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THERE’S NO better way to learn about plants and design than to spend time in other people’s gardens. Strolling a garden in sun, shade and three dimensions helps us understand how best to shape our own unique properties. This is what garden shows try to do, but always fall short. Only outdoors in a real garden can we see how the place develops over time, experience the dynamics of scale and soak up a big dose of leafy atmospherics. Oh, yes, and find plants we really need for our own gardens.

After 15 years of annual tours, the Woodinville Garden Club hasn’t run out of inspiring gardens to feature. On Saturday, July 19, five private gardens are opening their gates wide for a self-driving tour, followed by a reception at Molbak’s nursery.

A highlight is sure to be the garden lovingly crafted and tended by Jonathan and Claudia Fast. Jonathan laid all the bluestone paths and patios himself, using hardscape to define spaces and navigate the acre-sized property.

“We spent years just thinning out and moving plants around,” says Jonathan. Six years ago the couple started working with Kathy and Tim King of Land2c Landscape Design, and you can see the results of their collaboration in the property’s artful contours. It’s a garden of spacious perennial and shrub borders. Curving pathways lead to one outdoor room after another, complete with cushioned benches or colorful Adirondack chairs. Bright birdhouses, sculptures and plantings in pots create focal points throughout. From the comfy couches in the al fresco living room to the sport court, this is a garden designed to live in. Recently the Fasts built a new octagonal bluestone terrace and a charmer of a shed in the back garden.

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Inspired by the beauty and productivity of the old apple trees on the property, the couple built raised beds for vegetables and herbs, and are growing blueberries through the borders. “Our kids call it the farm,” says Claudia, who bakes pies from the ‘Transparent’ apples off one of the old trees. Be sure to check out the custom-made kinetic moon gate in the side garden.

One couple on the tour downsized to a property in the planned community of Trilogy on Redmond Ridge. Their new garden is filled with ideas for small-scale shade gardening. They replaced lawn and synthetic turf with a stone patio, planting beds and a stream. They learned to embrace moss, using it as a backdrop for shade-loving perennials. A roof garden and container plantings complete the scene.

Two large properties define Woodinville’s rural nature. A rustic log home on five forested acres features Native American art in a setting well-suited for it. The garden is a certified wildlife habitat. There’s a teepee, vegetables, flowers, sheds, decks, greenhouses, waterfalls, ponds and a small vineyard at Bigg-Sioux Lodge.

The second spacious property is 2½ acres of cultivated garden inspired by English perennial beds and French parterres. Formal yew and boxwood outline the borders, the parterre contains edibles, and arbors, a fire pit and water feature make this a garden of lessons and pleasures.

Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer. Check out her blog at