A Maury Island hillside garden was a lot of work to create, and it’s a lot of work to tour

Mary and Whit Carhart spent 16 years nurturing 2½ acres of spectacular gardens, combining plants and art in a dazzling — and exhausting — display.

WHIT AND MARY CARHART think big. The couple have labored over their hillside garden on Maury Island, just south of Vashon Island, for the past 16 years. How have they managed to develop and maintain acres of richly planted, art-studded gardens, including a vast pond with streams and waterfalls, a stroll garden and a variety of beds and borders around the house?

Vashon designer Terry Welch helped out, creating the water features and adding a walk-through metal moon gate to the scene. Recently, the Carharts sought advice on woodland plant selection from Miller Garden curator Richie Steffen. But it’s the Carharts who plant and maintain a garden so spacious, you need to stop and rest just walking it from top to bottom.

The 20-acre property, facing west toward Quartermaster Bay, is contoured with deep hollows and hills. Sixteen acres are in Stewardship Forest, with 2½ acres of cultivated gardens. The number and variety of ornamental and native plants in the gardens are staggering. Whit loves Japanese maples, and has planted more than 150 of these graceful beauties.

Whit was a radiologist in Yakima when the Carharts bought their island home in 1993. When he retired in 2000, they moved to the island, and began removing lawn around the house to create larger and larger planting beds. Over time, they gardened their way up the slope, adding seating areas, art, plants and more plants.

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“It’s a big acreage, but I don’t feel intimidated by it,” says Whit. “For years, I gardened 25 acres of Yakima orchards.” He took classes from Dan Hinkley at Edmonds Community College. He studied soils at South Seattle College to learn how to deal with the property’s mostly sandy soil interlaced with clay and springs. “I’m…

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