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Gardening for the love of life
Bainbridge in Bloom takes place this weekend.
Jody Loving’s property embodies the phrase, “from the ground up.”
“Sweat equity is what it’s all about,” she said.
When Loving and her former husband bought property on Dolphin Drive, they faced roughly four-and-a-half acres that were so strewn with downed trees they couldn’t even gauge the topography.
At the time, the land wasn’t their primary concern; they had commenced construction of a Victorian-style stone house and guest quarters, with an eye toward one day establishing a bed and breakfast. Knee-deep in sawdust, Loving was also working full time as a dental hygienist, and her two kids were growing up. Life was full and fast-paced.
Then, a sudden brain bleed forced Loving simply to stop. The cause was undetermined; it may or may not have been connected to multiple sclerosis, with which she had been diagnosed in the mid-1970s.
What Loving did know was that her change in lifestyle was radical and immediate. Unable to write and with limited capability to speak, much less clean teeth, she was forced to accept her doctor’s admonition that the main prescription was rest.
She began to spend a lot of time in the garden.
“What I found about going outside, and working outside, was that the plants didn’t care if I was late – there’s nobody in the waiting room. And I would just sit for long periods of time and look at things.”
When she was able, she stopped just looking. Ten years later, the house has progressed, with Loving and her partner, retired architect Jay Shadel, living in the garage apartments while minor things like, oh, the master bedroom near completion.
More importantly for the purposes of this year’s Bainbridge in Bloom garden tour, in which Loving’s garden is featured this weekend, the land has been transformed. Nearly 200 tons of rock wall and beds now ring the house, and the surrounding acreage has been cleared, downed tree by downed tree and stump by stump – all pulled out with a pickup truck and chains.
“We went through a couple of clutches, I think,” she said.
The garden is situated on levels. At the top, on the eastern side of the house, Loving has grown pear and plum trees along with marionberries, loganberries and tayberries. Dappled beds planted with lilies, astilbe and cranesbill flank the fruit.
Down a bit, through an archway and picket fence that does nothing but be a picket fence, are a series of shady rooms. In these, Loving has created witty vignettes, such as a metal crow perched on a chair, waiting for a handout.
Still lower is a roofless gazebo that Shadel built, flanked by apple trees and a heart-shaped rock that Loving and her kids uncovered during a marathon ivy pull one Mother’s Day.
“Mother’s Day is a day they’ve come to dread because I work them so hard,” she said.
Then there is what Loving calls the Spirit Circle, a deeply shaded figure-eight path with stations along the way representing three gifts of spirit, peace, love and joy. Chimes, faces, and a metal sculpture Shadel created from found parts all wait to be discovered.
Farther down are a barn and the Frog Hollow meadow – fittingly decorated – which heads back up to a terraced strawberry and rhubarb bed, down again to two ponds and back up to the main drive, which is flanked by blueberries.
“I consider this to be a wandering garden,” she said. “You wander around here. Not everyone is going to see the same things, because not everyone goes to the same places.”
Loving has had her hands in every corner of the garden and claims she’s done everything wrong. She struggles with poor soil; she doesn’t have plant lust; and she doesn’t know all the names of her plants, a third of which she estimates have been given to her.
Yet, her garden is a glorious and impressive testament to the power of process, patience, and the notion that real transformation occurs little by little.
As to the hordes of visitors this weekend?
“I’ll be around. I’ll probably dead-head,” she said. “What, I’m supposed to stop?
Walk the bloom
The annual Bainbridge in Bloom garden tour is a fundraiser for the Bainbridge Island Arts and Humanities Council. Jody Loving’s Huntley House garden is one of five on this year’s tour, all situated on a walkable two-mile loop.
Patron day is July 10; the general tour takes place from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. July 11 and 12. For complete details, including garden descriptions, tickets, and parking information, see www.gardentour.info.