Chuck and Joanne Little turned it from a summer home into a rental while they remained on the other side of the Sound. After a couple of years of dreaming and planning, they were ready to start their new chapter.
They contracted Jim Cutler to design a home that would be comfortable and pretty, house a library and include a greenhouse. Joanne Little had dreamed of being an architect and had many ideas to contribute. She realized that the home would settle into the landscape more comfortably farther back from the water’s edge, and that the views from the home would be more rewarding if it were built up on the hill.
The home’s position allows maximum water and mountain views. From inside, there’s a view into the gardens through the filter of beautiful Japanese maples and colorful foliage.
Joanne Little did not get to have the greenhouse she wanted inside the house due to the moisture a greenhouse would generate. Instead, Cutler designed the home to become part of the landscape.
The front entry steps and pergolas start out wide, welcoming you in, then narrow down to the front door in a V. You are led from the forest and front shade-land gardens to the home. Once inside the entry, “the link” (a glass-roofed passageway between the more formal and less formal portions of the house) allows direct passage through the house and into the sunny garden. The natural light streaming in through the glass ceiling is invigorating during the long, wet winters, and once spring arrives, the blooming Kwanzan cherry trees serve as lace curtains.
One more connection to the garden is the bluestone path leading from the outside right through the link, and back out again onto the terrace.
Joanne Little did eventually get to have her conservatory. Manufactured by Amdega-Machin of England, it arrived in a large shipping container. The container was dropped off just off the main road, and Chuck Little arranged to get a forklift to transport the structure bit by bit down the series of driveways all the way to its present location. The assembly proved quite the challenge, and his engineering skills came in handy as they used the photos of the finished product to build it.
Before their dream home could be constructed, the original house had to be removed. How fortunate that fire departments need opportunities to train their firemen! The planned burn was carried out in April 1988. The lovely new home was completed in January 1989.
Out of respect for the original house, the layout was roughly kept as it had been before, but that’s where the similarities end. The new home is cozy yet sophisticated, with a different view of the garden from every window.
The couple hired Bart Berg to help them get a start on their landscaping plan. They depended on Berg for the garden’s structure. He included many natives in his design, along with several camellias in the understory of the native trees.
Several yews and the lovely Kwanzan cherry trees are still the backbones of the garden. The waterside garden started out as one planting bed, grass and wild natives along the bluff.
The Littles had busy careers that took them away from their home, but spent every weekend working in their garden. The garden allowed them time together, creating something they both enjoyed. Even more than that, the new passion opened the doors to a new community of local horticultural personalities.
Chuck Little commuted on the Kingston ferry and soon learned that the man holding a cool plant at the ferry terminal was Dan Hinkley. Hinkley was teaching at the Edmonds Community College at the time, and this common commute offered many opportunities to chat about horticulture.
Many talented local consultants offered their knowledge, plants and expertise. The garden has evolved and is bursting at the seams with beautiful, unusual plants all vying for attention.
Chuck Little’s passion has been to choose the variety of Japanese maples and unusual treasures like arisaema, Decaisnea fargesii, golden catalpa, espaliered pear trees and roses.
“I enjoy the shade-land garden and the sunny brick path lined with heathers and overflowing with perennials, the seasonal changes of the garden like the new growth of spring, the complacency of summer, the color explosion of fall and the sleepiness of winter,” he says.
Joanne Little is drawn to the flowering plants, and the garden is bursting with many varieties of tree and herbaceous peonies, gorgeous trillium, penstemon, helianthus, clematis and beautiful double daisies. The Euphorbia characias ‘Wolfenii’ and the cardoons are allowed some freedom in the garden, sowing themselves around a bit and making a huge impact.
Grasses give the garden movement and mystery, foliage plants contribute lasting color and boxwood hedges provide a bit of formality. Not too much formality, however, as they are reduction-pruned rather than sheared. Joanne’s spirit is free, and so are her plants!
The topography of the property lent itself to a series of three ponds, connected by gentle waterfalls. A gunnera leaf sculpture by Little and Lewis allows water to spill into the first pool. A small, stone patio by the lowest pool is a little hideout surrounded by billowing plants, perfect for a quiet cup of coffee.
Another hideout is a ’50s era bomb shelter, built during a time of fear. A Bloodgood Japanese maple sits astride the shelter, hiding its presence. May it remain hidden and unnecessary forever.
Everything on the property has evolved for the better, including the rose bush that survived the big house burn. The rose now blooms in a different color.