Other garden tours may have acres of landscaping or century-old homes, but the University Place garden tour this weekend offers something different: innovative gardens, courtyards and entryways making the most of small spaces and slopes, with mid-century architecture. On the tour for the first time ever is the historic Curran House, designed by architect Robert Price in 1955 with ongoing restoration funded by the garden tour itself.
“This year’s gardens are all new, they’ve never been shown before,” says organizer Karen Benveniste, co-president of the University Place Historical Society, which runs the tour as a fundraiser. “We’re especially excited about the Curran House.”
Built by Charles and Mary Curran and situated inside the historic Curran Apple Orchard park, the house — once slated for demolition — has been undergoing restoration for the last few years, including a new roof and deck. But the proceeds from last year’s tour paid for new paint on the exterior, bringing back the original distinctive 1950s shades of charcoal gray with orange doors and gold accents, plus the restoration of Price’s signature geometric stained glass.
Even better, says Benveniste, the painter then asked to rent the house, and is now living in it while working on the interior. He’s beginning with the kitchen, restoring it to the original palette of avocado and gold. Eventually, the society’s goal is to open the house as a museum, but for now it’s a part of the garden tour.
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Other gardens on the tour include three along Soundview Drive West, two of them right next door to each other. The Mazzuca garden is a 1950 brick rambler that the current owners have transformed to create outdoor “rooms” around a courtyard.
“It has a very indoor-outdoor flow,” Benveniste says. “Wherever you are inside you can see to the garden.”
Next door, the Wagoner-Heilman garden is a great example of what to do with big problem plants. Having taken out an overgrown photinia hedge, the owners built a decorative cedar fence in its place, and behind that a Zen garden, complete with raked sand and waterfall. Elsewhere are mature rhododendrons, hostas and blueberries, with fir trees pruned in Japanese aesthetic and blown glass sculpture throughout.
Then there’s the Boiter garden, another landscape transformed from neglected overgrowth and replanted with many salvaged Northwest natives. The Findlay garden on Grandview Drive, meanwhile, is a beautiful example of how to deal with the kind of slopes many UP gardeners face, utilizing terraces and gravel mulch.
The two remaining gardens are bigger, belonging to a former and a current UP councilmember: one an English-style garden with sculptures, the other a forest garden with a fernery, stumpery and rock cairn garden, making the most of something the area “has a wealth of,” as Benviste points out.
Ticket purchasers get a brochure map and entry to gardens both Saturday and Sunday. Visit them in any order. Children are welcome with parents, but not dogs; and the gardens are not walker- or wheelchair-accessible. Photography is allowed. There’s also a drawing for two art prizes.
For Benveniste, the beauty of the University Place garden tour is in the intimate size, showing just what good design can do in small spaces.
“On other tours, like on Vashon Island, you’ll find gardens that are two or three acres,” she says. “Ours in University Place are tighter gardens, but with great interest.”