TWO ARTISTS COMBINE PLANTS GLEANED FROM THEIR NURSERY BUSINESS WITH OLD FARM IMPLEMENTS AND REPURPOSED BUILDINGS TO CREATE MAGIC IN AN EASTERN WASHINGTON GARDEN.
What do you get when you cross a conversant craftsman and an avid plant collector? An intriguing garden with lessons on how to use found things to make a statement.
Nestled in the heart of the Palouse, which encompasses some of the most picturesque farmland in North America, Suzanne St. Pierre and Scotty Thompson have carved out an exceptional garden where, they say, “horticulture meets art.” Suzanne curates and places plants, and Scotty creates hardscape and art pieces. Their collective vision is an assemblage of handmade and natural beauty.
The couple worked hard to arrange their lives in a way that suited their dreams and their skills; in 2004, they opened a garden center at their home outside of Pullman, Washington. They called their business Living in the Garden. Growing and selling plants in spring and fall sustained the business, and the unsold plants—generally the leftover ugly ducklings—were worked into display gardens on the 2-acre property. The couple retired in 2015, closing the business, but they continue to pursue their passions for plants and art around their home.
Scotty’s contributions come to him as fully formed ideas. “Scotty is a true visual artist,” Suzanne says. “We approach garden design and our structures together. I hand these images to him and he says, ‘Oh, I can make that!’” His father—a talented artist, electrician, and carpenter—taught Scotty the skills to turn his ideas into beautiful and practical reality.
Since the early years of her career in wholesale and retail horticulture, Suzanne’s approach to plants has undergone a profound change. When she started her nursery, it was a badge of honor to plant outside your Zone, she says. “Your gardening skills were measured by your ability to keep marginal plants alive.” Now, with a keen eye toward being frugal, she thinks of her plants as companions. “It’s fun to grow plants that are happy and perform well,” she
Scotty fabricated the Junk Sphere by welding discarded tools and pieces of metal into an orb. Placing it on the decomposed granite path, rather than nestled in a garden bed, makes it a stronger design element.
Visitors to the garden enter the ironwork gate and pass under Pieces Arch. Scotty created the mosaic tiles by tumbling broken garden pottery in a cement mixer.
Perennial golden hops (Humulus lupulus ‘Aureus’) grow across the facade of Suzanne and Scotty’s home. The fast-growing plant protects the house from hot afternoon sun in the summer and dies back to the ground in winter.
Rusted farm implements find new appreciation throughout Scotty and Suzanne’s landscape. The silo, no longer used for grain, has a new life as a storage shed. Trellises made of bent hog-wire fencing support Cheyenne privet (Ligustrum vulgare ‘Cheyenne’).
says. The Palouse area’s loess soils (loose and silty) get an average of only 20 inches of rain per year, and their Zone 6 winters can be cold and quite dry. Marginally hardy plants are no longer on her wish list.
When asked what her favorite plant might be, Suzanne’s answer is, “Whatever is blooming now…and anything hot pink and orange!” She loves the challenge of creating enchanting moments with plants as common as old-fashioned orange and yellow marigolds and other easy-to-find plants, such as geraniums, fuchsias, Plectranthus, and asparagus ferns. She asks herself, How can I make it magical?
And plants that don’t survive? She laughs and says, “Well, we say that compost is a higher calling.”
OPPOSITE The outdoor living area of Suzanne St. Pierre and Scotty Thompson’s garden offers a view of the surrounding loess hills. This geographic region known as the Palouse covers southeastern Washington, western Idaho, and northeastern Oregon. Wheat and lentils grow on these hills. ABOVE LEFT Suzanne and Scotty grew an especially artistic nursery business and are now retired, but their creative energies for blending art and the landscape are undimmed. ABOVE The brick pathway leads the eye along its axis to a large water feature in a 4-foot-tall glazed teal pot. A pale gold giant scabious (Cephalaria gigantea) overflows the border.
ABOVE In its past life, Scotty’s music studio was the office and gift shop of the couple’s former nursery business, Living in the Garden. Hardy sedums and Nepeta ‘Walker’s Low’ cover the living green roof. RIGHT Once an outhouse, then a nursery display structure for potting soil, the upgraded Begonia Theater displays tender and hardy begonias. It was created for pure delight but offers a bit of shade the plants need. Tin can lids make lapped siding; the interior wallpaper is pages from an old gardening book. Hot pink paint—one of the few materials that Suzanne purchased new—trims the structure.
COUNTRY GARDENS //
LEFT Glazed teal pots of similar shape and size are placed throughout the garden, helping to unify various areas. This one is filled with a bright pink salvia and underplanted with ornamental oregano (Origanum ‘Kent Beauty’). ABOVE Suzanne and Scotty’s outdoor living room offers a window to the rolling hills of the Palouse and its local birds, such as the male California quail perched on the fence. Scotty made the metal garden lamp by welding together two discarded orchard smudge pots.