We are saddened to report that Gary passed away this year after a battle with cancer. We decided to keep the Old Goat Farm story in the original format and hope you will get a sense of Gary’s amazing life through it.
Tucked away in the woods of Graham is a sprawling garden from the pages of a storybook. Swaths of flowers border a lawn that flows in different directions. Each garden bed is flush with hundreds of plants: fluffy peonies here, yellow clusters of ranunculus there, colonies of hosta winding like a forest stream. The colors and forms are endless.
Among the foliage are structures that seem to have grown into the garden: an obelisk studded with geometric shapes, a caged tower of mossy rocks flowing with water, a cherub holding a water-spouting flower. Stone-faced lions stand guard near the porch of a Victorian farmhouse, shaded by a mossy grove. Chairs and benches can be found everywhere, offering a respite where visitors can contemplate the garden. Nary an inch of soil is bare.
Old Goat Farm, as it’s called, is the work of partners Gary Waller and Greg Graves. Guests might find them working in the nursery or weeding the plants. Wherever they are, they’re happy to greet guests and give them an introduction to how the property is laid out.
Washington Rock explored the background and mission of this fairytale nook after providing fresh gravel for a subtle makeover of the grounds.
Happy Little Accidents: How the Farm Came to Be
Years ago, Greg came to what is now Old Goat Farm to help his friend Linda dig up a boxwood topiary that the owner had offered her. Greg started talking to the owner and fell in love with the property. He returned to the Capitol Hill home he shared with Gary and asked him, “Do you want to move out to the country?”
The answer was yes. “I’m not a big city person. It was an easy sell,” Gary said.
They bought the property less than a month later.
So the two moved from central Seattle to the Victorian farmhouse near the Orting Kapowsin Highway. They brought with them 25 truckloads of plants from their award-winning city garden.
It was Linda who suggested the name Old Goat Farm. Gary and Greg had a statue of a goat holding a cup of coffee, and they inherited two goats with the purchase of the farm. Linda joked that Gary and Greg themselves were a couple of old goats.
“We’re really old goats now,” Gary joked.
Gary and Greg didn’t set out to create an iconic garden and nursery or to become popular on social media. They didn’t originally plan to have Christmas teas or garden tours.
“We just wanted to have enough space to garden,” Gary said.
Everything developed organically over time. They started by cutting back the dark canopy around the farm. Standing on his 12-foot orchard ladder with a 15-foot pole pruner, Greg cut back little by little, taking up the canopy nearly 30 feet.
Over time, the couple added the plants from their Capitol Hill Garden and introduced plants they collected at events.
The former owner had had a very small nursery. Gary and Greg expanded it so that it surrounded the front and back of the green barn. They decided to cultivate rare, high-quality plants.
“We had access to a lot of unusual plants, so we chose to open the nursery but only sell plants that you don’t see in other places,” Greg explained.
Gradually, the pair also introduced more animals, providing a permanent home for rescued farm animals. At the present day, they have 6 goats, 1 donkey, 2 dogs, 2 cats, 7 guinea fowl, 53 chickens, 2 turkeys, 2 geese, 9 ducks, and 7 peacocks.
A Subtle Transformation: Gravel from Washington Rock
This year marked nearly two decades since the nursery grounds had had a gravel facelift. In May, Washington Rock provided about 15 tons of 5/8” minus gravel to the property. Gary and Greg spread the gravel around nursery tables and under nursery pots.
“[The gravel] just makes the whole nursery look clean and delineated the surfaces and the paths through the woods,” Greg said.
They also renewed the paths in the wooded area, while leaving some of the natural rock poking out for aesthetics. The new gravel helps to minimize tripping hazards.
The driveway and Linda’s Garden received gravel upgrades too.
The new gravel makes everything else pop, Greg said. The blue-gray gravel blends into its surroundings, creating a neutral backdrop for the beauty of the farm. The gravel also provides a clean, flat surface for exploring the property.
With a little gravel leftover, Gary and Greg decided to line the paths of the vegetable garden. “It just defines the space, and it’s easier to keep weeded too,” Greg said.
Two Old Goats: Gary and Greg
The pair are as much a part of the welcoming vibe of Old Goat Farm as the garden and animals. A self-described yin and yang, they’re opposites whose personalities and skills complement each other.
Gary, who retired from floral design and display, is what you might call a homebody. He was content to tend to the animals and perform the daily chores while Greg followed the travel bug to Tibet.
Greg on the other hand—“he’s the socialite,” Gary said.
“I’m more organized and used to coordinating things,” Greg added.
Greg worked as head gardener for the Elisabeth C. Miller Botanical Garden in Shoreline before jumping into country life. He likes to mingle with friends and guests, and he posts about the farm every day on Facebook (more about that later).
The couple met at the Northwest Flower and Garden Show a little over 20 years ago. Gary was competing in a floral competition and Greg was volunteering for the Northwest Horticulture Society. The two naturally connected over plants, and the rest is history. At Old Goat Farm, they work in tandem.
“We’re pretty different, but it works well,” Greg said. “Like how we divide the garden: I hate being in the sun—I’d rather be in the shade. And Gary’s from Virginia and he never gets warm enough. So he does all the sunny borders, and I stay in the shade.”
Gary cares for all of the animals while Greg manages the nursery and most of the propagation.
“We’ve got a good connection,” Gary said. “We’re both Tauruses—our birthdays are nine days apart, and we just work.”
This year is their 22nd as a couple, “so it must be working,” Gary added.
Christmas Teas and Christmas Trees
Although Greg is more of the socialite, Gary developed his own niche through his love of Christmas.
“Even when I was little, I loved Christmas,” Gary explained. “It was about decorating, and seeing family that you don’t see very often and just the whole spirit of the season. And then when I went into floral design and display, it kind of escalated.”
Gary had collected 8 or 9 Christmas trees by the time he moved to Old Goat Farm. A friend asked if she could bring her garden club to see the trees.
“Word got out from that, and then we started doing the Christmas teas,” Gary said. “The first year we did six Christmas teas—our last Christmas was 35.”
During each Christmas tea, guests tour the gardens and then different rooms of the house where the trees are displayed. Gary decorates each room based on a theme. Some of his elaborate creations include a Wizard of Oz room where a snow-felt tornado swallows Dorothy’s house. A light-up Glinda adorns the top of a tree studded with Ozian characters. The tour finishes with desserts and hot beverages.
Gary now displays up to 21 Christmas trees.
The teas were discontinued last year and again this year due to the pandemic. But Gary hopes to resume the festivities in 2022.
“It’s rewarding to us because it gives us a chance to see our customers and friends when the nursery is not in operation,” Gary said. “It just keeps us connected to our community. And another thing too: why do it if you can’t share it?”
The proceeds from the Christmas teas help fund the care of the rescue animals each year.
Old Goat Farm on Social Media
Greg started posting daily about Old Goat Farm as a challenge.
“I had told a few people that . . . you can find something cool to look at in the garden every day of the year,” he explained. “So I decided to just show them that I could.”
Each day, Greg posts a short story about an aspect of the farm, whether it’s a plant species, animal, Christmas room theme, or adventure. He’ll also include facts about each plant or animal. He learned to write fact sheets for Great Plant Picks, which he is on the perennial committee for.
Over the years, Old Goat Farm’s Facebook page has acquired nearly 6,000 followers, many of whom are loyal readers of Greg’s enjoyable observations. Greg reads every single comment and responds to questions.
Exploring Old Goat Farm
The garden now features a few thousand species of plants. Incorporated into the mix are dozens of fountains and sculptures. The garden has a traditional Northwest feel with a charm is added by rare and unusual plants.
“We’ve managed to take a lot of unusual plants and make them look good together,” Greg said.
The guest entrance is on the south side of the property. The path straight ahead takes guests through a mossy grove and to the nursery, just past the farmhouse. The path to the right takes guests through a gate, past a duck pond, and into a wooded garden area. And the path to the right takes guests to Linda’s Garden, which is a tribute to Linda and her love for topiaries. She passed in 2005 after a battle with breast cancer.
Just behind the nursery is the field where fowl congregate and a pen where the goats and donkey shelter. There are also other paths into the woods nearby.
Gary and Greg have made sure to include seating throughout the garden.
“We intentionally put a lot of chairs in the garden,” Greg said. “We wanted people to feel comfortable enough that they could sit down and relax. I like looking out in the garden and seeing somebody in a little nook or cranny on one of the benches that I never sit on, sitting there and enjoying the space.”
Gary and Greg regularly host over 30 garden tours, classes, and events each year in addition to over 35 Christmas teas.
What a guest sees in the gardens they can likely find in the nursery. Most of the plants in the nursery are grown from seed or from cuttings of plants found in the garden. Gary and Greg spend time researching and adding new species to their collection and cultivating those for sale.
“With our garden being so full now, it has to be extra special,” Gary said. “So we’re always looking for new and interesting plants that we also can offer to our customers.”
A Fulfilling Life
This is Gary and Greg’s 17th summer at Old Goat Farm.
“At my age right now, I’m the happiest and most content I’ve ever been in my life, because I have everything I need,” Gary said. “I’ve got a good, good partner. I’ve got a good home, I’ve got good friends, great animals. It’s just a fun place and a happy place.”
Old Goat Farm is located at 20021 Orting Kapowsin Hwy E in Graham, Washington. You can follow Greg’s posts about Old Goat Farm on Facebook. This summer Old Goat Farm is open to the public on the second and fourth weekends each month, Friday through Sunday from 10 AM to 4 PM PST. To schedule a consultation, contact Greg through the Old Goat Farm website.
To learn more about Washington Rock’s 5/8” minus gravel product, visit our Top Course product page.
This post was updated August 15, 2022.