It’s a garden in the round: Finn Hill property set on circular lot platted decades earlier by Northwest architect Paul Kirk. Landscape architect Brooks Kolb planted new and honored the place’s agricultural past.
YOU MIGHT not expect history of place to figure in a move to a Kirkland hilltop. But it’s smack what Debra Dahlen and Bob Fries ran into when they bought property on Kirkland’s Finn Hill in 2001. Their new lot, and all those around it, are circular, platted decades earlier by Northwest architect Paul Kirk.
Kirk bought 40 steep, sunny acres above Juanita Beach with views of the Cascades, Mount Rainier and most of Lake Washington. The hilltop was mostly pasture, grazed by flocks of sheep owned by Finnish farmers. In the late 1940s, Kirk designed a home inspired by an old chicken coop on the site, and he and his wife, Helen, moved in and raised cows. In the late ’70s, Kirk divided his hilltop acreage into Finn Hill Meadows consisting of 21 circular lots, leaving 28 acres as shared open space, mostly horse pasture and old orchards.
Dahlen and Fries hired architect David Root to design a home to take advantage of the views from their quarter-acre circle. Early on, Dahlen brought in Seattle landscape architect Brooks Kolb to help figure out how to garden in the round.
Kolb began by planting a belt of heather and lavender around the property to mark the transition from wild to cultivated land. To honor the place’s agricultural past, he encircled the garden with a zigzag line of split-rail fence built of cedar downed on the property.
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Working with Turnstone Construction and Marenakos Rock Center, Kolb had more than 50 tons of stone hauled in for pathways, ponds, waterfalls and sitting rocks. One of the ponds, thickly planted with lily pads and grasses, has the feel of a lost lagoon. Mossy boulders, vine maples, ferns and stone bridges transform a shady slope on the other side of the house into an atmospheric grotto where a rush of waterfall plunges into still pools. Kolb created the illusion of the two water features connecting. Although no water actually flows beneath the house, it appears as if a stream runs from the pond on one side to feed the waterfall on the other.
Dahlen asked Kolb for a naturalistic, organic garden with fragrant, native and edible plants. Now daphnes, wisteria, roses and jasmine scent the air. In the shadier parts of the garden, natives such as bleeding heart and vancouveria carpet the ground. Blueberries, raspberries, rhubarb and strawberries are integrated into the gardens alongside the house; a nearby trellis is thick with kiwi vines.
As the garden matures, Kolb gently chides Dahlen about the variety of plants she’s introduced since the original plan. “This is Debra’s ark,” he says, shaking his head. “I wish I could convince her to plant in more than twos.”
“But I love so many plants,” says Dahlen, undaunted. She’s added roses and more roses to the garden, and dozens of pots holding herbs and perennials. She’s planted thousands of daffodils and deciduous azaleas for spring flower and fragrance. Tall ornamental grasses, small willows, vine maples and Japanese snowbell trees (Styrax japonica) turn parts of the garden blowsy with foliage. “I tend to keep it all pretty wild,” says Dahlen.
Kolb met the challenge of designing a personal, private garden on a wide-open site with 360 degrees of sun and shade. He had at first envisioned a meadow landscape, but the garden, and the family, required a sense of enclosure. Now curtains of evergreens such as Hollywood junipers and Italian cypress screen the property from the uphill neighbors.
Remnants of Finn Hill’s history remain, despite the new houses and cultivation of gardens. Deer, quail, rabbits and even coyote have the run of the place. And you can still spot a falling-down Finnish sauna built into the hillside, now overgrown with licorice fern.