Arts and Entertainment

A graceful maturity of bloom

Gayle Bard’s garden is as unique as her paintings.

Bard applies the sensibility that makes her a stand-out West Coast artist to her garden, using long grasses like gracillimus sinensis “morning light” to make three-dimensional line drawings.

“I just like the structure of grass,” Bard said. “My gardens are more about textures and shades of green than pretty flower petals.”

The sinuous rustle of the grey-green, silver, blue-green and yellow grasses contributes to the garden’s tranquility – and the tall grasses have completely transformed the awkward, under-planted plot Bard moved onto.

When Bard bought the house 14 years ago, she found a bare-bones garden that had received little attention.

Comprising a three-quarter-acre site of cultivated land that included the owner’s home, the garden would have to be designed around what Bard calls a “difficult” site.

“When I first moved here, there nothing – this was all bark over plastic,” Bard said. “There was an ugly chain link fence. And there were no trees.”

With no foliage to screen the view and sound of the nearby road – and plans to open the Old Mill Guest House bed and breakfast next to her own house and studio – Bard knew she must design the garden to lend a sense of privacy.

She planted fast-growing trees and shrubs between house and road, and built an arbor between the house and guest cottage that would support hops vines.

Some plantings camouflage elements of the site; grass and sunflowers hide the blank wall where a deck once stood.

In addition, Bard’s new home had poor soil studded with old tree stumps.

“If I had known how long it would take the stumps to decay, I would have paid to have them removed,” she said.

Among other eccentricities, the grounds featured a 20-foot sunken, dish-shaped swim pool.

Bard approached working with the pool in the same spirit as she did other garden decisions; she did not so much fight what was there, as turn what she found to her own uses.

“Part of the design came from the ‘givens,’” she said.

She removed the pool, but left the dish shape rather than regrade. In the hollow, she planted a gourd garden – pumpkins, squash and ornamentals.

“I call that my ‘deep dish pie,’” Bard said.

Another planting decision dictated by the site was Bard’s choice of a bean garden over a shallowly buried oil tank, because she knew the plants wouldn’t sink deep roots.

Edible plants are exploited for their visual potential in the garden, with a bed of mixed herbs next to rhubarb, and vegetables climbing terra cotta sculptures.

The ornamental utilitarianism of Bard’s garden is a theme of several of this year’s featured gardens, according to Bainbridge Island Arts and Humanities Council board member Julie Yoakum.

“This year there are more ‘working’ gardens,” Yoakum said. “Several provide food, and are not professionally designed and maintained.”

But practicality and beauty co-exist in those gardens, as they do in Bard’s. She has made a garden that combines elegant touches with playful gestures.

Terra cotta and garden sculptures line broad, gravel walkways and an arbor-shaded veranda is lined with an elegant, old Sarouk carpet – but nearby, four sewer pipes are painted bright purple and a swing invites guest to view the gourd garden from above.

“I’ve studied classical gardens – French and Italian gardens,” Bard said, “and while I used some of their elements of formality, it would not be fitting to a modest house to be too formal.

“So I went with a blend of formal and Northwest style.”

Bard has also been careful to keep garden costs down, dividing plants “like crazy” rather than buying in bulk.

In 1993, Bard’s 5-year-old garden was featured in the Bainbridge in Bloom tour.

Now, nine years later, her mature plantings may inspire other beginning gardeners.

She still does most of the gardening herself, calling in reinforcements only for “big pruning” and gravel maintenance.

Like other garden owners on the tour, Bard has worked hard for months to ready her garden for visitors, putting in 10 hours a day from April to June. The work can supplant her painting.

“It is an addiction,” she said. “My (art) dealer hates it.”

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See the island in full bloom from July 13-14 at gardens “loaned” by: Nick and Marj Masla; Brian and Andrea Mackin; Ollie and Janice Pederson; Tanya Lundgard; Ray and Jere Sheldon; and Gayle Bard. The 14th annual Bainbridge in Bloom tour also features vendors’ wares, book, poster and plant sales, luncheon by San Carlos and garden lectures.

The event is the annual fund-raiser for the Bainbridge Island Arts and Humanities Council, the umbrella organization that supports island cultural organizations and individual artists. Tickets are $25/adult, $12/children ages 4-12.

Tickets are available at Bainbridge Gardens, Bay Hay and Feed, Winslow Hardware, Flowering Around, and the Chamber of Commerce. Call (216) 219-3182 for more information or see www.gardentour.info.

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