“Let us be grateful to people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.” - Marcel Proust
The ornamental gardens on the Coval estate are entirely the work of Barbara Coval. When Barbara and Myer purchased the property in 1981, the property was sprinkled with fruit and nut trees, most from David Alexander and a few more from the Starrs. The west two acres were an impenetrable bramble of blackberries and alder, but in time the overgrowth was cleared and the Streuobstwiese was expanded. Over a thirty-year period Barbara brought in specimen plants, trees and perennials, and established an impressive and beautiful garden of her vision and making.
The ornamental gardens are anchored by a remarkable array of mature native trees including Madrona, Big Leaf Maple, Mountain Ash, Fir, Holly, and Cottonwood. The west end of the property, a sloping hill side with a view to downtown Mercer Island, is left in its natural state as a buffer zone and is rich in native trees and groundcover that has remained unchanged for over 100 years. In addition to the native trees, the fruit and nut trees contribute to the structure of the landscape and help define distinct areas around the estate.
In the early 1980’s Barbara began immediately establishing broad strokes to develop the gardens. It began with fifty beautiful rhododendrons planted along the east and south borders to screen the estate from the road, and to the north, Redwood, Deodar Cedar and Fir were established to provide privacy from surrounding houses. Often friends would bring trees and plants to the estate as gifts; the Fir tree in the North screen was a prize given to one of the Coval sons for winning a track meet event. Many of the trees began as seeds brought back from various travels, some from Barbara’s native Germany. Her childhood memories of life in rural Germany included a fondness for Beech, Maple and Linde Baum, examples of which now thrive in the gardens.
As was typical of the Coval House construction, ideas did not begin with drawings. Instead, Barbara would arrive home with plants and the pots would move about the property until they found a home. More like a sculptor, it was both an additive process and a subtractive process; after a period of time she would determine the plant or tree was not placed in the ideal location for a reason she could not articulate, and it would be moved. Michael Mey, her trusted assistant in the garden, would dutifully excavate, wrap and relocate the impressive root-balls, rarely protesting before the fourth or fifth move. It became a regular and expected yearly ritual for Michael, continually moving trees and plants until they would finally fit into the beautiful composition that Barbara envisioned.
After the Koi Pond and Pool Room were built, Barbara determined that a few key focal points in the garden needed a mature specimen to help anchor the composition. She found David Ohashi Specimen Trees who provided a number of stunning trees to the estate, including 2 large pines, four Japanese maples, two Wisterias and one dogwood. All are now well established and thriving.
The Pool Room plantings are a playful departure from the outside gardens. Due to the stable warm environment, the micro ecosystem supports plants not possible to grow just feet away on the outside of the building. The tropical environment includes an Orchid Tree that Barbara began with seeds she brought from South Africa, Bougainvillea, Banana, Meyer Lemon, Lime, Strelitzia and more. Deep planters surrounding the pool hold the perfect soil to accommodate these tropical specimens, which are thriving in this carefully sustained indoor environment.
One of the most beautiful qualities of the Ornamental Gardens is the visual integration of outside spaces with the indoor spaces of the Coval House. Window glazing is extensive in the home, and not one curtain or shade exists over the carefully considered placement of windows. Instead privacy is established out in the gardens either by screening along property boundaries or obscuring sightlines that make looking into the home difficult, while at the same time allowing breathtaking views from within. Each window becomes a living painting, beckoning a connection to nature and the flow of time as the seasons come and go in all their glory.
A more extensive list of the plants and trees in both the Ornamental Gardens and the Pool Room can be viewed under “Resources/Specifications”.