Home & Design July 30, 2008
A Family Grows With It's Garden

Kim Peterson has been a visionary, a mother and a realist, and she and her garden have thrived. As a result, she has a sterling reputation as a professional garden designer and a flower supplier. And now she’s teaching a grandson how to be gentle with the flowers.

The home and gardens she shares with her husband Kirk Peterson are a reflection of the lives that have played out inside their borders over the last 18 years. Babies have arrived here, grown up (they range from 12 to 26) and moved out into the world. One has returned to this garden with a baby of her own. The garden matured—and changed—as the family did. Today, wandering paths lead through mature trees, cascading layers of lavish flowers (Kim leans to the English-garden style) and foliage, and small pockets of heady, scented spaces. From their own seemingly desolate patch of sagebrush, Kim and Kirk have coaxed a miracle. 

Kim’s Red Gate Flowers is now a favorite and beloved source of fresh cut flowers for local florists, caterers and event planners. “If I had to choose between the two, I would rather have a bouquet on my table than food,” Kim laughs. “I absolutely love flowers.”

She is an elegant, graceful woman who has gardened long enough to know how to love a parcel of land passionately. She has watched the light change on it, walked barefoot in it and held its very essence in her hands. In trade, this garden has nourished her. The garden and the gardener each become more beautiful with age.

There is very little difference between the Petersons’ house and their garden, with the obvious exception that the house bears a roof and is less affected by weather extremes. The garden has walls shaped of trees, shrubs and a profusion of blossoms. It is no less architectural than the house, with paths for hallways, and extraordinary red gates for doors. Furniture moves into the garden during the summer, just as flowers move into the house. The scents and sights are nearly the same. There are flowers everywhere, inside and out, or lovely spontaneous arrangements of twigs, dried grasses, tools, or stones. Coming from the horticultural paradise of Washington State’s Bainbridge Island, Kim recalls the shock of moving to land where nothing seemed to bloom. “We’ve lived here for almost 18 years now. There was nothing really growing here when we came, and I was devastated,” she recalls.

The Petersons had decided early that they didn’t want a city life and had moved to historic Bainbridge Island off the coast of Washington. But the opportunity to move to Kirk’s family house here arose and they took it. The house is in Deer Creek, an area between Ketchum and Hailey known locally as the “mid-Valley.”

The family has grown and prospered here. Kirk is an accountant with private clients. Additionally, the two started up a coffee roasting business not long after coming here. They import beans from around the world and produce the aptly named K&K Mountain Roast.

But in the early time, Kim says, “We were spread kind of thin in so many ways with little babies and all. But, little by little, we began walking around our land and dreaming.”

Then Kirk bought a tractor. “For Mother’s Day, he dug a sunken herb garden for me. We started there, and the garden started to make some kind of sense about five years in,” Kim remembers.

Kim learned she could grow every kind of rose, that herbs prospered, that sunflowers and delphiniums and zinnias could all thrive in her gardens.

In addition to her cut flower business, Kim is also part of a formidable garden design duo with partner Steve Haims. “Steve and I have been partners in design for almost 10 years. We’re dreamers and designers and installers who visualize for people. It’s kind of funny, but we tend to be busiest in the fall when people begin to think of next summer’s garden plans. It reminds me of women in their late 40s who suddenly realize they want to have a baby and that the clock is ticking,” she laughs kindly.

She applies her sense of order and architecture to garden plans. “The architecture is so important in a garden. The bones of it. It really isn’t enough to just have a beautiful setting like this Valley. There is much more to consider—privacy, sanctuary, and function. Steve and I have designed or reinvented maybe just under 50 gardens in the Valley,” Kim says. >>>



Her whole yard is covered with flowers meant for cutting, but a special garden area runs along the side of the house, protected by a log fence and two sets of large red gates. While the enclosure ensures privacy, it means little to the local wildlife that chooses to visit for the tasty feast available in the Peterson garden. “Nothing keeps the deer out,” says Kim matter-of-factly. “Some years are way more devastating than others. I had a huge order once I was preparing for the next day and looked over everything thinking, ‘Do I cut now? No, I think I’ll cut in the morning.’ And the next morning it was totally gone . . .” But she accepts this aspect of nature with grace. “It’s okay. We live here.”

The huge gates, though, mean far more to Kim than just security and privacy. The scale of the gates and the deep red paint make them into a friendly, homey trademark of her garden. She has plans for a third set.

Beyond their style, the gates have deep personal meaning for Kim. She heard Martin Hakubai Mosko (a famed landscape architect and Zen monk who worked on the Garden of Infinite Compassion at the Sawtooth Botanical Garden during the Dalai Lama’s visit in 2005) speak about the gate as symbolic of entering and leaving behind. She envisions herself leaving whatever the day in the outside world has brought to her—stress, pettiness, fear—outside the gates. When she passes through her beloved red gates, she enters her personal sanctuary. “The place where I am my best self,” she says.

And she has been “growing” that self in a garden throughout her lifetime, gardening as a child with her grandmother on Mercer Island near Seattle. With the fervency of a truly serious gardener, Kim retells the story of saving her money to buy a greenhouse while she was still in high school. “I grew gardenias, tons of them, because I loved—and still love—their intoxicating, incredible scent. I felt a little nerdy about it, actually. I even had a boyfriend then, but all I wanted to do was garden.” 

Luckily, she fell in love with and married a man who also loves her gardens. Their four children have never known life without their family garden. Kim’s voice softens as she shares, “Everything I plant is special to me in some way. I have a rose called Jens Munk, planted for my son Jens one summer when he was so dear in the garden, in touch with me and with our garden. There is a Bonica rose that was a gift from a friend because it reminded her of my baby Ingrid. I planted Tinkerbell lilacs because they are the only lilacs that bloom twice a year. And, they bloomed exactly in time for (daughter) Britt’s August wedding! This year, I started some amaryllis named Wedding Dance—white with green throat—for (daughter) Marta’s January wedding.”

From the time her children were small, she says, she has encouraged them to pick their own bouquets. “We’ve always had an abundance—many of their bouquets are far more beautiful than any I have arranged.” Her youngest is now experimenting with dried arrangements and using herbs and
flowers to make soaps.

Does she see herself as a very old woman in this garden? “Oh, yes. And, it feels very good to be able to say that. We’ve looked at other properties here, but it would be agonizing to start over with another garden. When I look at these trees that are 17 years old . . . and I think this is a fairly immature garden. Gardens don’t really seem mature until they’re about 50 years old. I see Kirk and me leaving it to our kids one day, a sanctuary for them. There is still such a rural feel in our yard.”

This article appears in the Spring 2007 Issue of Sun Valley Magazine.