CAMILLE AND DIRK Paulsen make a great gardening team. Having lived in the home they share with three school-aged daughters for just more than nine years, they have designed and cultivated nearly the entire corner lot of a cul-de-sac in Puyallup overlooking the Orting Valley. Together, they play off each other’s strengths and have built a garden full of evergreens, maples and perennials accented with architectural features and landscape design that rival that of any professional landscaper.
The 3/4-acre property looks out over Mount Rainier and is contoured with hills, pathways and secret outposts. The front yard is a garden worthy of envy. When they moved in, only lawn and trees spilled into a steep hillside planted with natives, sloping down to the street. “We were fortunate to inherit all of these beautiful large trees, which gave the garden a mature feel,” Camille says of the maples, aspens and conifers that create a canopy across the property.
Over the past few years, the Paulsens have done a lot of the work in the garden themselves. They tackled it in pieces, year after year, working together to create a very personal and welcoming garden full of intrigue and delight.
After losing a huge Douglas fir in the front yard, “We thought, ‘Why not make the front more welcoming to the neighborhood by creating some beauty out there?’ ” says Camille. They started by having a pergola built where the tree once stood. Dirk, a skillful woodworker, added latticework to support a ‘Mint Crisp’ honeysuckle — a fragrant, evergreen vine they are training up for screening.
From there, they brainstormed and designed the space over several years. The Paulsens wanted to create some privacy, but also wanted the property to feel open and welcoming. They started putting in conifers, vines and more Japanese maples. “I knew I didn’t want flat, so I added berms — my mom had always told me it looks more interesting in a landscape if you have a little height,” says Camille.
These berms contain a selection of conifers in various shapes, heights and shades of green. A standout specimen, among dozens, is the Weeping Serbian spruce that bends and twists in Dr. Seuss fashion. Why the dedication to conifers?
“When I started looking at conifers, I didn’t realize how many shapes and sizes and colors they have,” Camille says. “They’re evergreen, so you have something to look at in the winter. All season long, they do something for your garden — they add structure. They’re like characters out here, and you can intersperse other plants you maybe didn’t think would go.”
The berms are underplanted with yucca, agave, succulents and peonies.
After the berms and pergola, Camille suggested adding a pond to fill in some space, and Dirk suggested a waterfall. They stock the pond with carp, and fill it with water plants and floating hyacinth in summer. Nearby, a cascading waterfall connects the front entrance of their home with the rest of the garden. Here, under the shade of a covered walkway, Camille has planted to accommodate the varying patterns of sun. A contorted filbert; Rhododendron sinogrande; wild ginger ground cover; and Speirantha convallarioides, sometimes called “False Lily of the Valley” — a rare and delicate woodland plant — all sit along the walkway.
A serpentine pathway twists along the side of the property and the back of the house, where Camille has planted a quiet, sanctuary-like garden. To transition from the sunny front to a more traditional Asian-themed garden in the shady side yard, Dirk created a gorgeous Torii gate at the entrance. Here, Camille has planted traditional shade plants such as astilbe, hostas and Solomon’s seal, and some special plants, like the ‘Apple Court’ crested painted fern, Podophyllum, and a pink-tipped ‘Tsuma-gaki’ Japanese maple. In another planting, she has a Ginkgo biloba ‘Snow Cloud’; a group of Iris confusa; and a Cardiocrinum giganteum, a huge, pink Himalayan lily.
The small northern side yard spills into the backyard, a sprawling oasis with many different “rooms.” There is a small perch hidden away under a Camperdown elm tree, a bench overlooking a circular pond, a huge pool deck planted with containers of tropicals, a swing for the girls and the neighbors, and another bench tucked into the hillside overlooking it all.
Climbing the stone steps from the backyard pond, you come full circle and find yourself on the upper back lawn, looking out over the valley. Here, the Paulsens have constructed a monumental shade pavilion with a ceiling fan, to create a place of cool in an otherwise very hot yard. There is seating for a dozen people and a large table constructed by Dirk from a heavy piece of colorful, earth-toned fusion granite.
On the walk up the side of the house is perhaps one of the more charming plantings on the property. What used to be a gravel pathway is now a narrow strip of pavers and a collection of woodland plants punctuated with found pieces of decomposed wood in various shapes and sizes. There are knotty old trunks of trees; stones; and smooth, bleached driftwood from Camille’s mom’s property. These are interplanted with Wallich’s wood fern, hostas, moss and dwarf maples — a very successfully themed garden, where you almost expect to see a nymph.
There is not a stone unturned on this property. There are no neglected spaces. “I could garden all year; I am not a fair-weather gardener,” says Camille, and it shows.