Garden beautifully joins new and old

LAKE STEVENS — Sheila McKinnon’s garden pays homage to those who came before her and to her landmark home that was built circa 1900.

Look around her mixed beds of heucheras, hostas, hydrangeas and other beauties and you’ll find an old seed drill or pieces of infrastructure from a bygone pathway that now are the walls of a raised bed.

“We are only the third family to own this house so I kind of feel a kinship to some of the earlier owners,” McKinnon said.

Among the Purple Emperor sedum and Shasta red fir Christmas trees, McKinnon has planted grasses such as the feathery-topped variegated reed grass or “overdam,” that she said reminds her of lost wheat fields.

There’s also a delicate pink rose bush that climbs an arbor in front that McKinnon believes has been there since early on.

“I kind of feel like the pioneer wives were sitting here and cultivating things,” McKinnon said.

McKinnon’s mixed garden in Lake Stevens, part of a Christmas tree farm she and her husband own, can be seen this weekend along with several other private gardens open to the public during the annual Snohomish County Master Gardener’s 2012 tours.

McKinnon is a master at incorporating the new with the old. Newer elements include cleverly placed colorful glass art mushrooms and a ceramic alligator.

Beyond the whimsy, McKinnon has included something seriously new: a rain garden.

Rain gardens are not a new idea but are certainly a novelty on garden tours and a relatively new concept in landscaping, said McKinnon, 62.

But master gardeners such as McKinnon are promoting the concept to help capture potentially polluted surface runoff water before it gets to nearby creeks and streams.

McKinnon’s rain garden stretches over two beds that are connected by an underground pipe. It was constructed in 2009 as part of a master gardener class to teach the nuances of plant selection and drainage requirements.

McKinnon’s rain garden includes two birch trees, a serviceberry hybrid and lots of heuchera.

McKinnon put her rain garden beds together on a budget. She allowed herself to spend only one dollar per plant and then would take the 4-inch plant and cut it into fourths before planting.

She also bought native plants at the Snohomish County Conservation District plant sale.

On top of her thriftiness, McKinnon’s rain garden successfully traps surface runoff.

“They are one of the highlights of my garden,” McKinnon said. “This is something you are not going to see in just anybody’s place.”

Past the rain garden beds, McKinnon has created a shade area of hostas and ferns under two aged and giant Western hemlocks.

Visitors can continue past the shady area to one of McKinnon’s favorite sitting spots where she and her husband, Mike Peters, recline side by side in two baby blue Adirondack chairs while watching their group of yellow and orange fish in their pond.

The mixed bed plot is anchored on one side by a large, prehistoric-looking gunnera.

McKinnon said she and her husband constructed almost everything in her garden. The one exception is the 5,000 pounds of granite stones the couple had brought in as visual elements to a sitting area that is home to a new piece of artwork: a steel eagle.

The eagle’s wing span is about 6 feet across. The bird is attached to one of the stones and looks as if it’s in midswoop.

McKinnon said the eagle was a Christmas present from Mike and her daughter. She said she created this new garden plot, picking the stones and plants to mimic an alpine setting, as a place to showcase the eagle.

“We built this for him. There used to be a fire pit out here,” McKinnon said. “As gardeners we just kind of keep editing.”

Theresa Goffredo: 425-339-3424 or goffredo@heraldnet.com.

Master Gardener Tours

The annual tours continue Saturday with gardens in Everett and Lake Stevens. Tickets are $25. Tour gardens are open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tickets are only available from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. today and Friday at the McCollum Park Extension Office, 600 128th St. SE, Everett. For information call 425-338-2400.

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