Pat Thompson’s expansive garden is a metaphor for his life.
He describes himself as a self-taught avid rather than master gardener. And though maintaining the garden is really a full-time job, he finds time for other passions. He is a mixed media artist, producing largely abstract work, and is active with the local Art Pharts. He’s a member of the Fuchsia Society and the Bayshore Garden Club and serves as a deacon for the Longbranch Community Church.
Thompson spent his early years near Lake Sawyer in Black Diamond but as the son of a Boeing employee he moved with his family and lived all over the country, including Florida and New York. He returned to Washington and graduated from Highline High School in 1962 before attending Automation Institute, a technical vocational school in Seattle. He worked at the University of Washington as a computer operator and then a programmer.
His background had been straight-laced, but this was the ’60s and he was drawn to the culture he experienced at the UW. “I was a hippie, of course!” he said. His wife at the time was not taken with his choice and they went their separate ways.
“I wanted to get back to the land and subsistence living,” Thompson said. He and his second wife bought 12 acres in Arlington. They didn’t know much about farming, but they dove in and raised and sold produce, rabbits and a few pigs. From Arlington it was off to Texas and 360 acres to try out pig farming on a larger scale. When a back injury made that work untenable, a friend suggested that a great way to live cheaply would be to “go cruising.” Thompson had sailed “a little” and “read a lot” to prepare for this next stage of life. They bought a sailboat and spent the next 10 years on the Sea of Cortez.
A family trip in the midst of their cruising life brought the couple back to the Northwest, and Thompson and his wife began to think about their next phase. They thought Gig Harbor would be perfect. Five years later, when they were ready to put down roots, property prices exceeded their budget. A real estate agent suggested Key Peninsula. “No one had heard of the Key Peninsula 25 years ago,” Thompson said. They bought a five-acre undeveloped parcel in Longbranch and began to build a home, starting with a shed in a cleared meadow.
Thompson and his second wife drifted apart and separated amicably. He met his wife Ruth at a KP Civic Center dance 14 years ago. “Little Bill and the Blue Notes was playing,” he said. “I was dancing with some of the Key Peninsula elders, including Claudia Loy’s mother, when a friend said I needed to meet someone. After we were introduced, we danced every single number for the rest of the night.”
Ruth shares his love of gardening and continues to work for others at least three days a week before coming home to their place to work some more.
Their house has expanded from the initial shed and now includes Thompson’s Mexican Patio, where friends gather in the summer. The garden, too, has evolved. He started with vegetables but got bored with them, he said. He turned to ornamentals and the now 10-acre property has gardens that flow around the house. They are a wild and wonderful combination of native and exotic plants, rimmed with beach stones. Internal structure comes from the existing large trees, rocks, driftwood, moss-covered logs and stumps, as well as found objects.
“I’m a landscape designer, but our place is a bit problematic from a design point of view,” Thompson said. “Ruth and I are nursery sluts—we can’t resist new plants. And so, when we get home, we just have to find a place for our new finds.”
The gardens have names and themes. The Gazebo holds new plants and provides a place to sit in the afternoon sun. The Perennial Garden is home to at least 50 kinds of hostas and has a place for miniature evergreens. Then comes Sleepy Hollow, featuring ferns, followed by the Tunnel Garden, then the Lower Garden, the Estate Garden, the Tropical Garden with bamboo and a pond with koi, and the Japanese Garden complete with a dry stream bed, bridge and pagoda. “All together we have over 900 varieties of plants, shrubs and trees,” Thompson said.
Clearing to make way for the gardens came through conventional and unconventional means. About three quarters of the work was done through human labor, but the rest was thanks to porcine power. Two pigs—Creighton (named for Michael Creighton, his wife’s favorite author) and then Rojo can take credit. Thompson initially bought Creighton and fenced her near the vegetable garden to discourage deer but noticed that her snout was remarkably effective in digging out blackberry roots. He began moving her fenced area around to help clear for future gardens. Rojo arrived as a tiny piglet and lived with the family for 15 years before dying of congestive heart failure. He had a few escapes and gained local celebrity. Thompson was not always sure if visitors came to see him or the pig.
The garden has become a destination for garden clubs, with at least one tour scheduled each year. “It is a challenge to have everything ready at one time.” He loves spring, but his favorite seasons are fall and winter. That is when he and Ruth rethink their creation, make new plans and move plants to new locations.