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A blast of summer color

Bainbridge In Bloom promises a garden showcase this weekend.

Linda Cochran’s Fort Ward garden is a setting where plant choice and placement prove that one may paint without pigments and sculpt without clay.

Cochran uses the compositional elements that are the stock-in-trade of the visual artist – scale, texture, line, form, and especially contrast – to create living artworks.

A 12-by-12-foot square of grass-like carex frames a single banana plant, the soft textures of the grass a perfect foil for the showy leaves of the banana, and the geometric shape of the overall planting.

“I like the juxtaposition of that texture of that grass against something with broad leaves,” she said. “It’s always a contrast between the form of the plants, one to the other.

“I like plants that have a lot of form. The flowers are secondary.”

An even more striking contrast is created by the placement of a golden catalpa tree with foot-wide leaves against a cobalt-blue concrete wall.

The tree, which could take over the site, is shaped with careful pruning, Cochran says, which also produces larger leaves.

The wall was part of the garden design by island landscape architect Bart Berg.

“He had been to a conference of landscape architects in Mexico City. I think he must have seen some of (Luis) Barragan’s work,” she said, referring to the famed Mexican architect noted for his use of primary colors.

Like a truly creative artist, Cochran makes her own rules, often using plants that aren’t native to the Northwest, or even necessarily happy in the wet climate.

She is willing to work harder in order to have them; scores of desert plants and tropicals in colorful pots – from succulents like agaves to bromeliads like puyas – winter indoors.

“I like plants that aren’t necessarily suitable for this climate, so the way to grow them is in pots,” she said.

An area of the garden that does feature flowers has 6-foot-tall purple delphiniums, plants Cochran calls “fussy” because they need to be staked.

“But I’ve allowed them to be in the garden because they are so spectacular,” she said.

Cochran’s garden also features unusual plants, like an Amicia Zygomeris she purchased from Heronswood, a specialty nursery in Kingston.

But exotic doesn’t have to mean fragile.

“Supposedly (Amicia Zygomeris) is not hardy here, she said, “but it wintered-over last year so I’m revising that. I guess it is hardy.”

A windmill palm from China is among the more hardy garden plants, Cochran says.

A yellow-colored Sedum, a succulent, surrounds purple pineapple lilies, or Eucomis, native to South Africa.

“Not all of them seem (Eucomis) to do well, but that one did so it worked out,” she said.

Cochran’s garden, started a decade ago and now coming to maturity, has been featured twice before on the Garden Tour.

For inveterate tour-goers, the place may seem both familiar and strange, like a youngster one knew as a baby, now grown into a startlingly beautiful adult.

But the acre-and-a-half canvas is not finished, Cochran emphasizes, and will remain a work-in-progress because of the nature of the material.

“It’s more like art than anything else. And when you’re working in it you’re sort of planning what you’re going to do next and it gives you inspiration,” she said.

“The garden will never be finished.”

Bud break

The 2004 Bainbridge In Bloom Garden Tour is the 16th annual fund-raiser to help Bainbridge Arts and Humanities Council to support the arts on Bainbridge. The event features five spectacular private gardens developed by owners Lafe Myers and Hanni Crissey, Linda Ayriss, Linda Cochran, Jennifer Cobb and Robert Dashiell.

Tour attendees will also enjoy an art fair and book sale, a plant sale, and lectures by noted garden experts.

• Getting there: New to this year’s tour is a ban on parking at individual gardens. Instead, free Kitsap Transit buses run during the Garden Tour from the Bainbridge ferry terminal and designated Park and Rides.

• Tickets: Garden visitors may purchase tickets during the tour at the information booth and at the transportation hubs while the supply lasts and by calling 842-7901. Online ticket sales close at 5 p.m. today. Tickets ordered online may be picked up 9 a.m.-1 p.m. July 10-11 at the visitors’ information booth at the Bainbridge Island ferry dock. General admission is $30 for adults, $15 for children.

Information: 842-7901 or www.gardentour.info.

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