Country charm: Whidbey garden full of whimsical touches

  • By Sarah Jackson Herald Writer
  • Wednesday, May 6, 2009 12:07pm
  • Life

Gary and Janie Gabelein have created a one-of-a-kind country garden on Whidbey Island.

Perched on 2 1/2; acres overlooking Useless Bay and the dramatic protrusion known as Double Bluff, their home, built in 1987 on a hay field, is now a plant-and-animal playground.

Specially chosen botanical delights, rustic art and an original cast of creatures make their place a pleasure to visit.

That’s no accident, of course.

In 1999, the Gabeleins turned their home into The Farmhouse Bed &Breakfast, including four private suites and plenty of room to roam.

You don’t have to stay overnight, however, to see this place. The Gabeleins will open their garden for the Whidbey Island Garden Tour, expected to draw about 1,000 ticketholders on June 27.

What will tourgoers find?

Arbors, gazebos and colorful fencing break the landscape into themed gardens. Benches and sitting areas welcome relaxation at every turn. There’s even a horseshoe pit with a view of the water.

Two hee-hawing donkeys, Leo and Cleo; two puffy sheep, Fluffy and Muffy; and numerous rabbits, running wild, add a decidedly pastoral charm.

Just outside two of the home’s suites sits a rose garden, featuring a remarkably healthy and organized collection of bloomers, including varieties such as Tournament of Roses, a shrub, and Social Climber, a cute, pink rambler.

Edibles, perennials, deciduous trees and an orchard intermingle with swaths of weedless lawn, naturally fertilized by the rabbits.

Rabbits don’t exactly have free rein here, however.

Nearly all the beds are protected from their ceaseless munching with a perimeter of chicken wire.

“We love them, but they’re just a nuisance,” Gary Gabelein said of the tame bunnies, which number as many as 25 in the summertime. “They get into the flower beds and make them look like land mines.”

Where there isn’t fencing, plants are raised at least three feet off the ground, including containers.

“Everything has a reason for being up high,” Janie Gabelein said, pointing out an old bathtub planted with red candelabra primroses.

Not far off, a rusty white sink, dressed in a pink skirt, is filled with begonia, bacopa, pansy and snapdragon blossoms.

Recycled planters are only the beginning here, however.

Roughly 50 birdhouses, all recently repainted, decorate the property. Creatively hung collections of old wagon wheels, pots, saws, gears and tools add interesting flourishes.

“I love thinking up the whimsical art ideas and, with Gary’s help, nailing, screwing and positioning them in place,” Janie Gabelein said. “Gary enjoys the hunt for things to add to his collections.

“Many of my most useful finds came from the free piles. Cheap thrills, huh?”

Most of the Gabeleins’ structures are secondhand or recycled, including baby crib side rails used to create decorative fencing, a lunch pail turned into a birdhouse and “coffee pot innards” used to make post finials.

But let’s get back to those plants, specifically the vegetables.

“This is 70 feet of rhubarb,” Janie Gabelein said of their rhubarb hedge, undulating and interspersed with daffodils. “It’s going to be a good rhubarb year.”

Gabelein uses the crop to make rhubarb crisp for guests, who also enjoy the bounty of 100 row feet of raspberries.

Janie Gabelein praised their property’s sandy soil for the raspberry bounty: “They grow really well here. They’re so good, and they freeze.”

When visitors arrive for the garden tour, they’ll find all kinds of summer bloomers, including holly­hocks, delphiniums, penstemon, foxglove, phlox and dahlias.

Specimen trees might turn heads here, too.

In the front yard alone, the Gabeleins planted paperbark maple, dogwood, contorted filbert, serviceberry and a Red October maple. In the side yard, the heart-shaped leaves of katsura add a special charm.

This is the perfect dwelling for the Gabeleins, who live next door to the original Gabelein family farmstead, dating back to the late 1800s.

Janie Gabelein retired after working many years as an art teacher for south Whidbey Island schools. Her husband retired after 28 years on Washington ferries, where he worked his way up to captain.

Though the Gabeleins enjoy gardening, they also appreciate the water. Cruise ships and other vessels of all sorts make their way, day and night, in the distance.

“We love the view,” Janie Gabelein said. “There’s always something new happening.”

If you go

What: The 2009 Whidbey Island Garden Tour features four residential gardens, including an estate garden, an artist’s garden, a small garden with rare plants, and the country garden of Gary and Janie Gabelein. Proceeds will benefit Whidbey Island community organizations.

When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. June 27.

Where: Tickets include maps and directions to gardens.

Admission: Tickets are $20 and typically sell out well in advance of the tour. Download a ticket order form and see photographs of previous tours at You can also send $20 per ticket to WIGT, P.O. Box 164, Freeland, WA, 98249. The tour hotline is 360-321-4191.

The Farmhouse Bed &Breakfast

Gary and Janie Gabelein 2740 E. Sunshine Lane, Clinton 360-321-6288, 888-888-7022;

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