STANDING IN THE street at Tanya Bednarski’s Tudor-style Mount Baker home, your eye is drawn forward, down a short pathway, to the gem-toned red door that pops against the neutral facade. Plants and structure are mirrored on either side of the pathway, and the landscape is manicured to perfection.
The parking strip houses evenly spaced boxwood hedges shaped into oversized, architectural squares, alongside thin European hornbeam trees. Guests pass through a custom-made iron gate anchored into eye-level brick pillars to enter a sunken front yard. On either side of the pillars are medium hedges of boxwoods that frame the entire property line and tall, old, flowering plum trees that were planted by the previous owners.
As you step down into the yard, two large ceramic urns on either side of the walkway hold sculpted, sphere-shaped boxwoods. Framing the front door are two more sizable containers, with wax-leaf privet shaped into topiaries. Everything is set perfectly — an excellent introduction to Bednarski’s tidy property.
“The house has all of that symmetry, so everything else was added to create in twos — two bay trees, two maples, two ‘Pacific Fire’ Japanese maple — I wanted that framing of the house” to carry over, says Bednarski.
She and her husband purchased the 1920s home in 2014 and kept the general flow of the narrow front yard and courtyard, but not much else, outside of a few foundational plants like the rhododendron and witch hazel that hug the northwest corner.
Bednarski and Peter Norris of Folia Horticultural + Design divided the front yard into two distinct sections; a courtyard to the south, and a gravel walkway to the north, the length of which is framed by short, expertly pruned boxwood hedges backfilled with heathers, short maple trees and ferns. Plantings have very little color, but a lot of texture.
The keyhole-shaped pathway leading north is dotted with cement planters filled with more ferns (her favorite plant), tulips and maples. Boxwoods play a major role and are trimmed to myriad shapes and sizes — varying heights of spheres, cones and hedges. It’s the same plant repeating, but the result is visually compelling.
“When I first started, I was really taken with the shapes,” Bednarski says. “I was thinking about it and looking at pictures. I was really into the rounded boxwoods, and I wanted them to essentially function as the lawn. It’s all very low-maintenance and requires only occasional pruning throughout the year.”
At the end of the boxwood garden stands a collection of red blown glass — artwork standing vertically to mark the end of the property. Bednarski discovered artist Jesse Kelly at a farmers market years ago and loved his work, commissioning this series of glasswork. At night, they are lit up, the color playing off the red- and orange-barked maples planted in tall burgundy containers close by.
On the southern side of the front yard, Bednarski has designed a cozy sitting area on the original courtyard with a water-trough fountain framed by long, rectangular planter beds filled with jasmine, hellebores, ferns and white camellias. In the summer, dahlias bloom against the house. In the winter, paperbush shrub blooms on bare stems, releasing perfume that gets trapped in the courtyard. At each corner of the courtyard is a humongous pot of jasmine — an evergreen plant shaped into gentle cones that bloom fragrant summer flowers.
The property slopes steeply to the east. To get to the back hill, you walk down a set of deep stone steps; across the driveway; and under tall, arched rhododendrons. Into the hillside, Bednarski is planning to work again with Folia to terrace out the steep hill, adding a small vegetable and cutting flower garden. For now, vegetables are kept in a collection of pots off the back, downstairs deck — tomatoes, herbs and lettuces.
On the main level, off a sitting area adjacent to the open kitchen, she has a wide deck with sweeping views of Lake Washington, and a container garden of mixed dwarf conifers chosen for their low-maintenance, high-impact character. The deck gets full sun, and these small trees don’t require constant watering. The collection is elegant and simple, mixing color and texture.
“Those are some short leaves, some rounded, some tree-shaped ones. You have to buy when you see them,” she says, noting that she often purchased trees upon sight at flower and garden shows. “You have to see one and think, ‘I love the shape of those pine cones.’ ”
She added to her collection in groups of two or three. It is a sophisticated series of plants that requires very little attention.
“I don’t have a lot of skill,” she says. “I’ve learned from my neighbor, who is a plant woman.”
That’s a surprising admission, given the thoughtfulness exhibited in this new-to-her home and garden.