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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.