Walt and Jean Wasell purchased the property in 1985 and began plans for a beautiful garden in which they would place their home for maximum beauty and seclusion at the base of the nearby Olympic range. Walt was a born gardener and claimed he was given his first spade at age 3, after which he would work beside his mother, Amy, as she lovingly cared for her own garden spot on land near Keyport (Kitsap County) inherited from her Swedish immigrant parents, the Bostroms. Amy taught Walt not only a love for working in the soil nurturing plant material — but also an appreciation for all the beauties of Nature. When Walt sold the home property in 1991 it was the 100th year of his family’s ownership of the land, homesteaded in 1889.
The first things planted in the Dosewallips Valley garden was the cherry trees and oaks, carefully placed for shade and blooming beauty. They were planted in 1986, followed by the hundreds of rhododendron plants moved from the Poulsbo property that first fall season. These were initially planted in groupings that evolved over the years as ideas for placement changed with expansion of the gardens. There was a Guest Cabin to begin with, and the carefully planned water system was installed using a portion of the cabin for the large pressurized storage tanks. The well produces 96 gallons per minute year round, and Walt installed numerous outlets including a 12- spigot manifold behind the greenhouse.
As time went by, the gardens were developed as a collector’s specimen garden, Featuring a collection of trees and shrubbery all around the world. Included were Japanese maples, rhodies and azaleas, evergreen and specialty trees, and many exotic’species. Walt enjoyed interesting shapes and obtained a. number of weeping trees including a large French pussy willow that became of special interest to visitors who learned of its history as The Hidey-Hole Tree. A doe got into the garden one day by literally underneath the fence across the creek at one edge of the property, and she managed to hide for two days. it was later discovered that she hid out inside the umbrella-like pussy, willow tree, and was only found when she emerged suddenly as the John Deere mower got too close for comfort.
Walt planted every tree in the gardens, one by one, and knew each by its botanical and common names. He especially loved the Japanese maples, collecting more than 100 named varieties. But there were aiso the many trees and shrubs he collected for their colorful blooms, or other special characteristics such a the various paperbark trees including special birch and maple trees. Because the property sits squarely atop the Former riverbed of the Dosewallips River, the deposited soil consists of up to 14 ft. of wonderful silt loam soil without rocks or pebbles. You can put a shovel in anyplace with ease – something any gardener would value.
Walt opened the gardens to the public the year of Brinnon’s first Shrimp Fest celebration, encouraging folks to stroll around the various garden paths, to pause on one of the many benches placed for beauty and solitude, and for just listening to birdsong and enjoying the peace. People enjoyed taking tours of the place during which Walt would point out things perhaps not noticeable to the untrained eye: bark that peeled off in layers (paper-bark); flowers that would open each morning to the sunlight and slowly close back up for their overnight nap, mosses that grew flat as well as those that stood upright; seven different varieties of dogwoods – each with a flower slightly different in shape, color, size. Dawn redwood that now grows all over North America thanks to people who carefully gathered seed a last remaining stand of them in China. (This variety is the only deciduous redwood and drops its needles each Fall, like the larch.) Arctic willow that has a gray hue in cash small leaf, similar to those of an olive tree.
The different kinds of bamboo – green, black, white, yellow – these delineating not the leaf color, but the bamboo stalk itself. Ferns: maidenhair, deer, sword, ivy, and oh so many others. Rhododendrons carefully cross-hybridized to carry forward both the colors and fragrance of both “parents”. Nut trees with their fantastic shapes, like the Harry Lauder’s Walking-Stick veriety of contorted filbert (hazelnut). Trees that weep, trees that shape themselves perfectly, some with fluffy “skirts” that drape down to cover the tree’s roots and resemble a fringed hemline. Trees that grow right up out of the pond water and love it when their feet are wet, like the pond cypress. And others that cannot tolerate being submerged even for a day.
Japanese maples with little leaves shaped exactly like the fingers on one’s hand, with colors so lovely they make a person weep. Leaves with little ridges on the top-sides (like mini accordian folds), designed to catch every bit of moisture in the evening and morning dewdrops. Leaves with colored margins, such as the bi-color and tri-color beeches in several color varieties.
Trees whose bark is absolutely fascinating – like the paper birch which has become so riddled with small holes from the resident woodpeckers and flickers that you wonder if they might actually kill it – but they are still there the following year. When it peels off, the bark looks like you could use it to write on like parchment. Magnolia trees with blossoms as white as snow and huge like dinner plates; and others with delicate pink blooms much smaller in size. Crab apple blooms that absolutely cover the entire tree and draw hundreds upon hundreds of honey bees. A Japanese Snowdrop that puts on literally thousands of little white flowers, each with a wonderful fragrance that reminds one of freesias. Absolutely captivating!
Then there are the textures of all the trees. Tiny hummingbirds carefully fashion their nests so that the leaf above serves as an umbrella, diverting raindrops away on either side. Water lily flowers that move as the sunlight crosses over the sky above them, always slightly turning directly toward the sun. Night-blooming Jasmine with its almost overpoweringly sweet fragrance each evening, especially after a warm day.
Walt enjoyed collecting a wide range of ornamental grasses as well, including one called Fairy Wand that produces colorful bright fuchsia flowers lining a long, graceful stem. Many plants make excellent companions for one another in groupings to compliment their shape, growth habits and colors. Ground covers also provide softness and continuity, and compete with the hostas and other plants down in the Shade Garden near the back.
– Mrs. Jean Wasell