MILLIE LIVINGSTON was thinking about a vine pattern for the mosaic paving between her raised vegetable beds. But artist Nadine Edelstein thought a vine was too representative and went with a traditional Chinese pebble design for the pathway. The result is intricate paving that is partial reflexology path, and wholly beautiful. Especially when pumpkin vines overflow their beds and flowers seed in along the margins to soften the edges of the tile, stone and pebble flooring.
The paving is a highly visible design element in Livingston’s steeply sloped garden above Carkeek Park. The house overlooks a hillside of plantings, including a 500-square-foot vegetable garden.
The paving’s petal-like patterns were designed to be viewed from the deck above, and from the paths winding vertiginously down into the garden. Edelstein worked mostly in shades of gray to blend with the corrugated steel of the raised beds and relate to the bluestone used in other areas of the garden. Green, yellow and orange glass tiles shimmer in the light, warming the mostly neutral color palette.
“I love to create therapeutic pathways that are also beautiful,” says Edelstein, who turned some of the pebbles on edge to create raised areas that allow gardeners to massage their feet when they’re weeding and harvesting. “Millie comes down to the garden in her flip-flops, and then goes barefoot,” says Edelstein. The flooring is practical, too, easy to sweep and hose off dirt and debris.
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Which is good, because Livingston has nearly two acres to care for, all of it about as vertical as a garden can be.
Twenty years ago, she hired Swedish stonemason Ove Gullin to sculpt the garden. Gullin worked on the property for 18 years, building walls, switchback stairs and terraces. “He’s the main guy who made this garden,” said Livingston. “Ove did all that heavy stonework himself, without a crew.” He even carved out a spacious stone terrace with an outdoor fireplace and bubbling fountain.
Apples are espaliered along retaining walls, and a recirculating stream puddles and pools its way down the grade. Farther down the hillside, almost into the ravine, Livingston grows asparagus and artichokes, beans and tomatoes in beds clinging to the slope. “There’s been some engineering involved,” she says.
Livingston grows more than vegetables. She’s carpeted the hillside in ferns, hellebores, trillium, hardy fuchsia and hostas. “Most of my garden is shady woodland, with a few splashes of sun for roses and peonies,” she says. In the shadier areas, she’s planted ligularia, brunnera, deciduous azaleas, hydrangeas and more hydrangeas, including velvety-leafed, tropical-looking Hydrangea aspera.
Livingston cares for the vegetables herself, and gets help with the mulching, pruning and weeding of the ornamental landscape. The paving of the vegetable garden was such a success that Edelstein is hard at work on new mosaics to further shape and decorate the garden. She’s translated the vegetable garden’s petal pattern into a flower-shaped stone patio, run her mosaic work up the walls and garnished bluestone steps with an undulating river of pebbles.
From the house perched at the very top of the property, to the vegetable beds carved into the side of the ravine far below, Livingston has made her steep garden not only navigable but productive. She’s been patient, working her way down the slope for 20 years. With Edelstein’s mosaic artistry, Livingston has turned the necessity for walls, steps and paving into an opportunity for patterning, reflexology and embellishment.
Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer. Check out her blog at www.valeaston.com. Mike Siegel is a Seattle Times staff photographer.