Suzy Kunda’s garden on the steep-banked corner of Catherine and Locust streets sings in many seasons. In spring, small rosettes of jewel-hued lewisias trumpet from her rock retaining wall, while cascades of the pale-yellow Japanese forest grass (Hakenechloa “Aureola”) light up the landscape under gray skies and defeat the constant shade of huge sycamore trees that line the Catherine Street side of the garden in vivid color.
In summer, russet heleniums, dahlias, deep pink echinacea and hibiscus paint the sunny side of the garden on Locust Street.
In all seasons, the foliage colors of chartreuse and yellow (a favorite of Suzy’s) repeat and unify the garden scene. From brilliant to subtle, the foliage details are many, and the variety and combinations contain such interest, it is as if you are seeing leaves for the first time.
In the shady areas, they are picked up and echoed around the porch on finely transcribed foliage of a yellow-leaved winter hazel shrub, chartreuse seersucker-like hostas, the delicate embroidered chartreuse new growing tips on the dwarf conifers, and with the evening light on the translucent yellow foliage of a horizontally growing Pagoda dogwood, Cornus alternifolia “Gold Bullion.” Suzy believes flowers are wonderful, but foliage carries a garden in all seasons.
Yet, it wasn’t always so. When Suzy bought the house in 2010, the home needed upgrading and the garden was just a scruffy lawn on a steep bank on the corners of Catherine and Locust streets, and as Suzy said, “The site had pale yellow soil with no earthworms.”
Now the garden is five years old, the clearly thriving plants are fed each year by a multitude of shredded leaves that the sycamores and maples generate, ground up in a shredder. The plants are watered with a drip system hidden under the mulch of leaves. Each plant has drippers that put out one or more gallons per hour depending on their needs.
Suzy says, “The real wealth of this house is not in the house — there is nothing of value there — it is here in the soil and in the plants.”
Besides the stone work, Suzy has created the garden herself. The rich detail everywhere and health of the plants show it is not work but a real pleasure.
Suzy was an editor for 30 years in the San Francisco Bay area. In the first house she bought while raising the kids, she began to garden. It wasn’t until she came up to Walla Walla about 10 years ago to get away from the congestion of the Bay area and bought her current house that she started gardening in earnest and has started a business, The Avant Gardener, Garden Design Services. She recently helped a neighbor across the street with a garden, and now they both can enjoy it from their respective windows.
The steep banks on either side of the house — a difficult place to garden — have dry laid, low rock retaining walls done by local stone and brick mason Mark Houk, who also did the elegant curved cement staircase on the west side of the house — the brick work and metal-edged gravel paths all in the same natural style of the craftsman house.
This garden can be appreciated and enjoyed both by someone who has little knowledge of plants or gardens and by plant connoisseurs because the theme and colors, so well expressed and composed throughout, can be read by everyone. For those interested in the plants themselves, there are treasures everywhere, and not just treasures but planting combinations of real artistry of color, texture and form and that change through the seasons.
In spring, translucent or glowing pale-yellow foliage dominates the garden color scheme and is combined with plants with deeper-green, variegated foliage, burgundy leaves or flowers creating scenes that arrest the eye wherever you look. A really unusual plant growing in deep shade under winter hazels (Corylopsis spicata “Aurea”) is the Asian mayapple “Kaleidoscope” (Podophyllum aurantiocaule) and the starfish form Podopyllum, Podopyllum difforme.
These odd and very unusual plants have very large (10 inches) flat and deeply lobbed leaves with pointed edges. Each leaf is so patterned in pale and dark green and burgundy the leaf looks like it was cut from fabric. The mayapples have large, strange, burgundy flowers clasped discretely under the leaves. Suzy has several varieties and uses them not only as single accent specimens but also in drifts.
Swarms of glistening mahogany-red, and pink and lemon Turk’s cap lilies (Martagon “Claude Shride”, “Slate’s Morning” and “Guinea Gold”) provide contrast color and interest to the yellow foliage. The deep-green Martagon leaves are held in striking whorls around the stem and have hanging tiger lily-type flowers with recurved petals. Another arresting plant combination is the yellow Japanese forest grass and a wildly variegated Fatsia under an elderberry with purple foliage. There are also white variegated Christmas roses (Hellebore), used with burgundy-leaved coral bells (Heuchera).
In mid- and late summer, in the shade on either side of the front walk, two large tree hydrangeas (Hydrangea paniculata “Limelight”) explode in elegant white on either side of the front walk, with the Japanese forest grass and yellow foliage Aralia “Sun King” echoing the cool colors. Further down the bank, in a sunnier area, a very large, burgundy-flowered hibiscus, Hibiscus “Plum Fantasy” and velvety russet heleniums bloom — combining like a tapestry with the chartreuse foliage.
Whatever season, wherever you look, there is always something of real interest and artistry to see in this singing garden.