An Edmonds couple’s gardening skills (his) and love of all things European (hers) come together to create a peaceful and personal waterfront setting.

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THE BACKYARD had the feel of a bowling alley carpeted in dead grass. Around front was a bleak courtyard. The house was built in the 1970s and had little connection to the outdoors. But 13 years ago, Roger and Candace BelAir bought the place anyway, seduced by the property’s west-facing waterfront location in Edmonds. Inspired by their trips to Italy and France, they set out to make the garden and house reflect their love of cooking, entertaining and Europe.

The transformation of pedestrian to personal began when the couple created a setting for al fresco dining and sunset viewing by adding two decks to the back of the house. One is defined and sheltered by a pergola that echoes the design of a structure at the BelAirs’ favorite restaurant in Provence. It has a circular opening at the top for star gazing. An ornate chandelier, lighted by battery lights, dangles over the dining table on the second deck. The view from both decks is out to the mountains, Puget Sound and ferries passing by. Right away, the stage was set for the romantic feel of this beachfront property.

A driftwood grape arbor defines the back garden and shades the path that meanders through lavender and other Mediterranean-inspired plantings. (Mike Siegel/The Seattle Times)
A driftwood grape arbor defines the back garden and shades the path that meanders through lavender and other Mediterranean-inspired plantings. (Mike Siegel/The Seattle Times)

But the decks also overlook the back garden, which needed a lot of help. The couple hired Scott Mantz to design and install the hardscape of walkways and circular patios. Mantz brought in good soil to form undulating mounds to create topography and provide drainage. Designer Lisa Ravenholt helped with the planting plan, which reflects the owners’ vision of a garden with an old-world feel, like the lavender-rich landscape of Italy.

The romantic air of the garden is heightened by a narrow, cobbled path that curves enticingly through roses and ornamental grasses on its way from a hidden corner of the back garden to the beach. (Mike Siegel/The Seattle Times)
The romantic air of the garden is heightened by a narrow, cobbled path that curves enticingly through roses and ornamental grasses on its way from a hidden corner of the back garden to the beach. (Mike Siegel/The Seattle Times)

“I was influenced by the plants I’d admired on a walking tour of Tuscany,” explains Candace. Now rosemary, lavender and ornamental grasses thrive in the garden’s sunny, west-facing orientation. Drought-tolerant, sun-loving plantings include rugosa roses, sedum, rock roses, heather and ceanothus, with an emphasis on texture and foliage.

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In the spring, a pale pink, baby-powder-scented Clematis montana ‘Elizabeth’ blooms along the deck railings. A Rosa banksiae climbs up to the decks from the garden below. “Roger is the gardener,” says Candace, pointing out how the rose has been pruned and trained to create a delicate tracery of branch, leaf and bloom along the deck railing.

A feature of the back garden is the long, rustic arbor Roger built of driftwood.

“Being on the beach, the driftwood just made sense,” he says. “The arbor has a meandering feel that makes you slow down as you walk through.”

Grapes grow on the open lattice top, providing both shade and fruit while adding to the arbor’s atmospherics. And just in case you aren’t slowed down by the sunshine filtering through grape leaves, or the distinctive gnarliness of each driftwood post, the couple has affixed a variety of locks to the arbor.

Entertaining on the back deck, Roger, right, and Candace BelAir (blond woman facing camera), eat dinner with Brad and Debbie Fagala. (Brad is at far left)
Roger and Candace BelAir and their Italian/Mediterranean themed gardens in Edmonds WA.  Mt. Baker is seen in the distance.
Entertaining on the back deck, Roger, right, and Candace BelAir (blond woman facing camera), eat dinner with Brad and Debbie Fagala. (Brad is at far left) Roger and Candace BelAir and their Italian/Mediterranean themed gardens in Edmonds WA. Mt. Baker is seen in the distance.

When Roger and Candace were in Paris years ago, they saw the hundreds of locks fastened to the Pont des Arts bridge over the Seine. Tourists attach these “love locks,” with their names etched onto them, to the bridge as a gesture of committed love. On their 20th wedding anniversary, Roger gave Candace a heavy box filled with 20 locks, which now adorn the arbor. And the lock collection is growing.

Strolling the garden paths reinforces the deeply romantic feel of the garden. Pass through the sun-dappled arbor, and you’ll come upon Roger’s “gratitude hammock,” hung in the shade beneath the deck, his place of choice to relax and listen to the waves. At one end of the garden is a narrow, secret-feeling path, leading beneath a lilac arch to a gate that opens onto the beach.

Around front, at the home’s entry, the Mediterranean theme continues. Big pots hold clipped evergreens, and the driveway is lined with rosemary, cistus and euphorbia. An olive tree is espaliered against one wall in the entry, and a wall fountain is wreathed in ivy.

The couple’s initials carved into one of the driftwood arbor posts emphasize the romantic feel of the garden. The arbor also is embellished with dozens of “love locks,” a gift from Roger to Candace inspired by locks they’d seen on a bridge in Paris. (Mike Siegel/The Seattle Times)
The couple’s initials carved into one of the driftwood arbor posts emphasize the romantic feel of the garden. The arbor also is embellished with dozens of “love locks,” a gift from Roger to Candace inspired by locks they’d seen on a bridge in Paris. (Mike Siegel/The Seattle Times)

“I’m such a Francophile,” says Candace of her love for French gardens with their arbors, roses, metalwork and vines. Roger’s gardening skills and Candace’s love of all things Mediterranean have transformed a Northwest house on a Puget Sound beach into a romantic vision of a European landscape.