This week something very interesting and unexpected happened in my garden. A group of talented painters came over, set up easels, took out canvasses, sketch pads and paints, and set to work doing something that I never imagined would happen in my garden—they memorialized it in fine art.
I knew I couldn’t turn down this opportunity when Karen Storm wrote me in late April. She said my name had come up during a meeting in her group of plein air artists, “Garden Artists.” You can visit their Facebook Page here. They paint in gardens and a variety of other landscapes throughout our region twice a week. During the meeting someone mentioned the “Greenwoman” who was in the paper last year. Apparently my cottage garden sounded intriguing and they decided to give me a call. Karen said that she knew me from the neighborhood community garden and volunteered to contact me. Another friend in the group knew me too, Pat Nolan, whose haiku (and painting) has appeared in Greenwoman Magazine. (It’s a small art world where I live.)
I said yes right away. Exciting! I thought. Then I thought, Oh, shit, I’ve got so much work to do!!! And I did. I had just finished our tax season bookkeeping work (my second job) and had done no gardening yet. In fact, none had been done since fall, when we hauled in that topsoil and a truckload of antibiotic/hormone free/grass fed cow manure for my new raised vegetable beds that were built and filled (mostly) but were still not planted.
Our garden space, front and back, two lots, is maintained by a crew of me, and my daughters Lily and Zora, when they’re around. Unfortunately, they haven’t been around a lot since they started college. That’s it. So, I got to work and every week it took many hours just to hope to get it presentable by June. I was fortunate enough one day to get my nephews out for most of one day to pull weeds, (thank you, Cory and Cody), and Zora and her friend on another (thank you, Boomer) but that was the only outside help. Our family did the rest, with me doing the majority. Planting, weeding, mowing (with a push mower as most of our grass has been replaced with water-wise plants), tending to vegetable beds, flower beds, new beds, pots, tiny greenhouse, small pond, the list goes on forever it seems (if you’re a gardener and don’t have hired help, you know what I mean).
Needless to say I immediately got a little stressed, but I also had that satisfied premonition of “NOW I’m going to get some things done around here, because I have to!” Then a few insecurities rose up, because our sweet 1920s bungalow home is modest and very low budget. I’m the type of gal who recycles old bathtubs and clay roof tiles for planters and whose main palette of plants are hardy and promiscuous seeders and spreaders. Russian sage, blue mist spirea, mints, comfrey, wild roses, clary sage, borage, native “weeds” such as mullein and sunflower, and many more that others would find too pedestrian are welcomed here.
In comparison, I knew these artists were probably more used to the gardens of multi-millionaires. I have visited many one-percenter gardens myself. I even worked in some during a summer one year, just to see what it was like. (Beautiful, but not my cup of tea.) These gardens are usually lovely and often have amenities like sprinkler systems and unlimited water use, amenities I can only dream of! But don’t get me wrong, I’m not jealous. I actually like mine better. Because I’m really the gardener. Honestly, when you have a landscape designer, head gardener with weekly work crews, and an enormous budget . . . well, to me, that’s not really being a gardener. Not my kind of gardener anyway. To me, a gardener gets bruised and scratched and walks around in a stupor sometimes, tired because she’s been planting all day, and not knowing where to put the little plant she’s delicately holding in her hand. She intimately knows the birds and insects that call her garden home. They know her, too, because they see her so often. They stay out of each other’s way, unless she needs to rescue a honeybee from the lily pond or a web, or move a spider to a spot where it makes her feel more comfortable. She makes a lot of gardening “mistakes” (kills a lot of plants) and that teaches her more than any class could. There’s never a perfect canvas to start with or a perfect design or enough money in the budget.
And all is a work in progress.
My type of gardener does the best she can with what she has, and she loves her garden because it represents and nurtures her life. It’s not a showplace, it’s a part of her personality and soul. Failures and successes, hopes and dreams, passalong plants from friends, memories of every shrub planted and where it came from and how long it’s taken to get from twig to proper size are known. If she has children her garden is especially precious as it holds memories of a joyous playground (sometimes with fairies and exotic chickens).
Although my love is great, I couldn’t help but feel a little insecure about this visit. Luckily, I don’t let my insecurities stop me. My daughter Lily and I worked hard nearly every day, cleaning, hauling, planting, pruning. During the time we had two hailstorms to contend with and recover from and we hauled two truckloads of mulch and pink sandstone gravel to replenish areas that needed it most. And then the day arrived. The ladies came and nothing was perfect. (I could tell you how naughty our two little dogs were, but I won’t, I’m still too embarrassed. Let’s just say they pulled every ill-mannered dog act they could think of.) But then again, on second thought, it actually was perfect. I got to see a few old friends and meet a few new ones. I found out we were all deep and true lovers of the garden.
The paintings tell it all. It was a beautiful experience.
Thank you for a very memorable June day, Garden Artists! I hope one day you’ll come back when I have it a little more together, or the dahlias are in bloom, or the tomatoes or coming on . . . or, heck, just come back anyway . . .