Whatcom Magazine

Whatcom gardens: Pleasing results are the best gauge of a successful garden

Who: Fred and Sydney Kohlmeier, with responses by Sydney.

Residence: Edgemoor neighborhood, Bellingham.

Question: How did you become a great gardener?

Answer: The field of horticulture is huge and complex and I cannot begin to claim an expertise which I do not possess. I do regard myself as a beginner gardener who loves to try anything, and gleefully rips out all mistakes and moves on to other possibilities.

When we bought the property, because of construction requirements, it was cleared. It effectively left a blank slate upon which I could doodle with plants. Knowing very little about plants or hardscape, I learned the old-fashioned way by reading magazines, books, and Internet searches —and just going out in the garden and doing. I found it to be aesthetically rewarding and just plain old fun.

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

A: I found myself attracted to classical themes, columns and structures, as well as Japanese sensibilities of structural garden design. Through it all runs water. Water features, for me, are critical in any garden design. The sound and sight of water touches most people and instills a calming influence within the garden setting.

Q: What is one plant in your garden that is special to you?

The beautiful old oak tree, of unknown species, that is centered in the patio in the backyard. It shelters us on the hottest of summer days, provides a huge canopy for many varieties of birds, and protects my most vulnerable plants from sun damage. I feel a strong connection with it, as do many people visiting my garden.

Q: How can people grow three plants from your garden?

A: The first is Cardiocrinum giganteum, commonly known as the Himalayan lily, the largest lily. From seed, it can take seven years to flower; from transplants I have had flowers after three years. The height can be a majestic 7 feet or more, with profuse, sweetly aromatic flowers, the scent of which floats past when walking through the garden.

The Pyrrosia lingua is a favorite fern of mine for the simple reason it is very un-fernlike. It has lance-shaped leaves. I grow it in a pot and keep it protected from winds and cold of winter and the sun in the summer.

Lobelia tupa is a lovely, arching plant with red flowers and pale-green felted foliage. I don’t see it planted as much as I think it should be. The hummingbirds love this plant, and as the Lobelia grows later in the season, into September, it provides the hummers with a continued source of food.

Q: What animal or plant is your garden nemesis, and how do you cope with it?

A: My attitude has softened with regard to so-called pests in the garden. I have always been tolerant of insects, but less so of deer and herons eating our goldfish. But rather than get upset about “damage” from any animal or insect, I chalk it up to allowing other critters to exist in the way they know how, and simply relax about it.

Q: What tool could you not do without, and why?

A: The Hori Hori knife. It is an all-purpose tool. I use it to weed, as well as break up soil, pry out roots and rocks, and to plant bulbs and perennials.

Q: What is the best garden advice you ever got?

A: I attended a seminar at which the speaker was asked, “What makes a good garden?” His response was, “How does the garden make you feel?”

So, when viewing any garden, as well as my own, I assess how it makes me feel. There is no one garden that is “right.” This insight, then, addresses the results in the garden more than the process itself.

What is most important is to have fun in the garden, be skeptical of landscaping “rules,” and make it your own. The likely result is you will feel great when in your garden.