gardens and gardeners
Last night my friend Paula and I took a long walk through Eau Claire's East Hill neighborhood where she lives. Most of the houses in the area are small one- or two-story bungalows or cottages, dating back to the 1920s or 30s, and set on neatly maintained, flat lots. It is a very modest and unassuming kind of neighborhood. Friendly and quiet.
For beauty in the summer, most people find it's enough to buy a hanging basket or two, maybe have a little shrubbery by the front steps. Nice. But there are others who completely transform their yards into gardens that pulse with life and imagination. Every three or four blocks, Paula and I had to stop and stare at another of these amazing gardens. People had come up with countless ways to transcend the uniform aspects of their yards. There were densely planted berms, charming paths, all manner of sculptures and lawn ornaments, devices to hang plants at various levels (some handmade and sculptural)and benches, arbors, water gardens..I wished I had my camera along--this entry could use an illustration!
Near the end of our walk we came upon a woman working in her front garden. That is to say, she was crouching down right next to the street, as her profusion of flowers and plants skipped right over the front sidewalk and kept going. We stopped to talk, found out she is a Master Gardener (an actual title, if you didn't know) and immediately we were all over her asking for advice and information about various plants. She was very gracious. Besides answering us at length, she invited us to wander around as we pleased. The back yard was as dense with flowers and plants as the front, and she had created a varied topography with raised beds, a deck area, a small pond with koi, trellises, and statuary. The plants were mostly rather untamed, rambling here and there and all mixed up together. The effect was enchanting. Before we left, she gave me some plants for my water garden that had spread and needed to be thinned out. I'm feeling pretty grateful to her, whoever she is (we never exchanged names and I'm not even sure what street we were on) for her gifts of time, information and plants.
So--gardens and gardeners are on my mind today...thinking about a creative energy that seems to be shared by artists and gardeners. Although I'm pretty enthused about gardening, I felt a certain kinship with that woman that also went to another level. It had to do with her visual creativity...even though we didn't talk about that at all. We stuck to more technical gardening topics, like about what needs sun or how to over-winter water plants. But the fact that she works with color, texture, movement, contrast and all the other art elements intrigued me. In her yard she had created distinct, intriguing, evocative spaces from what once was as flat and blank as an unused painting panel. What I really loved was her comment that she needed to move some plants around from here to there because "sometimes you just don't know how they will end up looking when you put them in." Oh, yeah--I know about that! Translated into painting terms that gets right to the heart of the surprises and experimentation that I'm so familiar with in the studio.