Upcoming Shoretalk Feature

ShoreTalk; People, Trends and Lifestyles

Dr. Kathleen Skoczen and Michelle Becker in the studio

ShoreTalk; People, Trends and Lifestyles
on the Connecticut Shoreline is the brainchild of Belinda Jones and Dr. Kathleen Skoczen. This much-needed Public Access TV program does just what it says it does; introduces us to the rich and diverse community that we share here on the CT shoreline.

I am honored to be  a featured guest on the show to discuss the work I do in decorative painting, paint archeology, and fine art paintings. I will appear on the show in the following time slots:

Michelle Becker

  Weds. August 10th, 4pm or 7:30pm

Fri., August 12th, 2pm or 7:30pm

  Channel 19

Luxurious Shrub Borders

Lately I’ve become increasingly interested in shrubs. They provide the all-important structure, of course, but its the range of the foliage color palette that really gets my attention and opens up all sorts of possibilities. This chartreuse-leaved weigela next to the purple berberis is a stimulating color combination in itself, but I’m eager to plant a few glowing powdery-blue-lavender perovskias in their neighborhood and some golden-leaved lamium at their feet for an even juicier effect. The backdrop that shrubs can create in a mixed border adds a whole new range of color combinations that one can work with; almost like creating micro-gardens within a garden, the flowering shrubs are just an extra, added bonus.

Similarly, this purple-leafed cotinus glows like stained-glass when the  sun sets west of it. The rosa rubrifolia, with its beautiful blue-grey leaves, that remind me of the bloom on a plum, is a perfect complement and the vibrant monarda and glossy fountain of miscanthus behind it seem to add a sense of levity, while the bright chartreuse groundcover of lamium does what wasabi on sushi does….zing!


Several months ago Stonewell added ten Coturnix quail to its cast of characters. (Its curious that these ‘too-good-to-pass-up’ acquisitions, avian or herbaceous, always occur when I’m out of town). It seems that the new criteria which drives the expansion our flocks and coveys is ‘cuteness’, which, in Andrew’s mind, goes a long way in justifying the extra work. That said, the quail seem to be remarkably low maintenance and extremely well-behaved. They eat little, drink little, make no noise, do no damage, and produce beautiful, yet somewhat fragile, eggs.
Wikipedia says:
“The Common Quail, Coturnix coturnix, is a small bird in the pheasant family Phasianidae. It is widespread and is found in parts of Europe, Asia and Africa with several subspecies recognized. They are also bred and kept as poultry in some parts of the world both for eggs and meat. It is a small (17 cm) rotund bird, essentially streaked brown with a white eyestripe, and, in the male, a white chin. As befits its migratory nature, it has long wings, unlike the typically short-winged gamebirds. This is a terrestrial species, feeding on seeds and insects on the ground. It is notoriously difficult to see, keeping hidden in crops, and reluctant to fly, preferring to creep away instead. Even when flushed, it keeps low and soon drops back into cover. Often the only indication of its presence is the distinctive “wet-my-lips” ( !!! Where do they come up with these free-associations?!!!-my insert)  repetitive song ( Song? Hardly. Blurt? Crow? Hissy Fit?) of the male. The call is uttered mostly in the mornings, evenings and sometimes at night. It is a strongly migratory bird, unlike most game birds. Upon attaining an age of 6–8 weeks, this quail breeds on open arable farmland and grassland across most of Europe and Asia, laying 6-18 eggs in a ground nest. The eggs take from 16–18 days to hatch. Domesticated quail rarely set on their eggs.

Mostly true. We’ve hatched another 13 with the help of a borrowed incubator and they are all very sprightly and quite sweet in movement, bearing and demeanor.
We  anticipate losing the original flock soon, as they have a lifespan of one to two years. At present count we have 22. The eggs are very delicately flavored and delicious. We hard boil them and add them to salads or we pickle them and offer them as gifts.

When newly hatched, the baby quail are  incredibly small and feeble.  Yet, through the glass of the incubator, make tremendous effort to stand on their virgin legs, swaying and falling over, they seemed to have imprinted  when they saw my face and my eyes, and began peeping and pecking at the glass when I approached. It breaks ones’ heart, then. What can one possibly do to give comfort? I picked the miniscule creatures up and coddled them in my cupped hands held close to my chest for warmth and they stopped peeping and fell asleep. Too much. Too sweet. Too much for me to try to understand. A tiny creature born and instinctively calling out for something that I am not qualified to give.  Now, older, in a pen, I try to protect them. When they jump out of their pen, I chase  them around to get them back in; away from the hawks. When its hot I encourage them to drink the cooler water that I’ve replaced. Nothing doing. The chicks that ran to my hand to be picked up and coddled,when in their brood pen, now run away to escape the giant. I wish them well. I do love them.

Art, Gardens and the Art of Gardening

Memorial Garden-July 2011

A work in progress, the 2-year old Memorial Garden at Stonewell.

For me, creating art and creating gardens spring from the same source; an impulse to create something beautiful and an effort to realize a vague image that inhabits my mind’s eye.

Not long ago, a garden visitor asked me if I’d been working on paintings  and what they were like. Caught off-guard and trying to conceal a sense of shame and embarrassment, I heard myself apologizing, ” lately,the gardens consume so much of my time that there is little left for studio work.”  Later, I asked myself why  I felt embarrassed and ashamed? I concluded that because painting is what a painter is meant to do, the other creative pursuits are self-indulgent distractions. Why do I feel that I should put less value on a garden than on a painting?” In my experience, to create a garden of enduring beauty is much more challenging and difficult than creating a painting of equal quality.  I’m sure that all the well-documented artists throughout history that have set their sights on making gardens would instantly agree.

When gardenmakers set out to create ‘juicy’ passages in a perennial garden (exuberant, colorful, visually stimulating plant combinations) that will sustain their ‘juice’ throughout the growing season, they are setting themselves to difficult challenges.  I try to compare it to a similar effort in painting but cannot. If I aim to create a juicy passage in a painting, I mix the color and brushstroke by brushstroke, apply the color where I want it. The effect is instantaneous and if I’m dissatisfied with the resultant picture, I change it. I can do this all day long, and I know that when I turn the lights off in the studio, at the end of the day, the painting, unlike a garden, is going to stay the same.

Not so, a garden. To create a garden, one must step into the role of stage director and the reliability of the cast is subject to all sorts of perils; weather, animal and insect predation, climate, soil conditions, disease and, yes, temperament. And, of course, this doesn’t take into consideration the fact that one must wait for an entire season, at the least, to witness the results of one’s labors and ideas. (Hmmm, I’d expected that pink weigela to echo the color of the Therese Bugnet rose 4 feet away…..odd that it’s such a deep wine color!)

When I work on a painting I’m confident that the bluish-grey mauve color isn’t going to jump over to the other side of the painting when I’m not looking, as the Agastache will do in the garden. The shapes and forms that I’ve established with paint and brushes aren’t going to enlarge or decrease in size and obfuscate or abandon their supporting actors, as the hydrangeas will do alone or with severe deer-pruning, no matter how firmly I plant them in the ground.

I’m intrigued by this idea of contrasting painting with garden design. I will revisit this subject in the future. In the meantime, I’d like to invite other visual artist/gardeners to consider this subject and contact me if they would like to submit a visitor blog post to share their thoughts on the matter.

“Rock Stars” Get More Press

Following on the heels of Andrew’s recent feature in the NY Times, Andrew and his good friend and uber-rock star, Dan Snow, get more press. I guess that in an economy that is uncertain folks are looking for something that is rock solid. Well, they won’t be disappointed with investing in the work of these two master craftsmen. It doesn’t get better than this, really.

Rock On

You might commission a stone wall to keep prying eyes off your property, but if famed stone artisans Andrew Pighills and Dan Snow are the geniuses behind it, you’ll have more oglers than before. The master craftsmen work individually and in collaboration for those who favor rustic elegance and graceful geometry over a chipped-to-perfection look. So how do you decide if a dry stone wall is right for you? While the initial cost can be as heavy as the rocks they use, Pighills maintains, “you get a lifetime from a stone wall…and 12 to 15 years from a wood fence.” englishgardensandlandscaping.com, inthecompanyofstone.com

in the company of stone


NY Times, Thursday, July 7, 2011

Andrew in a rarely seen moment of relaxation in a stone structure he created for a private residence in Greenwich,CT.

For those of you who are interested in artisan  stonework, the NY Times is doing a piece on Andrew which will go national and is scheduled to appear in the Home and Garden section of the New York Times  tomorrow, Thursday, July 7th, 2011. If there’s an on-line link to the article I’ll post it here tomorrow.