bank, they put in swathes and masses of plants to hold the soil in place. Most of Janet’s gardening is here in the front rockery, weeding and encouraging succulents like Sedum ‘Angelina’ to fill in between the stones.

The shady side of the house, dubbed “frog alley,” has been turned into a quiet stroll garden with a stone pathway winding through plantings of Japanese forest grass, hydrangeas, ferns and astilbe. (Mike Siegel/The Seattle Times)
The shady side of the house, dubbed “frog alley,” has been turned into a quiet stroll garden with a stone pathway winding through plantings of Japanese forest grass, hydrangeas, ferns and astilbe. (Mike Siegel/The Seattle Times)

Now the deck holds long benches of brightly patterned cushions. There’s plenty of room for more than a dozen guests to settle in and chat, and for a dining table large enough to seat 20. Two long stainless-steel utility tables can be moved about to prepare and serve food, or be used as planting benches. A spacious pizza oven is in place, and strings of colored lights crisscross overhead, brightening the deck at night and on gloomy days. “It’s a happy place now, cheery. We love the different spaces,” says Janet. “It feels a little bohemian.”