WHEN LEXIE Robbins moved into her home in Denny Blaine in 1962, she and her husband were the youngest couple in the area. Now Robbins is the matriarch of the neighborhood. Her stately old house has nearly disappeared into the enchantment of a garden she’s been tending for a half-century. The farmhouse was built in 1895, surely one of the oldest houses in this quiet neighborhood of large gardens and turn-of-the-last-century homes.
It’s a place full of memories and present-day joy and bustle. The couple raised four children in the house, and now Robbins entertains her granddaughter, Gemma, at tea parties on the lawn. “We used to have a big vegetable garden,” says Robbins, who now puts her energies into raising perennials, vines, roses and raspberries.
“At one point we kept a goat and a lamb for all the kids in the neighborhood,” Robbins remembers. Now a little flock of chickens scratches happily around the garden, and Gemma collects their eggs every morning.
How do you keep up with such a huge garden for so many years? Robbins takes a casual approach and enjoys her garden for what it is today. “I’ve had the raspberries for years … they’re the best thing in the yard,” she says. A long trellis supports roses. Iris spread about, foxglove, daisies and crocosmia bloom abundantly, fertilized with well-composted chicken manure. Poppies, nigella, snapdragons and columbine are left to go to seed. “Everything can be divided. If anyone is interested, I start digging,” says Robbins who loves to send bits and pieces of her garden home with friends and neighbors.
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“Almost everything is perennial except for a few impatiens,” Robbins says. “If something wants to grow, I let it. I don’t plant things in a row.” She especially enjoys primroses because they ask for nothing, never die and need dividing only now and then. Calla lilies grow all along the back fence. “The Duchess of Windsor carried three callas,” remembers Robbins.
The hillside at the back of the property, which used to be a solid wall of blackberries, has been terraced with help from Millionair Club workers. Alpine strawberries trim the beds that overflow with phlox, yarrow and Peruvian lilies. Peonies are scattered through the garden.
The flowery scene is set off by a backdrop of towering cedars, firs and purple-leaf plums. One of the largest redwoods I’ve ever seen in the city grows next door. The properties are large enough in this old Seattle neighborhood not to be dwarfed or overly shaded by such majestic trees.
For Robbins, the house serves as a scaffold to grow plants. Pyracantha scrambles up the back of the house, its bright orange berries glowing against the home’s green paint. Passion vines outline the windows. Clematis climb the house and up the tall conifers, their flowers coating tree limbs and roof. Honeysuckle cascades off the front porch, its heady fragrance sweetening the air and drifting through the front door.
While summer in Robbins’ garden is glorious, she has plenty of plants to carry through the seasons. Winter-blooming sasanqua camellias are trained up the house, and hellebores run through the garden beds. Evergreen ferns and a huge old Japanese maple that Robbins claims has been pruned by kids climbing on it, lend winter structure.
Robbins likes the artichokes because they “just go and go,” and she loves her hardy fuchsias for the hummingbirds they draw to the garden. “I’m never lonesome or bored,” she says. “I always have gardening to do, and the plants are dear, old friends.”
Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer. Check out her blog at www.valeaston.com. Mike Siegel is a Seattle Times staff photographer.