Bellingham woman learns how to turn a yard into a garden


Who: Caryn Friedlander and Richard Eggemeyer.

Residence: Bellingham's Columbia neighborhood.

Caryn, how did you become a great gardener?

Trial and error. Plant something here, move it there, change your mind next year, arrange it with a couple of new cool plants (you need a patient husband for this method) ...voila! Amazing gardener!

If your garden has a theme, how did you develop it and carry it out?

It developed the same way I make paintings; in an organic, spontaneous manner, but with a more positive spin. The yard was a blank canvas 21 years ago, except for the grand fir and some old apple trees. We started at the center with a bed of strawberries, surrounded by four quadrants to plant herbs and vegetables.

When I started gardening I couldn't figure out why you would plant something you couldn't eat. Knowing that I had a huge yard, people started giving me perennials from their gardens.

Then I discovered composition (e.g., never buy fewer than three plants at a time when considering how to compose a particular area in the garden.) It really grew like a painting, where composition and color and texture are integral. The yard became a garden, and the resulting “theme” is a series of intimate spaces to dwell in.

What is one plant in your garden that is special?

The golden locust outside my studio. I took my 85-year old dad to Bear Creek Nursery and he found this poor little broken thing in a pot and asked the owner if she would give him a deal. She gave it to him; he brought it home, and taped the one little branch up along the main broken stem. In time that branch became the trunk to what is now a 20-foot tree with a glorious golden hue.

How could people grow three plants from your garden?

In short, amend your soil well, rotate what you amend it with, and support anything you plant, through its first season, with enough water.

If it still doesn't bloom or fruit, threaten to take it out — it will soon produce as you desire!

What is your garden nemesis and how do you cope with it?

My wonderful chickens. We fenced in the yard to keep out the coyotes and deer. Then we got chickens. Go figure. So now we spend a lot of time building covers over raised beds to protect the garden from chickens.

How many hours a week do you spend working in your garden in each season?

It's sporadic, but now that the perennials have filled out I don't have to spend more than a few hours a week, mostly in the summer. The rest of the year is cleanup, or planting vegetables in the raised beds (and protecting them from the chickens.)

What tool could you not do without, and why?

This funny hooked digging tool looks like a small scythe with an extra angle to the blade. I don't know the name for it. I use it for planting, weeding and just about everything else.

What's the best garden advice you ever got?

It's always evolving, never perfect.

What's your favorite way to share your garden?

Dinner by the pond on a summer evening, and our annual summer solstice party.

What's your favorite garden other than your own?

Kokedera, or the Moss Temple Garden in Kyoto, Japan, a soft, dreamlike Zen temple garden.

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