Secret Gardens

Sneak peeks of private spaces


You’ll never see bright orange koi swimming around in Molly Monahan’s backyard pond. Instead, visitors can expect to view rainbow trout of various sizes.

“I enjoy watching herons occasionally eat 57-cent trout, not expensive koi,” Monahan said on a recent Saturday morning.

As she spoke, many of the footlong-and-over trout were vigorously churning the surface of the eight-foot-deep pond, which is assuredly the focal point of Monahan’s impressive 41st Street garden.

While the water feature and accompanying green space is a sanctuary for Monahan—a busy private investigator whose storied life history includes stints as a color consultant in Switzerland and a gallery owner in New Jersey (among other things)—she’s not averse to sharing it with others.

In fact, her garden will be one of six that will be open to the public as part of the Whatcom Horticultural Society’s 28th annual Tour of Private Gardens happening July 12-13 throughout Bellingham. (Incidentally, on July 18, she’ll also open up her home for a “Bedtime Stories for Grownups” fundraiser for the iDiOM Theater.)

On the day of our own secret tour, Monahan still had a long list of tasks to accomplish before opening up her lush environs to the masses the following weekend. A sampling of chores included: finishing staining the deck, cleaning the toolshed, weeding the top of the hill and the “gazebo circle,” hammering in bench plugs, distributing wood ships and (long story) gluing rocks to a pond pump.

While she admitted to being stressed about the things that still needed to be done before the fundraiser, Monahan said was confident she’d have her space in shipshape condition come the following Saturday.

“I respond well to deadlines,” she said. “It’s like inviting people to dinner so I have an excuse to clean the kitchen.”

Judging by the herculean efforts Monahan has put into her garden since she moved to her three-quarter-acre lot eight years ago—such as adding hundreds of flowers, trees and shrubs to the property, moving plants that had already been planted there (just in the wrong places), and establishing the stream-fed pond—there’s little doubt that many of the previously mentioned tasks have already been crossed off the list.

The weeding will never be done, however. Since Monahan uses no chemicals and much of the landscape is accessible via wily pathways that wend away from the main garden, she long ago gave up on trying to reach perfection when it came to the always-hearty weeds. 

“I keep hoping to find the elves have pulled them all out of the walkway while I slept,” Monahan said, laughing.

Like the other gardens on the tour, Monahan’s outdoor retreat is full of surprises. Follow one pathway of the hilly terrain, and you’ll end up on a rock outcropping with a flourishing madrone nearby and a peek-a-boo view of Bellingham Bay and the San Juan Islands. Near the almost-hidden shed, there’s a garden plot with kale and a few other vegetables being grown for the Maple Alley Inn. Oh, and was that a deer that just jumped through the trees in the 60-foot easement behind the property?

While she’s happy to accept compliments relating to her flourishing oasis, Monahan says it doesn’t take a lot to be a successful gardener in our region.

“You really don’t have to learn how to grow things here in the Pacific Northwest,” she said. “You just have to know how to cull the plants. Mother Nature does the rest.”

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