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Wonders abound at the annual Garden Tour

The Levinson garden is graced by madrone trees and other native species. - Contributed photo
The Levinson garden is graced by madrone trees and other native species.
— image credit: Contributed photo

“Bird friendly, deer tolerant and water wise” is how one owner of a garden on this year’s Garden Tour described her garden.

In truth, it describes all four gardens chosen by the San Juan Horticultural Society for this annual event.

The self-drive tour takes place Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tickets at $10 per person will be on sale from today to Saturday at Browne’s Garden Center and Robins Nest during business hours; and today and Thursday, 3-5:30 p.m., at Friday Harbor MarketPlace.

Tickets and maps will be available at the point of sale, but the Horticultural Society urges visitors not to intrude on the gardens until 10 a.m. on Saturday. Last-minute weeding will be in progress.

If any tickets remain, they will be available at the Levinson’s Garden, on Patti’s Place in Smuggler’s Cove, from 10 a.m. to noon. Gardeners will be on duty to answer questions in each garden.

The proceeds this year will be divided between the Horticultural Society, which pays the premiums in the Flower Hall at the San Juan County Fair; the WSU Master Gardener Foundation for the Demonstration Garden at Mullis Center; and a fund for proposed landscaping of the former gravel pit, which is a recreational area owned by Island Rec.

Bird-friendly wild areas are featured in Dona Reed’s garden at Portland Place and at the Lally garden on Old Johnson Road.

Reed has a patch of native grassland which is a delight in early spring and is left for seed heads to mature for birds and continuation of the spring flora from year to year. Both she and Joanne and Richard Lally have wild hedges full of native trees and shrubs in which quail hide and hummingbirds forage. At the Lally garden, some of these plants will be labeled.

Be sure to notice the amazing grove of Trembling Aspen and native Hawthorn, Crataegus douglasii, as you drive in along Old Johnson Road toward their home, and look for the elegant specimen hawthorn tree in their secluded back garden.

Birdhouses are features of all four gardens and convenient roosts in the form of bleached driftwood logs pop up in woodland beds.

At the Levinson garden, you will see new beds in progress with a driftwood bench or natural sculpture as the focal point.

Garden art abounds in all four gardens. This includes a lovely stone sculpture by Tom Small (Levinson garden), silhouettes of quail marching along a fence (Reed garden), metal sculptures of dogs and frogs (Woolsey garden) and found driftwood sculptures in the Lally garden. Reed has some of her lovely glass bird baths on display in her lavender border.

Water is always a concern here on the islands and each garden has taken this into account. The Levinson and Reed gardens are watered from rainwater harvested off roofs; Jack and Carole Woolsey have a drip irrigation system that delivers precise doses to individual plants and hanging baskets.

The Lallys deliver limited amounts to their enclosed garden and water by hand. A beautiful shrubbery in front of the Levinson home was watered in the first two years of its development but is now self sufficient. Now euphorbias and Ceonothus flourish without extra water and are picture perfect.

Deer govern the way we garden in the islands. In town, this may not be a great problem, but the Lallys had to enclose a vegetable garden and gradually added ornamentals and fruit trees until their most precious plants and some patio furniture were safely enclosed, leaving the lawn to the deer. Vegetables are particularly vulnerable, so you will find most of these gardens enclosed and fenced-in at each stop.

Carole Woolsey, however, grows lettuces, herbs and variegated horseradish plants among the flowers; Joanne Lally has an herb garden in pots — terracotta chimney liners — close to the house. Their garden uses the most imaginative containers for raised beds for vegetables and strawberries made out of recycled floats, and old pots and pans for small displays of succulents.

Jack Woolsey once had a lawn, but he removed it and now his garden is a primer on the use of groundcovers from the felted “vegetable sheep” from New Zealand to local sedums that flourish in all four gardens. Don’t miss the sedum steps at the Levinson garden or in the wonderful rock wall at the Woolsey garden and the paths at the Reed garden.

There is another feature that characterizes all four gardens — all have plants in them that have been passed along from friends, neighbors and family members.

Lilacs that once graced homes in Minnesota have been propagated here and are featured in the Reed garden. Heirloom peonies with dinner-plate sized blooms can be seen at the Levinson home.

Rare and unusual plants are in every garden: a Siskiyou Cypress in the Reed garden, the native hawthorns which seem to be limited to the southern end of the island, a rare Japanese Cephalotaxus in the Lally garden and a veritable arboretum planted by Jack Woolsey. Venerable old madronas, Douglas fir and shore pines form the bones of the Levinson garden. Underneath, woodland gardens featuring hellebores, native ferns and a collection of members of the Arum family are lovingly tended.

The San Juan Horticultural Society invites you to tour the gardens to soak up ideas for plantings in your own garden and be encouraged by the fact that all of these landscapes have been achieved in the past six years. Keep your ticket as your entry to each garden. Watch for the floral signs directing you to the gardens.

Park on the lawn at the Lally garden, Bar B Ranch on Old Johnson Road.

Park on the circle at the Reed garden at the end of Panorama Place, off Panorama Drive in Portland Fair.

Park along Smugglers Cove Road and walk down Patti’s Place to the Levinson garden.

Park along Franck Street and side roads to visit the Woolsey garden.

Public restrooms are available in Sunshine Alley. A portable restroom will be available at the Lally garden.

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