As much a living laboratory and demonstration grounds as home garden, Jessi Bloom's place is packed with teachable moments and materials. The setting is pastoral, from an edible forest garden to strawberries tumbling out of vertical cylinders.
JESSI BLOOM is a former Rat City Rollergirl, an award-winning garden designer, arborist, mother of two and author of an upcoming book on chickens in the garden. At home, Bloom is transforming suburban acreage into a sustainable Eden. In a constant state of change, Bloom’s garden is a reflection of her work, family and growth as a gardener.
Bloom and her husband, Greg Kenney, bought 2 ½ acres of pasture and conifers near Mill Creek in unincorporated Snohomish County in 1999. They built a home and have been adding barns and gardens, and expanding the nursery area for their landscaping business ever since. Ducks and a goat occupy the barn alongside the driveway, Willow the horse rules the pasture, and a flock of 12 chickens has the run of the place. Bloom picks up a clucking hen, then tucks it under her arm as she tours the garden, pointing out rain chains and barrels at every corner of the house. “I call this celebrating the rain,” says Bloom, who is a native Northwesterner with a thoroughly modern garden sensibility.
As much a living laboratory and demonstration grounds as home garden, the place is packed with teachable moments and materials. Bloom’s potential landscape clients are invited to visit. The setting is pastoral, from an edible forest garden to strawberries tumbling out of vertical cylinders. The vegetable garden is a showpiece, fenced in recycled wood and a gabion wall stuffed with salvaged glass block, sandstone and cobbles. Sweet peas climb up a trellis in the center; raised beds of peas, carrots, lettuce, onions, squash and herbs surround it. Under a mammoth fir, Bloom is experimenting with growing shade-tolerant edibles such as currants, huckleberries and salal.
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The eco-lawn is anything but weed-free; clover and English daisies thrive amid the grass, and that’s fine with Bloom. She aerates the lawn, top-dresses it when needed, and sows in clover and flowers beloved by bees. “I don’t care about lawns very much. They’re good for green space, but perfection is silly,” she says.
A bed along the pasture fence holds figs, quince, blueberries, raspberries and mulberries. Bloom makes sure to plant enough fruit to share with the chickens, and lets the native salmonberry spread thickly around the margins of the property.
“I’m a big believer in not buying things,” says Bloom, the queen of second use and making do. Almost everything in her garden is salvaged. A 300-gallon water tank is a Craigslist find. Most of the garden’s hardscape is left over from display gardens Bloom designed for the Northwest Flower & Garden Show. Tucked into a corner beneath the trees is a retreat with outdoor fireplace, terrace and arbor, all remnants from a spa she created for the 2007 show.
Even plants are recycled in this garden. Bloom has carved beds out of the lawn and beneath the trees for plants rejected by her clients. “My customers don’t want rhododendrons, so I bring them home with me,” she says. Yet she’s more than willing to make the tough calls. “Any high-maintenance plants have to go,” she says. “If a plant dies from the cold, I don’t replace it.” She mixes native plants like sword ferns, vine maple and mahonia with day lilies, sedums and hostas to create low-maintenance borders.
Having studied restoration and wetlands for her horticulture degree, Bloom says she’s still evolving as an ornamental and edible gardener — even though she’s long mixed the two and starts veggie seeds in her hoop house. “You’ll think I’m crazy . . . I propagate mint!” exclaims this whirlwind of a gardener as she strides off across the garden surrounded by her flock of gregarious chickens.
Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer and author of “The New Low-Maintenance Garden.” Check out her blog at www.valeaston.com. Mike Siegel is a Seattle Times staff photographer.