BELIEVE IT OR NOT, this sultry Victorian on Queen Anne was once a humble 1906 house clad in white vinyl siding, with a “pretty” pink, yellow and blue garden skirting its foundation. Then Brian Coleman, a Seattle psychiatrist with a love for old houses, discovered a passion for historical restoration. “We added a turret, carvings of sunflowers and cast-iron griffins, along with new siding in a fall palette of deep greens, gold and burgundy,” he says. “The garden had to change!”
American poet Phyllis McGinley once wrote, “The trouble with gardening is that it does not remain an avocation. It becomes an obsession.” Coleman tells me his passion (obsession?) for tending was sown early, alongside his mother in the family’s garden in Olympia. My, how it’s grown.
Today, the ornate house and garden are a celebration of color and finely crafted detail. The shallow front yard is a mere 22 feet wide, with steeply sloping beds that meet up with the sidewalk on a busy residential street. Manicured box hedging and variegated holly columns provide year-round heft to the landscape, along with a windmill palm, topiary forms, yew hedges and a golden hinoki cypress. Then ready, set, plant. And by plant, I mean play, adorn and festoon the landscape with seasonal compositions that echo colorful detailing on the house.
The burgundy, copper, chartreuse and gold colors are consistent from year to year. “It’s an Aesthetic 19th-century palette inside and out,” Coleman says. Variegated foliage, along with turquoise and purple accents in the garden, leavens the darker hues.
Coleman’s garden is highly crafted and reflects the remarkable plantsmanship of a group of talented designers. Glenn Withey and Charles Price (witheyprice.com) laid out the initial plan for the landscape and unleashed their signature (and brilliant) color sense on early plantings. Over the years, Riz Reyes, Shayne Chandler and Sam Sacharoff also have contributed their design expertise and mad plant skills to the artful landscape. Coleman tends the garden on a day-to-day basis and stays busy keeping up with watering the containers, beds and borders.
The garden is a botanical work of art that’s constantly being re-imagined. Hardy perennials, including cabbage palm (Cordyline australis ‘Red Star’), purple-leaf heuchera and variegated ivy, anchor compositions engulfed by a seasonal infusion of tender plantings. A recent display of sun-tolerant coleus and dark-leaved dahlias greeted visitors at the front walk, while billowing containers filled with trailing million bells, petunias and fragrant heliotrope mounted the entry steps. Naturalized nasturtiums softened hard edges, and sunflowers made their annual appearance, echoing details found on the home’s front gable.
In fall, masses of winter pansies, ornamental kale and berried shrubs replace tender plantings in the massive window box and containers, while the trim boxwood hedges and clipped hollies carry the show throughout winter.
In addition to his medical practice and his work as editor at large for Old House Journal, Coleman is a prolific author of 22 books. His most recent title, “Private Gardens of the Pacific Northwest” (Gibbs Smith, 2021), profiles 20 personality-infused landscapes, beautifully captured by Seattle photographer William Wright. Coleman’s landscape is featured in the book, although, modestly, he doesn’t identify himself as the owner. The garden is simply a generous and lavish gift to readers and local passersby alike.