Visible from their home today is a veritable United Nations of flora, with Chinese beesia and Japanese maples sharing space with Pacific Coast redwoods and the pretty, pink-tinged blooms of Siskiyou pink gaura. The couple conservatively estimates that they have more than 2,000 different kinds of plants. And though they make space for familiar faces like sedum and phlox, their hearts belong to exotics.
“Natives are allowed to stay if they’re well-behaved and have ornamental interest,” Wakefield says with a smile.
One of their “signature plants,” he says, is the giant Himalayan lily, which, when planted from seed (purchased from Jelitto), spends the first six years of its life as a small, uninspiring little shoot. In June of its seventh year, though, the plant rockets skyward into an 11-foot-tall spire; puts forth a circle of glorious, white, trumpet-shaped blossoms with purple throats; and then promptly expires. In 2007, 19 of their Himalayan lilies bloomed at the same time, and Wakefield sounds almost giddy when describing the display.
Considering the patience required to raise such a specimen, it’s not surprising that Wakefield and Grossnickle have spent nearly two decades creating their estate-sized paradise, most of which is made up of wooded acres that connect with Forest Park. They tend to the entire property themselves, a task that demands roughly 20 hours a week, year-round, from each. Moreover, they do so without the aid of fertilizers, herbicides, or pesticides, and they mulch and weed and water by hand. After all, they’re not interested in poisoning their own well water, from which they drink. Besides, Grossnickle maintains, chemicals aren’t needed if you plant your garden correctly.
“If you establish a balance in your garden, the bugs and the birds and the critters sort of duke it out,” he says.
So the only thing that really threatens their Edenic real estate is the possibility of human encroachment. Since it lies just a mile outside the city’s urban growth boundary, in a region where developable land is valued at hundreds of thousands of dollars an acre, Wakefield and Grossnickle are working to get legislation passed that would designate the area where they live, between Forest Park and Washington County, a rural reserve. They also make sure to keep most of their property sufficiently wooded and wild, and no doubt the deer, the elk, the eagles, and the coyotes—all of which have made visits—appreciate it.
And as for the landscaped part? That will keep evolving, the two agree. Grossnickle says that they’ve been gradually replacing some of the high-maintenance perennials with shrubs and small trees.
“We’ve been gardening here for 16 years,” Wakefield says, “so the next 16 years will be spent educating ourselves on how to have a great garden and spend less time maintaining it.”
Of course, one option would be to let the garden go wild. But it’s doubtful these avid collectors will go that route; there are too many distant landscapes—and exotic lilies, flaxes and euphorbias—to enjoy in their own backyard.