The day Jeanne Simmons took possession of her vacation home on Miller Bay in Poulsbo, she started turning earth and pulling out weeds. For the Seattle native...

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The day Jeanne Simmons took possession of her vacation home on Miller Bay in Poulsbo, she started turning earth and pulling out weeds. For the Seattle native, who had planted her first pansy at the age of 5, it was an important precedent. Though the house — a 1909 Craftsman that had been barged over from West Seattle — needed work, Simmons had no intention of letting the grounds wait on an extensive home renovation.

From day one and for the next 10 years, she and her husband, Tony Bartling, simultaneously renovated their house and transformed the grassy, weedy and nearly treeless landscape into sublime gardens. They planted and transplanted thousands of plants, bushes and trees; hauled away countless truckloads of gravel and invasive grasses and bushes; installed more than 17 tons of stone and brick to create beds, paths and seating areas; built seven trellises and arbors and a shed; and amended the soil regularly with copious amounts of homemade and store-bought compost.

Simmons never had a master plan, but that didn’t stop her. “I just began,” she says. “All I knew was I wanted gardens with paths.”

A wanderer’s garden

Simmons started with a garden of tall ornamental grass, crocosmia, sedum, lavender, hydrangea, catnip, smoke trees, at least one towering cardoon (inedible relative of the artichoke), and many more varieties of mostly perennials.

This is a wanderer’s garden, laced with small, rambling paths and dotted with plenty of resting spots — benches painted sky blue set in small clearings.

Simmons hasn’t created a vegetable plot, instead edibles turn up here and there including peach and apple trees, grapes, blueberries and strawberries, corn, peas, pumpkins, onions and herbs such as rosemary, sage and thyme.

Many of the gardens are edged in dark stone that had to be adjusted as the gardens grew. “I moved most of these rocks six times,” Bartling says. An electrician for an alarm company, he provided much of the projects’ muscle, building all the arbors and trellises and fashioning around 60 rustic-looking plant supports from rebar.

Although the garden comes together as a whole, it’s actually composed of many smaller gardens, which reflects its 10-year, piecemeal evolution. The front or street-side of the house is more formal. In their second year, the couple pulled up compacted gravel that covered the front yard with a backhoe and brought in horse manure. When the winter rains came, they discovered they had created a muddy drainage bowl. They took it in stride and went on to dig 270 feet of drainage ditch.

Various themes

Today, there is no sign of this ignominious beginning. Four gardens anchored by boxwood, spruce and lavender mirror each other across formal brick paths that connect the front door to three arbors covered in climbing rose, clematis and honeysuckle.

Five years ago, just when it looked like they had completely landscaped the half-acre around the house, Bartling and Simmons bought another half-acre across the street. It took the entire first season to clear out all the reed canary grass and blackberry bushes from the lot.

In four years, they built a tool shed and planted several mini-gardens including the “secret garden” surrounded by evergreen Thuja hedge and a “hot garden,” which is home to bright red crocosmia, yellow daisies, black leaf dahlias, bronze fennel, a coral bark maple and a golden smoke tree.

In the past two years, Simmons has planted two smaller gardens — claiming the last unplanted patches. On top of an old compost heap, in the shade of a neighbor’s tree, she planted shade-loving plants including elephant ear, goat’s beard and Gunnera.

In the center, she created a “dry garden” with drought-tolerant plants, such as sedum, thyme and sage, set among flagstone. This spot is protected from the wind on the bay and provides a favorite warm bench for cooler days. This is where Bartling and Simmons often take their rare breaks between gardening projects.

Lisa Wogan is a frequent contributor

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