Follow your heart. You’ve heard it before, and you may even have taken this age-old advice. Against criticism–uppity and kind–I did just that. I followed my heart, and began to collect garden art.
In a classic ah-ha moment, I looked around my garden and found very few pieces of my garden ornaments made by hand. Most of the pieces were accents, not art. I define art as something made with a beating heart. Accents tend to be in the form of resin or mass-produced concrete critters. There were also too many of them.
I was perfectly happy with my clutter of critters until I learned about George Little and David Lewis, simply known as Little and Lewis. I don’t remember the name of magazine where I first read about them, and since Little and Lewis have been written about in a number of newspapers and magazines all over the world, it would be difficult even to venture a guess. Yet, I clearly remember being in Portland, Oregon, at the 2008 Garden Writers annual meeting perusing an independent book store, when what should find? A book, “A Garden Gallery, Inspiration from an Enchanted World of Plants and Artistry,” published by Timber Press, 2005, and written by Little and Lewis.
Portland, as it turns out, is in Little and Lewis’ neck-of-the-woods. Based on Bainbridge Island, Washington, they weren’t far, at least from my perspective; on the same coast, at least. I find West Coast gardeners to be freer in their use of garden art than gardeners on the East Coast. But, I digress, and I’ll save that commentary for another post.
As soon as I saw the book cover, and I remembered the magazine feature, I was again enchanted. Scanning though the book, my eyes examined each page–the details of each plant, placement, and of course the art. There were leaf-castings, fountains, plaques, as well as arbors framing the gardens, and trees that rained. There were columns in color, and water seemingly everywhere. Walls were gutsy painted fanciful colors, paths purposeful and also playful, and foot bridges linking land. Containers were used as an art form. Nothing was merely just sitting there; rather, they belonged there. Spheres sat on the patio and up on pedestals, planted or opened in an irregular shape, blackened inside, making it such that I wanted to pour into the hole, through the page, to see what was inside.
I also learned plant choices were art, too. The two could not be separated. The garden in this book had a soul, and it spoke to mine. Their works were inspiring and the garden enchanting. Not to be duplicated; that would defeat the purpose of creating a personal space and style. Clearly the works of Little and Lewis were meant to inspire, but also acquire by purchasing pieces to build my own dream garden.
As people do, I had a jar that I tossed change into. While others were saving for a weekend get-away, I saved my nickels to own a dream. I squirreled away money for a piece of Little and Lewis. It wasn’t a matter of if for me, it was a matter of when.
My when came with a windfall as my friend Nancy Heckler said she would take me to visit her friends, George and David, known simply as Little and Lewis. I was in Seattle to speak at the 2012 Northwest Flower and Garden show, and Nancy was showing me around.
Nancy drove me to meet the Bainbridge Island’s celebrated artists. It was an incredibly cold day in the dead of winter. Late February. A month many will say is the cruelest. Yet, the warmth that emanated from the gardens and her caregiver made me feel toasty.
As partners since 1992, with a shared interest in the Classics, George and David fit together like the moon and stars, each comfortable enough to finish the other one’s sentence. They don’t though. Perhaps out of respect or as I suspect, they each still delight in the sound of the other’s voice. I know I did.
The book, A Garden Gallery was based on a different garden from one where they now live. In 2008, Little and Lewis sold that garden, art and all, and bought the house next door. This began a journey to build a new garden gallery.
During my visit, for a fleeting moment, I considered asking if they would take me next door to see where it all began. I didn’t do that because I knew all too well the garden would no longer be the same. Even though all the art was still in place, that garden now belonged to someone else; no doubt it’s a charming garden, but with the imprint of a different soul. I was on an island in Puget Sound to dig on Little and Lewis. I was exactly where I needed to be. There was no need to see what was next door. As George and David showed me around their home and garden with our mutual friend Nancy by our sides, I knew I everything I needed was right beside me.
As I hoped, there was an opportunity to purchase a piece of art from Little and Lewis. I choose the famed pomegranate. The first generation of these pomegranates were large in nature, as big as 36 inches in diameter, or larger. It was only recently they started making this ornament in a size that would fit my garden and budget, measuring approximately 12 inches in diameter.
It’s fair to say, I covet this fruit. Because of my kids, I keep it safely inside, so no out-of-bound ball accidentally hits it. For all that I forgive my kids in the garden, since it is their garden too, the loss of this treasure would be hard to bear. This autumn when my garden is open for the Garden Conservancy Open Days tour, also benefiting the JC Raulston Arboretum, I plan to place the pomegranate in the garden for all who tour to see. I’m excited in the anticipation of this.
I garden in the spirit of Little and Lewis. When we create a garden, we create a soul unique to the time and place, and the curator. In a small way, I open my garden, Helen’s Haven, for tours to give back to the community that has done so much for me. Little and Lewis do the same, “One of the greatest gifts we that can give back to our community and to the society as a whole is this garden and the work that we’ve created, our art work. It’s our way of creating soul and spirit and beauty in this world,” says David Lewis.
If ever you find you are going to this island, in the Puget Sound near Seattle, arrange to visit with these two artists. But be prepared for change, and I give permission to follow you heart. They’ll make you look at gardens differently, and that’s a perspective, no doubt, you didn’t even know you needed.
Blurb from my book Gardening with Confidence®
I never thought I could part with the kind of money that good garden art would cost. Then I realized I had already spent enough on lesser accents that could have been saved for a single, very special piece. I would spend $35 on an accent, and since the price was so right, over time I would add another and another. Soon, I had 10 pieces at $35 apiece. Instead, I could have spent $350 on a single artwork that blended better in the garden.