Huge lime-gold Gunnera leaves dripping water into pools, cobalt blue columns
supporting turquoise beams, mirrors of glass and water and the startling rictus
of the Stalactite Man, all with the patina of antiquity, of ruins buried under
giant, tropical leaves—these unlikely images have seeped into our gardening
consciousness. For more than a decade and a half, Bainbridge Island artists
David Lewis and George Little invented these devices and a hundred others that
convey a vision of a garden utterly different from the Northwest natural,
Japanese and English influences that came before. They gave us a fantasy
archaeology of concrete columns, sculptured fountains, tiles, masks and wall
paintings that struck a completely novel chord.
garden that Little and Lewis created has passed into private hands now, but it
is not really gone—it already has entered our Northwest mythos. In 2005, the
definitive picture book
about the garden, A
Garden Gallery, was published by
Timber Press, with stunning photos by Barbara Denk and a marvelous text by
Little and Lewis themselves. But the rankest amateur could get photographs in
that garden that would amaze their friends and inspire them forever after.
The garden was small, just
about a regular city lot, with the back space given over to a small house and a
work area. There were permanent elements such as the dug pools, the painted
pergola, the Fuschia Tree and Banana Family and other in-ground trees and
shrubs. But much of the garden seemed to be re-invented each year from an
astonishing array of potted specimen plants, along with the stock of fountains
and sculptures that were (mostly) for sale. It was a revelation for the
plant-o-holic to see so many beauties fitted into such a small space. Plants
stood overhead on columns, perched and hung on walls, dangled in trees, lurked
under other plants—the stranger their location, the more glamorous they looked!
The garden consisted of a
series of smaller gardens (“rooms”), interconnected in a kind of braid that let
the visitor choose freely which way to go, inevitably to forget the sequence
taken. One might pass through each part from several different directions, and
the genius of this arrangement was that each approach could, and did, reveal
something new and astonishing.
The sound of water
quietened the garden. No rushing waterfalls here! Small bubblers in basins
(some with slight echoes) and various dripping fountains acted like whispers,
making the visitor’s ears prick up. The most remarkable effect was the smallest
fountain—slow drops of water falling into a basin from high above. The mystery
of these water drops never failed to captivate. (They came from a tiny
irrigation tube, fastened to a high branch.)
As sculptors, Little and
Lewis were naturally fond of sculptural plants, which led them to grow many
tender tropicals that were beyond the average gardener. This exotic element had
the effect of awakening our curiosity, part of the charm of our fling with
Zonal Denial this past decade or so. The strange colors and textures of
tropical plants such as Elephant Ears (Colocasia)
and Tree Ferns (Dicksonia)
were combined with the colors and textures of
familiar hardy plants, making those seem new also.
in the garden abounded. Each scene had its obvious attractive shapes and
colors, but looking a little longer, the visitor would discover more and more
elements—a fountain obscured by the ivy on a tree trunk, an odd dark space that
turned out to be a mirror (that later in the day reflected a picture), a shrub
with the “wrong” flowers, borrowed from another plant tucked under it.
Mysteries like these can emerge only from intimate knowledge of and interaction
with one’s own garden. Their only prerequisite is a playful, exploring mind.
the garden is described here in the past tense, David Little and George Lewis
are far from gone. They continue to produce custom art pieces. Their schedule
now can include more time at their house and workshop in Mexico and traveling to
places they love, leading small groups of fellow adventurers.
They have given so much to
us, gardener to gardener—their fascination with plant forms and archaeology and
their perspective on decorative objects as ancient artifacts, their development
of concrete-working techniques, of color washing and their unique colors—the
list is long! We can only thank them and wish them well, hoping we hear of
future wonders from their prolific imaginations.