A garden designer calls her new courtyard “timeout terrace” because it’s simple enough to giver her plenty of time to relax there.
DO GARDEN DESIGNERS take their own advice? How often do their home gardens reflect what they recommend to their clients? We can’t help but wonder.
When we get a look inside the gate of designer Stacie Crooks’ new garden in Edmonds, we find she plants what she preaches. Her new front courtyard is carpeted in the colorful foliage plants she’s known for using in her clients’ gardens. But is it low-maintenance, another hallmark of Crooks’ work? Well, everyone defines that differently, but Crooks doesn’t have a crew. She cares for the garden herself, so you can be sure pots are scaled up and planted in tough, non-thirsty succulents.
In just two years, Crooks has transformed what was a dark and tired old garden into freshly planted outdoor rooms. Both back and front, the spaces are designed to look good from the inside out. On any day of the year, you can gaze out the windows of the 1957 ranch house she shares with her husband, John, and enjoy a colorful garden scene.
Crooks Garden Design
“The front entry was pretty horrible,” she says of the area that now is a paved and comfortably furnished courtyard. A Chinese Empress tree (Paulownia tomentosa) of elephantine girth presides, setting the scale and shading the house. “It’s probably the messiest tree on the planet, but worth it,” says Crooks. “Everyone asks what it is when it’s in bloom.”
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Crooks kept the purple-blooming majesty of this main tree, but took out an old magnolia, a mal-pruned stewartia, a laurel hedge and all the grass. “It was like a cave in here. We had no idea we’d get so much southern light,” she says of the space that serves as dining room, sitting area and display place for her potted compositions of sun-loving succulents.
Crooks brought in good soil, then planted the ground beneath the Empress tree with silver and green foliage plants that show up well in the shade. Now hellebores, carex, deer ferns, autumn ferns, hosta, blue fescue, bergenia and Scotch moss grow happily in the dappled shade. “I was looking for a calming, soothing palette,” says Crooks of her easy-care plant choices. And the old tree, with a new garden at its feet, is blooming more abundantly now that it has been thinned and gets watered more often. Crooks calls her new entry courtyard the “timeout terrace” because it’s simple enough to care for that even the gardener herself can find time to relax here. Crooks waves an arm and says, “None of these plants need deadheading!”
Burned out on caring for hillside gardens after her earlier, steep garden in Innis Arden, Crooks was unhappy with the slope of her new backyard. So she brought in five dump-truck loads of dirt to level it out. “The flatness really helps … now I can handle this garden,” she says. She kept the maples, palms and magnolias in the back beds, and planted drought-tolerant perennials like nepeta, rudbeckia, coneflowers, sedums, grasses and heather in large sweeps for color, texture and ease of maintenance. She rolled out a new lawn and laid a patio with the same 24-inch concrete pavers used to floor the front courtyard.
Her favorite part of the new garden? The hot, dry “hell-strip” planting bed along the driveway. She’s filled it with tough plants like yuccas, carex, hardy Geranium ‘Ann Folkard’, blue star juniper and Stipa gigantea. She planted at least three of everything. “I don’t have to do any work out here except to pull a few weeds,” says Crooks with obvious satisfaction.
Even the most experienced garden designers find new enthusiasms. For Crooks, it’s growing vegetables for the first time, and changing out her color palette. Two raised beds sit in a sunny spot at the side of the house. “I’m learning about how to grow kale and tomatoes and basil … these plants are amazing,” says Crooks. And she’s changing up the color scheme she’s used for years. “I planted red geraniums in the backyard pots, and sought out red-blooming sedum, red barberries and heuchera,” says Crooks. “Twenty years ago, I wouldn’t have touched red, and now I love it!”