Step into Chris and Don Hoerner's Snohomish garden and you'll want to make time for a long stroll. These generous island beds and plant-rich borders...

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Step into Chris and Don Hoerner’s Snohomish garden and you’ll want to make time for a long stroll. These generous island beds and plant-rich borders hold nine years of enthusiasm. From a bee-attracting patch of Eryngium planum near the front of the house to the giant Hosta ‘Sum and Substance’ deep in the back, this garden is exuberant.

When Chris and Don moved in, they persuaded the builder to skip the typical landscape treatment in exchange for a credit. Next, they hired Clifford Quality Landscapes to set the stage for their garden by creating varying elevations, building steps, seeding lawns and installing a sprinkler system. The couple added raised beds and hardscape. All along, their plant collection has grown.

“Spring and summer there are waves of color,” Chris says.

Their garden won third place in Pacific Northwest Gardens: A Competition for Home Gardeners, which brought a $500 cash reward. One judge cited “graceful, sweeping curves, good composition on all sides of island beds and good sense of color theory in a series of vignettes. Sweeps of lawn are rest for the eyes after busyness of the borders.”

The islands are densely planted with perennials, but there are other delights here: Japanese maples are the backbone of the northwest corner, and nearby are large-scale native birch and cherry, as well as a greenbelt of native firs.

On the west side of the half-acre lot, where it’s shady and sometimes wet from a seasonal stream, a French pussy willow (Salix caprea) adds winter interest. Gunnera, huckleberry, elderberry, hostas and epimedium flourish here. Nicandra physalodes, an annual, is striking for its lavender flowers with white throats. Ribbon grass grows in the damp, as do Japanese willow, calla lilies, a golden locust tree and hardy impatiens (pretty leaves, but no flowers yet). Don prizes a Paul’s Himalayan musk rose, a choice rambler. In spring, rhododendrons are festive and an empress tree is draped majestically in lilac.

The couple wisely started their project by planting trees, including a red-sunset maple (Acer rubrum ‘Red Sunset’) beside the driveway and several Styrax japonica ‘Pink Chimes’ near the house. They fell under the spell of Japanese maples and have about 20. “We bought them small — our motto,” Chris says. Alpine firs edge the street and are growing rapidly, thanks to the compost the couple truck in from a local supplier.

“We do have sprawly plants; that’s why the beds get wider,” Don says, referring to herbaceous perennials pushing toward the lawn. A number of objects add structure and variety, including a crackled-glass sculpture and a rustic iron bed converted to a vegetable planter for the grandchildren. Birds and frogs are drawn to two tall grain augers, plumbed as fountains, which drip water off spirals into a pool.

Yes, this is a garden that requires a lot of loving care, including pruning, trimming, transplanting and weeding. They also water about 50 pots that hold seasonal or special plants. In summer, the couple go outside after an early dinner and come in around dark. Weekend gardeners wouldn’t cut it here, but the Hoerners couldn’t be happier.

“I get so much pleasure out of watching things grow and change,” Chris says. “I don’t consider being in the garden to be work. Before I know it, two or three hours go by. Our second hobby is visiting nurseries.”

Don often stops what he is doing to watch nature at work — the bees, dragonflies, swallowtail butterflies and hummingbirds amid the multitude of plants that offer surprise and delight. Because the gardeners don’t deadhead their plants in winter, many birds come year-round to forage when the flowers have gone to seed. As do deer — though they favor the red and yellow twig dogwood.

Chris came to appreciate nature as she grew up in Monroe on her family’s 210-acre dairy farm, with rhododendrons and a vegetable garden out the back door. She is a retired special-education teacher. Don was born in Everett into a military family, spent much of his childhood in Europe, and now works as chief financial officer for the Tulalip Tribes.

They learned to be better gardeners through membership in the Snohomish Garden Club and by attending Snohomish Master Gardeners’ lectures and classes. They also were inspired by a garden tour in England led by Cisco Morris.

The pleasure they derive from nature, the gumption to get out and do it — that is theirs alone.

Dean Stahl is a Seattle freelance writer. Mike Siegel is a Seattle Times staff photographer.