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French-Inspired Garden in the Pacific Northwest
A provençal ambience and elegant outdoor rooms give distinction to a Seattle-area garden
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Outdoor Living Area
Tension is a good thing, believes David Pfeiffer of Vashon, Washington—at least in a garden. “Ordered and wild, geometric and curvilinear, centerlines and asymmetry—all need to be expressed,” Pfeiffer says. On the grounds surrounding a new builder’s home in Clyde Hill, Washington, he found a blank canvas on which to explore those tensions in a masterful way.
Pfeiffer describes himself as a “garden architect” to reflect his goal of blending architecture with nature. When he first saw the property, a sea of grass surrounded a home that was viewable by neighbors on three sides. The completely exposed lot—all lawn but for a few struggling ornamental plantings—had no privacy. “The homeowners wanted a private, classic, European-inspired garden with elegant outdoor rooms for entertaining and relaxing. It needed to enhance and elevate the architecture of the house while inviting you to linger and enjoy being outdoors,” Pfeiffer recalls.
Photography: John Granen
Produced by Linda Humphrey
Garden design: David Pfeiffer, David Pfeiffer Garden Design Inc., P.O. Box 9013, Vashon, WA 98070; 206/883-6446, davidpfeiffer.com.
He kept the garden in the genre of the Pacific Northwest but introduced a feeling of Provence to echo the home’s Mediterranean style. Challenges included the property’s flat topography and the fact that the home’s main living areas were on the second floor, so the garden needed to please the gaze from above as well as at ground level. The lot’s strengths were its large size and southwestern exposure, allowing plants to bask in full sun in a tricky climate. The grounds also offered easy access for installing gravel courtyards, masonry walls, and gracefully connected outdoor rooms with strong sight lines and striking focal points that Pfeiffer used to distinguish the home.
White columns and dark-stained arbors add rich formality while highlighting climbing vines and roses.
Cozy Seating Area
Pfeiffer met the climate’s challenges by using materials that age with grace to extend the season from three months to eight with fireplaces, lighting, and overhead protection from rain and wind. “Summer nights are cool here,” he notes, “and people will only linger after sunset if seated comfortably around a roaring fire.” He placed the fireplace close to the outdoor dining area so dessert and port can be enjoyed well into the darkness after dinner.
Fireplace Area Details
Furniture and cushions are from RH; the fireplace is by Napa Valley Cast Stone. A marble/granite mix gives gravel areas a warm tone, making graceful transitions from hardscape to lawn.
Outdoor Dining Area
Other features include a fountain with a raised pool, an outdoor pizza oven, formal parterre gardens, and custom-designed iron and wood gates with details borrowed from antique French garden gates. “They add a softer, feminine detail to the garden that balances stronger architectural elements and walls,” Pfeiffer explains.
The formal lawn is edged with a perennial border in a restrained palette. “I tend to rely on texture and shading over color,” Pfeiffer says. “When color is introduced, it is saturated and quiet. I find blues and grays are magical with our often overcast skies and iridescent light.”
Purple irises paired with hydrangeas look lovely even when the sky is overcast.
Formal spaces are softened by fragrant plantings that cascade onto walkways, creating intimacy within an imposing setting that even the homeowner's dog enjoys.
Classic blue was deployed on gates, tuteurs in pots, and Lutyens benches to add playfulness and punch. The benches are also homage to the famous Arts and Crafts-era collaboration of architect Sir Edwin Lutyens and garden designer Gertrude Jekyll. The beautiful and evocative work of these two British designers has had a profound influence on Pfeiffer. For him as well as for them, the marriage of careful planning and uncommon intuition results in a deeply harmonious relationship between indoors and out.
Provençal Seating Area
At the end of an axis, a classic Lutyens bench by Barlow Tyrie in Benjamin Moore’s “Whipple Blue” gives a subtle Provençal feel. Blue tuteurs in pots by The Brookfield Co. are a classic embellishment. The quartet of trees growing up through the gravel are globe locusts.
Guests approach the home by walking from the driveway onto an expansive flagstone surface with creeping thyme ground cover. An iron gate leads to a formal courtyard beckoning to a series of outdoor rooms. Trees in pots are bay laurel, a Mediterranean native.
Custom-designed with details borrowed from antique French ones, this gate has pretty purple campanula ‘Poscharskyana’ growing alongside it.
Stairs lead through the blue gate into the courtyard, where visitors can go either to the outdoor fireplace area or into the formal courtyard garden. Low-growing deutzia ‘Nikko’ and boxwood topiaries give structure; lavender contributes scent and classic French ambience.
Lavender blooms complement a blue gate.
Sweet-faced pansies growing in a Brookfield Co. pot soften the garden’s formality.
Dogwood Cornus kousa—showy when in bloom—adds a touch of pink to the palette.
‘Living Easy’ floribunda roses in orange-apricot contribute fruity fragrance.
'Endless Summer’ blooms in the outdoor fireplace seating area.
The herb garden affords a view of the Seattle skyline.
Pfeiffer designed the striking blue tuteurs in the four pots surrounded by germander.
Leggy chives bloom in the herb garden.
Vegetable boxes and euphorbia line the path.
Made of bluestones, the stepping stones beckon visitors deeper into the garden.
Sweet-scented, globe-like alliums act as exclamation points in the garden.
Eriseum 'Bowles Mauve', also known as "wallflower," grows near the main gate to the house.
Where: A new Mediterranean-style home near Seattle.
Conditions: Hardpan/clay soil replaced with sandy topsoil and mulch for plantings and lawn. Wet winters and dry, cool summers.
Highlights: Classic European elements embellish a Pacific Northwestern garden with lovely outdoor living areas.