A creative collaboration turns an outdated and overgrown garden into a private paradise in Madison Park.

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Landscape architect Tom Zachary describes the new front garden plantings as “mostly textural”; as in ornamental grasses played off the ribbed leaves of Japanese anemones, with a full moon maple by the front door. (Mike Siegel/The Seattle Times)
Landscape architect Tom Zachary describes the new front garden plantings as “mostly textural”; as in ornamental grasses played off the ribbed leaves of Japanese anemones, with a full moon maple by the front door. (Mike Siegel/The Seattle Times)

WHEN CATHERINE AND Stephan Roche bought their home in Madison Park in 1994, it wasn’t for the garden, which Catherine describes as, “all pink and white and overgrown.” The white picket fence and towering rhododendrons looked outdated and out of sync with the crisp, gray-shingled, white-trimmed home. At least they were interesting varieties of rhodies. Before it was subdivided, the garden was part of a property owned by Seattle landscape architect Grant Jones.

When the Roche triplets (now off to college) were growing up, the swimming pool in the backyard and expanse of lawn served the family well. But Catherine, a Japanese art historian, pictured a more private setting inspired by the Japanese gardens she loved. When she next traveled to Kyoto, she brought home photos of temple gates and fences. These photos launched a creative collaboration between Catherine and landscape architect Tom Zachary, who together transformed the tired old garden into a modern and sophisticated space for outdoor living.

At first, Zachary planned just to add a square patio to the front garden. But when he found out that Catherine loved the work of sculptor John Hoge, he designed a spacious front terrace around one of Hoge’s polished basalt benches. The bench’s heft was inspiration for the terrace’s stone paving. Zachary asked Marenakos Rock Center to saw slabs of stone from basalt columns, which were laid in wide strips to floor the front garden.

A new fence runs along the front of the property, with horizontal lines and deep ebony color that are the opposite of the original white picket fence. The fence’s design, with extensive metalwork by Todd Harrison of Blackbird Iron + Design, was inspired by Catherine’s photos from Kyoto. There’s even a dog door in the gate, where a couple of furry white faces eagerly peer through the nose-height window. “Mookie and Clover were a driving force in the design,” Zachary says of the little dogs.

A window looks down to the gardens below. (Mike Siegel/The Seattle Times)
A window looks down to the gardens below. (Mike Siegel/The Seattle Times)

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From the inside, the fence’s dark color and its solidity serve as effective backdrop to the plantings in shades of green and white, with splashes of gold and black. Evergreen hedging and masses of ornamental grasses clothe the garden in all seasons. In summer, a sweep of Japanese anemone ‘White Swan’ holds airy flowers aloft. Near a corner of the house, a fragrant Japanese snowbell tree with dark purple leaves (Styrax japonicus ‘Evening Light’) opens its white, bell-shaped flowers in June. And in a big pot by the front door, the golden foliage of a full moon maple (Acer shirasawanum ‘Aureum’) is set off by the home’s gray shingles. At night, the tree’s dramatic shape and foliage are highlighted with subtle up-lighting.

While the front garden is freshly contemporary, the back garden is family-centered with patio, lawn and swimming pool.

“I originally contacted Tom to ask him to remove the swimming pool, and then we ended up doing everything else instead,” says Catherine. The project, undertaken in 2014, just kept evolving. “Tom has this Zen vibe going that suits the project,” she says. Zachary designed a new layout for the back patio and, working with Moonbeam Lighting Consultation and Design, installed new lighting all through the garden.

Landscape architect Tom Zachary designed a sophisticated color scheme of green and black for the front garden, with a sweep of golden Japanese forest grass to warm up the scene. Stone paving, a black fence and a basalt bench lend structure. (Mike Siegel/The Seattle Times)
Landscape architect Tom Zachary designed a sophisticated color scheme of green and black for the front garden, with a sweep of golden Japanese forest grass to warm up the scene. Stone paving, a black fence and a basalt bench lend structure. (Mike Siegel/The Seattle Times)

Zachary points out that plants have been chosen for texture more than flower. An area just outside the dining-room window, described by Zachary as “a former dead zone,” features a vignette of this subtle, year-round kind of planting. A multistemmed Stewartia pseudocamellia centers a bed of hellebores, hosta and Japanese forest grass. Throughout the garden, sweeps of ferns, beesia, grasses, sedges and liriope are planted en masse. When a plant does flower, its blooms are usually white or very pale, to stick with the predominantly green-and-white color scheme. “What I like about it so much is that the garden is every shade of green,” Catherine says.

Clover and Mookie dart across the grassy backyard. (Mike Siegel/The Seattle Times)
Clover and Mookie dart across the grassy backyard. (Mike Siegel/The Seattle Times)

A giant old photinia, remnant of the earlier garden, shades a bench where Catherine sits to enjoy the view of the front garden after walking the dogs. “No one would look at the front and think of it as a Japanese garden,” she says. “But to me it’s infused with the feeling of Japan.”