Uplifting an old farm: the Garden (2018-19)

Taking on building projects can be a bit like dating: it may start out casually, but months later you might look around and realize it’s become a more serious thing. With this recent farm project here on Orcas Island, it turned out to be a two-year affair in which I renovated the 1960’s era farm house and the barn facade, as well as designing and facilitating the installation of an event garden.

The most creatively fun aspect, despite the vast physical output required, was the garden. About the time I was wrapping up the house renovation, the question of what to do with the 2.25 acre, already deer-fenced space at the front entrance arose.  It had been used to raise veggies and flowers for sale, but the farm wanted to move in a more public-welcoming direction, so I suggested a strolling garden that could host community events, continue to raise food and flowers, and be an educational landscape.

I’d been working with undulating forms and serpentine lines with the light-emitting sculpture, and it seemed a good fit for generating a vibrant, lyrical feel to this much vaster area. I’ve always seen my studio work in terms of landscape, so it was a matter of scaling it up in service of the numerous functions and features in the mix.

It was clearly an ambitious plan, which we took on knowing that it would take many years to develop it into a fine destination garden. I suggested that, for the first year at least, we think in terms of large, varying areas of meadow (indicated in pale yellow-green on the plan). 

Transposing the lines of the drawing into paths on the ground began in the deep chill and muck of early spring. With a ready supply of wood chips for the enormous task of lying them out, the process felt a lot like sketching with one eye on the ground and the other on the bird's-eye view.

The vision for this landscape wasn't just of curved lines overlaid on the quite flat existing ground, but of land forms like gentle ocean swells. Between soil brought up from trenching the lower fields and amendments like aged manure, about 200 cubic yards of material was moved by machine and hand to sculpt the land.

Early spring was also time for a flatbed of structural plants to arrive and get in the ground. 

By late spring, the meadows were in bloom, the beginning of a season-long succession of colors: poppies, cosmos, bachelor buttons, sunflowers, clover, brown-eyed Susan, daisies, and more. Along with the flowers came honey bees, dragon flies, birds, frogs, and landscape painters...

...and kids! I made a climbing structure from madrona branches as the start of a natural playscape. 

It was deeply satisfying to sculpt on this scale and feel the joy it spawned in the stream of folks visiting the farm.