In Edgewood near Tacoma, a sprawling lawn is transformed into a series of smaller, well-detailed scenes to create a grand garden that still feels friendly to humans. Thousands of trees and shrubs have been planted, screens have been put up and a huge pond installed to help define the scenes, which range from a shade...

photographed by Mike Siegel

EVEN AN idle browse through Internet real-estate listings can be perilous. Just ask Ilga Jansons and Michael Dryfoos. In 2003, they found an online listing for 32 acres in Edgewood with its own irrigation well. Such words are catnip to a serious gardener like Jansons, who spent years developing a spectacular wooded hillside garden in Juanita. She and Dryfoos had no idea where Edgewood was, but took a Sunday drive to find out.

The couple was so taken by Mount Rainier’s snowy slopes looming over the sunny, open acreage that they were able to overlook the rundown house in foreclosure. “Ilga decided in 10 minutes,” says Dryfoos of how quickly they made up their minds to move south to the Puyallup River Valley.

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Seven years later, this ex-Microsoft couple have restored the 1970s house by replacing windows and roof and installing a solar hot-water heating system. The previous owner cut down fir, cedar and hemlock for a look more golf course than garden; Dryfoos and Jansons are well on their way toward reforestation. “I’ve already planted 6,000 shrubs and more than 700 trees,” says Jansons.

From grand gates to a formal pond (which at 27,000 square feet is really more of a lake), the large scale of the property is daunting. Yet Jansons seems unfazed. She brought with her from her Juanita garden rhododendrons so huge they had to be installed with a crane. A broad, shrub-filled border replaces the old basketball court; she’s also created a shade garden, bird sanctuary, Japanese garden and alpine rock garden. Pots of green treasures line the driveway and nursery area, all waiting their turn to go into the ground. Jansons points out little oaks she’s raised from acorns and trillium with flowers so double you’d think they were gardenias.

The couple found treasures as they dug up lawn and more lawn, like the mossy stones in the Japanese garden. But they also found trouble. “My No. 1 enemy is Canadian thistle; No. 2 is horsetails,” says Jansons of her constant war with weeds. She battled the windiness of the valley by building Japanese screens to shield intimate sitting areas within the larger landscape. As copper beeches, poplars and horse chestnuts grow up, they’ll serve as windbreaks, as will the 60 different kinds of lilacs. Can you imagine how sweet the garden smells every April when all those lilacs flower? And again when the dozens of ‘Hot Cocoa’ roses bloom? Planted with espresso gladiolas and the ground cover Ajuga ‘Chocolate Chip,’ the chocolate garden echoes the theme of a popular fundraising party the couple throws every summer.

Jansons most recently took on a large vegetable garden, building brick beds for potatoes, peas, onions, figs, cherries, plums and currants. Less utilitarian is the romantic pink-and-white part of the garden, with old windows set into white fences and an arbor beyond all expectations of the name. At 112 feet long and 13 feet high, the sturdy structure holds 30 kinds of clematis, honeysuckle, akebia and various pink roses like ‘Kipsgate’ and ‘Cecile Brunner.’

One of the pleasures of “upsizing” for Jansons and Dryfoos is that the new garden accommodates so many guests at the 50 or more events they host every year to raise money for horticultural organizations. With Mount Rainier right outside the kitchen window and plenty of water from the well that coaxed them into buying the property in the first place, Edgewood Garden has proved a huge and happy endeavor for this hospitable pair.

Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer and author of “The New Low-Maintenance Garden.” Check out her blog at Mike Siegel is a Seattle Times staff photographer.