A pathway to friendship

Al Gidari enjoys the lush gardens behind his Fort Ward Hill Road home overlooking Rich Passage. - Julie Busch photo
Al Gidari enjoys the lush gardens behind his Fort Ward Hill Road home overlooking Rich Passage.
— image credit: Julie Busch photo

Bainbridge In Bloom highlights the shared gardens of two Fort Ward families.

Across from the old Fort Ward barracks, in handsome houses with idyllic views of mountains and water, live neighbors who forged a friendship from a simple gravel path.

David Chichester moved to the block first. Acting upon referrals, he engaged the services of Susan Calhoun of Plantwoman Design. As she began transforming his property, along came Al and Pam Gidari next door.

Chichester approached the Gidaris with a novel plan: Their houses being so close together, would they consider using Calhoun and designing a path that all could use for access to the back yards.

The Gidaris, whose new home construction included a landscape designer, mulled this over and agreed. Thus was born “the neighborly path,” which swiftly led to a close relationship among the Gidaris and Chichester – and even their pets.

“Our cat goes into Dave’s cat door,” said Pam Gidari, a longtime volunteer with PAWS. “Sadie, our dog, drinks from his pond (and we) watch out for one another’s pets.”

The Gidaris are wonderful neighbors, said Chichester, a CFO who provides financial leadership with Tatum Partners and shares his home with Mr. Robinson, a furry feline who acts as sentry from beneath a bird feeder.

Peering down the path from between the front yards, next to a shared planted circle of color and contrast, there is no discernible difference in style, yet the Chichester and Gidari gardens are markedly distinct.

Credit Calhoun for making the strip of land look “like it’s all one continuous thing,” Pam Gidari said.

“They do complement each other. It’s the same going out to the yard. They’re both landscaped together. Our plants flow into his plants,” she said.

At the end of the path, the personalities of the gardens become apparent. Turn to the right and look down at Chichester’s pond and over to his deck, all of which is surrounded by a sophisticated blend of lush plantings. To the left, roses herald the Gidaris’ terraced garden, where color and fragrance combine to delight all the senses.

“Dave’s (garden) is more Northwest style. Ours is more English cottage garden with roses and perennials and an herb garden,” Pam said.

As part of the Bainbridge in Bloom Garden Tour for the first time, Chichester and the Gidaris wonder what people will think of their landscaping.

Chichester has lived here since 2001, but work abroad kept him away for long stretches. He leaves the plant decisions to Calhoun and crew, focusing his efforts on mowing the lawn and caring for his small pond.

He enjoys his surroundings, looking out for wildlife and enjoying Mariners games from his deck. The pond is a haven for frogs, but not fish. They would attract eagles and raccoons.

The Gidaris have been islanders for 18 years, the last four in this home, perched on a hillside where mules once pulled military supplies up to Fort Ward from the pier below.

Garden art and an array of blooms at the height of their beauty adorn the long deck, which provides a panoramic view of Rich Passage and the Olympic Mountains. Below is a salmon farm frequently visited by seals.

It’s hard to imagine that a scant three months ago, the garden was a rocky ditch overgrown with berries and grass.

“A terraced garden was Susan’s idea,” Pam Gidari said. “She took it farther than I ever expected.”

Of the three, high-tech attorney Al Gidari is the natural green thumb. He grew up in his grandmother’s garden in Syracuse, in upstate New York.

Although Pam gardens, too, he’s the one with the expertise and the longer chore list. They made plant selections with Calhoun, who suggested many of the choices.

“I’m the laborer. I do the weeding, the mulching, the digging, the planting and the digging,” Al said. “We’re on a first-name basis with all the nurseries.”

His favorite room in the house is the garden, where he stations himself at a table in the circle of the patio with a glass of wine and a book and sounds of baseball wafting from next door.

From this vantage point, he looks out on stone paths bordered by roses and white star jasmines climbing the deck posts.

The roses bloom so well because Sadie the dog has been sleeping outdoors to keep the deer away, he said.

Terraces lead to mini-gardens and grapevines winding along low stone walls. Up to the left on the side of the sun-drenched hill is a bountiful herb garden dotted with miniature lilacs.

The land is “a microcosm of north, east, south and west exposures,” Al said.

Throughout, the garden features drought-tolerant and native plants – with an emphasis on erosion control to tame the steep slope landscaping.

The space is filled, but not to overcrowding. Every flower and plant – from the hydrangeas to the roses to the kousa dogwood – can be appreciated individually or taken as a whole.

As is true next door. Borrowing from Khalil Gibran, with a sentiment his friends the Gidaris might echo, Chichester calls his home “a moment of rest upon the wind.”


Hillside vistas

The 18th annual Bainbridge In Bloom Garden Tour begins with a special preview and garden party July 14. The preview offers three levels, $125-$350.

Garden tour hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. July 15-16. The Shuttle Hub and Festival Site, located at Bainbridge High School, is open to attendees and the public from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. The site will feature art, plants, merchandise, refreshments, demonstrations and children’s art activities. Kitsap Transit will transport ticket holders to all gardens in free, air-conditioned coaches with guides.

Bike the Bloom patrons pay $20 and receive maps and bicycle parking. Regular prices are $30 for adults and $15 for children ages 4 to 12. The tour benefits the BIAHC. For tickets call 842-7901 or see

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