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Oh, my aching muscles...

The Art and Plants of Little & Lewis

Reviewed by Karen Hugg

Once in a great while a very special book comes along, one that manages to be both inspiring and useful. Barbara Ashmun's Garden Retreats or Ann Lovejoy's Fragrance in Bloom comes to mind. What's so valuable about this kind of book is it appeals to both the dreamer and the thinker inside of us, the spirit that wants to create beauty and the mind that craves knowledge. Well, garden lovers will be delighted to learn that A Garden Gallery, George Little and David Lewis's new meditation on gardening, will satisfy both the yin and yang.

The most unusual aspect of this book is Little and Lewis's text. They chose to write separate passages and the combination of the two distinct voices gives the prose a vitality and interest. Lewis, the more business-oriented creator, speaks with spontaneity and directness. He's charming in his self-effacing tone and shares more of the nuts-and-bolts procedures. Little, on the other hand, speaks in a serene, more earnest voice, as a monk or poet might, analyzing the central urge we share as gardeners to create sanctuary. He's intimately reflective and because he's been an artist for many years, he--like any successful artist--can turn off the judgmental voice, or the editor, and make space for a silent soul that expresses whatever's within. There's no pretense to Little; he's a sort of mystic who's attached to the divine concept of Garden. And after reading his passages, you'll be reminded that every time you dig in the soil or deadhead a flower, you too are doing sacred work.

A Garden Gallery also inspires for one other obvious reason: the spectacular garden. Little and Lewis are known for their jungle of huge-leaved plants, inventive water features, and gunnera sculptures and photographer Barbara Denk does them justice. Her composition is elegant and her color vivid. We feel as if we are inside this living museum with its crumbling columns and ghostly beauty. And while sexy close ups will please the coffee-table lot, great design ideas are there for those looking beyond the portraits.

Lastly, and what makes this reviewer so thankful, is the inclusion of substantive information on plants and gardening how-to. Perhaps the most pertinent reason for publishing a book on these two is to share their philosophy. How do they do what they do? What influences them? Where do they find ideas? What sparks their imagination? The answers are in ample detail, revealing two well formed identities rooted in Mediterranean, Mexican, and tropical cultures. And in talking about their personal histories and taste, both reveal plenty of helpful horti-geek information for us. We learn their picks for the most architectural plants, how they create a jardinière fountain, or the effects of different kinds of moving water--even why it's important to "play" by repainting a wall every year.

Little and Lewis struck up a friendship some 15 plus years ago while installing a pond. How lucky we are that these two artists shared a love of ancient cultures and the sensuousness of nature. The result for us just may be heaven on earth.

Karen Hugg, COH, is the owner of Red Madrona Gardens, a garden design and maintenance company. She lives in Seattle with her husband, two dogs and cat.

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