Don't be fooled. Inside this thin coating of sweetness is a fiery core of total insanity.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Hardy Plant Study Weekend -- The Millie Livingston Garden

The Millie Livingston garden in Seattle was a late addition to the schedule for the garden tour on Sunday, so it wasn't included in the Plant Study Weekend booklet. Instead we were given a separate handout with a blurb about it.

"In 1989, when this plant collector moved into a steep Seattle hillside garden, she found the most creative and inventive ways to deal with replacing failing retaining walls and paths to a lookout over Puget Sound. Then she artfully began planting a mix of native plants and ornamentals, all purposefully placed for maximum textural interest and color echoes. The hardscape is equally as exquisite, with stunning mosaic paths and walls, narrow metal water troughs running alongside paths, metal and stonework walls, and water features -- you will wonder how they got it all down the site. The vegetable garden is the jewel of the garden and recently won a National Award for residential mosaic work by local artist Nadine Edelstein (the public award in this contest went to the 9/11 Memorial). Don't miss the chute where bags of compost make their way from the hilltop to the vegetable garden. What a beautiful marriage of exceptional stone, metal and mosaic hardscape, and a plant collector's dream garden. What's most amazing is, Millie maintains the garden almost entirely by herself."

I discovered as I made my way toward this garden that it was actually very close to the house we rented, in a neighborhood called Broadview, when we first moved here five years ago. We had noticed that most of the houses further down toward the Sound were quite large and impressive, with larger lots. It's possible the house on Millie's lot was one of those big, impressive ones.

But the garden was so fabulous, I barely noticed the house.

A colorful, sunny bed greets you at the street.

Spent Alliums, bright blue Salvia and pink peonies

Inside the wrought iron fence is a lovely peaceful shade garden in the front.

This rusty bird makes a nice accent under the trees.

A bamboo pipe drips into a mossy stone basin.

As you follow the brick path around the side of the house, you realize there is a nice view ahead of Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains.


Set into the railing is the compost chute, mentioned in the blurb above.

Stairs lead you down.

There is just a glimpse through the trees of the vegetable garden at the bottom of the slope.

A narrow path without handrails criss-crosses the slope.

Partway down, looking back up at the house. There is a path there.

Finally, a better view of the vegetable garden, with its fabulous mosaic floor.

A couple of steps up and around the curve...

Down the steps to the patio

A peaceful, stone water feature drips slowly

Plenty of colorful containers set at the corner of the patio

A wee metal doggie keeps an eye on you.

Nearby is an enormous fireplace

At the far end of the patio is the fenced vegetable garden.

It's hard for me to fathom how much intricate detail work went into making this mosaic.


Some of the tiles are mirrored. I tried to get my camera to focus on the reflection, but it wasn't cooperating.

At the farthest end of the garden is the other end of the compost chute.

A rusty tractor seat sits beside the gate into the veggie beds.

Presiding over the patio far below the house is this magnificent gnarled willow.

At the opposite end of the patio from the vegetable garden is a stream and shade beds.

Large leaved Rhododendrons are planted at the side of the path through the shade area. There's another steep drop-off just beyond, into a ravine with a real stream.

The path leads you onward and downward

A nurse log beside the path -- placed there by Mother Nature, or by the hand of the gardener?

More narrow steps downward, into the gully

A huge set of planks seems to hang suspended on the side of the slope

At the very bottom is a rope bridge across the ravine. It wasn't a big drop down, but I didn't venture across.

I headed back up, via a different route.

Partway back up, I look down to a soul braver than me.

Ah! The security of a railing

A huge arbor anchors one end of the patio, and another water feature begins.

The water spills into a stone basin, and from there...

Into a rill...

The rills travels down the side of a mosaiced stone staircase.

Past another fabulous mosaic on the wall

Here the water in the rill finds its final destination.

And it's finally time for me to head back up to the house and on to the next garden. This time I take the stairs instead of the narrow path with switchbacks.


Lots of stairs...

And back out to the front garden and the street
Millie's garden was on such a steep slope, I did indeed marvel at how much work and heavy lifting must have been required for its construction. I spoke briefly to Millie. She designed the entire garden herself, but of course had help with the construction.

Valerie Easton recently wrote a feature on Millie's garden for the Seattle Times. You can read it here.

I hope you enjoyed visiting this garden with me. It was fun to explore!