When guests travel the hillside road that approaches this recently renovated residence on the west side of Mercer Island, they encounter a sharp, hairpin turn that brings them to the home’s sumptuous entry courtyard at right and a garage tucked into a heavily planted slope at left. Getting out of the car is like stepping onto the grounds of a Mediterranean Villa, where a bounty of tropical plants flourishes in ways that seem impossible in the Pacific Northwest.

“It’s an incredible microclimate,” explains landscape architect Jason Breitling, of Cambium, Inc., in Seattle. “The residence faces southwest across Lake Washington, gets plenty of sun and is protected by the hillside behind it.”

In the years since Ronda Moulton of Ronda Elaine Design brought Breitling onto the project during a massive renovation by the same construction company that built the home in the 1990s – Ken Brooks Northbrook Construction - Breitling has continued to work hand-in-glove with the homeowner, refreshing the design each summer. During that time, she has told him repeatedly that plants are her passion. They make her happy and the annual refresh is an opportunity to introduce new, exciting varieties to the garden.

“We worked closely together through the design process,” says Breitling. “She was and remains very particular about the plants she chooses. If I present her with a common plant, she will reject it – no geraniums! She loves interesting plants with a tropical character, unique flower shapes and upright form, but not spikey, prickly or weeping shapes.”

Since she loves to entertain, the owner wanted the gardens to be a continuation of the indoors for total indoor-outdoor living. When Breitling suggested using similar stone paving to the French limestone flooring found indoors for the patio, he assumed he’d use a local sandstone. When she insisted that they match exactly, the paving was ordered from the same French quarry.

Color remains a key element of the design. Orange is good, but not too bright. Salmon is great, but not too pinky pink! Hedges ring the property – a green backdrop for the unique plant palette that pushes the boundaries of what is generally found in the Seattle area. “I know lots of people who might put Tibouchina Urvilleana aka Princess Flower or Abutilon – Flowering maple in pots, but I’ve never worked with anyone who wanted to plant it in the ground the way she did!”

Their many discussions about what fits the architectural style coupled with the owner’s lifestyle have always ended up with specifically chosen plants that create a cacophony of bright color. To wit, Anigozanthos “Yellow Gem” or Kangaroo paws. Lavandula angustifolia – Munstead dwarf English lavender. The fuzzy little leaves of Princess Flower and iridescent flower. The beautiful bell-shaped orange and yellow flowers of the Abutilon Tiger Eyes.

A recent addition introduces an outdoor kitchen on the south side, which complements the elevated patio sitting area for morning coffee and serves as a connecting piece between the kitchen and exterior, where a pass-through window brings food easily out onto the dining terrace.

“At Cambium, we like to engage with a client to understand what they love to do, then create spaces that support their lifestyle and complement the architecture of their home. This garden is about being outdoors amid the owner’s beloved plants and entertaining others amidst this beautiful lakeside setting.”


Planting Guide

Mediterranean Container Garden

Mediterranean Container Garden

1) Ensete 'Maurelii ' - Red banana

2) Culphea ignea – Firecracker plant

3) Celosia ‘Iintenz’ – Purple celosia

4) Dracena marginata ‘Colorama’ - Variegated dracaena

5) Verbina ‘Lanai purple’ - Purple trailing verbina

6) Senecio vitalis ‘Blue chalk fingers’ – Blue chalk fingers senecio

7) Lantana ‘Bandana red’ – Lantana


Shoptalk - Tim Moshier

Tim Moshier

Tim Moshier, Partner & CEO, Cambium Landscape

What determined your passion for landscape design?

MOSHIER Since gardening as a child with my parents, I always had a love of plants and working outdoors with the earth. During college, I explored botany and the natural sciences, environmental psychology, and fine arts – which all led to an individualized concentration in Environmental Studies and Design. Having learned of the profession, I pursued graduate school in landscape architecture. It is wonderful to create outdoor spaces, consider how people interact with them, study the visual and aesthetic as well as how natural systems affect the design.

Can you remember your first landscape design project? Describe it a bit.

MOSHIER Well, I’ve been landscaping since I was a fourteen-years-old, driving the riding mower around the neighborhood cutting lawns. I suppose one of my first ‘designs’ was for my parents' suburban landscape. It included a specimen Eastern White Pine -‘Fastigiata’ - which still stands today. It is a gorgeous native, soft needled pine that grows in a vertical form. I also designed a serpentine flagstone walk to their front door. When finished, the mason cut out wedges in the stone curb. He told me it was his ‘signature’... I made him fill it in.

If you had no limits (money, resources), what public landscape would you create?

MOSHIER In a collaborative public – private venture, a string of diverse parks and greenways running throughout the downtown Seattle area. Beautiful gardens, art exhibits and outdoor performance spaces, integral cafes, plazas and both placid and playful water features. To preserve the beauty and safety of select parks, they would be closed at night but open to all during the day, much like the UPS Waterfall Garden Park on Second Ave. It is such a shame that the Central Park-like, Seattle Commons was voted down in 1995. Hopefully, the new waterfront boulevard, piers and greenspaces will be a big success and add greatly to Seattle’s urban landscape.

What is your favorite local or international travel destination for inspiration?

MOSHIER One favorite must be London and the English countryside. London is a great world city, steeped in history, and bathed in 21st century energy, innovation and excitement. From ornate, heavy wrought iron fencing covered in layers and layers of modelled paint, to the iconic Shard, to provocative art exhibits at the Tate, there is much to fuel the imagination and spark ideas. And the gardens... The British are wholly enamored of gardening and landscapes, including conservatories and horticulture, great estate grounds, urban parks, backyard plots or townhouse terrace gardens. To a landscape architect and plant person, it can be overwhelming.

Can you tell us a bit about your own garden?

MOSHIER I’ve lived in my mid-century modern home for over twenty years now. The landscape has a contemporary bent. I have stainless steel mesh and Lexan plastic screens, monolithic concrete slabs with exposed black slag and injection molded furnishings. I appreciate more mass plantings with specimen focal points. However, as a plant person, my palette is diverse. I try different plants, changing it up as some thrive and others not so much. I use a lot of ornamental grasses, loving the textural effect they bring to plantings. The garden has matured and changed quite a bit over the years. In my youthful enthusiasm, I planted over twenty trees on a 6,000 square foot lot. Now I’m editing with a chainsaw.

What are a few of your favorite weekend pastimes?

MOSHIER Gardening. Cooking in the garden. Watching birds in the garden. Sunbathing in the garden. Drinking wine in the garden. Chatting with friends in the garden. I also enjoy hiking, movies, farmers' markets, practicing Spanish, sampling microbrews, quick trips to Portland and Vancouver, touring architecture... However, my garden brings me the greatest joy.

What is one of your favorite Seattle area urban landscape projects?

MOSHIER Red Square at the University of Washington. It is the only vast, paved public space surrounded by buildings, in the city of such scale. Reminiscent of European central plazas with its monolithic red brick paving and surrounding buildings. The space itself can be alive with activity, crowded with hundreds of people gathering for an event during the school year, or very peaceful and relaxing, inviting a stroll across it in the late evening sun of summer. Of course, I also have to mention the incredible nearby allees of flowering cherries – visually stunning in full bloom, and I think even prettier when the petals fall on the ground, some fresh, others turning brown, a perfect example of the Japanese philosophy of Wabi-sabi.

What projects are currently on the boards for Cambium Landscape?

MOSHIER A contemporary home landscape on Capitol hill in Seattle. The architect is using a lot of steel and architectural concrete. We’re bringing those elements into the landscape. In addition, the structure is wrapped around a courtyard much in a Japanese style. The interior garden must work from all viewing angles. It will be minimal in its execution as the client wanted this courtyard to be made-up of a maximum of three elements: water, rock, and singular planting. We of course, are lighting it also. The feature natural boulder will have to be set prior to framing of the house, requiring some careful consideration while setting it.