How does her garden grow? Behind ribbons of rusted steel
Cameron Scott offers up shapely forms and simple materials for spaces of strength and beauty just off the shore of Lake Washington.
Special to The Seattle Times
CAMERON SCOTT designed that rarity, a vegetable garden that’s a pleasure to look at year-round. His sinuously curved raised beds, crafted of recycled Corten steel, burgeon with beans, basil and beets in summer. Yet their simple, curved forms maintain a graceful presence through the winter, when they’re planted in a cover crop of rye.
After Vicki Reed decided to redo her vegetable garden, she asked Scott to put in raised beds that would be both beautiful and practical. Considering that she planned to grow produce between her home and the view of Lake Washington, the vegetable beds became the focal point of the front garden.
“Obviously, the vegetables need to be planted here with this exposure,” says Reed of the full-on southern sun so intense it ripens tomatoes in July. “It’s very flat here, old lake bottom, without much topography,” says Reed. So Scott created topography with a series of stacked and layered raised beds so curvaceous it’s hard to believe they’re made of rusty steel.
“Vicki wanted the vegetable garden to be in a relationship with the house,” explains Scott. The home, built five years ago and designed by architect Stephen Sullivan, is set at an angle that opens wide to terrace, outdoor fireplace and that lake view. “When I saw Cameron’s design, I thought curves, yes, Corten steel curves,” says Reed of beds that look more like a Richard Serra sculpture than a vegetable garden.
Reed’s may be the only vegetable garden ever inspired by landforms. Both Scott and Reed are admirers of landscape architect and modernist Charles Jencks. Reed had visited his “Garden of Cosmic Speculation” in Scotland. “You realize how perspectives come together, how math is involved, the law of waves . . . It’s visually very appealing,” she says of how Jencks sculpts the land. But his gardens are about shape and form, not plants. And for half the year, Reed’s garden accommodates dozens of herbs and vegetables, growing, fruiting, peaking and dying down.
Scott focused on practicality as well as looks. He created a mock version of the beds in plywood and bender board so Reed could get a 3D preview. He built the beds of half-inch-thick steel, which holds its curves and doesn’t have sharp edges. He dug the beds down to create varying heights and shadows; the sides step up at 6-inch intervals for easy picking. He installed a drip irrigation system, and filled the beds with a mix of Cedar Grove compost and native soil. “It’s not just the space and shape, it’s the accessibility,” says Reed of how easy it is to pick tomatoes growing at eye level.
“I’m learning about cauliflower,” she says. “And I’m so busy in July!” She grows spinach, corn, lettuces, basil, beets, chard, broccoli, artichokes and lots of different sages. “I grow every kind of squash Cameron could find at the Tilth sale,” Reed says. A waterfall of parsley, tarragon, rosemary and thyme flows down the sides of the beds. By late summer, pumpkins and nasturtiums escape the confines of the garden, their vines wandering up the rockery toward the house. “I keep planting and replanting it in my mind,” Reed says of her shapely space.
The raised beds were an inspired collaboration between designer and gardener. “Vicki understands design,” says Scott. “She pushed me and I pushed back, which helped the end result.”
“It’s not just a garden,” concludes Reed. “It’s a piece of art.”
Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer. Check out her blog at www.valeaston.com. Mike Siegel is a Seattle Times staff photographer.