Under the Northwest Sun

0906_garden2With shades of gold and the fragrance of rosemary, a Bellevue garden is infused with the flavor of Tuscany

Written by Debra Prinzing
Photograph by Andrew Drake

After falling in love with Italy’s sun-drenched countryside, a Bellevue couple imported the character of old-world Europe to their walled garden at home, imbuing it with sounds of water, the warmth of stone and a vivid plant palette.

“We’ve traveled to warmer Italian climates, and I love the color there,” says the wife, an avid gardener who worked closely with her design team, including architect Robert Maloney and garden designer Kris Sargent.

The homeowner wanted the best of Mediterranean-style architecture and traditional European courtyard styles, yet she recognized the need to adapt the Tuscan design for a Northwest backdrop of tall firs and cedars, frequently gray skies and wet winters.

“She wanted an authentic Tuscan estate that felt like it had always been there, and yet it needed to blend into an established Northwest neighborhood,” says Distinctive Gardens landscape designer Kris Sargent, now of Heritage Landscapes Northwest.

The ambitious renovation involved completely reconstructing the 1960s suburban home and garden, and gave the empty-nester owners a new, one-story residence that reflects the Tuscany they love. The facade of the new home and garden walls is fabricated in stucco-covered concrete, an Italian-style construction technique. Stained a warm golden shade, the house contrasts beautifully with twice-baked clay roof tiles from France. The walls are finished in a dark cantaloupe pigment.

0906_garden1Architect Bob Maloney and Sargent located the new house closer to the property’s north boundary to allow more space for a south-facing garden. A 10-foot-high perimeter wall extends from the south wall of the house and forms the sunny courtyard. “We moved the wall away from the property line so we could go higher,” Maloney explains. “We also lowered the grade inside the walls by 18 inches—this makes the walls feel taller inside, but doesn’t give them a looming feeling outside.”

Generous in scale, the courtyard is divided by north-south and east-west axes of paths that join perennial-and-herb beds, a raised fountain and the dining pavilion. At the center is a 9-foot circular parterre, designed by Sargent with a tapestry of elfin thyme and blue star creeper. Crushed stone encircles the medallion, and contrasting bands of colored glass accent the design.

Flanking the central path is a pair of 16-foot evergreen magnolias that command attention in a space otherwise home to low-growing edibles, herbs and ornaments. Observed from indoors, the magnolias frame an elevated pool built into the garden’s south wall. Sargent wanted the dripping wall fountain to be beautiful in its simplicity and function alike. “It is reminiscent of something you’d see in a courtyard as the family water source in ancient times,” she explains.

Year-round, the palette explodes with jewel-toned foliage. Gold, ruby and silver-leafed trees, shrubs and perennials ensure color in every season. Sargent planted vibrant trees outside the wall’s perimeter to draw the eye beyond the interior view, adding depth and dimension to the scene. Gold-leafed honey locust (Gleditsia triancanthos ‘Sunburst’) and eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’) weave a curtain of plum and chartreuse foliage against the evergreen backdrop of trees growing in a greenbelt at the garden’s south boundary. “The client said, ‘Give me color and make it bright,’ so we used a lot of dark and light foliage,” Sargent says. “This garden gives her a ‘color binge’ year-round.”

Design Details


Robert Maloney Architects, (206) 623-8290, ramarchitects.com

General Contractor

Schultz Miller Inc., (206) 281-1234, schultzmiller.com

Landscape Design

Kris Sargent, Heritage Landscapes Northwest, (425) 864-3135, heritagelandscapesnw.com