With easy-care plants and edibles, an ordinary Kirkland garden is transformed into a series of colorful, inviting spaces that feel special and personal.

Share story

Garden designers’ own home landscapes often reflect the shoemaker’s children syndrome. Not neglected exactly, but often their gardens are in perpetual transition, with dozens of plants in nursery pots waiting to go into the ground. It can be just too much to practice your profession when you come home after a long day of work.

Not so of designer Sue Moss’ Kirkland garden. When Sue and her husband, Bob, bought a new home in Kirkland seven years ago, she was determined to transform the builder-blah landscape into a personal garden. She hadn’t reckoned, however, on her husband acting as client in the design process. “Bob would ask for choices of plan — I gave him three for the front yard, and we ended up cutting and pasting various elements. He acted as a rein on some of my wilder flights of fancy,” says Sue.

When the couple began their client/designer relationship, there wasn’t much landscaping besides six red maples and ornamental grasses. Sue began the transformation by trucking in Cedar Grove compost to improve the heavy clay soil. Bob built the bamboo and cedar fence designed by Sue. Creating privacy from the street was an early priority, also planting edibles and wildlife-attracting shrubs and perennials. Now early-bloomer Kerria japonica ‘Pictum’ lures hummingbirds, and a tidy hedge of evergreen blueberry ‘Sunshine’ sports glossy fruit in midsummer. A eucalyptus blocks out the view of a telephone pole; maples and junipers grow around an arbor to shield the garden from passing traffic. “I’m using ordinary plants here, nothing exotic or unproven,” says Sue. “I’m trying to cut down on maintenance with tried-and-true plants.”

Sue regularly leads tours to Italy, France and Holland, and her love of European gardens is reflected in a variety of hedges. The front rockery is topped with a hedge of nandina; other unexpected, easy-care hedge plants include Viburnum davidii and the pretty little Hebe albicans ‘Red Edge.’

A walk through the quiet, shady side garden fluffed up with hostas, astilbe and hydrangeas leads to a sunny back garden. Raised vegetable beds, a pond, dining terrace and a cottage housing Sue’s office take up most of the space. But she’s managed to squeeze in a butterfly garden. Salvias, cape fuchsias, orange abutilon and Fuchsia ‘Gartenmeister Bonstedt’ grow together in a colorful profusion that draws the butterflies to flit around the patio.

The back patio is garnished with tall urns sprouting black mondo grass and a big dish of succulents for textural interest. The square pond featuring two bubblers has a lip wide enough to sit on. A bevy of daffodils surrounds the pond in spring, followed by summer foxtail lilies and stands of gossamer Pennisetum alopecroides ‘Hamlyn,’ which Sue describes as “a well-behaved grass with the perfect scale for smaller gardens.” The edible theme continues with a fig espaliered against the cottage and a persimmon tree in the back corner.

So how was it to design a garden to her husband’s specifications?

“He was fussier than most clients,” says Moss. “But it was a good collaboration.”

Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer and author of “A Pattern Garden.” Her e-mail address is valeaston@comcast.net. Barry Wong is a Seattle-based freelance photographer. He can be reached at studio@barrywongphoto.com.