THE BARTONS HAVE lovingly tended their garden together for more than 30 years, and it shows.
After twisting and turning down a busy street to the water, you’ll find Cathy and Peter Barton’s idyllic corner lot in Three Tree Point, perched just above Puget Sound. On a sloping swath of land, they have built and planted a massive garden on their own.
Walking up the pathway to the front door feels like you’re entering a cozy, hidden gem of a place. Tall evergreen hedges and thick ground covers line the street, so it takes the effort of an uphill climb to reap the sweet reward behind the green walls that wrap the property. You’ll pass a full-fruited plum tree, Asian pears and columnar Sentinel apples along the way, following the sound of a water fountain, to the front door.
From the front, the garden is quiet and serene. Pink rock roses; sunny cosmos; a dense blush hydrangea; and tall Galtonia candicans with big, white, bell-shaped blooms fill the small flower bed. Across the driveway is a long, high trellis with flowering kiwi vines and a bench for two.
Cathy has always been a gardener. As a little girl, she and her brother had garden space at their childhood home near Bellingham. “My brother gave me his garden when he went off to school, and it was in the sun, and I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh; things grow differently in the sun!’ ”
It was her first lesson in gardening.
The Bartons’ property has several sections — all tied together with pathways, plantings and hardscaping, but each feeling a little different from the next. The quiet front yard spills into the narrow sideyard by way of a carport. Here, you pass a chicken coop, shed, greenhouse and small kitchen garden flanked with citrus trees in pots and a flowing akebia vine.
“We weren’t using this place,” Cathy says of the very steep bank between the back of her yard and the neighbors, so they built a bespoke chicken coop. Here, the hens sit at eye level, and the collection door for eggs is easy to reach from the patio.
Your eye follows naturally down a set of stairs with old juniper trunks wrapped in ivy as a guide. A school bus lost control on the ice a few years ago and smashed into the Bartons’ junipers, so they created a twisting, knotty handrail.
The first thing they did when they purchased the house 35 years ago was hire Marenakos Rock Center to terrace the backyard with boulders. “This was just a sloping lawn with a big pine tree,” says Cathy. “We wanted a level space and some privacy.”
While the original levels were grass for the children to play on, the property is now a series of intentional garden beds with only a few areas of play grass left for grandchildren.
For privacy, the property is bordered by tall, well-manicured laurel hedges that eventually started to block their view. “We were sitting on these chairs, and Peter was lamenting he couldn’t see the water, and here we’re paying for the view, so I said, ‘I’ll just cut a hole in the hedge,’ ” says Cathy, and that’s exactly what she did.
Sitting in one of four Adirondack chairs in the middle of the backyard, you can see the water view through big, circular cuts in the hedge, a very smart design that speaks to the Bartons’ ingenuity. “People wave at us” through the holes, Peter says.
The endearing thing about the property is all the little nooks, crannies and weaving pathways the Bartons have created. Each section feels intimate and special. From the moment you step into the backyard, the landscape takes you on a journey.
“That was intentional,” says Cathy. “I’m a generalist. I’ll take any plant. I’m looking for texture, movement, color and seasonality, so it looks good year-round, and just that fun playful wow.”
One shade bed holds Japanese anemone; pink astilbe; and tall, purple meadow rue, which Cathy allows to self-seed each year. A little farther on is a bed in full sun that used to house corn and now is home to a tall trellis draped with dessert grapes that stand over a swath of blooming lavender.
From here, there is a wee path to the street, where the mailboxes used to sit. To get there, you have to walk through the hedge and under a canopy of Torulosa juniper that Cathy keeps well-pruned. “I’m making it smaller and smaller so the little grandchildren will have it feeling like a tunnel,” she says.
There is a climbing clematis over another trellis near the street, handiwork of Peter, who taught himself how to weld a few years back, after Cathy saw hardware in a local nursery and asked Peter whether he could make it at home.
“All the trellis work (in the yard) is me, and it’s simple rebar — easy to bend, cheap, easy to weld so it’s easy to work with, and Cathy likes the color of rust,” Peter says. “It goes nice with green.”
On the very edge of the backyard, the Bartons grow more food in random plantings that scatter across several beds. Here they grow cabbage, beans, peas, cauliflower, tomatoes, spring onions, potatoes and more.
“I want my garden to be playful and casual,” Cathy says, putting emphasis on the casual. “So I don’t have straight rows. I just have lots of paths through them so I can step in the middle and come at it from both sides. I am not a straight-line person.”
Back up under the house, the Bartons have a large, shaded patio surrounded by massive hostas in pots, and big, heaving pink Clematis montana and creeping hydrangea. Here, they seek refuge from the sun and look over the nearest garden bed, chock full of blooms. Fragrant nicotiana; tall, pale-yellow red hot pokers; cosmos; Japanese anemone; asters; spiked purple hyssops; lilies; and rose mallow. They hosted a wedding in this spot last year, so Cathy filled it with blooms.
Teamwork makes the dream work, and the Bartons have a complementary disposition in the garden — he does a little; she does a little. So, within this team, who is the gardener?
“Oh, that’s Cathy,” Peter says. “I am the shovel. I am the muscle, and I get good instruction.”