Justin Galicic, a 34-year-old music teacher, is a plant collector who has built a beautiful garden for his parents in Normandy Park.

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“I LIKE ALL kinds of plants … tropical, hardy, edible, poisonous, big, small … I like them all!” is how Justin Galicic describes his obsession. A 34-year-old music teacher, Galicic, also known as the mad propagationist, admits to being a runaway plant collector. The twist in this story is that Galicic lives in a little city apartment, and gardens at his parents’ home in Normandy Park.

Al and Caroline Galicic live surrounded by palm and banana trees, cacti and succulents, ponds and waterfalls their son has built and planted. He began collecting plants for the garden long before they moved to their half-acre property in 2008. The garden he has created in the years since now wraps their house in unusual, showy foliage and spectacular blooms in Justin’s favorite palette of chartreuse, black, yellow and green. He not only has the technical skills to propagate hard-to-find flora, but also an eye for color and design.

Justin Galicic, left, with his parents, Caroline and Al. Justin, a music teacher who lives in a Seattle apartment, has created a half-acre wonderland of a garden at his parents’ home in Normandy Park. (Mike Siegel/The Seattle Times)
Justin Galicic, left, with his parents, Caroline and Al. Justin, a music teacher who lives in a Seattle apartment, has created a half-acre wonderland of a garden at his parents’ home in Normandy Park. (Mike Siegel/The Seattle Times)

“Sometimes it takes a little selling,” Justin says of the work it has taken to convince his justifiably proud parents of some of his ideas. The property, with its artful garden rooms rich in remarkably healthy plants, is testament to Justin’s skill as salesman as well as plantsman.

Like all good gardeners, Justin started with the dirt, which was pretty much all clay, left from the property’s swampy past. He brought in good soil, mixed it with washed sand and contoured the garden to create topography suited to the plants he intended to grow. He built paths, patios, waterfalls and a 3,000-gallon pond while he was at it.

A brick-floored metal gazebo forms a sheltered sitting area near the back pond and waterfall. (Mike Siegel/The Seattle Times)
A brick-floored metal gazebo forms a sheltered sitting area near the back pond and waterfall. (Mike Siegel/The Seattle Times)

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Justin divided the garden into rooms featuring his various plant collections. The leafy entry garden features more than 30 kinds of Japanese maples. Walk around the back of the house, and you’ll find dozens of bamboos, fan palms, fatsia and scheffleras you’d never recognize as such.

“I’m a huge fan of schefflera,” says Justin. Huge-leafed, hardy varieties, like S. delavayi, contribute to the tropical vibe around the pond and patio. Banana trees grow large and lush enough to screen out neighboring properties. A brick-floored, metal gazebo (“that weighs 900 pounds,” says Justin, who well remembers moving it into place) creates a shelter to sit and view the backyard scene. “It looks tropical back here even in the middle of winter,” says Caroline.

Around front is a woodland garden shaded by an 80-foot tall redwood and planted in hostas, epimedium, ferns and hydrangeas. These more traditional plantings contrast with the nearby sunny perennial garden. Kniphofia, cardiocrinum, foxtail lilies, eucomis and other sun-loving South African plants grow among the artificial rocks Justin taught himself to make in just the right size and shape to show off the plants. There are even some roses.

A giant redwood, backlit by the morning sunrise in the Galicic front gardens. (Mike Siegel/The Seattle Times)
A giant redwood, backlit by the morning sunrise in the Galicic front gardens. (Mike Siegel/The Seattle Times)

“Justin used to shun my roses,” says Caroline, amused that her son now likes, or at least tolerates, her rose bushes.

Alongside the house is a sunny strip Justin has planted in succulents, and he’s created a tiny fairy village and garden for his nieces and nephews to play with. He plants and tends a vegetable garden that Caroline harvests. Nearby is a greenhouse where Justin overwinters tender plants, starts seeds and grows tomatoes. He’s a self-trained gardener, teaching himself how to propagate ferns and red banana trees by watching videos on YouTube.

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Justin created a dry river bed along the front of the property to create a warm microclimate for the cacti and agaves he grows by the street. A red banana tree (Musa coccinea), which isn’t hardy in our climate, grows huge here every summer; Justin propagates a new one and replants every spring. From digging trenches for a sprinkler system to caring for the fussiest of semi-tropicals, nothing seems too much trouble for this besotted gardener.

How many hours does Justin spend working in the garden? At least 10 to 15 a week, more in the summer. Yet he finds time to share his knowledge of plants on his blog, “Growing Steady.” The plant list alone will make your head spin.

Galicic built, plants and tends a half-acre garden at his parents’ home, including this tropical-feeling garden area with a 3,000-gallon pond, waterfall, palms, bamboo, schefflera and water lilies. (Mike Siegel/The Seattle Times)
Galicic built, plants and tends a half-acre garden at his parents’ home, including this tropical-feeling garden area with a 3,000-gallon pond, waterfall, palms, bamboo, schefflera and water lilies. (Mike Siegel/The Seattle Times)

And in July, Justin and his parents throw a neighborhood garden festival. They serve lunch, offer tours, invite garden experts to speak and sell plants on tables set up in the driveway. The annual festival is a celebration of the remarkable garden that Justin, with great skill, heart and hard work, has created for his family.