A home with a view is a much-sought-after property to purchase. However, trees grow, homes spring up, and a once-grand vista sometimes diminishes or disappears.
For Susan and John Erickson, this would not do. Fortunately, an empty lot between their home and a panorama of the entrance to Port Ludlow Bay kept their view intact. When the property came up for sale in 2016, they quickly made a decision to buy it. Another house that would block their view would not be built on it.
With their home’s view preserved, in 2017, the couple began the task of tackling the vast tangle of blackberry vines that overran the land. The started with clearing the property of weeds.
The Ericksons hired a landscaper and together, they turned the neighborhood’s No. 1 pit stop for dogs into a destination garden. They brought in soil to create berms, mulch to cover the ground, gravel for winding paths and flagstone to pave a patio space. An arbor marked the entrance into the garden. Susan Erickson’s Sun Garden was born.
Erickson has long gardened in the shade. Prior to that that, she gardened in containers before they moved to Port Ludlow. When they initially moved into their home in 1994, the couple created and maintained a shade garden under the trees in the backyard.
“When we started working on the shade garden, 20 odd years ago, I discovered that I loved learning about plants, where they should go, and how they fit together,” she said. “I loved being with plants all around me. I learned as I went. All my nurseries and gardening books have been my teachers.”
With the new addition across the street basking in full sun, Erickson knew challenges lay ahead. She researched plants that would tolerate the annual drought season, because only new plants receive water until established. With resident deer and rabbits, it also meant finding resistant varieties.
“Oh, the choices,” she says. “I loved researching the grasses, lavenders and many flowering sun plants.”
Erickson had a vision for the design of her new garden. She approaches her garden design as a canvas ready to paint with a palette of plants with all their colors and textures.
The couple purchased the arbor entrance at the Northwest Flower and Garden Show in Seattle. Erickson drew a picture of curved paths with the patio at the end and gave it to the landscaper.
“I wanted a curving discovery path, where you see garden art and different plantings along the walk,” she says.
The path ended at the patio, where they could enjoy the view, the plants and the hummingbirds. The curved path created privacy.
“That is how I envisioned it,” Erickson says.
After much study, she packed the garden with many ornamental grasses that give it a warm glow in the fall and attractive seed heads. Pink Muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris ‘Lenca’) with its airy pink flowers, silver grass (Miscanthus), Mexican feather grass (Nassella tenuissima), Blonde Ambition blue grama grass (Bouteloua gracilis ‘Blonde Ambition’), blue fescue (Festuca glauca ‘Beyond Blue’) and others were planted in drifts of constant motion. Even a gentle breeze sweeps the grass blades into kinetic waves undulating through the garden.
“The taller grasses provide the framework for the whole garden,” Erickson explains.
As an all-season show, the ornamental grass affords winter interest when left until early spring and pruned before new growth begins.
In memory of her mother, who loved the sun, Erickson planted edelweiss in the new space. She selected trees and planted the slow-growing Korean fir (Abies koreana ‘Silver Show’) and the conifer with the serpentine leader, Atlas cedar (Cedrus atlantica ‘Glauca Pendula’), along with a Magnolia, Cryptomeria and other trees.
While a selection of plants frames the arbor, others draw you down the path. Drought-tolerant perennials enliven the space with color and attract hummingbirds, butterflies and bees.
The couple visits many art shows around the region and beyond, where they purchase many showpieces for the garden. A copper owl by Port Hadlock artist Walter Massey greets visitors before they enter through the arbor. Another one that Erickson calls Goddess resides near the patio.
Although she designed most of it, both Erickson and her husband work in the garden.
“She picks the plants, and I dig the holes,” he says.
“Well, not exactly,” Erickson replies with a chuckle. “We learned to work together. When we go out with a new plant, he will dig the hole, but we both take it out of the pot and get it ready, and water it in. So, we actually work pretty much together. I do work on the design and selection of plants, and he’s totally supportive. He helps me place the garden art too, so we are really a team on this.”
With the work between them and their landscaper, her vision turned the garden into a reality and a destination point.
“We didn’t anticipate how much time we would spend out there,” Erickson says. “We thought we would look at the view from our living room window. As the season warmed, we discovered it was much warmer in the sun garden than the shady backyard.
“We found ourselves looking at each other and saying, ‘Let’s go across.’ That is now our phrase.”
John and Susan Erickson use the expression often, frequently cross the street and spend many hours in the garden watching the hummingbirds. The couple uses the garden to relax, read a book, have a glass of wine or go out in the early morning to watch the sunrise.
“Or we sit there, watch the hummingbirds or listen to the bird sounds, particularly in the early morning,” Erickson says. “We enjoy the aerial mating shows with the tiny, colorful hummers resting on the garden art … and the bees that love the lavenders (Lavandula), from ‘Anna Luisa’ to ‘Pastor’s Pride’ and ‘Blueberry Ruffles.'”
The couple enjoy entertaining relatives and friends in the new addition.
“We had a Halloween party one year. We all walked across in our costumes, took pictures and enjoyed sitting out there,” Erickson says.
The space grew into an ideal retreat for the Ericksons, yet neighbors enjoy it, too. People walking by often comment on their lovely garden.
“I wanted to beautify the neighborhood. People can see the garden,” Erickson says. “We have many walkers that enjoy it on their walks or when they drive by. It’s much nicer to look at than when it was a bunch of blackberry vines.”
When asked what the future brings to this garden, she says, “I will never finish this painting, because it’s the process that’s important in a garden.”