Landscaping a home in the rural Northwest | Living the Country Life
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Landscaping a home in the rural Northwest

The rural life of Rod and Mari Juntunen began in the corporate world of Seattle restaurant design. She worked for a design firm, and he owned a landscape business. They collaborated on a business project and ultimately fell in love, but were still far from digging their hands into 51 acres of cow pasture north of Seattle.

Rod had long envisioned having enough land to grow trees for his landscape business, but he was thinking maybe 5 to 10 acres.

The couple targeted the Skagit Valley because Rod had grown up there. But a 51-acre dairy farm seemed more than they could possibly manage. The property needed an immense amount of work. Even as they went ahead with the purchase in 1995, they had no real intention of giving up their city life, where they lived on a 66-foot boat moored near downtown Seattle.

But as they began to clear the mountains and update the 1920 farmhouse, their lives began to change. Soon their boat became a home away from home and the farm consumed their lives.

They cleaned up the barn, moved outbuildings, and planted hedges to define and separate various gardens. Rod's father was spending so much time helping that he and Rod's mother moved their motor home onto the property. In 1998 Rod designed a permanent home for them near the barn.

Family and friends started to drop by. Occasionally complete strangers would stop and ask to look. Rod laid out a maze just south of the farmhouse and planted it with Leyland Cypress. He wanted a place where kids would feel welcome. In four years the maze has filled in and become a magnet for both children and adults.

Six acres of the 51 are devoted to gardens and outbuildings. Some of the remaining acreage is leased to other growers, and Rod's trees occupy some of the land. The area between the barn and the farmhouse has been divided into several thematic spaces: the white garden, a formal rose-arbored enclave surrounded by a hedge of hornbeams; the vegetable garden, which supplies organic produce for their own table as well as friends and neighbors; a cutting garden where perennials sequence through the spring and summer; a kitchen garden crowded with herbs and edible plants; a pumpkin patch; and an apple-pear allée underplanted with rows of lavender. An Asian garden is in the planning stage, and a perennial garden has been hardscaped.

For Mari's fortieth birthday Rod gave her an old pump house. Although it needed a new roof and siding, it was perfect for bunnies. With the help of their neighbor, Harlan, a metal worker, the house was surrounded with decorative fencing panels and strung with netting to keep the eagles at bay. Mari regularly throws in tasty morsels from the garden into the enclosed area, but burrowing bunnies may make their way to greener pastures in time. The Juntunens are fortunate to have landscape crews at their disposal, although most of these gardens have Rod's and Mari's fingerprints on them. It is a source of personal pride that they have labored on their own land, planning and planting together.

Mari, who had no real gardening experience, has taken to her new role with patience and flexibility. At just 4 feet, 10 inches tall, she cannot wrestle giant plants into the ground for instant color. Instead she plants seedlings, then relies on time to do the work.

"Mistakes are never final," she says. "The plant that crowds out its neighbors one year can be moved or divided the next.

"Nothing is ever a disappointment -- only a challenge."

The artistry of their gardens are most apparent in the hardscaping -- the pathways that meander from one area to the next. Rod and Mari have laid most of their pathways themselves, and have found that simple rectangular pavers can be quite beautiful when Johnny-jump-ups self-seed in the interstices.

Mari's favorite material is probably stone sand, a crushed gravel that can be throw down, raked out, and then rolled into a solid surface. Rain continues to smooth it, and over time, the aggregate binds to itself. It can be edged with any attractive stone and looks rustic.

The Skagit Valley has a beauty that has made it home for trumpeter swans, bald eagles, and some the largest tulip farms in America. On the one hand, it is overwhelming to challenge oneself to the task of carving a personal signature into this country. On the other, progress is possible when tackled in increments.

"Divide it into sections and start with what you see each day," says Rod. "When you try to do too much, your growing season passes you by. Just step out the back door and start where you are."

Seattle sanctuary

A bird condo marks the edge of the kids' garden, where a cypress maze planted from 1-gallon pots only four years ago fills the space between the old barn and the farmhouse.

Espaliered apple and pear trees line the pathway alongside the vegetable garden where Rod, the family cook, grows everything organically.

The soft gray/green foliage of Santolina edges the pathways in the kitchen garden and leads back to the netted bunny house.

In the cutting garden, the color is constantly changing. Spring peonies give way to self-seeding poppies in high summer, then the palette shifts to glads and lilies as the growing season slows.

More espaliered apple and pear trees line the pathway along the goat house.

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