Islands' Sounder


The island’s secret gardens | Slideshow

Islands Sounder Reporter
June 15, 2013 · Updated 9:59 AM

Margaret Payne's Garden / Cali Bagby/Staff Photo

Water gently cascades into a pond. Colorful flowers sprout out of the green-carpeted earth with petals of blue, purple and yellow. Higher up a dogwood tree’s delicate white flowers blossom. In the background a small cottage recently dubbed “the hummingbird house” is nestled into green foliage.

“I could spend every minute out here,”  said garden owner Millie Vaccarella with a laugh. “I do spend a number of minutes out here.”

Her plot of beauty is one of five featured in the upcoming Orcas Island Garden Club Tour on Saturday and Sunday, June 29 and 30, 11 a.m. - 5 p.m. Tickets are $20 and available at www.orcasislandgardenclub.org.

Tour funds go toward various programs held by the club and to nonprofits that have plant-related projects. In the past they have helped fund the public school garden and the new seed library (see last week’s Sounder). In a way the garden tour helps to create more gardens that everyone can enjoy.

“We’re putting money back into our community,” said  Margaret Payne, who is  co-chairing the event with Sally Hodson.

There will be “surprises” at each garden such as guest speakers talking about everything from tree grafting to noxious weed management. “Plein air” artists working on garden-inspired paintings will make appearances. Owners will also be on site to answer any questions.

“We want people to learn things that they can take back to their own garden,” Hodson said.

This is the ninth year of the tour, but Garden Club President Marlyn Myers is quick to point out that the flower-loving organization was started in 1958.

Hodson and Payne have been co-chairwomen of the tour for the last two years, but they are not alone in prepping for the big day. More than 40 volunteers come together to make this event shine.

Garden Tour fans come from surprising corners of the country and beyond. Myers, who has kept track of visitor locations, said  people come from British Columbia, Whidbey Island, Oregon and someone from Kenya once came on the tour.

The Gardens

“All five gardens are creations of passionate life-long female gardeners,” Payne said.

She describes gardener Hazel O’Brien as having an “encyclopedic” knowledge of flora. Her garden has not only bountiful blooms, but a small orchard and vegetable garden as well.

Many of her plants were gifts from friends. In her potting shed and cold frames, she nurtures starts from seeds and cuttings for her own and others’ gardens.

“And has some of the most unusual plants,” added Myers.

Vaccarella’s property is what Payne calls “just magical.” The 80- by 100-foot lot was originally created by Robin Woodward. Vaccarella has spent the last few months putting her own signature on the property, beginning with an entrance gate and arbor by island scupltor Todd Spalti.

Payne has offered her own garden for viewing on the tour.

She says of her garden, “I have an interesting canvas for gardening – a very narrow, half-acre lot, sunny and dry at one end and shaded and wet at the other.  The nice thing is that I can do all kinds of gardening – flowers, fruit, vegetables, herbs, ornamentals, natives– on my little farm at the edge of the village.”

Her flowers are mostly perennials and she has a vegetable patch and small orchard for fruits.

Nancy Jones, who gardens on a terraced hillside off White Beach Road, says she tries to grow everything at least once. She sees her own garden as a “lab” for her business, All Seasons Gardening, celebrating  its 20th anniversary this year.  Nancy’s gardens are filled to the fence-line with ornamental and native trees, shrubs, vines, ferns, groundcovers and more.

Jan Helsell’s “Turtlehead Farm” garden is on property given to Jack Helsell’s parents by Ruth Brown, founder of Four-Winds Camp, who, along with Jack’s mother, came to Washington in the early part of the 20th century to work as a teacher. In the early 1970s, with help from the Bond brothers, Jack built a sawmill there. The 5,000-square-foot garden is carved into a slope, where a rock wall stores heat for the vegetables, flowers, herbs and berries.

The garden tour not only allows visitors to stroll through otherwise private grounds, but allows gardeners to lift back the veil on a life-time of experience and hard work.

“When you really love something you have to share it,” Vaccarella said.


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