Community blossoms in South Whidbey Garden Tour

Tim Callison of Langley tends to his garden ahead of the South Whidbey Garden Tour which begins Saturday, June 28. - Kate Daniel  / The Record
Tim Callison of Langley tends to his garden ahead of the South Whidbey Garden Tour which begins Saturday, June 28.
— image credit: Kate Daniel / The Record

Residents will have the opportunity to glimpse into the private gardens of their neighbors and admire some of South Whidbey’s most luscious floral delights this weekend.

The 19th annual Whidbey Island Garden Tour runs from 10 to 4 p.m. Saturday, June 28, at locations throughout the South End.

The tour is a non-profit event through which Whidbey Island Garden Tour board members and participants work to raise money for island beneficiaries. The board selects community organizations that benefit the community and help to preserve South Whidbey habitat.

This year, the goal is to raise $15,000 for the following grant recipients: Greenbank Farm Management, Progressive Association of Clinton, South Whidbey School District, South Whidbey Good Cheer, South Whidbey Tilth, Whidbey Camano Land Trust, Whidbey Children’s Theater, Whidbey Environmental Action Network and the Whidbey Institute.

Over the years, the tour has raised a total of $300,000 for the South Whidbey community and has allowed public access to over 75 private gardens.

Saturday’s tour includes five gardens, from just south of Coupeville to Clinton. These gardens include Carol Livers’ English Idyll, Robin and Tom Callison’s In-Town Cottage Garden, Debra and Colin Campbell’s Eagle Sanctuary, Cynthia Tilkin’s Bluff Bliss  and John and Margi Bachert’s Kettle Garden.

In an effort to reach the fundraising goal, board members implemented a new facet of the event in which attendees may purchase goods sold by local artists, books by local authors and plants from local growers. There will also be a raffle for an empress tree. Another new facet of this year’s tour will be plant labels which will denote the variety of many of the plants in each garden.

Approximately 110 people are expected to volunteer. Those willing to donate their time will receive a ticket to the event and an invitation to the post-tour party. There are docents and parking assistants in each garden.

“They’re a very faithful group of people who believe in this project and what we do,” said Penny Harger, president of the board and volunteer coordinator.

The Whidbey Island Garden Tour began nearly two decades ago  to raise funds to preserve Saratoga Woods, Harger explained. Since then, the event has blossomed and expanded to reach multiple community members and organizations.

“We have a phenomenal asset on Whidbey Island of the private gardens that are not open to the public; there are just a lot of passionate gardeners,” said Harger. “We find that visitors like a variety of in-town, small, exquisite gardens that you could maybe think about doing yourself. Two of them are bluff gardens that overlook Saratoga Passage with great vistas and lots of native planting. The furthest north garden which is south of Coupeville is built in what is called a kettle.” Tim Callison tends his garden.

Harger said that gardens are chosen based primarily upon accessibility and appearance.

“They are selected so that there is a variety; they each have different features,” said Harger, noting that the board seeks new gardens to display every year. “And I think they are each delightful in their own way… . Many of these gardens deserve to be seen again every five years because if you know anything about gardening they change like mad and things grow on Whidbey Island enthusiastically.”

“It’s a wonderful way to explore Whidbey Island and go down some roads you may never go down otherwise and there is just great variety,” said Harger. “Everything is just luscious, very hardy and blooming and vigorous.”

Margie Bachert, whose husband John Bachert is the keeper of the kettle garden south of Coupeville, said the couple began tending the landscape in 1996 when they moved into their home.

“It was such a jungle of wild plants, ocean spray and salal and cherry trees and alders that we had it cleared so it was a big empty bowl… . Then John just started planting plants,” she said. The garden was previously featured as a part of the tour in 2000.

“He is on the board at Meerkerk Garden,” said Margie Bachert. “So a lot of them are rhododendrons and roses, tons of roses.” These, according to Margie Bachert, are probably her husband’s favorite flowers.

“Three quarters of the plants that we have, they’re beautiful but we have no idea what they are,” she said, noting that one of the more unusual plants in the garden is the Himalayan Honeysuckle. “Have you ever wondered where the Chinese and Japanese got their pagoda shape from? Well, there they are,” she said, gesturing to the flowers’ pointed bell shape.

While John Bachert is responsible for most of the flowers, Margie Bachert tends to her vegetable garden which contains plants such as garlic, lettuce and logan berries. For the Bacherts, gardening is a year-round activity. Margie Bachert said her husband works in the garden diligently, even throughout the winter months, and is responsible for all of the landscaping — including the installation of heavy railroad ties — himself.

The garden features two ponds and two memorial areas: one a pond dedicated to Margie’s deceased sister, the other a sanctuary shaded by a large tree which provides a place for visitors to sit on a moss-covered bench and admire the garden from atop the kettle ridge.

Carol Livers, gardener of the English Idyll in Clinton, said she has found gardening to be therapeutic in many ways since she began sculpting the raw land nearly 30 years ago in 1983.

“I think it just gives you a really great feeling of peace,” she said. “There’s a lot of work but theres something special about being outside gardening.”

The English Idyll features several perennials and foliage, which Ivers said highlights the natural, forested area into which she has sculpted her masterpiece.

Tickets are available for $20 in advance or $25 the day of the tour. Attendees may purchase tickets at any of the gardens, select local retailers or online at

Correction: In a previous version of the story, certain names had been misspelled. This story has been updated to reflect the correct spelling of these names.

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