A Dream Garden: When I first met mine…

Standard
Antiquo jardín del Alcázar de Sevilla (Joaquín Sorolla), 1908.
Writers, dreamers, poets and artists have thought long and hard about gardens for centuries—and so have the more religious and practical among us. At least I imagine they have because I’ve studied such things, but I’m far from certain. So often nowadays I find that these real characters of history are just as real to me as any who are fictional. I guess I’ve grown and that fine line is no longer there. It all blends together. It’s all a pastiche. 
 
I’m not religious myself, but I was raised in a Catholic family, went to Catholic school for 12 years, and I now consider myself Catholic by culture. That’s how I ended up visiting España with my parents back in my early 20s. Dad wanted to go there for 10 days to take photos of churches and to visit the region of Estremadura. The three of us traveled south from Madrid during the month of December and I’d like to say that I remember a lot more than I do, but I spent most of my trip feeling unwell. 
 
At night my dreams were in Spanish. (Back then my Spanish-language fluency was much better, although that had never happened to me before and it felt strange—yes, foreign.) During the daytime, my mind wandered back-and-forth in the backseat. I felt between worlds.  
 
As we drove I thought a lot about what a cousin had recently told me concerning our Sicilian ancestry. He’d researched our family as part of his Master’s thesis and had found that one of our earliest relatives was actually a Morisco from Spain. Fresh in my mind was the way my father had vehemently been unable to accept this discovery. Today he’s softened and has accepted that it’s likely true, but at that time, it dramatically altered how we saw ourselves.

Jardín de Carlos V en el Alcázar de Sevilla (Joaquín Sorolla), 1910.

Before I knew it we were in the beautiful city of Sevilla. We stayed there for a few nights and went to several museums, a Flamenco performance, we ate delicious food, and then one day, while walking around on my own, I stumbled upon the Alcázar of Seville. I went inside. 

The gardens of the Reales Alcázares de Sevilla changed me. I think I was transported there away from myself. They were—and still are—my dream gardens. It was there I felt so many new and wonderful things as I saw plants that seemed so unreal to me. I felt so alive and so awake. In many ways it felt more like home to me than my own home. I had never felt that way before and I haven’t felt that way again.

To me that’s what a dream garden is about and it’s what we seek to make when we design gardens. We want what I can only describe as being a kind of religious experience. Like in meditation, we consciously count our breathing until we transcend and forget ourselves. We want gardens to give us that kind of rush too. It’s deep. I know. It seems very much connected to something inside of us that’s human. Many of us crave this feeling. It’s spiritual whether we like to admit it or not. It’s calming. It’s soothing.

To Christians, it’s a return to Eden, and to those who follow Islam, it’s called Paradise. In Arabic the word is جنّة or Jannahand that’s short for garden. That day in Sevilla I felt like I’d visited Paradise. Ever since then, as a gardener, I’ve wanted to recreate that feeling.

That has been my dream.

(The Grow Write Guild is a creative writing club for people who garden. It’s a series of bi-weekly writing prompts created by garden author and blogger Gayla Trail. I’m starting out late with the series but hope to catch up soon. It’s just what this blogger needed for some summer fun.)

To Chelsea on Her 21st Birthday

Standard
Chelsea is my eldest niece and she loves nature.
Me, well, I love this kid—and the other two girls too.
Before I had a garden to help me bury the pains caused by a rare illness, I found a lot of happiness and joy in these three beautiful creatures.
These 3 are a creative triple threat, but most of the time, they just “are”.
We’ve seen many of the wonders of the Pacific Northwest together, and as a child, she and her younger sister Lindsey and their best friend Emily went all over the place with me—looking at plants, and other stuff.
You know, just normal nature stuff like this.
If I never have a child, it’s ok since I’ve always had Chelsea.
And she likes to think she’s my only child.
 And when I see pictures like this I know we are related to one another.
 We’ve always got Emily too.
 Chelsea has taken our relationship quite seriously for many years.
 Sometimes, she reminds me a lot of my dad.
I guess that’s where our quirks originated.
My brother (her dad) is pretty goofy too.
 She likes animation. I used to watch a lot of it with her. I guess I taught her to value certain things in life too.
 I think she’s a bit more colorful than I am at times, but that’s not an issue. She is her own garden.
At heart she loves animals and nature.
When I graduated from college I was so proud she was there to see me succeed.
My friend Brendan, the guy with his eyes shut, well he later acted as college art instructor to the young woman who became Chelsea’s high school art instructor.
I am happy she grew up around art. I sure wish I had! Although I wish Chelsea was making more art right now. She is a very talented artist.
She grew up around plants too and this image is from a Seattle trip to attend the Northwest Flower & Garden Show. (Sorry about the quality of this photo. It was rescued.)
Here first tattoo was of the much more common orange California poppy.
Taking the girls on road trips to CA was a great deal of fun for me.
And here we have Emily and Chelsea again. They were helping me to load pavers into the wagon after a friend our family had passed away. We wanted to use the pavers in my garden.
So often when I see the beauty in the small details of flowers I think of Chelsea. She sees even more beauty in the world than I. Too often my brain and words get in my way.

As girls, both Chelsea and her sister Lindsey liked to be a bit different.

Of course I encouraged this kind of thing.

When I worked at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Gordon House it was wonderful to see them all during visits. They were just kids and they enjoyed the house and absorbed its design.
I am not so sure they liked his Marin County building as much, but they saw it.
Chelsea loves her little sister Lindsey and I think this is one of my favorite pictures I’ve ever taken of her.
Emily is a bird of a different feather. That’s why we love her so much.
Like any aunt I prefer to think of them like this—tiptoeing through the tulips.
Of course Chelsea had to shock us all a bit—especially her little sister.

Not having had sisters it was a blessing to watch these little women grow.

They opened up a whole new world to me and I needed it.

Chelsea will always be “so metal” when she rakes.
She will always be a garden design sceptic.
Happy Birthday Chelsea.
Happy Birthday.

Happy. Happy.
Birthday.

Someday all three of you will be gardeners and I know it. It is in your blood on both sides. So get out there and keep doing what you do until you land and dig deeper to set down your own roots. Whatever you do, it will be beautiful like you.

Garden Grief: Transitions

Standard

When we write we are always on the lookout for smooth transitions from one space on the page to another. We look for these movements in the writing of others, we look for these spaces in films, and we hear them in music. Transitions are all around us everyday and transitions are a way of life whether we like it or not.

PNCA: Pacific Northwest College of Art.
This process appears over and over again throughout our lives: when we design our gardens, when we move across the country for a new job, or as in my current case, when we design our hopes and dreams into achievable goals.
I’ve been moving more and more into re-designing my life again and I am looking at how to better transit in the days ahead to where I need to go.
Floral Still (2012), Teresa Christiansen.

For me, I find that the space I return to again and again when I am in this frame of mind is the world of art. In it, I am able to find the peace and the calm I need to look deeper into my own grief. I am a happy person and art give me hope.

Enchanted Modernist (from the Botanical series), 2011, Kavin Buck.

Since losing my garden is something I’m still grappling with, I have found that looking at works of floral art, or anything connected to the natural world in an artificial art gallery way, is enough to calm me down and this has helped me with my most recent decisions.

Together Forever (2012), Rachael Allen.
As I walked around the galleries at the art school, this piece was my favorite that evening. The idea of the clay mud and sticks appealed to me and it made me dig down deeper into myself and recall a time when I was inspired by love.

Umatilla National Forest (2010), Melanie Potter.

Though not the best photo of this image, the forest being there surprised me a bit but I welcomed it. My lives overlapping on the walls of an art show made me feel the silence and warm sunshine on the bare shoulders I imagined having in my mind. Next summer I would be there.

It was nice to see artists returning to nature, and I know that this is always something that’s done since it’s between the city and the land that we find ourselves.

I’ll be transiting soon, past my walls, past my garden, and I will be content to find myself. This journey I’ve been on will be coming full-circle and and within I think that the message will finally be that I am whole now, that I know myself better than I’d imagined, and that from hand will spring that which I will harvest in the future.

Xera Nursery Fall Fundraiser and Open House

Standard
Sometimes one feels like a kid in a candy store. This was one of those times.

The sale is over at Xera Plants but I made it at least. This isn’t meant in a snarky way, I’m just surprised I had the energy to go! (September was quite an active month for me and I was really drained from all the activities.)

Sorry to have not posted anything about this pre-sale, but so it goes. (This is a wholesale nursery that’s not frequently open to the public so whenever they open their doors it’s quite a treat!)

Yes, I am posting this after the fact but at least this was something I attended within the last week! (Oh, just wait until my backlog begins to appear soon!)

Crepe Myrtle ‘Wichita’, (Lagerstroemia ‘Wichita’).
For a bit of a change I took my landscaper friend with me and we both enjoyed the break even though we were exhausted before we’d even left.
Polka Dot Begonia, (Begonia maculata).

Introducing my friend to a few new contacts at the nursery was fun, and besides, who among us doesn’t really just enjoy looking at plants?

Buddleja colvilei ‘Kew Form’.

This form of Buddleja really surprised us both and the blooms were different. If it hadn’t been for its leaves I’m not sure we would have been able to identify the shrub. That’s what tags are for though…

An Arctostaphylos treated as a standard.

And just look at the bark on this beautiful topiary! I could stare at it for days, months, years.

Parrot Plant, (Impatiens niamniamensis).

Ok, since I’m always bad about posting my purchases, I will do so this time. First up was a replacement Impatiens. Yes, I know it’s getting cold out and that this plant won’t be happy soon out in the cold but I should remind those of you who’re new to this blog that I have a lot of plant lights and I spend all winter in a house filled with lights and plants. It’s not such a horrible way to live and even people who don’t garden as much as I do love to visit.

I bought a Polka Dot Begonia and another Begonia luxurians too. The latter was also a replacement plant. (Yes, some plants were neglected during the separation and divorce process. I felt badly about this, but it has been worth it in the long run.)

Fig tree, (Ficus afghanistanica).

This little fig tree was a nice find. It’s a compact form and quite cold hardy so it may end up living in a container although I plan to plant it before winter sets in around here. (If I do chose to move, this one is going with me.)

My sad fig situation this year.

I was sad that my little fig tree wasn’t very productive this year but our weather has been so strange. It’s been sunny and warm for weeks now and we’ve had so little rain. It’s October and I still have to water! I should be baking with apples right now!

(Yes, I would have bought more if I could have, but not knowing where I will be this time next year means that I have to really curtail my plant purchases to those which can be transported easily to wherever I land. I do love Xera Plants a lot though and I hope that in the future when I am more settled I will be able to add more of their special plants to my garden.)

The studio/garage.

In other news, during my recent birthday party—while hanging out in the hammock—an old friend had a bright idea. Later that night he wrote to me and asked: “Have you ever thought about renting out your garage as an art studio?” I took a deep breath before writing back to let him know that when I first saw this house for sale online it was the detached semi-finished former garage space that excited me most. I very much wanted to make it into some kind of studio but we could never do so.

So, if my garden and I are going to grow on in time, it somehow seems quite fitting to let that initial thought I’d had so long ago—a little spark I’d sent out into the world—come full circle. I hope that allowing a gifted and very talented young artist to set fire to his own creativity back there with his brushes and imaginative energy will help to propel me forward. Besides, it means I get to add some plant life back into the space over the winter.

An artist needs inspiration, right? Let it be green…

When Gardeners Can’t Sleep I Prescribe This Book: Gardens in Art by Lucia Impelluso

Standard
Pumpkin, Bartolomeo Bimbi, c. 1711, Florence, Museo Botanico. (The rectangular stone at the bottom reads: Pumpkin grown in Pisa in the garden of His Royal Highness in the year 1711. It weighed 45 kilograms or about 100 pounds.)

Last night when I went to bed I wasn’t feeling well. In a hurried rush to get out the door next week—and back on the road to California—I have been doing far too much. Since reading complicated material is often very difficult when I feel unwell, I turn to imagery. Seed catalogs and garden magazines work most of the time, but I am often left with that icky I-can’t-afford-all-of-this taste in my mouth. In comparison, this art history book is the quiet calm that always soothes any little storm inside of me that I throw at it.

My steady bedside grab is called Gardens in Art by Lucia Impelluso. It’s part of a series of books put out by The J. Paul Getty Museum simply called: Guide to Imagery. I don’t think you have to be an art history expert to enjoy this book, but I am fairly certain it is a must if you love gardens. Following current curatorial style, the book is arranged thematically and it is not chronological. There are tons of paintings, and not too much text. The painting above was in the brief Still Lifes section.

Gardens in Art by Lucia Impelluso

The reason I picked this painting is that it was the work most emblazoned on my mind last night when I finally turned into a pumpkin myself. Still lifes are a favorite genre of mine to begin with, but this one really struck me because it reminded me so much of the photographs, come autumn, in so many magazines. This image resonates much more strongly with me than many of the others I’ve seen, both in books and museums domestically and abroad, and if you garden, I think you know what I mean. We’ve all wanted a painting like this of something from our own garden bounty writ large like a trophy. This painting could replace the huge mirror above my fireplace any day.

More about California next time…