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Friday, June 3, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Northwest Living

Cultivated and Wild

Order comes from classic design elements


David Pfeiffer organizes his garden with classic European design elements. This allows him to let the rest of the garden run a little wild without becoming too messy or overwhelming. Among the elements:

• Matching round stone containers hold pointed cones of perfectly pruned boxwood.

• Lush, varied plantings are held in check by the strict geometry of circular raised beds, rectangular terraces and a square pond.

• Garden ornamentation is kept to a minimum; the repetition of stone balls, round pots and galvanized-metal raised beds creates a unifying rhythm.

• The terraces, grid of the pergola and its hefty round columns extend the home's architecture out into the garden, imposing more order.

• A mix of edibles and ornamentals furthers the European flair. Raised beds hold nasturtiums and bachelor buttons as well as berries and lettuces.

THE FIRST SENTENCE in the program for David Pfeiffer's new Vashon Island home read, "The house sits within a garden facing a meadow." It's probably not unusual for a landscape architect to first consider the garden when drawing up the wish list for his home, but what's remarkable is that Pfeiffer ended up with exactly what he described in the program.

The Miller Hull Partnership designed the house, Pfeiffer designed his garden, and the two fit together as seamlessly as if the program wasn't mere wish but simple fact. Anyone who has taken five acres of raw land and turned it into their home and garden knows how rarely you end up with what you pictured when you started.

Now, an unmown meadow laps up to a complex, billowing, productive garden. A half acre of the property is cultivated, with distinct rooms for lounging and dining, potager (fruit and vegetables), a pond and an extravagance of perennials and ornamental grasses. The house sits comfortably within the garden, its windows and doors soaking up the sun and opening to the kitchen garden, terraces and distant view of the water across the meadow. The overall feel of the garden is both highly sophisticated and sturdily agrarian, as if a farmer, pitchfork in hand, was decked out in top hat and tails.

The architecture of house and garden is intimately connected, in both feel and function. Pergolas extend from the house, forging a link between indoors and out that generously scaled doors and windows reinforce. Terraces, both paved and gravel, make it easy to step outside year-round. Off the living room lies a terrace warmed by an outdoor fireplace. A sheltered open-air dining pavilion beckons just outside the dining room's oversized glass doors. The kitchen windows open out to herbs, blueberries, strawberries and lettuces. A door off the kitchen encourages ducking outside to snip some oregano or pick a tomato.

Close to the house, the garden is a sensual mix of edibles and ornamentals. The dining terrace gets shade from a hefty pergola wrapped with grape vines that in time will dangle fruit above the dining table. Pfeiffer shaped galvanized-metal storm culverts into circular planting beds, digging them 2 feet into the ground to make the beds an ideal height for picking fruit and vegetables. He casts the seeds of various lettuces, using them like a fresh green ground cover to be picked before they form heads. Lettuce foams out the top of the metal rounds, and strawberries pour down their sides.

The garden faces southwest; terraces are oriented toward the afternoon and evening sun. Pfeiffer chose flowers in warm shades of purple and orange to hold their own against the vividness of the setting sun. The garden is rich in perfume as well as color, with fragrant Casablanca lilies, honeysuckle, jasmine and sarcococca. The outer fringes of the cultivated garden are filled with stands of deer-proof perennials and ornamental grasses such as agastache, Joe Pyweed and yarrow. "We've found kind of a balance with the deer," says Pfeiffer. "They munch a little here and there." Unfortunately, the deer didn't play fair and ate all the heuchera. Pfeiffer says he's planning to fence off part of the potager to protect it from predation.

The garden, planned to peak in early autumn, comes into its own by midsummer. "Gardens equally weighted through the season aren't as interesting," says Pfeiffer. After years of clearing the land in stages, Pfeiffer is finally at the tinkering stage. He's taking pleasure in adding frills such as allium and fritillaria. "I used to like containers and showy annuals, but now that doesn't fit the garden," he says of his inspired mix of edibles and ornamentals set into a naturalistic meadow, just as he first imagined it.

Valerie Easton is a Seattle free-lance writer. Her e-mail address is valeaston@comcast.net. Benjamin Benschneider is a Pacific Northwest magazine staff photographer.

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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