Meet the green thumbs of South Whidbey: Gary and Janie Gabelein

Gary and Janie Gabelein stand in their “farmhouse garden.” The garden surrounds their Clinton home that sits on two acres. The farmhouse is also utilized as a three-unit bed and breakfast.

The Farmhouse Bed & Breakfast is more than the name entails. While the Clinton homestead is located on a large, rural lot that overlooks Useless Bay and offers quaint rooms as vacation rentals, a walk to the backyard shows a different side to homeowners Gary and Janie Gabelein. They are serious about their gardening.

The garden out back is themed to go hand in hand with the overall farm vibe, complete with two donkeys and with the sprawling beds of flowers and plants intermixed rather than planted in cookie cutter rows. Old rusted tools and materials are utilized to give the backyard a rustic edge, and are often repurposed to be used as pots for plants. The garden is a culmination of the Gabelein’s differing interests, as Janie Gabelein’s artistic edge and eye for arrangement meets Gary Gabelein’s handy farmer attitude and affinity for a rustic aesthetic.

“You could say I’m the head of purchases and Gary is the head of growling because he always shakes his head when I bring home another load of plants,” Janie Gabelein said jokingly.

The Gabeleins’ farmhouse garden will be on display during the 21st annual Whidbey Island Garden Tour from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, June 18. It will be one of five private gardens featured on the tour, all of which are different from one another in style, vegetation and natural setting. All five featured gardens are located on the South End.

The Gabeleins do not consider themselves to have green thumbs. Starting as a hobby more than anything else, they began gardening when they moved into their current home, located just off Bayview Road south of Highway 525. They built the house as a family home and moved in 28 years ago, on what was then a flat hay field with no trees. They wanted to add a little bit of color to their property, and the rest is history.

While both share the work it takes to maintain the garden, they have their own roles when it comes to certain tasks. Janie Gabelein uses her past experience as an art teacher to be the designer of sorts, who knows what flowers and plants to buy and where to place them. Gary Gabelein utilizes his family’s farming history to water the garden and specializes in growing produce.

“My passion for gardening started because my mother had a big garden on our family farm,” he said. “We were a farm family through and through so we raised a lot of our own food and vegetation.”


Janie Gabelein grew up in the urban setting of Seattle, but was still raised with an appreciation for gardening from her family’s flower-stocked yard. She says her first word as a child was “pre,” referring to how pretty she thought the flowers in her yard were.

Their signature touch on the garden, though, is the repurposed tools and antiques that are scattered throughout the garden. Outside of gardening, their other hobby is scavenging garage sales and antique stores, which has seen them acquire a series of rusted saws, kerosene lamps and a 1950s firetruck that still sits in their garage. The saws can be seen throughout the garden, and many old tool boxes are used as flower beds.

“I think we’re playful people; we have subtle humor in our gardens,” said Janie Gabelein. “We like to create a little story in every corner and build a general theme.”

The lush country garden is home to a range of colorful and aromatic vegetation. Trees include a mature Paperbark Maple, a grand Red Oak, a Contorted Filbert and numerous apple, pear and walnut trees. Hydrangeas, clematis, hollyhocks, roses and more also call the garden home, while the property is littered with gazebos and benches.

“The farmhouse garden is very different from the other featured gardens,” said Penny Harger, president of the Whidbey Island Garden Tour board. “It’s delightful, charming and unique.”

According to Gary Gabelein, they do what they can to keep the garden as natural as possible. They use their own compost for fertilizer, and let the plants over grow when appropriate. It’s been a trial and error process, they say, as neither claim to be master gardeners.

“It’s a teamwork thing — I couldn’t do this without Gary being able to take things apart and put everything in place, and I try to use my creative skills,” said Janie Gabelein.

The Whidbey Island Garden Tour has room for 1,000 self-guided tour guests. It’s a volunteer-ran event, with docents present at each garden to educate guests on the vegetation on display. The proceeds will go toward Whidbey Island organizations whose work benefits the Island’s natural environment. Visit http://wigt.org/index.html for event details and ticket information.