Little and Lewis: Design Inspiration

Garden Magic—we’ve all witnessed it, envied it, tried to create it.  Some gardens are just pure magic and seem to have dropped out of the sky whole, landing on earth and rooting in place.  Imagining blueprints, backhoes or rototillers would ruin the illusion.  The first garden of Little and Lewis was this type of place and it became one of the most photographed gardens in the US.  That their garden was saturated with ethereal color and its features appeared to be relics of an earlier civilization made it so unique that it just had to be created by the wave of a wand.  Artists David Lewis and George Little (now Lewis, too) admit there were neither blueprints nor sorcery: just hard work, a passion for tropical plants and a fondness for ancient Greece at play.  

David and George Lewis

Everyone who had visited their Bainbridge Island garden (west of Seattle), was saddened to hear that Little and Lewis were selling their property.  What would happen to the garden?  It is, of course, captured forever in Little and Lewis’ book A Garden Gallery: The Plants, Art and Hardscape of Little & Lewis, as in our imaginations.  It must be a difficult, unwanted responsibility when one has created a private garden that the public loves.  Surely we understand if the creator wants to move on.  And David and George did just that: moving next door to a home, studio and garden space that was better suited to their desires. 

The new garden is a more personal space for its owners as can be seen in the generous patch of alpine strawberries just outside the front door.  A 45 year old Japanese maple gives the budding garden, little more than a year old, a feeling of maturity, as does the “excavation” style of their handmade garden ornaments.  Their moss mottled fountains and pillars seem unearthed by archaeologists.  Little and Lewis have been casting and painting concrete sculptures, plaques and fountains since 1992.  Their pieces fit so well in gardens they could have been planted from seed. 

Cast gunnera leaf with golden catalpa, brugmansia, bowles golden sedge and hosta 'Sum and Substance'

Earlier this month I took in Little and Lewis’ new garden and visited with David and George in their solarium dining room, which doubles as space for overwintering tropical treasures.  The topic of discussion was how to use art outdoors. David and George talked about the use of color (of which they are masters) as well as waiting until the right piece to “comes to you” and the disheartening propensity for owners of valuable art to place it where it will see the most traffic, regardless of appropriateness.   

Fountain tree covered in lush moss gently drips into shallow pool

It was an almost offhand statement by David that was my take away: “Outdoor spaces are equally as important as indoor spaces.” Simple enough, but a light bulb immediately went off.  Little and Lewis invite the public into their private garden gallery where there is no such thing as “garden art”, the garden is art.  Without being conscious of it, David and George think of decorating the garden no differently than adorning their home.  That’s the secret.  We’ve all seen interiors (and gardens for that matter) that follow design rules and still fall flat—feeling uninviting, cold, impersonal.  Little and Lewis gardens are magic not only because they follow the general recommendations for scale, balance and rhythm, but because they are composed of elements with deeply personal connections.   

Little and Lewis Garden Gallery tours by appointment only.

About Colleen Miko

Colleen Miko is a certified professional horticulturist with 20 years experience in landscape design who has designed award winning gardens for the NW Flower & Garden Show as well as HGTV’s “Landscaper’s Challenge”. Colleen is freelance garden writer and speaker.
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2 Responses to Little and Lewis: Design Inspiration

  1. I like the integration of human-made and natural components in their gardens, and I also like how some of their human-made pieces blur those boundaries. They seem to play with that magical/surreal type of garden-making that helps to make you appreciate even more how magical plants and natural processes already are. Thanks for sharing their very cool designs. They’re a very talented pair.

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