There cannot be a garden that doesn't have memories associated with it-of places, people, things, or events that are lodged in the gardener's past. After all, few things are more evocative than smell and taste. Gardens, with their perfumed flowers and flavorsome herbs, often hold some of the most pleasing landmarks to our past. Mary Horvitz understands this. She grew up loving gardens, and as a child, she found the greatest pleasure in being with her father as he gardened.
"I was born in Angola," she says, "and later we moved to the Azores to live with my aunt. Both places were naturally very beautiful, but we had to grow what we ate, so gardening was strictly practical. My father was a committed gardener, and he grew the most wonderful fruit, vegetables, and herbs. That was what I wanted in my own garden."
Just over five years ago, the Horvitzes purchased a quarter-acre lot in Kirkland, near Seattle. The town is popular among people who work in the high-tech industry; the Microsoft campus, where Eric Horvitz leads a research team investigating how aspects of memory can be applied to artificial intelligence, is not far away.
As most people do when undertaking new construction, Eric and Mary started with building the house, but soon changed tack. As he describes it, "We originally focused on the house and had gone ahead with a plan that we honestly weren't terribly excited about. The only thing to do was stop the job. So I did." Canceling construction is not something you do lightly, yet Mary and Eric were convinced there was another, better answer. And they found it with David Pfieffer, a Seattle-based landscape architect with a well-respected reputation for understanding and articulating his clients' needs before they are able to do so themselves.
"Mary and Eric knew that they didn't want a McMansion. And they were equally clear they wanted a garden," recalls Pfieffer, describing his initial briefing. "They wanted a unified, sophisticated house and garden, which meant the design had to have an underlying order, or the whole scheme would just fall apart."
Pfieffer's answer was to site the house high on the steeply sloping lot, and landscaping the garden around the house, identifying the spaces in the garden with the rooms of the house. Thus, the kitchen, dining, and living area form a cohesive unit with the broad terrace, while a tranquil sunken garden relates directly to the master bedroom. Interior and exterior spaces flow in and out of one another with ease and grace to make this a home and garden.
The relatively small lot size proved to be an asset rather than a problem. As Eric explains, "We weren't trying to create illusions, but to create life-the issue is not the lack of land but what you do with the space you actually occupy." In other words, you can live large in a small space-it's all in the way you approach it.
Making the garden as productive as it was alluring was paramount. Mary, describing the process, says, "David told me that we would not talk about planting schemes until the house was built and the terraces, paths, and retaining walls were in place in the garden." But, says Pfieffer, "Mary was very subtle, quietly leading me to think about the planting-asking me 'Where will I plant the fruit trees? Is there something edible that will grow here? Don't forget to leave space for seven varieties of fig!'
"Mary was insistent. She wanted something edible when I wanted boxwood!" Pfieffer remembers with a laugh. And he is the first to admit that working with Mary and Eric changed him; he now includes a wide range of edible ornamentals in many of his projects.
Looking back, Mary remarks that if they had not met Pfieffer, the whole process would have been quite different, and she would most likely have ended having a home garden in containers. Instead, says Eric, "We have a garden with a house on it."
Even though the garden accommodates a spacious modern house, it manages to provide enough organically grown fruit and vegetables for most meals. As Mary and Eric are quick to point out, it only takes a few beanpods to make a healthy serving, or a few freshly gathered salad leaves, tomatoes, and peppers to make an appetizing salad. And at a time when urban gardening is catching on, it is encouraging to find a practical garden is also intriguingly ornamental-one that is so completely nourishing, feeding all the senses. "Small lots," says Eric, "can become powerhouses."