The gardens at Wild Rose Farm above Penn Cove include pavers, pathways and millstones, and have been a labor of love for more than a decade.
FROM ITS PERCH on a Whidbey Island hillside, Wild Rose Farm looks out over the wide, blue curve of Penn Cove. If that doesn’t sound romantic enough, the farm boasts 30 acres of gardens and open pastureland reached by a long, winding driveway lined with fruit trees. The pastures are dotted with heritage breeds of fluffy sheep, watched over by a vigilant guard llama.
The house on the property is rambling, added on to over the years. Ken and Nan Leaman raised their four children here, and now the kids are bringing the grandchildren back to visit. Nan is a fabric artist, and Ken a retired vet who practiced in the nearby historic town of Coupeville. The sheep, chickens and geese; the trees, vegetable garden and natural beauty of the place are a reflection of their lifelong interests and hard work.
The original garden was stuffed with trees and shrubs growing too close to the house, a chaos Nan describes as “higgledy-piggledy.” Eleven years ago, the couple hired Seattle landscape architect Keith Geller to sort it out, which he’s done piece by piece as time, energy and budget permitted. “Keith deleted what we didn’t need, and added structure to what was already here,” explains Nan of Geller’s continuing role in shaping the property’s pathways and plantings.
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Geller removed old shrubbery and trees to open the place up to sunlight and views. Some mature trees were carefully preserved to form the backbone of the gardens, including firs, a parrotia, weeping Alaska cedar, katsuras and evergreen magnolia. He designed a series of gardens to meander around the house, creating plant-rich views from every window. He added evergreens for winter; perennials for bloom and texture; and plenty of Nan’s favorites, peonies and roses. Much of Geller’s work lies underfoot, in tumbled bluestone pavers and pathways, Asian millstones and a spacious stone-slab patio off the kitchen.
Beneath the limbed-up conifers and mature shrubbery, Geller planted sweeps of textural greenery to create an entirely new layer of the garden. Ornamental grasses, small conifers and boxwood hedging mingle with the peonies and roses. The many shades of green are set off by darker notes of burgundy Japanese maples and a smoke bush with plum-colored leaves (Cotinus coggygria ‘Royal Purple’).
Though you’d never know it by the garden’s abundance, Geller says many of the plants have struggled to survive. “It’s a difficult property environmentally,” he says. “It’s windy, cold and gravelly.” He’s brought in lots of good soil, and carefully matched plants to the conditions that suit them.
Geller has added stone circles to visually link different areas of gardens. A hefty Indonesian millstone near the entry sets the scale. Paths end in circles and more circles; sometimes millstones form the nodes of the various pathways. “The circles are like a roundabout that orders the space,” he says.
If you follow one of these pathways away from the house, you’ll find an intimate garden room hedged in darkly needled yew trees pruned into a 6-foot-high hedge. Overhung by a spreading fir tree and furnished with a white bench, the shady garden offers a private retreat.
A different path leads to a fenced and formal potager overlooking the pastures. Boxwood pruned into cones and spheres emphasizes the geometry of the vegetable beds. Here Nan grows rosemary, lavender, fennel, feverfew and poppies, along with food. Mounds of potatoes alongside the goose house mark a transition to less-formal plantings that segue to open pastureland, home to nearly 100 Teeswater, Wensleydale and Leicester Longwool sheep. These old English breeds have strong and lustrous wool, which Nan uses in her work. And she sells it around the country. “I just sent some woof off to Italy,” she says.
Spring is a busy time at Wild Rose Farm. Every April, 30 to 40 new lambs are born to the farm’s flock. Now the view from the Leaman home and gardens includes fluffy lambs gamboling about in the open pastures high above Penn Cove.