GARDEN DESIGN IS about place-making and problem-solving. Sure, plants are in the mix, but a good designer focuses on creating a hospitable space to contain — and enhance — the clients’ lives.

Design brief: Create a playful modern space with a productive kitchen garden, fruit trees, pollinator-friendly plantings and plenty of room to romp for three diva canines.

The resulting landscape surrounding a contemporary home in Bridle Trails is filled with warmth and color, resilient plantings and inviting gathering spaces. But first, designer Robin Parsons, owner of Spring Greenworks landscape design, had to devise a way to tame a steeply sloped site and deal with compacted acidic soil and drainage issues.

Parsons’ solution, a dramatic series of curved rolled steel walls to retain soil and direct rainwater through the property, is both effective and dramatic. “The tiered plantings also absorb and filter storm water,” she says.

Once the hardscape was in place and underlying challenges dealt with, Parsons worked up a planting scheme based on a warm color palette of copper, deep red and gold, complemented with cool blue and lots of green. Sculptural granite boulders contrast with the milled steel and colorful plantings to provide an energetic tension between the natural and the built.

The columnar Acer palmatum ‘Twombly’s Red Sentinel’ and colorful fans of New Zealand flax (Phormium ‘Carousel’) anchor the new planting beds, along with Rhaphiolepis umbellata ‘Southern Moon’, a low mounding evergreen with glossy dark-green foliage. An assortment of low-water perennials fills in the ground plane, including heartleaf bergenia, bronze sedge and ‘Firefly’ heather with contrasting ‘Blue Jean Baby’ Russian sage and tufted blue fescue.


At the foot of the retained slope, a patio embracing the guesthouse provides a stage for viewing the tiered landscape. A sweeping curve filled with pebbles in the poured concrete and a custom metal inset address drainage issues, decoratively. Just around the corner, a grid of dimensional pavers softened with plantings of ground cover thyme and Scotch moss furnishes a transitional space leading to the lower lawn and sweeping shade border, lightened with the blowsy blossoms of Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’ and H. arborescens ‘Annabelle’ in summer. Selective pruning of existing trees at the bottom of the property reveals a view of Mount Rainier in the distance.

The true test of a successful landscape is how it lives. Home and garden owners Debra Chrapaty and her wife, both technology executives who work long hours, are pleased with their beautiful and bountiful garden. “Nature has a way of soothing the soul, and being able to simply walk out [into the garden] and enjoy the beauty is an incredible gift,” Chrapaty says. “Especially right now, when we are cooped up at home.” Resident canine Tang loves tussling with grasses and burying bones about the property.

The women are particularly grateful for the pleasures and security of homegrown food. In the kitchen garden, rectangular raised beds brim with tomatoes, kale, salad greens and tasty herbs. Parsons planted ‘Shinseiki’ Asian pear and ‘Methley’ plum, disease-resistant varieties selected for their generous fruiting habit.

The young garden is both a present comfort and an optimistic placeholder for future gatherings. “In these trying times, I can honestly say that there is no place I would rather be,” Chrapaty says.