Arts and Entertainment

VAA Garden Tour: Sally Fox and Steve Brown find they have room to grow

Steve Brown and Sally Fox say they still have much to learn about gardening. - Janice Randall
Steve Brown and Sally Fox say they still have much to learn about gardening.
— image credit: Janice Randall

When they describe their sprawling, year-round garden, Sally Fox and Steve Brown say the sunny five-plus acres near Point Robinson actually hold a collection of 15 gardens, each one different. Their home is located at the center and looks out onto the colorful ornamental garden. The property offers a peek-a-boo view of Mount Rainier and expansive territorial views.

Originally a red currant farm, the property’s dry, gravelly soil offers a plethora of mature native madrona and Douglas-fir trees. They have designed their garden in the spirit of its origins, with an emphasis on drought-tolerant, native plants.

Near the entrance, visitors are met with the “farm area,” about 4,200 square feet dedicated to organic vegetables and berries (blueberries, raspberries, currants, loganberries and strawberries) as well as a small orchard of apple, Japanese pear, plum, pluot, apricot and cherry trees. Adjacent paddock, pastures and buildings add to the property’s farm feel. Fox and Brown were named a “Farm of Merit” by King Conservation District for their efforts to develop and maintain an eco-friendly horse area for Fox’s two horses.

Fox and Brown are relatively new to gardening and call their expansive landscaping a “garden in process.”

“We never gardened before coming to the Island five years ago; it’s been on-the-job training,” said Fox, who was president of the Vashon-Maury Island Garden Club last year. The original garden nearest the house is 20 years old. Others are four months to four years old.

“Our biggest challenge may be the fact that we have several garden-able acres, far too much for novice gardeners, but a nice problem to have,” Fox added.

They discovered lots of glass bottles and car parts that had been dumped at several locations throughout the property. After removing many pickup loads of forgotten debris, they took it as an opportunity to add new gardens. “One of the gardens that most pleases me is an area that was covered with junk and blackberries,” Fox said.

Another big project was to eradicate invasive plants, such as Scotch broom, Himalayan blackberries and lamium from woodland areas in order to restore and replant natives. They also added trees to their inherited large lawn so as to create, over time, an arboretum feel. “We decided to forego having a weed-free lawn, thus avoiding use of the bags of chemicals we found when we bought the property,” Fox said.

In addition to Northwest natives, they have added ornamental grasses, a modest collection of Japanese maples and a number of drought-tolerant plants acquired from local nurseries. Their driveway entrance hedge was built around selections from drought-tolerant plants, thanks to Colvos Creek Nursery. Some trees and larger rhododendrons were “adopted” from benevolent Puget Sound area gardeners. “Which means that they’ve come to us with great stories from people who like to share,” said Fox. “We are gardening on a budget and don’t have a lot of exotic plants.”

They both agree their favorite aspect of the garden is how the house is situated — in the middle of all this verdant life. “Each garden can seem like a child, with its own particular virtues and quirkiness. We like the variety through all four seasons — flowers in spring, vegetable garden in summer, pond area and grasses in fall, different woodland gardens in winter. We also like the paths through the lower woods and views across our neighbors’ landscapes,” Fox said.

The couple frequently visited Vashon before they left Seattle to move here — a move prompted by Fox’s love of horses. “We had been coming over for years because my horse trainer lived here, then my horse. The thing that has made the difference is this out-of-body experience of becoming a gardener.”

Fox adds that Brown masterminds projects involving hardscaping and heavy equipment. They have added a small patio, pond, gate and fence (an intricate system to conceal his car collection). “He’s the master thinker on that sort of project,” Fox added. “I love rocks and have old Island rocks in my ‘turn around’ garden for texture and punctuation with sword ferns.”

Her advice for other novice gardeners? “The first thing is to hang out with local gardeners and go to local nurseries to find out what grows best here; talk to Master Gardeners. I like the plants that thrive here. This is a great place to start.”

— Janice Randall is Vashon Allied Art’s director of communications and performing arts


Vashon Allied Arts will host the 21st Annual Vashon Island Garden Tour from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, June 25, and Sunday, June 26. The Garden Tour offers the beauty, simplicity and grandeur of Island gardens, as well as seminars, live music, garden art and more.

This year, six diverse gardens will offer a rich array of beauty and inspiration: Take in the fragrance and color of 1,000 lavender plants or the textured nuance of an Asian-inspired shade garden; experience a Maury Island spread with 15 planting areas, from a sunny perennial bed to a cool woodland walk; breathe in the sweet scents of an elegant 70-bush rose garden; step back in time and stroll the mixed-shrub and flower borders, vegetable and berry gardens of an 1890s homestead; relax under tall firs in a cheerful Northwest shady rock garden punctuated with eclectic and colorful accents.

The Sunset Garden Gala, slated for 6 p.m. until sunset on Friday, includes dinner catered by The Hardware Store Restaurant, summer cocktails and live entertainment set in a private garden with serene pastoral views. Tickets are $125 per person. Call 463-5131 to reserve.

Tour tickets, $25, are valid both days and are only $20 until May 31. Group rates are available.

The tour tickets include admission to daily seminars. Jonathan Morse, celebrated garden designer and horticulturalist, will present a seminar called “Creating Space in the Garden: Design Techniques with Hardscape and Flora” at Blue Heron Art Center at 11 a.m. to noon, Saturday and Sunday. Cheryl Prescott, a consulting rosarian and master gardener, will offer up her rose-care seminar, “For the Love of the Rose,” at the Farner Garden, 1 to 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

There will also be a new event at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday, when Elizabeth Murray, best-selling author of “Monet’s Passion: Ideas, Inspiration and Insights from the Painter’s Gardens,” will discuss Monet’s color theories, design elements and use of light and shade. She will also talk about the development and maintenance of Monet’s estate. Book-signing, French wine and cheese tasting included. Tickets for this event are $45, which includes the two-day tour, or $30 for the event only.

Tour tickets will soon be available at Blue Heron Art Center, Heron’s Nest, Kathy’s Corner and Dig Floral & Garden or at

To complement the tour, through June the Blue Heron Gallery will showcase works of eight Island artists in The Barn Show — Art Hansen, Pam Ingalls, Karen Hersh-Crozier, Mary Liz Austin, Terry Donnelly, Kathleen Webster, Marilyn Blitz and David Erue.

For more information about Garden Tour 2011, call 463-5131 or visit

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