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Magical makeover; Oak Harbor couple turns hazard into gently sloping place to relax

Laura and Bret Medbury stand on their 2.5-acre North Whidbey property that will be featured on the Garden Tour and Tea on Saturday, June 29. Laura used a pickaxe and shovel to create a pebble path in an area that used to be a hazard while aboard a riding lawnmower. - Ron Newberry / Whidbey News-Times
Laura and Bret Medbury stand on their 2.5-acre North Whidbey property that will be featured on the Garden Tour and Tea on Saturday, June 29. Laura used a pickaxe and shovel to create a pebble path in an area that used to be a hazard while aboard a riding lawnmower.
— image credit: Ron Newberry / Whidbey News-Times

It wasn’t just her love for gardening that immersed Laura Medbury into a project that transformed a bare landscape into a work of beauty.

It was her fear of tumbling downhill.

The showcase of Bret and Laura Medbury’s backyard garden on their North Whidbey property is a white arbor wrapped in honeysuckle vines that invites one to walk down a pebble path surrounded by lush green shrubs and perennials into a lower portion of the yard.

It wasn’t long ago that this section was nothing more than a grassy slope of doom for Laura Medbury. That is, until she grabbed a pickaxe and shovel and carved new life into the landscape.

“I’d never been on a riding lawnmower before I moved here,” said Laura, who came to Oak Harbor from Vernon, Conn. “Where that white arbor is, it was just a hill and I was so afraid I was going to fall. I said, ‘I’m not doing this anymore.’”

The Medburys’ garden is one of six private residences on Whidbey Island featured in the Garden Tour & Tea Saturday, June 29. The 15th annual event is a major fundraiser for the Oak Harbor Garden Club.

Tickets for the self-guided tour are $15 and may be purchased at the Oak Harbor and Coupeville chambers of commerce, Greenhouse Nursery, Hummingbird Nursery, Mailliard’s Landing Nursery, the Purple Bench, Bayleaf stores in Oak Harbor and Coupeville and the Wind and Tide Bookshop in Oak Harbor.

The Medburys’ place is what one might call an extreme makeover.

After the couple got married and Laura joined her husband in Oak Harbor in 2005, ideas started dancing in her head about what to do with the 2.5 acres of property.

Newly retired with a love for gardening, she had the time and desire to spruce up a rather mundane landscape but lacked some local knowledge. She joined the Oak Harbor Garden Club, which has been around for 90 years.

“Educationally, you can’t beat it,” Laura said. “When you spend 50 years gardening on the East Coast you can’t come to the Pacific Northwest and understand. It’s totally different.”

After four years of yanking weeds and cleaning up the yard, she dug in and transformed the landscape. She widened the garden beds, carved a gently sloping walking path, added detailed garden art and planted Northwest-friendly trees, shrubs, flowers and ground cover that blended into the woodland landscape.

“She did it all by hand,” Bret said.

Bret joined in and got out the chainsaw to carve art into the top of stumps. Together, they also used cement blocks to create a lower area of their garden with a fire pit serving as a centerpiece. That is where they escape to relax.

“That’s the only place we used big machinery,” said Bret, adding that they borrowed a neighbor’s tractor.

The riding lawnmower experience was traumatic enough for Laura. Bret even added chains to the mower’s tires for better traction so she’d  keep from slipping near the hills.

Laura remembers it as a frightening experience and is glad those days are over so she can now focus on maintenance and adding gardening touches.

Those touches ultimately caught the eye of the Oak Harbor Garden Club’s Dellann Blackstock, who roams north and central Whidbey Island each year looking for residential gardens to feature on the annual tour. If she sees a garden she likes, she knocks on the door and inquires.

She looks for variety, and believes the 2013 tour captures that.

“There is one by the beach,” Blackstock said. “There’s one with a vegetable garden, one with a water feature. I look for a lot of things so we can satisfy everyone’s desires.”

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