Ted Hoppin likes the art in his Bainbridge Island garden to be functional.
Emerald-green tree froglets hang out in the bamboo wall panels in Ted Hoppin’s entry courtyard. Hoppin wasn’t thinking about wildlife, let alone frogs the size of the nail on your pinkie, when he commissioned the wall panels from fellow Bainbridge Island artists George Little and David Lewis. Hoppin was so overwhelmed by garden-making that he was desperate just to finish one little piece of garden. The completed entry tableau of stones, moss, bamboo fountain and granite water bowl creates a quiet little entry garden that hints at the delights just inside the gate.
Hoppin, a watercolorist and metal artist, started out contemplating vistas and sight lines. Bringing the garden down to the scale of plants and seating areas was the challenge, which Hoppin met by dividing the space into various rooms with distinct atmospheres and purposes.
In the front garden, Hoppin bowed to the inevitability of conifers. A big stand of fir trees shades the house where he lives with his wife, Anne Sommer; a dry creek bed winds beneath the fir branches. The feel is naturalistic, yet one of Hoppin’s gates, crawling with metal crabs, lets you know this is a man-made environment despite its Northwest woodland atmosphere.
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“I like art to be functional,” says Hoppin of the gates and weather vanes he crafts in copper. He uses these gates, as well as a wooden arbor, huge urns and a mossy mound, to divide space without blocking those all-important sight lines and vistas. The rooms in the garden are more suggestions than separate, walled-off entities. Some spaces are defined by function, like the lantern-strung dining terrace. Others are made distinct by small delights of art, metalwork and collected stones. The taller, vertical plantings, such as palm trees and a grove of eucalyptus, lend sharp punctuation to all the spaces because the garden’s permeable design allows them to be seen from many vantage points.
While most of the garden is freshly designed and planted, remnants of old Bainbridge farmland remain. In the 1920s, this area was orchards and strawberry fields. Today Hoppin and Sommer still enjoy apples from a lone tree, planted by the original Japanese farmers.
Hoppin had warmer climes in mind as he shaped the back garden, planting a banana tree and palms, and filling a water pot with feathery wands of papyrus. Paths wind past stone cairns, a colorful bench, a collection of lanterns and an arched gate bedecked with Hoppin-designed copper roses on the way to an outdoor dining terrace sheltered by a wooden arbor. Amber lights warm the scene, and a wall fountain by Little and Lewis hosts splashing birds and yet more frogs. “Sometimes you can’t even talk out here in the evening, the frog chorus gets so loud,” says Hoppin.
The scene is hospitable and comfortable, with rustling eucalyptus and an antique red rose climbing up the arbor to put the finishing touches on this most personal and atmospheric of gardens.
Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer and author of “A Pattern Garden.” Her e-mail address is email@example.com. Jacqueline Koch is a Seattle-based freelance photographer.