Garden tour boasts beachy blooms

Master gardeners Pam Prior, left, and Debbie Skinner sit in Skinner’s vegetable garden off Beeksma Drive. The garden produces everything from garlic and sugar peas to tomatoes, olives, limes and cucumbers. - Katie McVicker/Whidbey News-Times
Master gardeners Pam Prior, left, and Debbie Skinner sit in Skinner’s vegetable garden off Beeksma Drive. The garden produces everything from garlic and sugar peas to tomatoes, olives, limes and cucumbers.
— image credit: Katie McVicker/Whidbey News-Times

Debbie and Chris Skinners’ home on the corner of Beeksma Drive is probably familiar to every Oak Harbor beach enthusiast. Located just off the water next to Windjammer Park, the house serves as a landmark to those who frequent the wetland trail and those who regularly camp out in the grass on sunny days.

But its not just its coveted location that makes the Skinners’ house noteworthy. Those who know the Skinners and who have had the pleasure of wandering along their flagstone patio know the beauty of the house stems from the garden that surrounds it on all sides. The garden not only showcases a variety of purple and pink blooms, but it holds within its vines a tribute to some of Whidbey’s most cherished people, treasures and stories.

The Skinners’ home and the Heron Bay Cottage just behind are the fifth stop on the Oak Harbor Garden Club’s 13th annual Summer Garden Tour and Tea. The cottage was built a few years ago after a 1940s home on the lot was determined to be too damaged to salvage. As the old structure was torn down and the cottage was constructed, Debbie Skinner and a team of friends began designing a new landscape as well.

The once barren wasteland now houses a sea of color. Spanish lavender engulfs the sideyard, an avenue of birch trees line the driveway and the walk is covered with lush pink-red thyme. Rustic lobster traps and driftwood art peak out from the flower beds and each has a unique story.

“Things show up on our beach all the time, so I find a place to plunk them down in the yard,” Debbie Skinner said.

Skinner landscaped the yard with the help of friends Pam Prior, Mike Baker and Donnabelle Winsten. She said the majority of the plants on the lot are local. She gets many of her shrubs from island nurseries and has trees from the original Zylstra Farm. Before the Skinners moved into their house, it was owned by Debbie’s parents and she said her father planted hundreds of bulbs on the property that still bloom after 20 years.

Prior, who used to have a nursery of her own, said she’s amazed at how the diverse group of plants thrive on Skinner’s temperamental salty, beachy land. The yard is divided into different areas and include a memorial garden, vegetable garden, English garden and Arizona-style garden. Skinner even has a potted pineapple growing upon one of her outdoor dining sets.

“The fact that there’s a tropical tree growing next to a rhododendron bush on a beach is just incredible,” Skinner said.

Prior said Skinner’s yard is made up of many micro-climates which allow the different types of plants to grow. While the front yard remains windy and cool, sections of the backyard are more sheltered and get up to 15 degrees warmer on a regular basis creating a climate in which vegetables can thrive.

Skinner pointed out what she calls her “Jack and the Bean Stalk” tropical Paulownia tree before showcasing bountiful roses, a soon-to-be pumpkin patch and sugar peas nearly four feet high.

“We didn’t even think some of these plants would make it through last summer,” Prior said, “and now they’re taking over.”

Skinner used every opportunity she had to incorporate pieces of history into the landscape. The fence that surrounds the vegetable garden was made from the floor boards of a Coupeville home and dates back 100 years. The glass artwork attached to her English Folly house is made of her grandmother’s antique plates.

Skinner said she and her partners battle sand and wind all the time while working, but their final products always seem worth the effort.

“The grounds are supposed to be low maintenance, and we’re getting there,” Skinner said.

The public is invited to check out the Skinners’ garden on Saturday, July 9, during the Garden Tour and Tea. This year, the tour is being held about three weeks after its traditional date to ensure the plants are robust after an unusually wet and cold spring.

“Last year blooming didn’t happen until two to three weeks after the tour,” event co-chair Nora O’Connell Balda said.

The tour

The tour is made up of six gardens and a sandwich and tea will be set up at the Skinners’. Visitors may drive to the gardens in any order and are encouraged to wear comfortable shoes and to carpool. Tickets to the event are $15 for adults and proceeds benefit the garden club’s civic improvement projects. Tickets are available at The Greenhouse Florist and Nursery, Maillard’s Landing Nursery, Skagit Farmers Supply and Country Store, Hummingbird Farm Nursery and Gardens, Bayleaf in Oak Harbor and Coupeville and the chamber offices in Oak Harbor and Coupeville. Each ticket includes a description of the gardens and driving directions to each. For more information call 720-2562 or email The tour will last from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.



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