Tour an Edmonds garden that took years to create

  • By Sarah Jackson Herald Writer
  • Friday, August 27, 2010 8:40pm
  • LifeEdmonds

Not many gardeners get the chance to work on the same landscape for more than 35 years in a row in the prime of their lives.

Walter and Kari Thompson, both in their 60s, however, have been that lucky.

They moved to their Edmonds Bowl property in 1975 and have been experimenting and playing ever since, not just with a stunning array of trees, shrubs and perennials, but with ponds, waterfalls, art and buildings.

Their one-of-a-kind oasis will be one of six featured Sunday as part of the Edmonds in Bloom Rhythm and Blooms Garden Tour.

Their yard was once part of an old Edmonds property owned by cobbler Frederick Borgwardt. His daughter, Pauline May, became a dear friend to the Thompsons over the years.

Landscaping started on the Thompsons’ sloped yard in the 1930s, including a gazebo, some specimen plants and an elaborate series of ponds to channel a year-round creek.

May lived next door when the Thompsons first arrived and shared the history of the property, including photos. She also gave them numerous plants.

“She was great,” Kari Thompson said of the late nurse, who came to Edmonds when her home on Queen Anne Hill was booted by the construction of the Aurora Bridge. “When we got here, we knew nothing about gardening. She kind of inspired us.”

Though the Thompsons cherish their property’s rich history, they’ve created a garden of their own many times over.

When they started out, they had a lot of grass and a great deal of shade, thanks to nearby conifers. When the trees were cut down as neighboring property was broken into smaller lots, their yard became suddenly sun-drenched.

Now, with trees planted over the years starting to mature, the Thompsons are returning to shade.

Though the Thompsons’ garden is the sixth and final stop listed in the tour booklet, visitors would be wise to start with their double-lot property.

There is so much to see.

Once you step into the back yard, you are immediately immersed in plant life, including large perennial beds with soaring, 6-foot stands of monarda, ninebark, cimicifuga and filipendula.

Three-year-old hops vines climb the rustic pillars of the couple’s informal outdoor kitchen next to a tiered deck that provides ample viewing of their garden paradise.

A backdrop of larger trees creates ample privacy, including a once-castoff Douglas fir seedling turned giant, a stand of bamboo, maples and a two-story, fruit-covered fig tree with deep-green leathery leaves.

Conifers of all sizes and potted plants create punctuation throughout the garden.

Under the canopy of a large plum tree, there is a lush, cool shade garden, just the place to wile away the hours weeding on a 90-degree day — not that you’ll find any weeds here.

Thompson, a retired auto mechanic and repair shop owner, loves devoting his hours to gardening.

He’s a master gardener and volunteers once a week at the Elisabeth C. Miller Botanical Garden in Shoreline, home of the Great Plant Picks program. He also runs the Willow Creek Hatchery in Edmonds as a volunteer.

“It’s just enjoyment,” he said. “I really like to keep busy.”

Each step you take down the slope into the Thompsons’ back yard moves you closer to the main attraction, a series of ponds and waterfalls channeling the property’s original stream.

Three bridges cross the perfectly clear, cascading water, including one to the couple’s greenhouse, filled with jasmine and surrounded by brilliantly colored begonias.

An alligator — or is it a crocodile? — gives a friendly grin at the bottom of one waterfall.

Multiple areas in the yard feature gunnera, a 10-foot-tall prehistoric-looking perennial with 3-foot-wide leaves. Though the plant isn’t rare now, Walter Thompson remembers buying his in the mid-1970s at Wells Medina Nursery when it was much harder to find.

“That was the first time I’d ever seen this thing,” he said.

Delicate plants are easy to find here, too, including hardy fuchsias arching over the upper pond, white calla lilies flanking a waterfall and two enormous wisteria plants, original to the property, rambling over the large middle pond, courtesy of some strategically placed boards propping up the vining branches.

When the wisteria blooms in spring, it is a sight to see under a nearby golden chain tree that blooms at the same time.

“The blooms go all the way down into the water,” Kari Thompson said of the lavender-blooming wisteria.

“It gets pruned once a week if not more,” Walter Thompson said. “It’s really, really quite old.”

Beyond the greenhouse is a refurbished version of May’s original gazebo, complete with an old Franklin stove, a dining area, cushioned chairs and walls of windows salvaged from May’s ill-fated Queen Anne abode.

It’s a great place to admire the garden, rain or shine: “Fall is really nice out here,” Walter Thompson said.

All this is to say nothing of the front yard, the Thompson’s much younger, 5-year-old garden, including a forest of eight birch trees with white peeling bark that presides over large swaths of burgundy-leafed smoke bush and fragrant daphne.

Mock orange fills the shaded area with an intoxicating perfume.

The Thompsons have a variety of native plants in the front garden as well as the back. But Walter Thompson can’t limit himself to local plants.

“We’ve made it much like a plant collector’s garden,” Kari Thompson said.

Her husband admitted: “I’m a plantaholic.”

Take the tour

What, where: The Edmonds in Bloom Rhythm and Blooms Garden Tour will feature six private gardens with live music as part of its 15th annual self-guided tour in Edmonds.

When: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday

Cost: Tickets are $15 at the Frances Anderson Center, Bountiful Home and Garden Gear, all in Edmonds; Emery’s Garden and Wight’s Home &Garden, both in Lynnwood; and Sky Nursery in Shoreline.

Tickets purchased at can be picked up the day of the tour with a PayPal receipt from 9:30 to 11 a.m. at Garden Gear, 102 Fifth Ave. N., and from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at 720 Spruce St., both in Edmonds.

Information: Call Judy Stead at 206-499-2018 or go to

Sarah Jackson: 425-339-3037,

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