These three green thumbs created landscapes that spoke to their whimsical nature, their love of prized perennials, and their lasting memories of Tuscan villas—all in their own backyards.
What's Old Is New
RECYCLING AND GARDEN art are one to Beth Evans-Ramos. The objects she uses to augment her winding, hydrangea-filled garden in Mill Creek reveal her passion for both. Bowling balls nestle under bushy hydrangea shrubs, echoing the flowers’ colors and forms; towers of teacups leap out of garden beds; china plates hang on a lattice like wall art; and a collection of upside-down, buried Trader Joe’s water bottles acts as a threshold, dividing two sections of the garden. “I learned as I went along,” says Evans-Ramos, who was inspired by other tchotchke-filled gardens she’d visited. “You work with what you have, and your garden becomes what you are.”
Evans-Ramos displays her whimsical nature in the way she maintains her 20 to 30 hydrangea bushes. “I don’t fertilize,” she says, “but I do use compost as a mulch.” She doesn’t amend the soil either (hydrangea flowers bloom pink in alkaline soil and blue in acidic): “I let them go whatever color they want.” Pruning the Hydrangea macrophylla cultivars can be nerve-wracking for gardeners who worry they’ll clip off nascent flowers, but not Evans-Ramos. “I cut back about a third of the bush to the ground in March. Some I don’t cut back at all; I just let them get big.”
Some travelers bring home postcards and trinkets as souvenirs. Sue Tong brought home a garden. Returning from a garden tour of Italy in 1999, Tong viewed with new eyes the rolling hills of the Sand Point Country Club golf course, which surrounds her property. Suddenly she saw Tuscany all around her, and the south-facing landscape of her backyard provided the perfect spot for Mediterranean-style plants. “Within two weeks of moving in, we started breaking up the concrete,” Tong says. “The house was built in 1955, so it was a landscape typical of the time. You could see remnants of a garden—rhodies and other plants—but it’s in full sun, so they looked terrible.”
Tong replaced the aggregate concrete with Italian-inspired stone from India called Kota and commissioned a bubbling fountain after noticing how many Tuscan gardens incorporated water elements. Tong, who has a background in textiles and art, chose a warm palette of colors for the stone and plants to evoke an inviting, Mediterranean design. The formal boxwoods and dwarf Italian cypress trees segue into the more informal landscape, which features climbing roses. The two sections form a rich green and cream backdrop for Tong’s early-morning and late-afternoon visits.
Judy and Dick Evans transformed a patch of blackberry brambles and a grove of locust trees on their Orcas Island property into a lush woodland garden tucked behind a formal mixed border. “We started this garden from nothing,” Judy admits. “It was something I’ve always wanted to do.” More than 30 varieties of roses, ferns, and montbretia (Crocosmia) fill the 100-foot-long border, which runs parallel to a strolling lawn that leads from the garden’s ornate entry gate to a decorative arbor and sitting area. Judy later added daylilies brought back from a trip to Ireland to complete the mixed beds. To enhance the garden’s formal feel, the couple lined the border with shaped boxwoods rescued from a property being bulldozed in Hunts Point. “They must be 30 years old,” Judy says. The boxwoods were among 5,000 plants that the Evans moved to Orcas.
Maintaining a mixed border on windy Orcas Island demands diligence. It requires constant pruning, weeding, and deadheading. Judy cuts back the tallest roses during the winter, works sterilized manure into the soil, and prunes in late February or early March.