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.