Over the past few years botanical studies have become a significant part of my art practice. I have been intensely interested in the way in which nature’s fractal patterns sooth and restore the human spirit. Walks in the forest or in a formal garden create a meditative spirit that inspires me. This is what I love about the impressionist paintings of Van Gogh and Monet. Images of nature conjure the same contemplative emotions that feed the human spirit.
Sarah and I have traveled and photographed beautiful plants and flowers over the past few years and I have brought them into the studio to photograph as well. With the moving of my photography studio home this spring Sarah and I decided that the next big step would be to start our own formal flower garden.
We have been watching a lot of Monty Don’s gardening shows over the past year and making notes of what we wanted to do. Since we had a three day holiday weekend we decided to tackle our first formal garden. We wanted to incorporate the claw foot tub that we had removed during a master bath remodel many years ago. I had imagined it to be an ideal vessel for water lilies and irises and an element of whimsy.
A couple of months ago we had drawn up some garden plans based upon the placement of the tub. After dragging the tub in position and setting it upon heavy duty rocks to keep it from sinking in to the earth we ordered a solar water pump that floats on the surface and creates a water fountain.
The tub of water was to become the focal point for our paradise garden. Radiating outward from the tub would be four square flower beds with room for additional potted plants in between.
The soil in our yard is extremely rocky as if an asteroid had struck and broken into an infinite pile of basalt debris. Tilling the back yard was hopeless so we took some leftover 2×6 boards from the barn remodel and built 3’x3′ raised beds and filled them with good soil.
The fun part was decided what to plant. This is where we realized that gardening is really about making a visual composition that is based upon color harmonies. Lessons learned from the impressionist painters that I admire so much included the concept of using complimentary and analogous color harmonies and rotating them around a neutral white.
We realized that we were getting a late start in planting a garden but we went to a couple of nurseries and found enough colorful sun loving plants to get us started. We each selected plants and talked about their relationship to the other plants and discussed their lines, shapes, and textures. When we got home we arranged and re-arranged the position of the plants hoping to avoid symmetry but still have harmony. We let the plants sit in their positions over night before setting them in. It was important to live with them for a day and wake up the next morning and see if we still felt good about it. We did so we set about putting them in and covering them with a good layer of bark mulch to hold in the moisture during the hot summer months. The next step was to find plants for the clawfoot tub.
Yesterday morning we called up a nursery to ask about water plants. We were in luck as they had just received a new shipment the day before and were well stocked. We rushed down immediately to avoid the crowds and entered into a paradise of possibilities. In less than 30 minutes we had plenty of plants to fill our little tub. The crown jewel was a peach water lilie.
Working from the back to front we placed the taller irises and monkey flowers in the back with the water lillies in the front along with some water hyacinths filling in which will keep the water from getting too dirty.
The pleasure was instant! The water garden was so stunning and it instantly attracted a dragonfly and butterfly. Retreating back to our deck that overlooks the garden to review our progress I could feel the color harmony lift my spirit and bring tremendous joy. The return on the modest investment in plants, soil and mulch was instant! I knew that Sarah and I had just become life long gardeners and that this was going to be an evolving work of art.
We still have a lot of work ahead as we make pathways and add structure to the space but I am extremely satisfied with the progress we made in only three days.
To celebrate we ended the weekend by opening up a dusty bottle of red wine from the cellar that was exceptional.