AS YOU APPROACH the front gate to Ron Klein and Mary Fulnecky’s home in Rainier Beach, you notice all sorts of charming details. The fence line to the yard is clearly custom-made — a pattern of gabion and sculpted iron. The front porch has a metal railing that loops and curves, steering well clear of any formal shape. It doesn’t look designed; it looks like an intuitive, artistic musing. The front garden bed is fenced in by perforated stainless steel cut into various shapes and sizes and welded together, keeping the family dog and chickens off the emerging tulips and peonies.
And so the rest of the yard goes — one interesting handmade or collected item after the other.
They purchased the home 32 years ago and have always been crafty. Klein is a longtime sculptor and metalworker with a cult following in the Northwest. Fulnecky, the primary green thumb, is a retired ultrasound technician who grew up in Indiana, helping her parents garden. “I don’t know that much. Mary’s beyond me on plant knowledge,” Klein says.
From the front porch, a rock pathway leads to the sprawling, sun-drenched side yard — the primary garden and growing space. Here, the couple stores two 300-gallon water cisterns tucked under a weeping birch tree and plants more than 500 square feet of garden beds with vegetables and flowers.
All the beds in the backyard were designed and constructed by Klein, using scrap material he picked up from friends and peers over the years. They converted cedar beds bit-by-bit to mild steel and stone as the cedar gave out from age. Klein added his artistic touch by cutting out shapes and figures, or adding bits of scrap, like the metal tractor seat welded into the middle of a wall for respite.
Beds are not linear, and instead follow the flow of the space — Klein climbed onto the roof to sketch out the plan many years ago. No two beds look the same — they are whimsical, functional and suit the energy they both exude.
Here, they grow food year-round. Spring boasts the last of the overwintering cauliflower, broccoli and beets, alongside freshly planted rows of lettuce and carrots. The largest bed is planted full of spring bulbs, like daffodils, tulips and grape hyacinths, adding vibrant color to the landscape before the maples and snowbell trees open their leaves and come into full bloom.
Klein and Fulnecky have espaliered fruit trees — McIntosh and Yellow Transparent apples and a Van cherry tree, though the robins tend to get to those first. Most of the trees they planted follow typical garden design rules and are triangulated, allowing for a natural juxtaposition that flows with the space, though Fulnecky says it was unintentional. Same goes for the way she is shaping and pruning trees — everything is in layers and heights that relate to the house, though she is working only from a gardener’s intuition.
Klein and Fulnecky are extremely resourceful and have the time and space to store bits and bobs for future projects. A collection of twisted, sturdy-looking contorted filbert branches stands under one of the few original trees on the property — a towering, thick deodar cedar. “We’ll use the wood for something, someday,” Klein says.
They have a smattering of yard art and container plantings across the length of the yard. There are stones that act as benches, old wagon wheels and several birdbaths that Klein has fabricated.
Klein built his home studio (a work shed filled with a tidy layout of equipment and materials), a beautifully constructed post-and-beam building with hanging doors that bi-fold out and open into the sunny yard. The studio is flanked by a trough full of tall bamboo and a twisting wisteria vine trained to grow over a doorway. A star magnolia tree is in bloom at the front corner.
At the back of the house is a small patio and one of the newer additions, a sauna also built by Klein. Made from cedar, wood and corrugated metal, and framed by Cryptomeria japonica and a potted umbrella pine, the sauna spills onto the back patio — an intimate seating area off the kitchen, where the couple has morning coffee. Here, the space is enveloped by a small shade garden planted as a ring of hostas, ferns, daphne and a massive jasmine plant. A white fir stands against the house and is just as tall, offering a silver-blue note to offset the yellow tones of their home.
Klein and Fulnecky have put together a sweet garden paradise working over many years — and it shows. Jazz music spills out from the metal studio and into the sunny garden. A truck drives by, and everyone waves to each other. A neighbor stops by for a chat while out for a walk with his dog.
The people, the garden and all of the art and artifacts collected speak to their roots in this community. They offer a rare and inspired example for slowing down and staying put.