A Windermere Garden

Designed for art-loving clients with young children, this landscape in Seattle’s Windermere neighborhood features a broad lawn overlooking Lake Washington and the Cascade Mountains, surrounded by colorful perennial borders.  After demolishing a covered swimming pool, the site was filled several feet, minimizing the number of steps down from the main floor to the garden level.  A custom, linear fire feature graces a bluestone terrace outside the living room, overlooking the lawn.  To the right of the fire feature, a custom children’s play area was installed over an artificial-turf safety zone.  To the left, the roof of the pool equipment room was re-purposed as an outdoor dining terrace and a sculpture garden featuring three totem poles by acclaimed Seattle artist, Steve Jensen.

In the front, a new auto-court of pre-cast permeable pavers was installed, and a curving bluestone walk leads through a circular lawn to the front door.  Care was taken to preserve several towering conifers and a number of large rhododendrons were moved to flank the new driveway.  Low, shade-tolerant plantings border the lawn, welcoming the owners and visitors alike.

Photos by Ben Benschneider and Brooks Kolb 

Ensure Backyard Safety With These Tips

by Carrie Spencer for Seattle Landscape Architect Brooks Kolb

When warmer weather starts to arrive, many of us look forward to recreation and relaxation in our yards. Backyards, patios, and play areas all offer opportunities to connect with nature and expand our homes outdoors. When preparing for the warmer weather, Good Housekeeping Magazine notes that spring cleanup is often aimed primarily at improving our yard’s appearance, but homeowners should also consider safety as the primary goal for outdoor preparation.

Begin with an assessment and make a plan

Although people like their property to be clean, orderly, and safe, many of us don’t enjoy the hard work involved. But there are ways to make the job less arduous. A well-defined plan will allow you to work top-down in a manner that ensures the cleanup is done quickly and efficiently.

When developing the plan, assess your outdoor areas. Pay attention to possible hazards for children, such as outdoor cooking areas, fire pits, or rough hardscaped areas. Identify high-traffic zones. These are areas where you want to ensure paths are safe and secure. Patios and brick walkways can develop loose stones, which can cause accidents. Deck and patio steps are other areas that should be inspected and repaired if necessary. Once fixed, walkways, decks, patios, and exterior surfaces should be cleaned each spring.

Perhaps this is the year you’re finally able to install a fence. Not only can a fence provide additional protection for small children and pets, but it can also help boost the value of your home. When it’s time to take the plunge, look for reputable fencing companies that garner high praise from customers. Do your research so you have an idea of the materials you want to use, whether it’s wood, aluminum, or vinyl. If you’re not sure, your contractor can help you choose.

Cleaning and repairs

Wood and stone accumulate mildew, moss, and algae over colder months. This can make surfaces slick and unsafe and degrade their quality. Pressure washing is one of the best ways to clean your exterior surfaces, patios, and walkways to make them safer. The process, however, can damage surrounding flower beds and plants, so you’ll want to be careful.

Another outdoor job that you can complete is repairing window screens to prevent insects from getting into your home. Keep a look out for ponding or standing water – not only can it lead to leaks through the house foundation, but it can a breeding ground for mosquitoes, not to mention drowning your plants.

Landscape for looks and safety

After you address outdoor cleaning issues, you can focus on landscaping. Although ornamental trees and plants create beautiful visuals for your home, they also present dangers. Avoid letting trees and shrubs grow closer than two feet from exterior walls. Check any trees to see if branches are overhanging the roof or utility wires: wind-blown falling limbs can be a significant problem. Contact a certified arborist to analyze your trees and make recommendations for branch removal and any other pruning involving tall heights or power lines.

On the other hand, pruning small trees and large shrubs is an easy DIY job. When pruning, consider visibility. If your children are going to be spending a lot of time playing outside, it’s a good idea to make sure that you can see them. Trimming trees can increase this visibility. However, it’s important to practice good safety to avoid any injuries. Also, make sure you know what you’re doing when you begin pruning – there are proper pruning techniques, and you don’t want to end up with something that becomes the eyesore of your neighborhood (PlantAmnesty has some excellent pruning examples, tutorials and workshops).

The great thing about improving your landscaping and curb appeal is that it’s a win-win. Not only does it make your garden safe for kids and pets, but it can up your appraisal value as well. This makes any improvements a smart investment on both fronts. You can ascertain your property’s value increase by Googling “value my house” before and after your upgrades to see just how much.

Preparing for spring and summer requires a combination of cleaning and planning for safety. If you do this work annually and set family safety policies, you will ensure that your landscape is safe and ready for warm weather enjoyment.

Photo Credit: Pexels

Carrie Spencer can be reached at carrie@thespencersadventures.net.

Restoring a Salmon Stream

For a client with a wooded, shoreline property in the village of Holly on Hood Canal, Seattle Landscape Architect Brooks Kolb generated a landscape master plan that included restoring a salmon stream.  While salmon had been entering the creek for several years on their journey to spawn, they were blocked by a culvert under a highway that had filled with sediment.  After Brooks’ client convinced Kitsap County officials to remove the debris, the stream still needed to be dredged and reshaped.  Brooks reached out to Tom and Kathy Smayda of Smayda Environmental Restoration (SMAYDA ENVIRONMENTAL ASSOCIATES, INC) for assistance with the hydraulic engineering and vegetation restoration.  Tom, a civil engineer, personally shaped the creek with his earthmoving equipment, while wetland biologist Kathy recommended a palette of native creekside plantings.  Brooks designed plantings along the creek banks and on the beach, where the goal was to anchor the sands to prevent littoral drift.  Then nature took over.  The stream realigned itself several times; native plants seeded themselves largely to replace the original nursery plants; and the salmon returned by the hundreds.  Originally installed in 2009 and 2010, the culvert has now been cleaned out several times and in this year’s 2021 fall run, three species of salmon were spotted in the creek, including Coho and Chum.

The salmon stream in October, 2017


25,000 Daffodils for Seattle’s Volunteer Park

In his role as chair of the landscape committee of the Volunteer Park Trust, Seattle landscape architect Brooks Kolb recently co-led a volunteer effort to plant 25,000 daffodil bulbs on the western slopes of Volunteer Park.  Installed on October 9 and October 23, 2021 in tribute to Volunteer Park Trust founding chairman, Doug Bayley, the yellow and white blooms will bring light and life next spring to a shady and under-used part of the park.  Brooks picked out five varieties of daffodils at Roozengaarde Bulbs in Mount Vernon Fresh Daffodils (tulips.com) for extended bloom period and varying heights.  The bulbs were planted by more than 100 volunteers at ten “stations” along the western path of the park between East Prospect Street and East Highland Drive.  Each station received drifts of two contrasting varieties, drawing one’s eye gradually to the next drift along the path.  The effect we were going for is a loose pattern that could be described as ‘studiedly random.’  We can’t wait to see how these hosts  of yellow flowers will lift the spirits of park visitors next spring!


Many thanks to the many friends of Doug Bayley who raised funds for the daffodil purchase and to Volunteer Park head gardener Jesse Bonn.  For more information about how the Volunteer Park Trust is working to preserve and enhance the jewel of Seattle’s system of Olmsted Parks and Boulevards, please visit Volunteer Park Trust – Preserving and enhancing Seattle’s Volunteer Park.


Brooks Kolb with Doug Bayley


Planting the Slopes on October 9, 2021

A Beginner’s Guide to Growing a Bountiful Garden

A Beginner’s Guide to Growing a Bountiful Garden

Photo via Pixabay

By Carrie Spencer for Seattle Landscape Architect Brooks Kolb

Want to start a garden? Planting a garden is a wonderful way to spend more time outside, enjoy some good exercise, and have access to healthful food right in your backyard. But if you’ve never grown a garden before, it can be difficult to know where to start. From choosing the right plants to keeping weeds and pests at bay, there are several tips and tricks that experienced gardeners use to ensure a bountiful harvest at the end of every growing season. Keep on reading to learn how you can earn your own green thumb!


Start with Raised Beds

As opposed to planting straight in the ground, gardening in raised beds is a lot more manageable for beginners. This is also a great way to optimize your use of garden space. According to Savvy Gardening, raised beds prevent soil compaction and provide good drainage, so your plants will be less susceptible to root suffocation and rot. Not only that, but raised beds may deter pests like slugs and snails, which can eat up your adorable sprouts before they even get a chance. Finally, raised beds offer a more ergonomic gardening option to reduce strain on your back and neck.

Know Your “Sunset” Zone

You might already have an idea of the kinds of vegetables you would like to grow in your garden, but don’t go buy seeds just yet!  It’s important to be aware of our growing season in the Pacific Northwest.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has developed a numbered system to divide the country into frost-hardiness zones based on climate, but Sunset Magazine offers a more finely-calibrated zone chart for our region.  Seattle, Mercer Island, Bellevue, and the Puget Sound lowlands are in Sunset Zone 5, whereas the Cascade foothills are in Zone 4.  Determine your zone and be sure to read your seed packet labels to check when it’s best to plant to ensure a good crop. Working with plants that will thrive in your climate zone will be much easier than fighting against an early frost or high summer temperatures.

Learn About Companion Planting

The easiest way to grow a garden is to let your garden take care of itself. Select plants that like to grow next to each other—they will provide a natural source of nutrients, shade, and pest-control. As The Old Farmer’s Almanac explains, three common plants to grow together are corn, pole beans, and squash. The squash provides ground cover to reduce moisture loss and weed growth, the corn provides climbing support for the beans, and the beans help make nitrogen available in the soil for the other plants. Some other great companion plant combinations include radishes and carrots, tomatoes and basil, and lettuce and garlic.

Fertilize Your Garden

Just like us, plants need food. Fertilizing your garden properly will play an important role in its success, so spend some time learning the ins and outs of fertilization. In short, you want to provide your plants with three primary elements—nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Providing these nutrients will help your garden flourish! However, you also have to be careful to avoid overfertilizing your plants, which can damage or even kill them. To find out exactly how much fertilizer to feed your garden, bring a sample of your soil to a testing lab and have it analyzed before amending it with any added nutrients.

Enjoy Your Harvest!

One of the largest benefits of growing your garden is having all of that veggie goodness right at your fingertips. To make the most of your backyard bounty, find recipes that showcase the flavors of your homegrown vegetables. For your tomatoes, consider an heirloom tomato seafood platter or make your own sauce. Whip up a homemade pesto with all of that beautiful basil or use it to add flavor to your weeknight dishes. The opportunities for healthful and delicious meals are truly endless!

Gardening might seem like a lot of work, but it’s a worthwhile hobby that just keeps on giving. Once you get started, you’ll quickly find that digging around in the dirt, pulling weeds, and watering your sprouts is an incredibly therapeutic activity. You’ll always be looking for new ways to expand your backyard plot, so get outside in the fresh air and get your garden started today!

Ask for Help

If you’re feeling overwhelmed and unsure of how to get started, consider working with a professional landscape architect to help you out. Brooks Kolb LLC can guide you through the process of designing the perfect garden. All key elements will be addressed, from construction materials to the plants you want to grow.

Seattle Landscape Architect Brooks Kolb can help you create the perfect garden that seamlessly blends form and function. Contact us at (206) 324-0858 for a free initial consultation!

 Garden writer Carrie Spencer can be reached at carrie@thespencersadventures.net.


Five Popular Outdoor Renovations That’ll Add Value to Your Seattle Area Home

By Evette Zalvino, Freelance Writer for HomeLight, for Seattle Landscape Architect Brooks Kolb

Top Agent Insights for Spring 2021: Seller’s Market Sizzles Across U.S. (homelight.com)

Renovating your backyard is a great way to prepare for a summer of entertainment, and these five renovations will add a lot of value to your Seattle home.

2020 was one heck of a year, wasn’t it? Now that 76% of Seattleites are fully vaccinated for COVID-19, it’s time to make plans to invite guests over for barbecues, parties, and a good ole’ game of volleyball (or whatever your family and friends like to play). It’s also the perfect time to give your backyard a complete overhaul and turn it into a fun and beautiful oasis that everyone will want to use and enjoy.

The question is, where do you even start; or if you’re looking to sell your home, which projects will add the most value to your home?  After gathering some insights from real estate agents and landscape architects in Seattle, these landscaping renovations are what many homeowners want the most:

1. Outdoor living space

Homeowners are treating their backyards as an extension of their homes, so it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that nearly every homeowner wants an outdoor living space. This renovation isn’t just popular in Seattle, 52.5% of surveyed real estate agents from all over the country report clients say this is on their “wants” list.

These outdoor spaces can be as elaborate as you’d like, but many people opt for a simple seating terrace, with a separate dining area. It’s important to note that these spaces are not just relegated to the backyard – you can create a beautiful (but private) front garden where you can relax and enjoy a cup of coffee.

2. Lawns for playing

If you have young children (or you’re a child at heart), having a luscious lawn that’s large enough for playing outside is important for at least 50% of residential landscape clients, and can go as high as 100% for people with young children). The best types of grass for the Seattle area include Fescue and Ryegrass. These varieties are extremely resilient and, the right soils, sun exposure, watering, and regular mowing program, can withstand rigorous game-playing.

Having a large grassy area for games doesn’t mean that the rest of the landscaping must be boring or drab. You can use hardscaping to create a path that separates the lawn from garden beds filled with your favorite perennials, annuals, and shrubs.

3. Outdoor grilling setup

You may have a charcoal grill that’s seen better days, so why not plan a renovation suited for the grill master that you are? An outdoor grilling station will give you a place where you can whip up delicious barbecue while entertaining your guests – after all, who wants to be left out of all the juicy gossip or life updates?

There are a variety of options when it comes to creating the ideal grilling station that suits your needs. Many if not most people prefer to keep it simple, locating their grills on the edge of a patio, against a wall.  However, you could consider erecting a pergola over your grill for rain protection, or you could install a built-in brick, wood or stone grilling station with a countertop for food preparation. There are a lot of possibilities to tailor the set-up for your particular needs.

4. Outdoor fire feature

While everyone calls them fire pits, “fire feature” is a more accurate term to describe all the various design options available to people who want to enjoy the heat and light that an outdoor fire can provide. Seattle landscape architect Brooks Kolb reports that at least 35% of his clients request a custom fire feature, while nationally 76.8% of real estate agents represent clients who either have or want fire pits. A fire feature is a great place to relax on the cooler nights while enjoying your garden or chatting with friends and family.

One affordable solution is to purchase a catalog-order fire table, which can double as an outdoor coffee table for your conversational setting, but if budget permits, custom-built fire features can incorporate masonry that matches or compliments your home’s architectural design.

5. Raised garden beds

There’s nothing like fresh herbs and vegetables to take your cooking up to a whole new level. However, bending over to tend to the plants or harvest them can be difficult for some homeowners. To remedy this or to provide an easy way to cut flowers for indoor bouquets, many people ask for raised garden beds to be a primary feature of their new landscape design.  Moreover, if your garden has heavy clay soils, raised beds are almost a necessity, as they facilitate bringing in a loamy topsoil.

Whether you want to spend more time in your garden, you’re looking forward to entertain guests outdoors, or you just want to boost your property value, these landscaping renovations are a great way to start. With a little bit of imagination and planning, your landscaping is sure to be the talk of the town!

If you’d like more specific suggestions or recommendations on all these garden design features, please contact Seattle landscape architect Brooks Kolb, at 206-342-0858.

Starting a Garden on a Budget Can Be the Best Retirement Activity

By Carrie Spencer, Garden Writer, for Seattle Landscape Architect Brooks Kolb



Seniors with an inordinate amount of free time after retirement are wise to spend it in productive and enriching pursuits. Undoubtedly high on the list of such worthwhile activities is gardening, as its well-known benefits are varied and plenty. Research shows that it’s a hobby that can help you live to be 100, as it offers you regular physical activity and copious amounts of outdoor time. Moreover, it’s wonderful for your mental and emotional well-being.

Your garden also has the potential to yield fresh food that can contribute to keeping your diet a healthy one. The best part is, it’s an activity that’s quite cost-effective and may even save you money in the long run. So, without further ado, let’s take a look at how you can start.

Do Your Research

No doubt, your road to a green thumb starts with due diligence since gardening has a great many nuances you’ll need to learn from the ground up (pun intended). These are largely reliant on where you are geographically speaking, what kind of garden you want to grow, and even how much time and effort you can put into it.

Luckily, there’s plenty of guidance — often for absolutely no cost — that you can find after a quick search online. For instance, if you live in a city, you may want to find out how you can grow a small garden despite space constraints, which, in turn, can give you that much-needed connection to nature. Or, if you’re looking to grow a vegetable patch, research will help you determine which vegetables are best in your area as this will ensure that you don’t waste money on the wrong seeds and time on the wrong methods.

Stock Up on Supplies

Of course, you’ll need to invest in the appropriate garden tools to help you with your initiative. This will run the gamut from trowels to shears, from gloves to wheelbarrows. It also goes without saying that you’ll need to know how each one is used in your gardening efforts.

Now, you can easily buy the gardening tools that you need, even when you’re working on a budget. Ditto with supplies like fertilizer, mulch, etc. When you’re pinching pennies, it’s definitely a great idea to buy gardening implements from retailers like Target, which often has deals on already-discounted items. You can even save more when you take the time to search online for promo codes and cashback offers that you use for additional discounts.

Starting a garden will be hard work and will require an investment, but the fact is, the return on investment you can expect can’t be beaten. At the very least, growing your own food will ultimately translate to savings toward your food budget, while you get to ward off unwanted medical bills as you eat and stay healthy. More than enough reasons to get your garden started, yes?

Are you a Seattle-area homeowner looking for sustainable garden design services? Connect with Seattle Landscape Architect Brooks Kolb! Call 206-324-0858 for a free consultation.

Photo via Pexels.com


These 3 Steps Will Help You Plant and Nurture a Productive Garden

By Carrie Spencer, garden writer, for Seattle Landscape Architect Brooks Kolb

Growing a garden is a healthy way to enjoy the outdoors, feed your family, and support your local ecosystem. But tending to a truly productive garden requires a bit of expertise and plenty of planning. These 12 steps aim to help you nurture your garden into the best growth possible.


1.  Outline a Plan Before You Begin

Dropping some seeds into dirt sounds easy. However, for the best results, plan your garden before you start digging.

2.  Adapt to the Space You Have

Know what you’re working with, whether it’s limited growing space or hundreds of acres. Here’s how to work with the space you have.

3.  Deliver Nutrients for Optimum Growth

Your beginner garden needs lots of TLC. Of course, it also needs nutrient-rich soil, the right amount of water, and plenty of sunlight.

No matter your level of expertise, you can learn to grow a garden that is as prolific as it is beautiful. With these simple steps, you can design the perfect garden for your property or apartment. Then, careful tending will bring you vegetables and flowers all season long.


Carrie Spencer created The Spencers Adventures to share her family’s homesteading adventures. On the site, she shares tips on living self-sufficiently, fruit and vegetable gardening, parenting, conservation, and more. She and her wife have 3 kids, 2 dogs, 4 cats, 3 goats, 32 chickens, and a whole bunch of bees at their home in Richmond, Virginia. Their goal to live as self-sufficiently and environmentally-consciously as possible.  You can reach her at carrie@thespencersadventures.net.

Photo via Rawpixel

Creating Curb Appeal for House Sale

by Clara Beaufort, for Seattle Landscape Architect Brooks Kolb.  Clara is a garden writer and community gardener based in Georgia. She created GardenerGigs to connect local gardeners with those in need of plant care help.   You can reach her at clara@gardenergigs.com.

Any good real estate agent will tell you that creating curb appeal is an essential step when you plan on putting your home on the market. Your home’s interior could be completely remodeled with all the best upgrades, but if the exterior is lackluster, many buyers won’t even walk through the door. The good news is that investing in curb appeal does more than just help sell your house faster. It also improves your home’s value, so you can be confident that it’s money well spent.


Brooks Kolb’s Design for a Laurelhurst Front Living Room

Lawn and Garden 101

When you’re ready to invest in improved curb appeal, the hardest part for most homeowners is figuring out what to do first. Think of this step as Lawn and Garden 101 – you’re getting a feel for what it takes to get your yard in tip top shape. The first tasks to do will vary by season, so we suggest starting with a seasonal checklist. For example, Martha Stewart’s spring gardening tips include surveying your yard first, then deciding how to fill any gaps, reseeding grass, pruning, and preparing flower beds.

Starting with these tips will help you come up with a lawn and garden plan, plus it will help ensure you’re choosing the right plants for the season. Timing and choosing plants carefully is always important with landscaping, but especially when you want to sell your house. This is because plants that are in bloom and have lots of color will make the biggest impact on buyers. To get this maximum effect, The Spruce recommends that spring sellers plant early bloomers, hardy annuals, and flowering shrubs.

Creating and maintaining a beautiful lawn and garden is a lot of work, but you don’t have to do it all on your own. Whether you don’t have a green thumb or you simply don’t have the time it takes, hiring a gardening service is an easy way to get (and keep) the results you’re looking for. These pros specialize in all aspects of landscaping, whether you need help with the planning stage, planting, weeding, or other maintenance needs. And, remember, spring is the ideal time to make your exterior shine.

Tackle Other Exterior Projects

Curb appeal is about more than just your lawn and garden, which is why the next item on your to-do list should be addressing other exterior issues. This includes fixing anything that’s broken or worn looking, plus making cosmetic improvements strategically. Look at things like making repairs, such as fixing a broken deck board, along with cleaning spots you wouldn’t normally think about, such as your home’s roof and siding.

Inexpensive Extras

In addition to doing the necessary work of repairs and cleaning, buyers will be even more impressed if you go the extra mile with curb appeal. This doesn’t mean you have to spend a fortune or a ton of time. Our suggestion is to pick just a few “extra” projects that will make the biggest impact, such as creating a more welcoming front entryway.

If your front door is looking shabby, give it a fresh coat of paint, and don’t forget about house trim and shutters. Along with a spruced up front door, make your front porch even more inviting with a container garden, adding a seasonal wreath, and a new welcome mat.

It’s also smart to think about making the most of your home’s outdoor spaces for the season you’re in. If you’re selling in spring, a birdhouse is a great seasonal accent for your garden, and the beautiful birds you attract are an added bonus. Or if you’re selling in summer, consider staging outdoor spaces to highlight the potential for backyard barbeques.

When you’re getting your home ready to sell, you want to highlight its best features while making house hunters feel welcome. Don’t underestimate the value of curb appeal, which affects your home’s appraisal value, to give that warm impression! From a neat and tidy lawn to seasonal accents, every improvement you make outside will help get buyers through the door – AND a better price at closing.


Recent Work: A Cascadia Avenue Garden

Seattle Landscape Architect Brooks Kolb is proud to announce the completion of an extensive new garden on Cascadia Avenue in the Mount Baker garden. The front garden features six rectangular perennial beds flanking the central front walk, while the much larger back garden boasts a substantial number of amenities: a swimming pool, shed with kitchenette, sports court and children’s play area. A raised hot tub is situated to look out over the flames of a custom, natural gas-fed fire feature to views of Lake Washington beyond. In addition, a custom tree house nestles in an Evergreen Magnolia tree for the owner’s young children. More than thirteen varieties of fruiting trees, shrubs, vines and espaliers are distributed throughout the garden, all without blocking views of the lake. Brooks collaborated with architect Kim Lavacot for the shed and tree house.

Photographs by Miranda Estes Photography

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