Dave Stockdale is a plant painter. His densely planted garden in a subdivision is a colorful and heavily textured painting that changes from week to week and in which the rest of the world disappears.
Flowers and foliage entertain the viewer 10½ months of the year, beginning with the winter jasmine in January and followed by flowering perennials until the first frost.
As director of the Walla Walla Community College Water and Environmental Center and Workforce Initiatives, and with a background in public garden management, Stockdale has planted his garden with drought-resistant plants that, once established, only need water about once a week.
Stockdale says his goal was to show people that you can have a beautiful garden that uses little water.
As you drive down his street to his home, you know you have entered a yard unique to the area, for instead of a deep green lawn in front of the house, a native grass meadow with Idaho fescue, sideoats gramma, and little bluestem waves gently rolling in the wind.
Taupe, gray and deep pink grasses and sprinkled with yarrow, California poppy, blue flax and Russian dwarf sage. The meadow is supported by drought-resistant junipers, mahonia and the giant perennial sunflower Maximilian.
But with a painter always painting, Stockdale will soon be replacing many of the smaller native grasses with larger, low-water ornamental grasses such as Helictotrichon, which have a longer season of interest.
Although his property is on the small side, Stockdale has created a number of garden rooms within the garden. As a privacy screen, upright junipers ‘Moonglow’ and ‘Spartan’ are planted along the fence to block the view of neighboring homes.
More equal juniper trees divide the space in half lengthwise, creating an intimate garden that adjoins the rear patio and several garden rooms on the back half, through which an informal cut granite path enticingly winds.
From the moment you enter the back gate there are interesting plants everywhere. Multicolored comfrey and caryopteris, blue rue, architectural sedums, silver sage and fragrant honeysuckle soften the path and distract your gaze.
Plants spill over the pathways as Stockdale wants the garden to be experienced and people interacting with it. Paths bend out of sight, and rooms open up as you go.
Stockdale says, “From the start you don’t see where you’re going. The garden feels bigger than it is and there are hidden vistas everywhere.”
Fragrant and interesting plants such as lilies are scattered throughout the planting to seasonally stimulate and attract people’s interest.
Stockdale does not like bare soil and is initially overplanted while larger specimen plants are young. Now that the large plants have matured and are taking up more space and providing shade, crowded smaller plants are being moved to new locations.
The plantings are also edited each year to better develop the garden scenes. The interplay of colour, texture and shape of flowers and leaves creates an impressionistic and dynamic effect that keeps the eye constantly moving.
Each garden room has a color theme. The main back border has plants with deep blue, peachy, coral red, pink and magenta flowers interspersed with plants with silver, blue or dark purple foliage, accentuating the flower colours.
In summer, the combination of coral pink hummingbird mint, Agastache rupestris and raspberry echinacea against the ‘Silver Moon’ juniper catches the eye.
If you follow the winding path you will come to a small orchard with blueberries, cherries, peaches and apricot trees. Below was a native grass meadow but the recent loss of a tree allowed in more light and Stockdale will replace the lower plantings with those with larger foliage such as variegated comfrey and salvia argentea.
At the end of the orchard the garden gives way to a gravelled herb garden and seating area. Lavender, rosemary, sage, thyme and oregano are planted in the gravel around a rustic table and chairs and look like they’ve self-seeded there. A golden fruity Asian pear provides a warm backdrop.
The path meanders around the terrace, topped by a welded metal arbor with a very large hop vine providing cooling shade and dangling hop flowers.
In front of the house, under the windows on both sides, there are two small fountains surrounded by shade-loving and moisture-requiring plants such as ornamental tobacco and crocosmia. In the sun, the pink bracts of ornamental oreganos spill out into the path.
The semi-circular view from the terrace in late summer is of plants with orange and raspberry flowers such as crocosmia, echinacea and afterglow agastache.
Silver fescue, silver juniper and small upright purple barberry are used as a foil to bring out the flower colours, followed by goldenrod and sedum in the fall. In early summer, kniphofias, geum, penstemon and spring flowering sedum create an uplifting scene.
Hummingbirds eagerly visit the garden, sipping water from the fountains and enjoying the nectar of the flowers. Bees are busy too. Stockdale leaves seed heads on many plants for winter interest and as food for birds.
He says a garden should never be static, and the joy it brings with each changing day is evident in the vibrant energy in all plantings.