Paul and Claire Grace’s half-acre garden produces enough fruits and vegetables that there’s always plenty for neighbors and the local food bank.
PAUL AND CLAIRE Grace’s potager is so productive that the Shoreline couple shares at harvest time with neighbors and the local food bank. As bountiful as the potager is, peas, beans and tomatoes aren’t all that’s happening in the Grace garden. The half-acre property is divided into rooms, each with its own feel and uses, including spaces for dining, strolling and viewing artwork.
The Graces bought their home in 1987, in large part because they loved the setting. Then they bought the house next door, which they rent out, so they had more room to garden. Now a sunny, 60-square-foot potager is at the heart of the garden. The raised beds, some built of stone and others of wood, are fitted with drip irrigation and laid out geometrically. Planned for form and color as well as food production, the potager’s design was inspired by the book “Designing the New Kitchen Garden: An American Potager,” by Jennifer Bartley. The couple worked with ANR Landscape Design and Wikstrom Landscape to realize their plans.
At the center of the beds, an oversized pot dripping water into a pond is a focal point. The garden is hedged in arborvitae, and entered through a gate fitted with a bell the couple brought home from Myanmar; they ring it whenever they go in and out of the garden. In the lower stone beds, where the soil warms up early, the Graces grow eggplants, peppers, cucumbers and tomatoes. Thirty-year-old blueberry bushes, transplanted from an old blueberry farm, hedge another side. Herbs are scattered throughout the beds, as are roses, peonies and dahlias.
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There are a couple of fig trees, and a trellis draped in three varieties of table grapes — ‘Interlaken’, ‘Jupiter’ and ‘Canadice’.
“There’s no grass anywhere on the property … we try to max out on vegetables and fruit,” explains Paul, who does most of the vegetable gardening. Claire grows the flowers and does much of the maintenance. In addition to eating fresh from the garden and sharing the bounty, the Graces make tomato sauce and chutney.
“My specialty is pickled green beans,” says Paul. Just outside the potager gate is the orchard, which is under-planted in four kinds of edible strawberries. Making good use of every inch, Paul has espaliered more fruit trees along the sunny side of the garage.
The secret to growing all this food? Plenty of Tagro, a composted bio-waste that Paul picks up from Tacoma Public Utilities. Six times a year, he spreads a tarp in the back of his Subaru, drives to Tacoma and hauls home a load. It’s mixed into the soil in the fall, and, along with their own compost, used to top-dress beds during the growing season.
“It just makes the vegetables stand on their toes,” Paul says of the beans that are outgrowing their 8-foot-tall teepees. The vegetables and fruit are kept watered from a 1,200-gallon cistern replenished by rain collected off the garage’s metal roof.
The shady woodland stroll garden is a quiet contrast to the full-sun potager. Dogwoods, flowering cherries and rhodies original to the property bloom beneath a canopy of conifers. A climbing hydrangea clambers up one of the old fir trees, and Northwest native plants, including sword ferns, trout lilies, vancouveria and false Soloman’s seal, fill in along stone pathways. The Graces have been involved with the Kruckeberg Botanic Garden in Shoreline for years, and many of the natives come from there. In the back corner of the woodland is a reflective pond looked over by a Buddha sitting atop a couch-shaped boulder.
The outdoor dining room behind the house is paved in stone, and features a trio of colorful glass pitcher plants, by Jason Gamrath, nestled against the trunk of a white-barked birch. Nearby is a tall cedar sculpture by Michael Dennis that the couple bought on Salt Spring Island. Even the dining table is a work of art, built of metal and stone.
The couple’s current project is moving some of the big old rhododendrons in the shady front garden; laying flagstone; and adding azaleas and fragrant, winter-blooming sarcococca to the beds.
“This should be the last big project,” says Paul.
“We’ve been saying that for 30 years,” adds Claire.