form and foliage

Year round garden interest with minimal care

Private Spaces: The LeCocq Garden


gunnera, Japanese maples

Foliage combines with sculptural trunks to provide year-round interest in the LeCocq garden.

When Frances and Irwin LeCocq built their home overlooking Puget Sound almost 30 years ago, their steep front yard was a tangled mass of weeds.  With an almost 23 degree  slope, mowing was out of the question, so a lawn was never a consideration.   The LeCocqs initially covered the expanse with ivy, which they soon realized was a deer delicacy.  Time for Plan B!  In envisioning revised plantings, the LeCocqs didn’t consciously seek out a ‘form and foliage’ design, but  they did have some specific criteria.

gardening on a hill, gardening on a slope

The steep slope presented design challenges, especially since the LeCocqs wanted to be able to walk down to pick up the mail!

First, the slope meant that ongoing maintenance would be difficult and disagreeable (the reason for their first choice of ivy).  Second, in Bellingham’s mild climate, the garden is enjoyed year-round, so should be attractive year-round.  Finally, the LeCocqs knew that they would have to share their garden with the deer, ruling out most tender, floriferous plantings.

foliage gardening, winter gardens

A mix of conifers and deciduous woody plants provides four seasons of interest.

Over the next 21 years, a sequence of talented designers and gardeners assisted the LeCocqs in realizing their vision.  Richard Haag, a Seattle landscape architect, provided the initial plan.  One of his first tasks was to lay out a concrete and gravel pathway following the serpentine track that Irwin had made along the contours of the hill as he made the daily trek to the mailbox.   The mainstays of the garden would be shrubs and trees that could withstand the bands of marauding deer, with a generous component of evergreens to provide winter interest.

foliage plants, Japanese maples, ornamental grasses

A Japanese maple graces the front patio, complemented by ornamental grasses.

They chose numerous Japanese maples and other deciduous plants to ensure a spectacular autumn.  As with all gardens, this one evolved with the help of many hands, including David Steinbrunner, now in Texas, and Bear Creek Nursery’s Jeanne Hager, who currently tends the garden.  Recently, Susan Harrison, of Private Gardens in Bellingham, helped redesign the entry.

woodland gardens, foliage gardening

A wide variety of plantings with lots of trees and shrubs create a lush, woodland feel on what had been a bare slope.

Throughout the garden’s history careful attention was paid to creating combinations of complementary and contrasting textures, as well as colors.  The woody plants do the ‘heavy lifting’ in the garden, but there are enough herbaceous varieties interplanted among the trees and shrubs to create a lush, woodland feel.

peonies fall color, foliage plants

Peonies, with a second season of interest that we didn’t think possible!

Our visit in September caught the deciduous plants at the beginning of their autumn color, and it wasn’t just trees and shrubs providing the show; we were repeatedly amused (and a bit chastened) to see bold oranges and reds provided by peonies, which heretofore we had dismissed as one-season wonders.

A scarlet-leaved Cotinus coggygria in a container on the deck brings the autumn foliage right up to the house.

The LeCocq’s home overlooks most of the garden, as well as Bellingham Bay, the San Juan Islands and the Olympic Peninsula, and has a large deck that feels nestled in tree tops.  Frances has container plantings to complement the beds, and the autumn standout is a scarlet Cotinus coggygria.

foliage gardens, foliage gardening

The LeCocq garden, viewed from their deck.

While the garden could not be described as ‘no maintenance’, the upkeep is far less than would be necessary for flowering perennials. Although the deer visit nightly, their nibbling has generally been minimal.  The LeCocqs remain grateful to those original marauders, who, by eating the ivy, were responsible for Plan B!

foliage plants, fall color

A Cornus in fall color nicely complements the blue-green leaves of a Euphorbia.

This is a lovely garden in which to wander, to sit and enjoy, and to revel in the colors, shapes and textures.  We thank the LeCocqs for graciously hosting the first segment of our road trip.  Astute readers will have noticed that their last name is the same as Jan’s.  That is because they are her parents!

Admittedly, the garden does get a bit of competition from the view beyond!

Yes, we started close to home, but we branched out. Stay tuned for the next stop: Coenosium Gardens in Eatonville WA, home of Bob Fincham, plantsman extraordinaire.

Copyright 2012 Sara B Malone and Janice M LeCocq

19 thoughts on “Private Spaces: The LeCocq Garden

  1. Love the foliage patchwork — Especially the 3rd photo down, captioned “A mix of conifers and deciduous woody plants provides four seasons of interest.” Would you be so kind as to identify some of these plants? We have heather?… euphorbia?… is the middle green some kind of juniper (woody) or some sort of herbaceous perennial? Is there some stone or other support to this planting, or were plants put right into the slope and thereby serve as their own “retaining” planting?

    • Amy – you are correct on the heather and the Euphorbia, the latter is a E. characias of some kind. The shrub sort of 1/3 of the way from the left is a deciduous woody plant (can’t tell from the photo) and the golden conifers to their right are Chamaecyparis. that is an ornamental cherry on the far right, and there are drifts of azaleas to its left. There are two slightly bedraggled lavender to the immediate right of the Euphorbia. Sorry not to be more specific, but, as noted, there were a number of people involved in the design and there are not good records of the plantings.
      There are large stones (boulders, really) that stabilize the slope but the plants are doing a lot of erosion control!
      Thanks for your interest – let us know if you’d like us to try to dig up more info.
      Jan and Sara

  2. Beautiful, Janice. I always so look forward to yours and Sara’s posts. Something new every month. Such magnificent colors and vistas.

  3. Jan,

    Your parents garden is beautiful – thanks for sharing this with us!


    • Nicky! So nice to see your comment. It has been a long time since we worked together at ICOS, but I remember you vividly and fondly. We will be showing more of this garden in the future, as well as others we discover!

  4. Hello. Just wanted to say that I thoroughly enjoy your blog, and I actually wait to view your posts until I know I have some uninterrupted time for pure plant pleasure! Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge, talent and love of plants this way.

  5. Your blog always inspires me… form and foliage is everything and you do it to perfection. Denver Dirty Girls containers are always focused on both form and foliage… we try to force in a flower or two when requested or needed. Thank you for your visions!

  6. You have sparked my interst I must go when I visit my brother

  7. So inspiring! I’m a bit overwhelmed with mostly slopes on my 5 acres (zone 9) so I image googled woodland garden slope, and was immediately drawn to your picture(s). Thank you for sharing :))

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