Debra Prinzing

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Gardeners and their structures

May 15th, 2008

Jennie Hammill, shed builderMarty Wingate’s review of Stylish Sheds and Elegant Hideaways appears in today’s issue of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

My former colleague, also known as The Grounded Gardener, devotes her column to “Retooling the old garden shed.”

I love the way that Marty weaves an engaging tale about the relationship between garden-makers and the structures that occupy their landscapes.

These new “garden accessories,” as one of my editors describes the architectural gems cropping up between the herb garden and the mixed perennial border, are places that draw us outdoors, to spend even more time in the garden. Marty writes:

“Once the denizen of dusty corners in the backyard, the garden shed has emerged to become an outdoor living space. No longer does it store lawn mowers, bags of grass seed and rakes – or if it does, you’d never know by its exterior.”

Marty’s piece features Bill Wright’s photography of Jennie Hammill’s lovely glass house in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood. First of all, we should acknowledge that Gillian Mathews of Ravenna Gardens suggested the inclusion of Jennie’s delightful “room with a view.”

Out of the blue, as often happened during the course of working on Stylish Sheds, I received a letter in the mail. It read:

“Dear Debra, Gillian, of Ravenna Gardens, tells me that you are writing a book on Garden Houses. I wondered if you would be interested in mine. It was designed by Randy Keller, ASLA, and I built it. Randy has a really neat garden house as well, built of of recycled windows and doors (as is mine)….please feel free to call if you would like to come visit.” Sincerely, Jennifer Hammill.

Jennie HammillI remember visiting Jennie and her husband Tully on a misty June morning in 2006. After walking through their bungalow (where there are two side-by-side grand pianos occupying the heart of their living room – Jennie is also an accomplished pianist and teacher), we exited the kitchen door onto the back porch. As I noticed the fabulous glass house, constructed with no fewer than 43 recycled and hand-built windows and doors, I nearly began to hyperventilate with excitement.

windows at Volunteer Park ConservatoryLike a miniature conservatory, the glass house is fascinating to study (Volunteer Park Conservatory, seen at left, has crossed windows that inspired those on Jennie’s structure). She calls hers the Teahouse. Light pours into, through, and out of the 10-by-14-foot shelter. The divided windows – glass squares, rectangles and triangles — form the shapes between mullions and render a slightly surreal scene. Depending on where one stands, at dawn when the garden day is awakening or at dusk when Ballard’s sky is illuminated by a setting sun, the distinct shape of each glass pane is outlined in sharp detail.

While she first worried that the teahouse would crowd her garden, Jennie says it has done the opposite. “I thought it would make the garden look totally minuscule, but the garden feels more spacious now,” she says.

doors-as-roofingrandy’s glass house

Randy’s tiny glass house at Rosentangle, his garden

Her partner-in-design, Randolph Scott Keller, ASLA Landscape Architecture, has been urging Jennie to get into the glass house-building business. An accomplished fine cabinetmaker who owns Ballard Woodworks, Jennie has many beautiful pieces of furniture and cabinetry to her credit. But this project is probably her most personal. And she’s not ready to build one again for a long time. I like to imagine that Jennie’s time is divided between teaching piano, building exquisite cabinetry, and spending moments in the teahouse. That’s pretty satisfying.

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