A European country garden on a Seattle city lot (and a half)

CARLO AND Lalie Scandiuzzi have renovated their garden and 1947 stucco home in Madison Park several times over the more than two decades they’ve lived there. A 1995 kitchen addition wings out to create a sheltered courtyard that catches the morning sunshine. Fragrant Daphne odora ‘Marginata’ makes sitting outside and sipping coffee on a warm spring morning pure heaven.

The couple hired landscape architect Keith Geller in 2000 to create more such sublime scenes and vignettes in their garden. He designed a major renovation, front and back, and has been tweaking the garden ever since. “I pretty much did everything but the fig tree,” says Keller of the big, old fig that overhangs the back patio to create a shady canopy for the outdoor dining table.

The hardscaping was mostly in place; Geller was tasked with designing the softscaping. Lalie and Carlo, who is executive director of ACT Theatre, use the garden for entertaining and to host events. Space for outdoor dining, pathways for strolling, and fragrant plants were high on the agenda.

“The garden is part of the house; we live out here. We remodeled the house so we could best see and interact with the garden,” says Lalie.

The property is a lot-and-a-half settled comfortably into a hillside. Keller gave the front garden a pastoral meadow feel with grasses and shrubs cascading down the slope. He softened the stair railing with a climbing hydrangea and added punctuation points of Italian cypress to reflect the style of the home.

Being an experienced gardener, Lalie asked not only for beauty but also for low maintenance. Keller obliged by planting evergreens such as boxwood and pittosporum. He chose mostly drought-tolerant plants, and massed them for effect and easier care. Lalie and Carlo both grew up in Geneva; Carlo is Italian, and the cypress are a nod to his ancestry. Lalie spent her youth in the country, and she loves how the informality of the front garden and the plants arranged like an Impressionist painting remind her of her childhood landscape.

“It’s not a Northwest garden,” says Geller, who designed the plantings to go with the home’s architecture. He plays around with rounded clumps and masses of rockroses and small evergreens for texture and flow through the gardens, and ornamental grasses for softness. He’s planted plenty of scented flowers, including lavender, daphnes and an oleander that has made it through the winters in its sheltered spot near the back deck. Geller also planted a lot of Lalie’s favorite chartreuse foliage, and blue, white and orange flowers, including crocosmia, iris, hellebores and agapanthus. Rhododendrons, boxwood and beautyberries lend structure and bloom through the seasons.

Masses of willowy white Japanese anemones light up the far reaches of the garden. When the couple and their guests sit outdoors around a fire late into the evening, the anemones glow in the reflection of the moon, and seem to dance along the back fence.

“I love how Keith brings mystery and intrigue into the garden,” says Lalie. Geller added boulders with curved paths around them and planted shrubs so you can’t see the entire garden at once. Flowery vignettes draw guests along the pathways for a closer look.

The creative dialogue between Lalie and Geller has been going on for 14 years now. Here’s how Lalie describes their creative collaboration: “I have a vision. Keith and I discuss it, and Keith sees what I mean. With his mastery of plants and architecture, he makes it come alive. And then we play around with it.”

Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer. Check out her blog at www.valeaston.com. Mike Siegel is a Seattle Times staff photographer.