Bobby McCullough is the gardener at Seattle's 9-acre Olympic Sculpture Park on the shores of Elliott Bay.
Bobby McCullough is the gardener at Seattle’s 9-acre Olympic Sculpture Park on the shores of Elliott Bay. His job is to encourage an ambitious palette of native plants to grow up and set the stage for sculptures ranging from a 19-foot-high rolling eraser to Richard Serra’s undulating metal “Wake.”
Q: How did you end up here?
A: For 20 years I managed the Armadillo barbecue restaurant in Woodinville. When I met my wife (a landscape architect), I realized that people could actually love their jobs. I started my own gardening business, then was hired as a gardener at the Brotman estate in Medina. (Jeff Brotman is co-founder of Costco.) That was the best move I ever made; I learned so much working there.
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Q: How are the plants doing on the exposed site of the Sculpture Park?
A: Some of the salal and others are struggling, but this spring many of the plants have taken off . . . We’re rethinking some plants and focusing on plants like elderberry, thimbleberry and Indian plum to grow up into a canopy. I recently walked through with Richard Haag (designer of Gas Works Park), and he said it takes 15 years for native plants to really come into their own.
Q: Why native plants?
A: People are thrilled with the natives. They like to hear our plan is to turn off the irrigation after three years, except on the turf.
Bald eagles and hawks hang out here. There’s an Anna’s hummingbird that sits in a dawn redwood in the valley every morning.
Q: Do you have help?
A: A seasonal gardener works with me from April through October. Conservation comes in once a week to clean the sculptures. Maintenance mows the grass, but they have to stay 10 feet away from the art. I hand trim around all the pieces.
Q: Are visitors and their dogs well-behaved?
A: People tend to get too close to the art for photo-ops. It can be nerve-wracking; I had to take a chill pill when I first came to work here. Ninety-nine percent of the people are good about cleaning up after their dogs, but I constantly patch turf to repair urine spots. I’ve learned to accept “social paths,” paths of least resistance, where people cut across.
Q: Is the job a challenge?
A: . . . I end up being a docent and a park ambassador . . . People from all over the world, and people from the neighborhood, come up and say thank you.