ROBERT AND Sharon Jangaard’s garden on Whidbey Island is an ever-changing project. And it’s more than seasonal change. The place has grown in size over the years as the couple added 20 more acres to their original 10. The style, plantings and color scheme have evolved through spirited discussions, and with the help of garden designer Dan Borroff.
“If I had my druthers I’d have a Japanese garden,” says Robert, who is a naturopathic doctor in the nearby town of Freeland. But pines and rhododendrons are at the top of Sharon’s hit list. “I just have to have color and shininess,” she says of her love for illuminating the garden with variegated plants and brilliant color play.
The original property was overgrown with huge maples and brush. “We couldn’t even see the view to the water until we beat our way through the undergrowth,” says Robert. They removed big, old rhododendrons and a hefty hedge of Portuguese laurel to let in more light. For years they’ve added compost to improve the tilth of the heavy clay soil. Now they tend six acres of mown grass as well as the cultivated gardens around the house.
With Borroff’s help, the Jangaards created more intimate spaces within the larger landscape. Each garden room is distinct, from the sunny deck to a shady, stone-lined grotto. “We’d been to Ireland and decided we’d do some stonework,” explains Sharon of the multilevel grotto. Most of the rooms are not only atmospheric but offer furnishings, from basalt benches to tea tables, for sitting, snacking, relaxing.
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Borroff designed the gravel courtyard entrance with its nearby rockery filled with Sharon’s favorite silver-leafed plants. A vivid red wall is the perfect backdrop for cardoons and Melianthus major, and marks the transition between the driveway and the more private gardens around the house.
The garden’s plant palette has changed over the years. Sharon loved the old Heronswood Nursery in Kingston, where she took gardening classes and bought plants, until she realized her garden is full-on sun and heat compared with shady Heronswood. Then there were all the plants lost to deer before the couple broke down and installed a fence. Now the garden is rich in unusual plants. The sitting area near the grotto is shaded by dramatic big-leafs like palms, rice paper plants (tetrapanax) and variegated Japanese aralias.
Round the corner of the house to find a Mediterranean-influenced garden room in shades of yellow and blue. “I like geometrics,” says Sharon of the linear walls and walkways softened by clusters of cobalt blue pots. A bright blue wall presides behind beds of roses and peonies under-planted with sedum. A big pot holds a statuesque agave.
As you walk past borders of foliage plants, including hostas and a mammoth gunnera, you look southeast toward the distant blue water of Useless Bay. Off to the left is a neighbor’s pasture dotted with alpacas. Ahead, the garden opens up to an expanse of lawn with a cluster of basalt benches inviting you to sit and contemplate the vastness of the view. Off to one side is a woodland garden filled with ferns. Look the other way toward a grove of native trees sheltering an open-air pagoda, Robert’s touch of Japan in the middle of this quintessential Whidbey Island scene.
The Jangaards moved to the island from Carnation, where they tended a big vegetable garden; Sharon brought hundreds of pounds of garlic with her when she moved to Whidbey. After creating an ornamental garden over the past two decades, the couple recently installed feed troughs to again try their hand at growing food. As Sharon says, “We’ve gone full circle and come back to the vegetable garden.”
Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer. Check out her blog at www.valeaston.com. Mike Siegel is a Seattle Times staff photographer.