Pacific Northwest BY VALERIE EASTON / Seattle, Washington, Zone 8
THE NORTHWEST IS BLESSED with a plentiful supply of artists creating sturdy pieces meant to live outdoors and mingle with the plants. So thoroughly have George Little and David Lewis’s exotic sculptures permeated our consciousness that sometimes garden art in our corner of the country seems to be all about turquoise Tuscan columns and drippy gunnera-leaf fountains. Little and Lewis’s water acoustics, inspired color play, and horticultural fantasy have shaped our sensibilities. Their own sculpture garden on Bainbridge Island, open by appointment, showcases splayed leaves in shades of lime and ochre, Aegean-blue leaky columns, and a baby tear-and-fern-topped rain tree. The curiously organic sculptures are formed with wire lathe, then fleshed out with a special mix of concrete. Before applying a wash of saturated color, the artists shape their pieces into otherworldly leaves, fountains, cosmic spheres, and giant persimmons, all of which spark our sense of humor and wonder.
Clare Dohna’s mosaic spheres, birdhouses, and teacups are slightly oversize, giving a mythic feel and a jolt of surprise to the garden. She makes the raw materials for her mosaics, rather than breaking up found objects, hence the range of vibrant shades that characterize her work. It is intricate, time-consuming labor to make the tiny, bright clay bits, fire them at temperatures high enough to ensure they’re frostproof, and then fix them to a ceramic or concrete base. “I love all the colors, and to see how they go together,” she says of her signature delphinium blues, and the silky plum, cranberry, turquoise, and kiwi green which have such affinity with foliage and flower.
Kim Merriman welds curvaceous metal goddesses, each with a unique face, name, and wild hairdo. After taking a welding class a few years ago, Merriman realized the potential of combining the strength of steel and copper pipe with the luminosity of glass, and took this juxtaposition of industrial and fragile out into the garden. Sunshine illuminates the colored glass beads around the goddesses’ necks or set into the curve of their hips, and birds perch on the sprigs of their spiky hair. Merriman also crafts huge dragonflies, rusty herons, and birdbaths whose steel petals unfold to cup a pottery bowl.
Then there is art inspired by the garden. When I called Jean Emmons at her Vashon Island studio, she was busy painting a Pacific Coast hybrid iris to enter in the Royal Horticultural Society’s winter art show. Emmons, an award-winning watercolorist, paints what she grows, and lately that has been trilliums, arisaemas, and golden beets (pictured), as well as fruit, foliage, and insects. Emmons prefers painting what she calls “ugly plants,” rather than the sentimental or simply pretty. “Botanical art has gotten fashionable again,” says Emmons, from her vantage point on the board of the American Society of Botanical Artists.
Pacific Northwest gardeners have long had a broad and sophisticated plant palette from which to choose. We’ve lately become as fortunate in the varied and accomplished home-grown garden art we have available to serve as accent and counterpoint to our range of plantings. H
For contact information, turn to page 66.
Osmanthus heterophyllus ‘Goshiki’
This sturdy little gold-spattered evergreen comes into its own when the garden sheds its herbaceous layer. Sometimes called false holly because of its sharp-toothed leaves, it has that handsome holly look with none of the drawbacks. A densely rounded, tidy shrub, it grows to only about three and a half feet high, its warmly variegated leaves reflecting any possible light remaining in the winter sky. It’s an ideal plant to grow in a pot, mid-border, or near the front porch to string with little white lights for the holidays. Hardy in USDA Zones 7–9. Sources, page 66.
Now, at the wettest and darkest time of the year, what you don’t do in the garden may well be more important than what you accomplish.
Even if weeds are still rearing their ugly leaves, don’t step into water-saturated beds and borders to reach them. Treading on wet ground can compact and ruin the tilth of the soil—there will be plenty of time to catch up on weeding in February.
Don’t fertilize, and water only under the eaves where it is dead dry. Plants should be left alone as much as possible and not stirred out of their protective dormancy.
Prune only as much as needed to bring boughs, berries, and the last flowers into the house for arrangements.