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.

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