Oak Harbor Garden Tour to showcase a Whidbey Island couple’s ‘retirement garden’

Laura Medbury kills house plants.

Looking at her lush and expansive North Whidbey garden, no one would ever guess this, however.

Medbury’s garden is featured this year in the 20th annual Oak Harbor Garden Tour.

Medbury, with (some) help from her husband Bret Medbury, spent the last 14 years transforming most of their 2.5-acre property.

“I like playing in the dirt,” Laura Medbury said.

There have been some extensive changes since 2013, the last time Laura Medbury’s property was the featured garden on the tour.

From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, June 22, the Medburys’ labors will be on display along with five other local gardens. Tickets are $20, which goes toward the club and includes refreshments.

Cathy Horrobin, garden club publicity chairwoman, said each of the stops on this year’s tour will offer something unique.

“I feel that the community is fortunate to have the opportunity to see six wonderful gardens each with its individual character, beauty and homeowner’s story,” Horrobin said in an email. “With the diversity of each garden, you will feel their love of their natural surroundings and how they created their special retreat right in their own backyards.”

Laura Medbury said she hopes her stop on the tour will serve as resource for people who are wondering what grows well in the area. She tries to choose drought-resistant and evergreen plants, she also has an area dedicated to native species.

As an East Coast transplant, it wasn’t immediately obvious what would work in her new Whidbey playground.

“If I hadn’t joined the garden club, I wouldn’t know,” Laura Medbury said. “These ladies in the garden club, they helped me a lot,” she added. “It still does. We’re still learning.”

She also considers it a “retirement garden,” which means she wants it to be less maintenance than if it were full of flowers or tall shrubs. Ideally, nothing that needs to be trimmed will grow over five feet, which is how tall she is.

The result includes beds of dwarf rhododendrons, dwarf barberry, viburnums and native foxglove— which she makes a point to just let go. At the back of the house, there’s another bed of dahlias and vegetables.

Each bed is accented by creative combinations of thrift-shop finds and can be reached through wide, winding paths. It’s crucial the main grassy pathways be wide enough to fit the Medbury’s 1959 Chevy Apache pickup, which she uses to deposit mulch, she said.

Bret Medbury lends a hand by running the chainsaw and chipper and provides added strength when Laura Medbury needs help moving a large rock — however, she said she is more often than not able to move the large rocks by herself.

Otherwise, her husband is “not allowed” to help, she said.

In fact, she doesn’t let anyone help, which is part of the reason Laura Medbury was selected for the tour.

Her membership in the garden club and the fact she does all the work herself earned her the honor, Laura Medbury said she’d been told.

Though it’s supposed to be lower maintenance for her retirement, she can easily spend eight hours a day outside working. However, she avoids doing that every day because otherwise she’d completely lack a social life, she said.

But with the upcoming tour, there’s been extra work for the couple.

“We haven’t sat down since March,” Bret Medbury said with a laugh.

The effort comes across as effortless at the Medburys’ when looking at the garden. The art, sculptures, paths and plants all work seamlessly together and flow naturally to the forest at the back of the property, where the Medburys allow nature to do its thing.

Whatever mistakes she’s apparently making with growing plants inside, clearly aren’t a factor when she steps out the door.

“I don’t kill the plants outside,” she said.

n Tickets for the Oak Harbor Garden Tour may be purchased for a $20 donation at the Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce, Christianson’s Nursery & Greenhouse, The Greenhouse Florist & Nursery, Mailliard’s Landing Nursery, Rain Shadow Nursery, 3 Sisters Market, Wind & Tide Bookshop and Azusa Farm & Gardens.

The Medburys’ garden is accented with statues, glass art and thrift shop finds.

The Medburys’ garden is accented with statues, glass art and thrift shop finds.