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Beautiful Garden Packed with Color and Texture

By: Sherri RibbeySherri Ribbey
Tour the property of this Washington gardener who has mastered the art of combining plant color and texture to create a beautiful garden tapestry.

Front yard views full of texture and color

Camille and Dirk Paulsen bought their Washington home 12 years ago and transformed a yard with basic landscaping into a garden filled with color, texture and lots of views — along with plenty of seating areas to enjoy them from! One of the things that attracted the Paulsens to this property was all of the mature conifers and Japanese maples. Camille loves the stately trees and found that they were a big help as she started adding borders — things didn’t look quite so new and bare with a mature tree or two as part of the planting. As she designs, she thinks of the garden beds like tapestries, and plants in layers: Trees, shrubs, perennials and ground covers weave together as they grow to mimic the natural landscape. The garden has evolved in stages over the years and now surrounds the entire house. You can follow Camille on Instagram to see more of this beautiful garden throughout the year.

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Camille Paulsen Patio Zoom: Surrounded by trees, shrubs and perennials growing on a berm, this sheltered patio doesn’t feel like it’s near the street.

A place for conversation

Several years ago the couple was disappointed when they lost a large Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) next to the driveway above. They missed the privacy it provided and the shade it offered from the afternoon sun in this northwest-facing front yard. They could have just planted another tree and called it good, but Camille saw an opportunity to create a garden that was uniquely hers and make more use of this part of the yard. So they converted the space to a patio with a garden.

The 16-foot-wide circular patio above sits just behind the planting next to the driveway. It’s large enough for small gatherings and the perfect size for conversation (especially when the topic is gardening.) And the pergola provides height and helps define the seating space.

Add privacy

To get more privacy and a sense of shelter for this front yard patio, Camille decided to surround it with a berm up to 3 feet tall at some points. As the crew dug up the space for the patio, they piled the turf and excess soil up on the street side to create the mound. That minimized the amount of extra soil that needed to be brought in.

Camille Paulsen front garden with plant labels: Keep the garden interesting all year with ‘Pendula Bruns’ weeping Serbian spruce, ‘Blue Surprise’ Lawson’s false cypress (Chamaecyparis lawsoniana), Spanish dagger and agave provide great contrasts in shape, color and texture with just foliage. There’s always something beautiful to enjoy in this highly visible spot next to the driveway.

Garden changes

Once the patio and the berm (which is 15 feet deep at its widest point) were built, it was time to think about what to plant. Slow-growing dwarf conifers that can take 10 years to reach their mature height of 5 to 6 feet tall were at the top of Camille’s plant list for this newly sunny area. Camille found the weeping Serbian spruce (Picea amorika) in the photo at the back of a local nursery. Although it had fallen over and was growing in an unusual way, the tree was strong and healthy so she bought it (and even got a discount!). Other sun plants, such as Spanish dagger, agave (Agave americana) and ‘All Gold’ juniper (Juniperus rigida subsp. conferta), complete the tapestry of color and texture and don’t mind the reflected heat from the driveway.

Paulsen water feature view from entry: The slope is smaller here and the stream narrower, so the water has a quiet, gentle flow that provides a peaceful mood for the entry garden.

Add a water feature to your garden

After getting the patio and surrounding garden complete, Camille and Dirk decided to add a dual-sided water feature near the front door. It’s built on a berm and has two waterfalls that flow in opposite directions from a central basin at the top. The photo above shows what you can see from the entry and the view below is from the patio.

Each side has its own look and sound even though there’s just one pump for this recirculating water feature. On the front door side the slope is smaller and the stream narrower, so the water has a quiet, gentle flow. The patio side below is steeper with a wider mouth so it has a more active flow. Camille and Dirk have found that they can move stones around to make adjustments to the sound if they want to.

Paulsen water feature view from patio: The slope is steeper and the stream is wider on the patio side so the stream has a more active flow that's easier to appreciate from a distance.

Fill a pond with fish

On this patio side of the waterfall, the stream flows into a 10- to 12-foot-wide pond with an irregular shape. It’s 4 feet deep with straight sides so predators can’t wade in to get the colorful koi living there and is deep enough the fish can get out of reach as well as beat the heat in summer.

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Stone Gabion pillars Camille Paulsen garden: Each gabion pillar is topped with a 12-inch square tile that holds a 20-inch container filled with annuals.

Impressive gabion pillars

These impressive gabion pillars flanking the path mark the transition from the front to the side of the house. Camille bought the 4-foot-tall heavy metal wire forms from a local nursery and filled them with stones gathered around the property. They’re 16 inches square at the base and taper to 12 inches at the top; large enough to attract attention but not so big that they loom over you as you walk by. The mix of stone shapes and colors is a great contrast to the surrounding garden.

After the gabions had been in place for a couple of years, they started to lean as the stones settled. So Camille disassembled both and had concrete bases poured. Once reassembled on their new sturdy bases, they’ve remained straight and stable ever since.

Ceramic bowl-shaped planters on top get a fresh look each year and provide long-lasting color to the entrance. Since this is a sheltered spot and the bowls are heavy, there’s no real worry of them being blown off in the wind.

Tori Gate and view of Mt. Rainier in WA: Dirk built the Torii gate of Alaskan yellow cedar, which is super resilient in all kinds of weather, and sealed with tinted timber oil.

Sophisticated side yard

As she designed the side yard, Camille incorporated elements inspired by time her family spent in Japan when she was a child. Under the shade of the existing quaking aspens(Populus tremuloides) and conifers, she planted foliage perennials to add color and texture, such as hakonechloa (Hakonechloa macra), ferns and hostas (Hosta spp. and hybrids). With the addition of a bench and the occasional ornament, this area has become a lush and relaxing place to sit or take a stroll.

Pass the gabions and round a bend in the path and you’ll come upon the Torii gate above. Traditionally, these gates were used to symbolize the transition between the mundane and the sacred. Here it simply marks your progress from the front to the backyard and frames a gorgeous view of Mt. Rainier. One year Camille’s garden was the last stop on a garden tour. The weary guests were making their way through the garden when they discovered the view above, which was perfect that day — with no clouds or haze to obscure it. Many of them commented on its beauty and were reinvigorated by this serendipitous and inspirational gift.

Camille Paulsen stone pathway: The irregular shapes came from one boulder that Camille picked out at a local stone company and had cut into 2-inch slices.

Design a garden path

Pass through the Torii gate, turn around and look back and you can enjoy this beautiful view. Moss-covered stones scattered throughout the garden next to the path give the garden a sense of age. But Camille didn’t have to wait for the moss to grow. She just asked a few neighbors if they’d be willing to sell the mossy stones in their yards. Their response was “Oh please, take them!” So she sent them a thank you note and an orchid instead.

At first Camille wanted to use mulch on this path because it’s so quiet to walk on. But to unify the garden, she chose stone instead. A combination of rectangular and irregular shapes gives this granite path a unique look and its simplicity fits well with the Japanese-inspired borders surrounding it.

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Camille Paulsen Garden structure & Japanese maple in a container: A Japanese maple and bamboo growing in containers next to the path on the way to the shade pavilion provide color and texture. They can stay in the pots for years with the occasional root pruning or division.

Backyard oasis full of color and texture

The backyard is for entertaining. The pool, plenty of seating and a view of the mountains and foothills make this a great place for hanging out with friends and family.

Beat the heat with a shade structure

The shade pavilion sits on the slope above the pool under the shade of a big Douglas fir. Even before it was built, Camille and Dirk used to drag their deck chairs to this spot because they liked the cool shade and nice breeze they could count on finding there. Eventually Dirk helped design this structure with a simple style and plenty of built-in seating. Keeping it open on three sides meant that they wouldn’t miss out on the breeze and could still enjoy the views. There’s also a ceiling fan for the days when the wind isn’t enough. The shade pavilion is a natural place to congregate during garden tours and has been the location of many parties with friends and family.

Camille Paulsen Greenhouse:Summer temperatures in the greenhouse can get extra hot even with the automatic windows open. Keeping the door open encourages air flow.

Greenhouse help

The greenhouse above is connected to the house, and Camille visits often in winter to enjoy the warmth and the plants when it’s cold and rainy in the garden.

A raised bed just outside the greenhouse has loads of tropicals, such as banana (Musa hybrid), mandevilla (Mandevilla hybrid) and hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis) in summer. They aren’t cold hardy in her zone 8 garden, but growing them right next to the greenhouse makes it easy to bring them in for winter. This space is jam-packed with plants then and has lights and a heater in case temperatures drop too low. This is also where Camille starts new dahlias (Dahlia hybrid) in early spring. The tubers need warm soil to take off, so she starts them in pots in March then puts the plants in the ground by May. If she starts them indoors like this, they flower sooner than if she sets the tubers directly in the ground.

Paulsen pond seating: Camille and Dirk don’t use chemicals in the water or clean out the leaves in fall, which has led to this pond becoming a haven for frogs.

Make space for a wildlife haven

At the back of the yard and down the slope, you’ll find the quiet seating area above along with a pond and another tranquil waterfall. The water feature was here when they bought the house, but Camille and Dirk cleaned it up and added some steps and a path for easier access. There aren’t any fish because of all the predators, such as raccoons, that frequently wander through. Tucked under the trees, this out-of-the way garden is a bit more casual, though Camille repeated Japanese maples and other plants here so it still feels connected to the yard above. Now this rustic hideaway has become one of the Paulsens’ favorite spots to sit, watch the wildlife that passes by (they even saw an elk recently!) and enjoy all the views.

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Published: Feb. 13, 2023
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