A Zizania Project

The Seattle Times, July 17, 2006

Room To Relax

Rid of its rockery and dull drape, a front yard rises to new occasions

Before: The age of the old landscape is immediately apparent from the overgrown juniper, rhododendrons and hypericum that obscure the rockery underneath. The narrow concrete steps and metal railing don't exactly exude welcome.

KRISTIN AND LEONARD Weber don't have a minute to garden. They have three active children, and all are too busy swimming, traveling and biking to mow and weed. But this gregarious family longed for a spot in their front yard to sit outdoors and enjoy the water view and neighborhood comings and goings.

Their juniper-clad old garden offered little outside-living space, while sorely dating the Sheridan Beach house they remodeled a decade ago. Their skimpy porch and cracked-cement walkway were uninviting. The front yard fell off so abruptly that Adirondack chairs set out on the lawn tilted precariously. It was time for a makeover.

"I've watched too many home-renovation shows — thought it would take two weeks," says Kristin of their summer-long project. The Webers called in architect Barb Rose-Leigh to design new front steps, a wider driveway, storage space and serious concrete retaining walls to replace the rockery.

Making wishes come true

The Weber garden makeover turned out well because the couple presented the architect and garden designer with a clear program. Here's what the Webers asked for, and got:

• Level, usable space in the front yard, raised to take better advantage of the lake view.

• Some privacy from the street, yet also connection to the neighborhood.

• Elimination of the junipers and old rockery.

• A wider driveway and enough storage for bikes, sports equipment and garbage cans so there's actually room in the garage for the cars.

• A gracious front staircase that's safer and more pleasant to navigate.

• An updated look for the front yard to complement the house.

• A low-maintenance garden that will look good through the seasons with little time, work and water.

The driveway is now doubled in width so cars don't have to be shifted to get in and out of the garage. The storage area tucked beneath the stairs is packed with wheeled vehicles and garbage cans. The hazardous chute of front steps is gone. So is the old rockery and drape of junipers. The new entry is elegant and generously scaled; concrete walls wrap around planter boxes holding explosions of drought-tolerant foliage plants. "I sit on the steps all the time," says Kristin. "This is an active street — there's lots of visiting and waving." So when the front garden was under construction, everyone was chattering about what they were doing, says Kristin. "When all the forms were up, people were sure we were building a concrete fort."

What used to be a front slope is now a roomy patio, the grade raised enough for a better view of Lake Washington. This space functions as an outdoor living room, a notion encouraged by the low railing wall sided and painted to match the house. Kristin can keep an eye on her children (yes, it's been called the "Gladys Kravitz seat") yet settle in with a book without feeling on display. Comfy seating cushioned in waterproof Sunbrella fabric make this a perfect spot for entertaining or relaxing. When the low table is moved aside to reveal a gas fire pit for roasting marshmallows, the patio quickly becomes a gathering place for neighborhood kids.

"I thought I might become a gardener, but I can't — I have too many other things to do," says Kristin, so she hired friend and neighbor Christy Erickson of Zizania design to plant the new terraces and containers. The women picked a "beachy" theme to go with the pale gray house and location. Gray-green evergreens are punched up with red containers and foliage. Swirls of dwarf olive trees (Olea europa 'Little Ollie') stay shrubby, growing only about 6 feet tall. Blood grass, red twig dogwood and trailing rosemary continue the red-and-gray theme through the seasons. Drifts of blue-toned ornamental grasses surround three tall red pots along the sidewalk. For summer, Erickson fills them with tender plants such as coleus, fuchsias and kalanchoe, all in red as vivid as the home's front door. "It's very low-maintenance," says Erickson. "All it takes is a little weeding, and watering the pots."

Little hebes and black mondo grass lick up the sides of the new steps. "We can tuck all our little Halloween skull lights right in there," says Kristin, pointing to the spidery black grass. All the kids will find their way to the door more safely this year, up that new staircase well-lit with tiny skulls.


Before: The age of the old landscape is immediately apparent from the overgrown juniper, rhododendrons and hypericum that obscure the rockery underneath. The narrow concrete steps and metal railing don't exactly exude welcome.

Concrete terracing and wider, corner steps give the house a more contemporary look and a much greater presence from the street. Less than a year after being planted, the new drought-tolerant landscape is growing in nicely. The wall at the top of the terrace matches the house and lends some privacy to the patio, while being low enough for neighborly chats.

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