In stately layers of green, Deborah Cheadle's island garden is revealed.

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AFTER GARDENING the same plot for more than three decades, Deborah Cheadle went back to school and turned professional. The cabaret singer is now busy designing gardens for other people as well as tinkering with her own nearly-two-acres on the south end of Bainbridge Island.

Over the years, Cheadle and her husband, Ralph, have remodeled their home, adding windows so every room has a view out to the garden. They worked with local landscape architect Bart Berg to plan garden layout and hardscape. But the planting is pure Deborah, from the colorful little shrubs to the array of Japanese maples. Her aesthetic is all about leaves, texture and form. And it doesn’t hurt to have a charming old red farmhouse, guesthouse and outbuildings as backdrop.

In front of the house, the old lawn is gone. Now rhododendrons, barberries, epimedium, nandinas, Rosa glauca and dwarf conifers surround brick walkways in what Cheadle calls her “shrub meadow.”

While the front garden is beautiful but practical, the back garden is pure drama. Here, Cheadle planted a yew hedge to create a line across the long, narrow property and divide it into two distinct areas. Close to the house, the feel is detailed and intimate. Beyond the hedge, an expanse of lawn and generous borders are surrounded by fir trees underplanted with maples. The vegetable garden and raspberries are back here, too, but the overall effect is of wide, wide, English-style mixed borders undulating all the way into the woods.

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How does this busy entertainer and garden designer care for such a complex property? “Learn how to prune,” Cheadle suggests. She’s also learned to stay away from rampant ground covers, and the entire property is deer-fenced.

Cheadle has become less plant-centric and more likely to repeat favorite plants. Dozens of red Japanese maples contrast with the mostly green landscape. Boxwood hedging adds structure; ferns, epimedium and carex are dependably evergreen. She’s a big fan of year-round foliage plants such as nandinas, daphnes and Hinoki cypress.

“The garden has been part of my growing and changing all of my adult life,” says Cheadle, who was convinced she’d never do the Bainbridge in Bloom again after opening her garden years ago for the tour. “But I’ve been working on the garden so long it’s bigger than the sum of its parts, bigger than any single plant combination that might go wrong. I want to share it with the community.”

Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer. Check out her blog at Mike Siegel is a Seattle Times staff photographer.

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