LATE LAST YEAR, I put a call out to local designers asking them to share their garden goals for 2020. Lisa Bauer, of Chartreuse Landscape Design (chartreuselandscape.com), enthusiastically responded, telling me about an upcoming client project focused around a “Giant Insect Resort.” That got my attention.
A healthy, organic garden positively teems with life. In fact, less than 10% of the insects we come across in our yards do damage. Chances are, any bug you don’t actually know is a pest is either beneficial or benign. So, what if you created a striking focal point designed to visually anchor the garden and provide habitat for wildlife (bugs)?
As Bauer explains, “You win people over with beauty, and then you teach them something.”
From a design perspective, her mission was to spruce up the view of a back garden and create outdoor living space. A beefy arbor, its hefty scale echoing the woodwork of the client’s Wallingford Craftsman, now stands in a new garden bed reclaimed from an overgrown laurel hedge. Resilient dog-friendly plantings and an adjacent paved patio invite lounging.
But Bauer was just getting started. Next move — provide live entertainment by welcoming wildlife to the house party. “I want as many layers as I can fit in,” she says. “[My work is] designed to be beautiful, but I want it to also be functionally sustainable and of service to the environment.”
And that’s how a giant insect resort came to life. Working with a metal fabricator, Bauer designed a 5-by-3.5-foot divided box constructed of cold rolled steel, which she placed beneath the arbor. She describes the feature as one part fireplace mantle, one part wildlife altar: “It’s basically an invitation to pull up a seat and participate in a relationship with nature.”
Bauer, a former textile designer who grew up among artists, was influenced by surface design and the work of Mondrian, an early 20th-century abstract artist. “I’m really all about strong geometry in the hardscape because I work in the city,” she says.
Framed sections within the box are filled with cut lengths of bamboo, foraged fir bark, cedar fencing and drilled logs. Integrated sections of cut steel pipe contrast with the organic elements. The result is sort of a scaled-up (and up and up) version of popular Mason bee houses.
Filling the framework was an exercise in patience and experimentation. “It took me about a month to fill,” says Bauer. Even as she worked, spiders, centipedes and other crevice-dwelling insects moved into piles of natural materials staged for placement.
The components will settle and break down over time, a process Bauer describes as “a dynamic fun performance art piece.” It will be up to the homeowner to maintain the relationship; Bauer advised her client to get a field guide to help with identification and deepen the experience.
Bauer credits Vashon-based landscape designer Jonathan Morse for design inspiration, client Emily Bennet Raymond for her trust and willingness to explore ideas, and contractor Kevin Monohan of Avalon Northwest Landscape (avalonnw.com) for his craftsmanship.