Garden designer Rick Kyper's mini-estate on Beacon Hill overflows with unusual trees, shrubs and flowers.
THE ENGLISH gardening tradition is alive and flourishing on Beacon Hill, where garden designer Rick Kyper’s own mini-estate overflows with unusual trees, shrubs and flowers. Kyper walked past the place in 1995, peered through the waist-high grass, fell in love with what was then a rosy pink 1940s cottage and bought the spacious corner lot.
Kyper set out to transform the garden, and he didn’t stop at his property line. Plants somehow migrated across the street to colonize the margins of the surrounding greenbelt. Moss roses interweave with lilacs and feathery bald cypress. Fragrance from honeysuckle and mock orange wafts about. The taller plants are skirted in blood-red Oriental poppies, columbine and fat clumps of rodgersia.
From weirdly weeping Alaska cypress to towering sequoias, the mix of plants is unexpected in any context, and certainly is along a Beacon Hill lane. “It takes a lot of discipline to stick to a color scheme,” says Kyper of the mostly green and gold hedgerow. “I had a vision for the screening, got up and sketched it, and now it looks like the vision.”
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Trained in England and steeped in classical plantsmanship, Kyper raises plants from seed and orchestrates them by color. As with most plant fanciers, Kyper has his specialties. His English delphiniums and impressive assortment of lilies have drawn staff from Martha Stewart’s magazine to his garden on several occasions over the years.
Kyper shows his plant mastery by having something of interest in every season. The Amelanchier grandiflora ‘Princess Diana’ in his front garden is one of his favorite deciduous trees. That’s because it has handsome winter bark, a cloud of white flowers in spring, fruit for the birds in summer and in autumn turns to fire. In the back garden, a stone patio and boxwood hedges keep the garden inviting year-round. They also provide structure in summer when a glorious mass of flowers takes over the show.
The back garden is a treasure trove of plants. Tiny English violets in blue and mauve trim the beds. Elegant martagon lilies sway above the squatty boxwood obelisks that anchor the corners of the beds. Yellow columbines have spurs so long they look like shooting stars, and splashy, seed-grown iris are everywhere. Because Kyper buys and trades plants from all over the world, touring his garden is like getting a geography lesson. In the greenhouse, he cultivates tender bulbs from South Africa for his own garden and for clients.
Palm trees and a big stand of jagged mahonia create textural interest. “When planting borders, put the bulky foliage at the bottom, and the airy foliage at the top,” advises Kyper. “You want your eye to rest, and then for it to just fly away.”
The Elizabeth Arden border sizzles with a mix of purple, orange-red and burgundy. The Laura Ashley border is all pastel froufrou. Kyper loves every hue and shade, but keeps the cacophony of color to a pleasant roar by mixing in plenty of green and variegated foliage. “Something blooms here every day of the year,” he says. “My theory is that our summers are so short we need color to make the best of it.”
Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer and author of “petal & twig.” Check out her blog at www.valeaston.com. Mike Siegel is a Seattle Times staff photographer.