Coast Chronicles: 
Music and Art in the Gardens

Deb Howard's garden and farm, with its 68 new raised beds for organic vegetables, is part of the Music in the Gardens tour for 2018.

Yes, like clockwork the swallows have returned to Capistrano, and it’s time for Music in the Gardens (MIG) again — July 21, 10 p.m. to 4 p.m. But it is never the same-old, same-old with the garden tour, because event chair Nancy Allen and co-chair Darlene Houser are so bursting with imaginative possibilities.

Each year MIG gets bigger and better — next year there will be hot-air balloon rides… just joking! — (though goodness knows what Nancy and Darlene will come up with for 2019). But never fear: for this year’s 2018 extravaganza, the horticultural dynamic duo have outdone themselves by adding layers of richness to the already over-the-top pleasures of viewing the best in Peninsula gardening.

I’ll review some of the amazing gardens in a moment but just for an overview, here are some highlights. Portlander Tom Grant, jazz musician and winner of the best Chill/Groove Album of 2017, Sipping Beauty, will be playing live in one of the gardens ( ). Tom was part of Jazz and Oysters last year and loved it so much he’s coming back to donate his time. Other musicians include lush key-boardist Jean-Pierre and singer-songwriter-guitarist Al Perez. Jean-Pierre was in the Bonnie Raitt Tribute band who performed here at the Inn at Harbour Village in March.

Locals Bill and Janet Clark, and Charlie Watkins and Judy Eron — both have done programs at the libraries and Vespers at the Oysterville Church — will be fiddling’ around in the gardens. There is also a rumor that Mary Garvey may be writing a garden song about the goings-on.

MIG has also continued the tradition of art in the gardens in this year’s tour; and the range of art and artists is eye-popping. Ceramicist Renee O’Connor and clay artist David Campiche will be artists-in-residence at a couple of the gardens. Also included are Nansen Malin with her artful topiary. Jacob Moore will be present with his exquisite metal work. And Seattle stone carver Constance Jones will be displaying several of her pieces in basalt, marble, and quartz. All artists will actually be demonstrating their talent during the tour, so get your questions ready. (Some of the art will be for sale.)

New this year is another brilliant idea. Since MIG is a fund raiser for four different musical events on the Peninsula and also provides for music workshops and performances for our local schools, each garden will have a sponsor: Jack’s Country Store, Taft Plumbing, Ron & Maggie, Port of Peninsula, Nahcotta Boat Basin, and Willapa Bay Interpretive Center. They’re all pitching in to make this a financial success as well as an aesthetic marvel.

And, lest we forget, here’s one of the most popular additions last year — there are still a few spots left on the Garden Trolley. Conductor and Music in the Garden board member James Sherman made a dry run last week to make sure he had “a good turning radius” at all the gardens. This year trolley riders have the option of purchasing a catered lunch from Ilwaco’s Roots, Juice, Java, and Salad Bar. The midday picnic stop will take place at Port of Peninsula.

Now for the gardens. It’s a slight understatement to say there is something for everyone. From a garden full of childhood delights with gnomes, statuary, dahlia cutting garden, fishing pond and bullfrog (real!) to the enchanted and whimsical small-scale garden in Tide’s West to a garden that has succeeded in taming the ocean-side challenges of wind and salt — each garden provides a feast for the senses as well as tips galore for do-it-yourselfers.

This year the George Johnson House garden will include a tour of the home (docents will be on hand); it’s filled with period furniture, art, and artifacts. And another back by popular demand: after wowing everyone in 2014 with their amazing five-acre array of rhodies, John Stephens and Steve McCormick’s garden is on the tour again with 18 new beds and hundreds of new plantings. The adjacent farm and garden of Deb Howard includes a recently planted orchard of apples, plums, peach, and cherry trees and 67 raised beds for organic vegetables. An oceanside garden called “Cloud Walk” offers sweeping lawns, lush plantings, and a range of climate zones each flourishing in the cool ocean breezes. And, if all that’s not enough, many of the gardens will provide snacks.

Six gardens sounds like a modest number, but I bet you’ll have trouble visiting them all because each one provides a rich sensual experience of sights and sounds. On past garden tours, for me, some of the best moments have come when I simply stop to take it all in — to sit on a welcomed bench and enjoy the view, or talk to friends I’ve met along the way. Garden tour day is not the time to rush around with a check list, but a time to breathe deeply, slow down, and reward yourself with some of the best aspects of where we live: both the people and the land. The gardens — at the end of a winding country road, overlooking the dunes, or tucked away by the bay — offer a chance to relax and experience the joy of being alive.

Tickets this year are $20 and can be purchased either online ( or at Basketcase Greenhouse (12106 Sandridge Road); Bay Avenue Gallery (1406 Bay Avenue); or The English Nursery (Corner of Highway 101 and 103). Keep an eye on their Facebook site ( for postings about music performances and times.

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