With plantings by designers Withey and Price, Louise Durocher's garden serves as outdoor gallery for her sculptures.
Louise Durocher is a sculptor, architect and landscape architect who designs houses and gardens around the world. She was born in Montreal, kept a studio in Paris for years, and now works out of a studio on Lake Union. Over the past five years Durocher has turned her attention to creating her own unique garden on Queen Anne Hill, where she lives with her husband, Michael Nelson.
“Our garden isn’t minimalist — we want to engage all the senses,” Durocher says with understatement. The fragrant, texture-rich garden, with plantings by designers Withey and Price, serves as outdoor gallery for her sculptures.
Five years ago, Durocher and Nelson were living in a condo in Pioneer Square and searching for a small house sans garden. “We were worn out,” explains Durocher of their desire for small, simple and garden-free. But tempted by a glorious view of water and mountains, the couple abandoned such practicalities for a 1903 house with an overgrown garden. “The place had potential,” says Durocher, her artist’s eye able to see beyond the rampant blackberries, sickly roses and excessive laurel.
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Now the front garden is mostly golden foliage showcasing sculptural pieces beneath the boughs of a spreading blue Atlas cedar. A paved walkway garnished with pots leads around the house to an expansive, paved outdoor room of a back garden.
When they first moved in, the couple looked out onto a backyard of blackberries, ratty laurel and a hillside sloughing down around old railroad ties. Durocher designed fresh, multilevel spaces for entertaining, dining and contemplation, all paved in multihued Montana slate. Her artistry came into play with curved stone walls (“to hold the mind and eye,” she explains), a waterfall and raised koi pond. It took more than a year and a half to complete the stonework, as all materials had to be carried up the front steps and around the house. Steps wide enough for sitting lead down into the garden. Rows of pots, spilling over with fuchsias, petunias, coleus and vivid orange Begonia boliviensis garnish the steps.
When it came to choosing plants, Durocher teamed up with designers Glenn Withey and Charles Price. “I took landscape architecture to become a land sculptor . . . I’m not into names of plants,” she explains. “I do drainage, lighting and infrastructure.” The collaboration was an inspired one, combining Durocher’s sense of place and form with Withey and Price’s exuberant, unusual plantings.
Was it tough for a landscape architect to give up control of her garden to designers? Durocher was mostly hands-off when it came to plants. “Their palette is my palette, a perfect match,” she says. “I love chartreuse and red. I told Glenn and Charles no pink, no camellias, no rhodies or azaleas.”
Durocher is content to take care of the weeding. “Everything I do in life seems to take such a long time,” she says, “and weeding is instant gratification.”