Story by Kate Frey

Small houses can contain big surprises. Such is Laurie and Chris Lueck’s modest house in College Place.

From the street, garden activity is evident. A Bermuda grass lawn is slowly yielding to the shovel and being replaced by garden beds and flowers, but it is in the back yard, where Laurie and Chris have been working for three years to renovate the landscape, that it really begins to sing.

From a scruffy lawn and a small, landscaped bed around the house filled with “ugly landscape shrubs, plastic landscape cloth with river rock and weeds on top of it” to a multifaceted yard that has attractive areas for sitting and entertaining, flower beds for pollinators, a small clover lawn, chickens, and extensive vegetables and fruit trees, the small city lot contains a world in itself and is a model for the possibilities and potential richness that many city lots hold.

They bought the house a few years ago and lived there part-time, splitting their time between it and a property on 1½ acres on Vashon Island near Seattle.

When they permanently settled in three years ago, they started “taking things out area by area and repurposing the yard.” To learn how, they “watched YouTube videos, took classes and went on tours with the Blue Mountain Land Trust.”

Laurie says, “There has been a learning curve — determining where areas of sun, heat and cold are,” and relates how they “have changed their minds and moved things.”

They built a small shed for a place to write and painted it deep blue. After completion, its siting determined where planter and raised beds for vegetables and herbs would go. A crisp gravel patio with lounge chairs to catch the morning sun creates a sense of relaxation outside the back door. A fire pit with seating was put next to the garage for chilly evening gatherings.

The alley and fence lines and around the buildings are bursting with a variety of flowering plants for pollinators, cover crops, compost areas, fruit trees, berries, Concord grapes and a small flock of buff Orpington hens vigorously hunting for insects in their enclosure.

Small songbirds and pollinators abound seasonally, and decorative bird baths, feeders and bird houses are hidden in many corners. The yard is a mixture of peace and tranquility, comfort, vibrant life and delicious food. There is something to look at everywhere.

Laurie grew up in Southern California with a 1-acre garden of fruit trees, berries, flowers and herbs regimented in strict rows and has been moving away from this model to gardens that are more naturalistic.

She had a large vegetable garden at the couple’s former home on Vashon Island where they moved from Seattle to have a place to garden with her daughter. She says Chris was so busy working as a professional chef he didn’t have much time to help, and she worked full time, so she could never get it to the standard she wanted.

Now at their house in College Place, the production area is greatly reduced, and Laurie enjoys having a garden small enough to take care of well. She says, still working full time, “This size is just big enough.”

Any extra vegetable or fruit needs are purchased from local farms. They planted favorite apples like espaliered Gravenstien and Macintosh apples, and fruit trees like quince, apricot and plum as well as strawberries, raspberries and asparagus.

Self-seeding sunflowers, bachelor buttons and California poppies delight finches and pollinators. Culinary herbs like rosemary, burnet, horseradish, oregano, mint and fennel are included in many of the beds, as well as colorful flowers like Russian sage, milkweed, yarrow, delphinium, penstemon, hummingbird mint, dianthus and geranium.

Along with a variety of plants, interesting and fun garden structural features like low wattle fences made from the spent stalks of the Maximillian sunflower, a variety of attractive raised DIY troughs for vegetable planters, and a Hugel mound, are found throughout the garden.

Chris is involved in a project to recycle glass wine bottles from wineries and has a glass bottle crusher. He used the cleaned green glass sand as an attractive, decorative element around the fire pit and is looking for more uses for the sand on a larger scale.

Chris and Laurie are hoping to inspire those who walk by. Lori recognizes gardens take time and expense, “but starting with small areas is a place to begin, and seeds are affordable.”

“And I like sitting out in the garden,” she says. “It lowers anxiety and is just relaxing.” Visiting their garden is just that as well as engaging and stimulating, too.

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