Originally published May 27, 2016
By Valerie Easton, former Natural Gardener writer
YOU’LL FIND interior designer Mary Hansen in her front garden or out along the sidewalk, planting community in the Eastlake neighborhood where she’s lived since she graduated from Cornish College of the Arts.
Lettuces and apple trees, herbs and lilies thrive along both sides of the sidewalk, drawing neighbors and passers-by in to chat and ask questions about the plants. “I am always amazed at the people that stop to say how much they appreciate the garden or, if they live out of the area, that they’ve made the garden a destination when passing through Eastlake,” says Hansen. “The garden is a lovely endorsement to the joy in living beauty.”
“Life is too short to be limited to just a few things,” Hansen says of her eclectic little country garden in the city. Despite the small size of the property, she’s wrapped the garden around the house and carved out spaces for outdoor living to make use of every inch of her real estate.
The garden is not only intimately connected to her home and reflective of Hansen’s aesthetics; it’s also a gift to the street. As Hansen’s garden moved out to occupy the parking strips, what started as a quest for more square footage has become an exercise in community building. What does she think draws people in? “It’s all the textures, the craziness, the chaos of it … there are lots of surprises,” Hansen says happily. “This is such a social corner.”
When Hansen moved in 2007 from a cottage on Fairview to her 1940s house on a corner lot, she brought most of her old garden with her. “It’s good I don’t need things to match and look perfect,” Hansen says of the lively mix of plants, structures and hardscape with which she replaced the grassy slope that used to run from the street down to the house.
Hansen got rid of the lawn and laid a raised stone patio. Lifting the grade up a bit created a closer connection between house and garden and eliminated a few of the steps leading down from the sidewalk. “I wanted the garden to feel like it’d been here forever,” says Hansen: an illusion created by transplanting mature plants from her old garden, and building a rustic outdoor fireplace of broken bits of crockery and rocks.
Around the corner, a pair of old Chinese gates leads from the sidewalk into the narrow side garden and a deck tucked in off the kitchen. The outdoor living areas are as comfortably furnished as you might expect for an interior designer’s garden, with a cushioned swing, plenty of pillows, chaises and side tables in colors from turquoise to Hansen’s favorite oranges and corals.
In springtime, the borders overflow with tulips, peonies, azaleas and rhubarb, followed by hydrangeas, lilies, roses, blueberries and dahlias to carry on through the summer. Hansen painted the French doors green and the house a brick-red she calls “an earthy cinnabar,” creating an ideal backdrop to the mix of colorful plantings.
At the side of the house, Hansen is planting a woodland, including a grove of coral bark maple, on one of the parking strips for relief from all the concrete. Another strip sports an apricot tree underplanted with roses. Hansen also grows plum, cherry, apple and pear trees. “I get a great harvest,” she says, adding that people have been respectful of the garden’s bounty. “This street is a promenade down to the lake. I like the commotion of people going by.”
Hansen thinks of her parking strips as a little urban farm. Nurtured by plenty of compost and reflected heat from sidewalks and street, the strips are wildly productive. In front of the house, vegetables in raised beds are surrounded by a living fence of espaliered fruit trees. The trees in turn are ringed with dwarf boxwoods to lend a little formality to the riotous scene. Hansen grows chard, fava beans, kale, carrots and lettuces in the beds. Later in the summer, in parking strips and the garden, lilies and healthy roses steal the show.
“My boyfriend, Dane, makes the compost for them,” says Hansen, who avoids using any chemicals in her garden. “I have a vision that we’ll be the garden district around here,” says Hansen. “More neighbors are putting in raised beds; we have our little farms, and we can visit and build community as we garden.”