If you were to drive west toward Hood Canal after passing the Hansville General Store on the right, you could easily miss a charmingly beautiful seaside garden on the Hansville shore. The cozy home and garden of Hugh and Dody Solaas is tucked behind a double car garage and lattice fence, with a small, gravel parking area bordering the road. There’s absolutely no hint of the paradise that awaits after you walk through the lattice fence gate.
Dody, a retired real estate agent, is the true gardener in the family. Most days, she sends husband Hugh off to work at their business, Shoe Safari, in Olde Town Silverdale. They are happy with this arrangement because, as Dody says, “Hugh is not a gardener.” But she most certainly is.
The couple moved from Edmonds to the greater Hansville area in the mid-1990s. They had searched for over a year for a home, from Port Townsend all the way to Gig Harbor, and finally found property in the greater Hansville area.
However, Dody Solaas says, “The home was just a little too secluded, too big and had too many windows. And, it wasn’t really my garden.”
Plus she was still commuting to her real estate career in Edmonds every day.
One day, Solaas saw a “for sale” sign when driving through Hansville on her way to work. She quickly went to look at the home. It had been vacant for a while so it smelled closed up. It had iron tracks surrounded by concrete running through the property and under the house all the way from the road to the waterfront. The tracks were for launching a boat.
Solaas could see the charm of this smaller home built in 1961 and appreciated the historic aspects. The couple soon met Wally Shaff, who is known for growing a big field of corn in Hansville every year, and discovered that the home had been his mom’s until she died.
Shaff’s mother was an incredible gardener and Solaas loved the plants that were on site already.
“I felt our first home in Hansville was a city house but this house has more history and charm,” Solaas says. It’s hard to imagine how the Solaases ever tear themselves away from this cozy, calming, relaxing seaside retreat.
The original entrance to the home was through the laundry room. This area has been changed into an outdoor room with a deck, arbor-shaded, with lots of comfy outdoor furniture. It’s like having a whole extra room for the house. It’s also a great place to sip morning coffee or nibble on breakfast or snacks.
The pathway to the front door now runs through the middle of the property and has been widened to 4 feet, just right for hauling garden tools, soil amendments, plants and also for comfortably approaching the house.
The garden house to the right inside the entry gate provides an extra sheltered outdoor space. The floor is original sand, covered with driveway gravel, which was the most practical option. The structure used to be a three-sided tractor shed, added to the back of the garage built by the Shaffs, the original owners. Three of the shed’s walls are made from windows and doors salvaged by Solaas to enclose the space, which was originally open on the front side.
She explains that the water table is very high on the beach during the winter and even the shed’s sand-and-gravel floor becomes wet from the ground water. The shared double-garage wall comprising the fourth side to the garden house is hung with vintage shelving, lined neatly with tools on hooks and adorned with decorative gardening treasures.
The garden shed also serves as winter storage for tender plants and other gardening accoutrements. A long, red, wooden table and benches are strategically placed in the middle of the space. It could be used for a sheltered picnic, a tea party surrounded by the garden as a backdrop or extra space for starting and potting up plants.
A chain link fence originally surrounded the home and garden. Shaff with his tractor helped Salaas take out portions of the fence and John Armstrong helped create the architectural separation from the busy street.
A beautiful, lattice fence and gate run between the garage and the old fencing, and an arbor roof and a shade structure cover the garden entry landing and part of the walkway. Here too is a lovely outdoor table and seating for a short (or long) rest from gardening labors.
“We created a secret garden,” Solaas says.
She also says lots of landscape architect friends have given her “coaching and suggestions through the years.” An added bonus to the fence and lattice arbor construction is that it keeps the deer and coyotes outside the garden. But they occasionally come onto the property from the beach.
“We even had a cougar on the beach not long ago,” she says.
Charming, Updated Home
The home has been completely gutted, renovated and modernized on the inside, but the outside still exudes the original charm and ambiance that first attracted them. The main living area (family room, kitchen and dining room) look out to the sea and shore. Every part of the home exudes comfort and relaxation.
“The painting hanging in our tiny house behind our grand piano was done by our friend and California architect turned Hansville resident, John Armstrong. He not only is a wonderful architect who helped us make our little house interesting, but is a talented artist, and we thought it would be fun to have one of his paintings,” Solaas says.
“We asked him if he could come up with a beach fire. What resulted is approximately a 4-foot square oil painting, beautifully dramatic and really spectacular. It reminds me a little of Dante’s ‘Inferno,’ with dark, slender figures standing around a huge, aggressive, taller-than-the-house fire. We laugh about it with our dear friend John, and enjoy that it sparks conversation,” she says.
“My garden is so simple. I find beauty in plants that are not exotic or the latest and greatest. I go for textures,” Solaas says. “Most are mid-20th century to go with our 1960s house. Our garden has been on the Hansville Ladies Aid Garden Tour four times and has really changed and evolved through the years.”
She also credits Francis Spillane, Patrick Leuner and Mary Booth, local landscape architects, with providing inspiration and advice through the years. Leuner, Booth and Solaas volunteer together with others at the Buck Lake Native Plant Garden. The trio also serves on the leadership board of that garden.
In addition, Solaas is friends with Gail Halsaver of Foxglove Greenhouses and often has Halsaver put together containers of decorative annual plantings when her home is on the tours or just to add splashes of additional color and interest at other times of the year.
The shore side of the property is mostly deck and cement. There’s a portion of the old boat launch tracks remaining and a concrete bulkhead with an opening where the boat was launched. The bulkhead is covered in a Boston ivy vine that turns crimson in the fall.
“It’s quite stunning with the flame-red leaves and the blue of the salt water behind it,” Solaas says.
Since this site is extremely exposed to the weather elements, color and interest are added with containers full of both annual and perennial plants.
“I love sedums and herbs. And the sand is so easy to dig in for planting these sun lovers,” she says.
“The secret to growing near the beach is the plants must be tough,” Solaas says.
Through the years, she’s discovered which plants get “fried” or too windblown or just don’t thrive in the harsh climate of the seashore. This portion of Hansville receives lots of storms and winds so it can be a challenge to garden on the salty side of the house.
The secret garden side of the house is a veritable retreat. The small trees, medium-sized shrubs and layers of perennials surrounding the lawn, bordering the fencing, lining the garage and garden shed all vary with the seasons. Solaas has included an ever-changing panorama of plants with four-season interest.
“I feel like this garden is enveloping me — hugging me,” she says. “The plants surrounding the lawn provide the flashes and pops of colors and the lawn provides smooth, plain green to rest the eye.”
Chester the cat especially enjoys sunning himself in the secret garden retreat area. Solaas feels he’s really safe here. One of his favorite spots is under the Spirea thunbergii ogon, a beautiful, lime-green deciduous shrub literally covered with tiny, beautiful, white flowers.
Even though her garden is close to paradise, Solaas admits there are sometimes challenges. Because of all the sand, each year she amends the soil in all areas of the garden. And she thinks it was Ed Hume who once said, “The best thing to do about horsetail is put up a ‘for sale’ sign.”
Weeds in her garden include bindweed, horsetail and buttercup. She says, “I’ve learned to appreciate the foliage of horsetail and the flowers of buttercup and bindweed.”
It’s extremely doubtful that a “for sale” sign will appear because of the horsetail. This seaside retreat and shoreline garden is pure pleasurable paradise. And, on a recent visit with Dody Solaas, she was already planning on moving a few plants and adding a few plants because she felt her garden needed just a little more texture.