Dave Stockdale is a painter of plants. His densely planted garden in a subdivision is a colorful and highly textured painting that changes by the week, and when in it the rest of the world drops away.
Flowers and foliage entertain the viewer 10½ months of the year beginning with winter jasmine in January and followed by flowering perennials until the first frost.
As director of Walla Walla Community College Water and Environmental Center and Workforce Initiatives, and with a background in public garden management, Stockdale composed his garden with drought-resistant plants that, once established, require water only about once a week.
Stockdale says his goal was to show people you can have a beautiful garden that requires little water.
As you drive down his street to his house, you know you have reached a unique garden for the area, for instead of a deep green lawn in front of the house, a native grass meadow of Idaho fescue, sideoats gramma, and little bluestem waves softly in the breeze.
Taupe, gray and deep pink grasses and are dotted with yarrow, California poppies, blue flax and dwarf Russian sage. The meadow is backed by drought resistant junipers, mahonia and the giant perennial Maximilian sunflower.
But as a painter is always painting, Stockdale is soon going to change out many of the smaller native grasses to larger low water use ornamental grasses like helictotrichon that have a longer season of interest.
Though his lot is on the small side, Stockdale has created a number of garden rooms within the garden. For privacy, upright junipers “Moonglow” and “Spartan” are planted along the perimeter fence to block the view of neighboring houses.
More of the same junipers divide the space in half lengthwise, creating an intimate garden adjoining the back patio and several garden rooms on the back half with an informal decomposed granite path winding enticingly through them.
From the moment you enter the back gate, interesting plants are everywhere. Variegated comfrey and caryopteris, blue rue, architectural sedums, silver salvias and fragrant honeysuckle soften the path and distract your gaze.
Plants spill over on the paths as Stockdale wants the garden to be experiential and people to interact with it. Paths curve out of sight with rooms opening up as you go.
Stockdale says, “Right from the start you can’t see where you are going. The garden feels bigger than it is, and there are hidden views everywhere.”
Scented and interesting plants such as lilies are dotted through the plantings to catch people’s interest seasonally and draw them along.
Stockdale doesn’t like bare ground and over-planted initially while larger specimen plants were young. Now, as the large plants have matured and occupy more space and cast shade, crowded smaller plants are moved to new locations.
Plantings are also edited each year to better develop the garden scenes. The interplay of flower and foliage color, texture and form create an Impressionistic and dynamic effect that keeps the eye constantly moving.
Each garden “room” has a color theme. The main back border has plants with deep blue, peach, coral, pink and magenta flowers interspersed with plants with silver, blue or dusky purple foliage — highlighting the bloom colors.
In summer, the combination of the coral-pink hummingbird mint, Agastache rupestris and raspberry echinacea against the “Silver Moon” junipers are striking.
If you follow the winding path, it comes out into a small orchard with blueberries, cherries, peaches, and apricot trees. It had a native grass meadow underneath, but the recent loss of a tree let in more light, and Stockdale is going to change the lower plantings to those with bigger foliage such as variegated comfrey and Salvia argentea.
At the end of the orchard, the garden transitions into a graveled herb garden and seating area. Lavender, rosemary, sage, thyme and oregano are planted in the gravel around a rustic table and chairs and look as if they seeded themselves there. A golden-fruited Asian pear forms a warm backdrop.
The path winds around to the patio, topped by a welded metal arbor with a very large hop vine providing cooling shade and dangling hop flowers.
Against the house, under the windows on either side, are two small fountains surrounded by shade-loving and moisture-requiring plants such as ornamental tobacco and crocosmia. In the sun, the pink bracts of ornamental oreganos spill into the path.
The half-circle view from the patio in late summer is of plants with orange- and raspberry-colored flowers such as crocosmia, echinacea and sunset colored Agastache.
Silver fescue, silver junipers and small upright purple barberry are used as a foil to show off the flower colors, with goldenrod and sedums to follow in fall. In early summer, kniphofias, geum, penstemon and spring-blooming sedums create an uplifting scene.
Hummingbirds avidly visit the garden, sipping water from the fountains and enjoying the nectar from the flowers. Bees also are busy. Stockdale leaves seed heads on many plants for winter interest and for food for birds.
He says a garden should never be static, and the pleasure that his gives him each changing day is evident in the vibrant energy in all the plantings.