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Langley couple’s property blends Northwest, Asia into landscape

Tom and Sharon Vos share a rare moment of relaxation on their backyard patio that overlooks Saratoga Passage. The Vos’ Langley property is one of four residential gardens featured this year on the Whidbey Island Garden Tour, which takes place June 22.  - Ron Newberry/Whidbey News-Times
Tom and Sharon Vos share a rare moment of relaxation on their backyard patio that overlooks Saratoga Passage. The Vos’ Langley property is one of four residential gardens featured this year on the Whidbey Island Garden Tour, which takes place June 22.
— image credit: Ron Newberry/Whidbey News-Times

As the sun peeked over a tree line of evergreen firs, Tom and Sharon Vos relaxed in two teak chairs on their back patio.

When there are no clouds in the sky, Mount Baker can be seen poking its top to the east. But on this day, even though the mountain was covered, the moment couldn’t have been more serene with waves of pink peonies in bloom, lace-leaf maples showing their brilliant green and a nearby waterfall crashing on to stone.

Tom and Sharon Vos built this paradise but have found that it’s a rare occasion when they can actually stop and enjoy it.

“We don’t spend a lot of time sitting,” Tom said.

Tending one of Whidbey Island’s showcase gardens leaves little room for idle time.

For Sharon, who’s a painter, their Langley property just shy of 3 acres started as a blank canvas about eight years ago. But through some masterful strokes, and some great attention to detail, the Voses have created a work that is both beautiful and inspiring.

The Vos’ property was selected as one of four residential gardens that will be part of the Whidbey Island Garden Tour Saturday.

The tour is one of two separately-run garden tours happening on Whidbey Island over the next two Saturdays. The Garden Tour and Tea, sponsored by the Oak Harbor Garden Club, is set for June 29.

Each is a self-guided tour that requires ticket purchases to gain access to the designated properties.

The Whidbey Island Garden Tour is in its 18th year. It is run by volunteers and is part of a nonprofit group formed in 1996. The group provides funding to local groups that work to improve the island’s habitat.

When you visit the property of Sharon and Tom Vos, it would be easy to believe that you were on a tour of spectacular homes, not just magnificent gardens.

The house is built around an atrium that includes a cascading waterfall.

Sharon and Tom designed the home themselves and had it built in 2003 after moving to Whidbey Island from Michigan.

They had designed their own homes before. Tom is a retired engineer who was once director of safety system technology at automotive supplier TRW.

Inspired during business trips to Asia, he decided to incorporate some of the architecture and garden features he saw into their new home and landscape.

The Vos’ Langley property features a large pergola near the entryway, trellises, art pieces and a pond. There are a least 20 Japanese maples and nearly 40 rhododendrons on the gently sloped property.

You enter the property through an electronic gate covered in bamboo.

“I call it a Midwesterner’s concept of Northwest Asian fusion,” Tom said.

Sharon didn’t know what to call it when they started kicking up the dirt and planning their landscape eight years ago.

As an avid gardener, she wanted to live in a mild, moderate climate with ocean air. According to her Sunset Western Garden Book, Whidbey Island would be ideal.

“I wanted to live in Zone 5,” Sharon said. “But no one told us about hard pan.

“It really is cement. Michigan is glacier-formed, too. But this is completely different.”

She and her husband of 48 years dug in, starting with a blank canvas, and have painted a masterpiece.

They amended the soils, brought in the stone for hardscaping, then scoured local nurseries for native plants and others that appealed to their senses.

They continue to tinker. It’s hard to sit still.

“I am a painter,” Sharon said. “I work on a lot of the same principles. You have a palette of a lot of plants. Here you have a composition. There’s really not a lot of difference in how you do a painting.”

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