Cathy Sarkowsky "inherited" garden designer Scott Mantz.
Cathy Sarkowsky “inherited” garden designer Scott Mantz. When she bought her classic old home in Seattle’s Queen Anne neighborhood, Sarkowsky learned that Mantz designed the original garden. She asked him to update it, then five years ago when she bought a seaside home on Vashon Island’s Quartermaster Harbor, she gave Mantz the job of designing a very different kind of garden for the summer months she and her son spend there.
Now there’s not a scrap of grass left in this drought-tolerant seaside garden. “I was going for the rough, Scottish-highland look,” explains Mantz of the undulating, open expanses of heather and ground covers that replaced the old front lawn. The entry courtyard is paved, and has raised beds for flowers and vegetables. The side garden is a leafy green corridor of bamboo, hostas, ferns and ground covers. But it’s when you round the house and see the expanse of bluestone and the masses of perennials and grasses that you understand Mantz’s quiet artistry. This is as tranquil as a Zen garden, yet about as sensual as it gets with its impressionistic array of easy-care plantings.
The garden faces southwest, a perfect setting for such theatrics. The breeze off the water scents the garden with strong, rich perfume wafting up from the bank of rugosa roses just outside the gate leading to the beach. Sun glints off the water, bathing the garden in warm, reflected light. Tall, slim bunches of ornamental grasses punctuate the low-lying masses of heather and shrubs, the slanting rays of the evening sun illuminating their diaphanous blooms.
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Sarkowsky, a former printmaker and now a painter, adores and appreciates color. “Because Cathy is an artist, I used bright, iridescent colors in interesting combinations like chartreuse, lavender, lots of purple,” says Mantz. “I wanted the garden to be easy, non-fussy, a beach garden.”
Sarkowsky asked for a space to entertain outdoors. The dining terrace, with adjacent firepit and comfy Adirondack chairs, coaxes family and friends out into the garden. “Because this is just a summer garden, it fires on all cylinders in June, July and August,” says Mantz of the many late-blooming plants. He chose plants of similar character and drought tolerance, such as sedums, berberis, salvias, spirea, rudbeckias and carexes, yet made sure each has some distinctive quality of shape, leaf or bloom. A stone wall adds sculptural interest and a hard edge to the plantings’ softness.
At ground level, Mantz left it up to a few vigorous ground covers to compete for supremacy, planting swathes of thyme, blue star creeper (Laurentia fluvilatilis) and feathery New Zealand brass buttons (Leptinella squalida). Leaving plants to duke it out didn’t bother Sarkowsky a bit. “Trimmed boxwood is not my thing,” she says. “I like the garden to be a little crazy and wild.”
Sarkowsky enjoyed her second garden collaboration with Mantz. “It was a good creative process. Scott listens, yet he pushes his good ideas. He makes my ideas better,” she says.
Mantz provides an example. “Cathy didn’t like the idea of heather, but I knew we needed an expanse that would be open like lawn, without needing all that care or water. I talked her into the heather, and later she called me from her cellphone to say ‘I love it!’ “
Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer and author of “A Pattern Garden.” Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Jacqueline Koch is a Seattle-based freelance photographer.