Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Telling Garden Stories

The garden is a magnificent setting for a story. The place can be personally meaningful. The garden can be your own or one that you often visit. Or, as in any story, the place can be a temporary one for you. It can be a garden that you have admired from afar. Or, it can be a new one that sets the stage and sets a mood for a particular event or time in your life.

I call myself "a photographer who tells garden stories." In my photography, the garden provides a setting. Generally, I try to make its presence strong and to make the garden a central character in the plot rather than just a backdrop.

The garden is most easily recognized as a character in a child's portrait. A child will easily interact with their surroundings. Flowers become friends. A bench under a tree is a special hideaway. Moss on a stone is an unusual curiosity. A child in the garden evokes the magic of the place. Nature becomes a vibrant presence in the story.

The pictures I've posted above were taken to commemorate a little girl's first communion. The photo was taken in Greeley Park, a well-known local public spot in Nashua, New Hampshire. Many wedding parties and the like are photographed here. The little girl in the picture holds her "American Girl" doll. It was given to her by her grandmother. The doll's dress matches hers. They both look like beautiful princesses, refined and delicate. The flowers accentuate the sense of the feminine here. Their vibrancy is heightened by the contrast with the dress of white. The garden provides a timeless setting. The same timeless effect could have been achieved in studio, but here the garden adds an extra element. We get a feeling of time and place that a studio cannot achieve. Spring communion should be celebrated among spring flowers. Nature also helps elicit an uplifting spiritual feeling that is appropriate for this age group. There is a sense of playfulness, new beginnings, and ties to the past (the garden springs eternal.)

As an historian (my other career,) I like to think of the land as part of history. I think of all the people who once tread in the same places I do. What people once tended these gardens? What people once celebrated here? In my work as an archivist, I often came across collections of photos in the archives that showed one location at different times. I could feel the presence of generations. When telling garden stories, I want to feel that history too. I think there is a bond between history and nature that is very significant. Our land has a story to tell. We are part of it. Our ancestors were part of it and hopefully our children will be part of it too...

...I sit here writing this morning while looking out my sunroom window. Last winter I covered my gardens with straw. I swept most of it up in early spring cleaning, but remnants remain. After heavy showers over the past few days, the sun is back out now. Cardinals sit in the branches of my tall cypress and swoop down to gather my straw. Their chirping pleases me. I'm glad I didn't sweep up all the straw remnants. I can't wait until my daughter gets home from school to tell her about the cardinals building a nest out our window. Last year, squirrels built a nest in the pine next to it. Before that blue jays found our backyard trees suitable for their babies' home. And the cycle of life marches on. I'm glad to witness it in my favorite setting.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Gardener's Soul

What is the "Gardener's Soul?"

The Gardener's Soul is the creative energy and natural sense of peace the human spirit feels in a garden setting. The act of participating in garden activities helps an individual develop the ability to better identify with nature and to seek ways to protect it. No matter one's personal background, becoming a gardener helps the individual achieve a oneness with the entire living world. By reaching out to nature, we reach back to the essence of what it means to be human and recognize how we are just a small part of the natural world.

I have mentioned in this blog a number of times that I am working on a book, but I have not discussed it in detail. "The Gardener's Soul: Nature's Path Toward Inner Peace" is now a complete manuscript and I am seeking a publisher for it. The work focuses on fourteen female gardeners from the New Hampshire and Northern Massachusetts area. It discusses their gardening styles, why they garden, how gardening inspires them, and how the garden fits in their lifestyles. Last summer, I found these women by advertising the project in my local garden center. I then photographed and interviewed them in their gardens. The women include doctors, artists, housewives, a writer, salespeople, retirees, an art dealer, a psychologist and teachers who all feel that gardening plays an essential role in their health and happiness.

The book includes stories of the women's gardening experiences. For example, there are funny side-bits such as the woman who thought she heard monkeys in her backyard in the middle of the night when she was awakened by a raucous "hoo, hoo, ha, ha." She found raccoons whooping it up, getting drunk from fermenting pears on her fruit tree. There are also poignant life altering insights such as the woman who bought a small cottage after her divorce and after overcoming cancer. She says that these negative events encouraged her to volunteer at the local hospital with her "therapy" dogs to brighten the patients day and to take up gardening so that she could be closer to the most meaningful things in life.

So, there you have it. This has been my project, my baby for the past year. I'll keep you posted on how the publisher search goes. I have sent out numerous query letters and book proposals and I am plugging away on a little more every day. I've had a number of rejections thus far, but a few of them have been"positive" rejections. They've told me that the book has merit, but is not right for their publishing company. So, I'll keep plugging away. I keep telling myself that I have heard J.K. Rowling had twenty rejections before someone took on her masterpiece. I have to be at least that patient!

Advice, insights into publishing, and especially any publisher interest is appreciated! ; )

Monday, April 28, 2008

Lilac Anticipation

We've got the forsythia and azalea bushes blooming now in my yard. Now I await the lilac. My lilacs grow around the side of my property and were lost among the other brush. I trimmed back the woods this year and the lilacs will stand as a showpiece on their own.

It is amazing to me how a particular flower can tickle the memory banks. I have heard it said that smell triggers memories more than any other sense. This would certainly hold true with the lilac. It is one of the scents of childhood for me. My parents loved lilacs when we lived in New York. As I remember it, every May we would cut some blooms from the tree to place on the kitchen counter. That heavenly smell permeated the room. (My favorite floral fragrance usually permeates my house. I use lavender in an aromatherapy warmer. I wonder if my daughter will identify this flower with me like I identify the lilac with my own mother.)

The purple lilac is the state flower of New Hampshire, where I reside. That also gives the flower particular significance to me. As a librarian and historian, I am always a sucker for little known bits of information. The beautiful floral bushes enliven our lovely port town of Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The flowers were first brought to the United States from England and were planted in Portsmouth, at the home of Governor Benning Wentworth in the 1750s. The home still stands today and so do lilac bushes around it. (Though these are probably not the original bushes I suppose.) Walking down Portsmouth's brick sidewalks, one is struck by the lilacs brimming over the sides of tall white fences protecting the small yards of the early colonial homes. It definitely makes Portsmouth a place to see in May.

So enjoy these last days of April. We are finally getting the April showers here after a small draught. May will bring the gardens into full swing!

Sunday, April 27, 2008


It seems that almost everything survived in my garden this winter. I have only lost one grass plant. It is the second year in a row that I have lost a grass. I think I have learned that I must plant these early in the season, so that they have time to establish themselves before braving a New Hampshire winter.

Now I wait for the wildflowers to bloom. I hope they have survived. I hope that they will come back. I have a brook that runs down the side of my hilly property, past the house and under the driveway. The brook dries out in the summer, but leaves lovely marshy soil that has become home to Jack-in-the-Pulpit. Unfortunately, last year our brook flooded and took out some of the driveway near where I spotted the lovely orchid like, chocolate, striped bloom. We had the driveway rebuilt and I'm concerned that my Jack in the Pulpits might have been disturbed.

The first year I lived in this house we had a small stand of lady slippers in the backyard. The next year the lady slippers did not return. The year after that we had the weed field near the edge of the forest, where the lady slippers once resided, redone. It is our only flat piece of property. We wanted my daughter to have a safe play area and this seemed best. We had sod put in. It wasn't exactly where I saw the ladyslippers two years previously, but I wonder if all the machines brought in to take out rocks and such could have disturbed whatever was there. If anything was there. I am told that lady slippers come and go. I wait for my lady slippers to come back.

On the nature walks down our street, we've run into chickory, queen anne's lace and a host of other wildflowers. The wildflowers are not "mine" the way the grasses are, but they feel like it. Their survival feels personal. I hope for their return and wait with my breath held to see which come back to me. I can't tame them. I dare not move them for the sake of pampering. Each year the ones that make it are an extra special surprise - survival of the fittest, growing for me in an indirect way...perhaps growing in spite of me.

Saturday, April 26, 2008


The greening is in full swing! Yesterday, I looked out the window and saw it. That beautiful spring yellowy green color dotted the sky. The leaves are popping, which of course means the peonies are dashing through the soil.

Our fairy house, intended to welcome the fairies who favor peony, fell over in the spring winds the other day. We will need to build a new fairy house fast. While walking in the woods this week, we saw a strong fairy house. It was obviously built by a kid who knew what she was doing. We are newbie fairy house builders, but we will model our new attempt on this more advanced house. I feel like the pig who built his house of straw. We need to focus on raising the standards to the piggy who favored brick. ("King Piggy" lives in my daughter's reading garden. He is originally from the "Little People" toy farmhouse, but he wanted a new residence. We took the bricks that were pulled up when we had a drainage system put in last year. We built his new house with these under his supervision. We should invite him to come supervise the fairy house. I'm sure he could advise us how to make it stand, even under heavy winds.)

Peonies remind me of ants. My mother had a white peony near the raspberry bushes when I was young. I remember their soft petals all over the lawn, the heavenly smell, and the ants. For this reason, I do not favor the peony. At least I'm not a fairy who has to live in one. I think I'd prefer to live in a rose. The thorns would provide protection from unwanted guests. I'd still get the heavenly smell and the soft petals.

I recognize that the peony is beautiful. We have three well established ones, planted by the previous owner. I wouldn't plant one myself. Not only do they have ants, they fade fast. Then, their brown leaves scatter on the ground and the stalks look icky. They are beautiful, but I'll visit the numerous varieties at my favorite local garden center rather than buying ones that require my care. I have no sympathy for their ways, so I think adding more to my brood just wouldn't work very well. When I cut back the peonies early in the season when the bloom fades, there is a great big gap in the garden. Maybe I'm doing something wrong? Maybe there is a way to plant so that something follows on the tail of the peony when it's done with its show? Maybe I should ask that fairy when she gets here.

Friday, April 25, 2008

There is No Room for Ego Here

Alternate Title: Why We Need a Global Earth Day
This posting continues the comments thread from my April 22nd posting about Earth Day... (Thank you Esther for your provocative insight on my posting)

I have been told that non-Americans would find it hypocritical if Americans pushed Earth Day on the rest of the world. But to preserve nature and save our environment we must unite globally. The biggest offenders of polluting the earth must be brought into the fold somehow. I think a global Earth Day is one way to help achieve unity.

We will come against opposition as we already have over and over again. Many say that you have come together and not "everyone is on board." Throwing hands up in disgust or finger pointing will never solve anything. I think it was famed author Sylvia Boorstein who reminded us that we would not hit our friend if she turned on us. We would try to calm that friend, seek to understand her and try to help her see our way. We should see our fellow man as "friend" and treat disagreements with the same sense of compassion for all humanity.

Nature reminds us to unite with our fellow humans, recognizing that all of humanity has a similar basic interest -- to exist without suffering. When I am physically close to nature, it helps me realize that I am a small part of a whole intricate existence. It does not matter that I am an American. Ethnocentricity has no place here. It does not matter how much money I make or what my religion is. My personal preferences are unimportant. We are all the same on the very inside. No one person is better than any other. We are all part of the natural world and need it to be a healthy place for our very own survival. Keeping this in mind, I recognize it as my responsibility to help preserve the natural world to help sustain humanity and all living things. I can only do my part and perhaps gently help others recognize their role too. (Of course, this is my ideal. I try to be open-minded, but often forget this ideal and form prejudices. But this is what I strive to remember at all times.)

I understand if you don't want to sit around in a circle, holding the hands of strangers with love beads around your neck...I'm too cynical for that myself. But please make an effort to open your mind to the fact that you have something in common with those different from you. Perhaps you can spread your view by gently explaining it, bonding with other like minded citizens to convince those who seem like adversaries. I often give up trying to explain something, only to come back to the subject when the time is right. For Americans, the time is right now. There are many who are willing to listen about the environmental cause. Holding past gripes and pointing fingers about unsigned treaties and ill-practices will not win hearts. And this issue is too important to give up on convincing others.

Not everyone has my same point of view on many issues that are important to me. It is sometimes hard to come to terms with this. We often see ourselves as better than others because of the labels we've given ourselves or because of gross generalizations about people who appear different than we are. We seek to blame others. We seek to fight with others. We seek to impose our way. Governments can hinder movement in a positive direction. Citizens might be apathetic. The only important truth is that we are all part of nature and we can only survive by relying on each other. We must find a way to work with others to acknowledge our interdependence.

I have found one "theory" helpful. In Buddhism, the ego is something to be dispelled. Buddhism emphasizes the harmony of all living things together forming a whole. Since I am not a Buddhist teacher, it will be hard for me to explain this...but the mission of a Buddhist is to let go of the ego, to understand that whatever we feel or believe is just a perception and not reality. Our selves are only shells housing a spiritual essence or an energy. This energy seeks to be united with the universe and this state can be attained through enlightenment. I like the idea of this positive energy that helps make the universe go around.

The more positive energy we emit, the more we can affect others. Think about when you are happy. The mood often spreads to those around you. If you are unhappy, someone who offers you a little cheer can lift up your own mood. If you have a good idea, you win more people over with a positive push. As a mother, I am sensitive to the fact that convincing my daughter that my idea is hers is more likely to make her act. To get my daughter moving this morning I chose this tact: "Honey, remember the deer we saw in the woods last time. Wasn't he cool? Do you think he might be in the woods again on a beautiful day like today? Shall we go see?" I knew it would work better than: "Honey, we're going for a walk. Mommy could use the exercise and you can too!"

In the garden, I can see my connection to nature, all living-beings, and this unique energy more clearly than I understand it anywhere else. I think anyone who is introduced to gardening and induced to take part would feel it too. But it doesn't really matter how one is introduced to the concepts of caring for the environment. Perhaps you are moved by a nature television show. Perhaps getting your hands in the dirt tickles your fancy. Perhaps a highway strip of wildflowers wakes you up to nature's presence as your drive into work. Perhaps a large scale celebration such as Earth Day opens your mind. No matter what the thing that helps you shed your ego and recognize the magnificent importance of nature, kudos if you have gotten there. If some of us can step outside and smell the fresh air to understand their connection to nature, great! Others may need fireworks and rock bands singing about nature's beauty in an Earth Day celebration. We must all respect that if we are to save this earth and ourselves. There is no room for ego here. We must recognize our interconnectedness and our interdependence.

Do we have time to influence others through patience? Perhaps not, but we also may not have a choice. The Dalai Lama has already waited 50 years to help the Tibetans. Through non-violence, love, patience and compassion, it seems he has convinced the world of the righteousness of the cause of the Tibetan people. Fighting, arguing, holding grudges and prejudices won't change hearts in the long run. What we need today is long-term change. We need to offer realistic alternatives to what is an ingrained way of thinking for many. The proliferation of renewable energies, organic food, and natural cleaners in the United States is a positive sign. Political action groups, National Public radio programs discussing the environment, and documentaries about global warming are furthering the dialogue. Join the dialogues and get the positive energy growing. There is no room for ego here, but there is room for you to share what you know in a compassionate way to further the cause.

A global earth day that acknowledges what different countries do to assist the environment, shares knowledge about sound environmental practices, and presents facts has a place now in America now. "Every day is Earth day," but one special day to emphasize it can only move us in a positive direction.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Personify Your Muse

Thanks to my daughter's influence. I now think of the muse as a fairy. We built her a house near the peonies and we wait for her to come. I noticed that the peonies are finally pushing through the soil today. The muse is near.

When I interviewed other gardeners last year for the book I have written, I learned that the muse brings a variety of riches to those who are open to it. For some, the muse sharpens the creative spirit. Working in the gardens stirs the soul to spread creativity throughout one's life. Many are inspired to channel energies toward artistic endeavors, unrelated to gardening, pursuing the fine arts to express how nature makes one feel.

In Greek mythology, the muses are the Greek goddesses, daughters of Zeus, who presided over the arts and sciences. Though today we usually consider the muse as one who inspires a fine artist, the muse can be a source for inspiration and influence other parts of our lives too. The muse helps others find a sense of calm that they can use to help others in work that requires it. The gardening muse inspires doctors to be more open to alternate treatments or ways of thinking. It helps people think outside of themselves, to better feel a sense of compassion for other living beings. The muse encourages us to transfer what we learn thinking outside of the box to others. I think of one gardener I met who shares her love of nature with her students, bringing seed pods to school and telling stories of butterflies in far-away lands. Surely she is inspired by a muse. It is a little voice in her head that tells her that what she is thinking is "cool" and inspires her to go further with her ideas.

When I"m not thinking of fairies, I think of my own living fairy. Since her birth, my daughter has served as a muse for me. Her presence helps me find new channels for my ideas. She encourages me to create wonderful garden spaces, to reach for new artistic challenges, and to share my love of nature with others.

It may help to think of the muse in some lifelike form - a fairy, a child, a forest creature, a long-lost relative. Whatever or whomever comes to mind as you work is appropriate. This identification with another living creature can help propel you to new levels of magnificence.

To see the muse in rare form, visit Ming with Esther in the Garden .

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Muse

The Muse is slowly awakening in my yard. But as the temps soar near 90 degrees, I feel her wilting.

On Monday, I dropped my photographs off at the local garden center, Uncanoonuc Mt. Perennials, where each year they agree to hang my work in their sales cabin. The gardens are just coming to life, with green popping out of the ground and flowers on their dogwood. The dogwood reminds me of a similar tree in front of my window when I was growing up. Yes, this got the muse stirring. The flowers can't bloom fast enough for me now. (May 14, 2008 - Annette Rynearson at Uncanoonuc informed me that the tree is a magnolia and not a still reminds me of my dogwood and now I have a new found love for magnolia too! Thanks Nettie!)

At home, the daffodils are starting to bloom. The crocus has gone back to sleep, but they really were just a quick "amuse bouche" for the season. The daffodils should last a little longer, followed by the tulips. The daffodil ruffles stir my fancy, but the colors are a bit bland for my photographic muse. The bright tulips start to get the muse giddy.

My muse is most tickled by round sunburst shapes, so it must be patient until June when the daisies, oseteospermum, anemone, and other round flowers, with small, feathery petals get going. Now is the time to track garden changes before the garden really springs to life. I generally take a step back with my camera to capture the landscape. During the summer, the muse asks me to move in with the macro lens to capture the sparkle of individual flowers.

I have a finicky muse, but I've learned to work with her. She generally knows what she likes. I need to warm her up for the season and spring serves this function. Unfortunately, we've seemed to jump quickly into summer this year. Last year we had too much rain. this year we are headed toward drought. The muse is confused and restless.

What gets your muse going?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Earth Day``

Why isn't earth day a national / international holiday? I think everyone should have the day off to clean up their neighborhoods, plant some trees, and think about what it means to be part of nature. I think the earth is one of the most important things that we could celebrate. It would be a chance to recognize that we all come from a common place. It would be a chance to celebrate the miracle of all living things. It would be a chance to take stock of how we can help make the world a better place by valuing our natural resources. Think of the positive energy and good will we could generate by displaying such compassion all at once.

Happy Earth Day everyone!

Monday, April 21, 2008

20 Sure Signs of Spring

1. daffodils
2. forsythia
3. weeds
(perhaps not in that order)
4. all snow has finally melted (almost)
5. greening grass
6. birds singing
7. leaves budding
8. fruit trees blossoming
9. earthworms
10. garden photo opportunities
11. garden centers opening (this week!)
12. smell of mulch and manure
13. last of the seeds I ordered arrived in the mail
14. fairy houses
15. fear of flooding
16. fear of sunburn
17. dance recitals (and dance practice on the front lawn)
18. garden tools out of storage
19. strawberry anticipation!
20. Good weather!

It looks like we'll actually have a spring this year! The past few years we've skipped right from winter to summer. The signs of spring have come, but the weather in the past has turned immediately hot and humid. Hooray for spring!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

More Kids' Garden Activities

Raking in the yard is fun for a short spell. Digging in newly dug gardens can be fun too, but how can we really engage our kids in garden activities? Last month, I discussed starting seeds, nature visualization, books and photography as ways to get kids more engaged. I also discussed fairy houses a few days ago. The key is to give our children hands-on activities that feel like their own. You can be your child's helper and give her a sense of responsibility. Don't expect the act of filling the wheelbarrow with your trimmings from the forsythia bush to turn your child on to nature.

Check out The Great Sunflower Project the project sends your free sunflowers to plant. Your family's assignment is to count the bees that visit your sunflowers after they've grown. Because of the apparent decline in the bee population, the project seeks to understand the challenges that bees face and how we can help them. This is a great learning opportunity and what child doesn't love sunflowers?

We have also begun a garden diary where we draw pictures of what we are doing in the garden and write about them. The diary can include photographs. It can be detailed or loose. with older kids you can check out the changes in the garden every day, record the weather, record how much things have grown and what new creatures you find. With younger children, like mine, you can make entries less often so the changes are more obvious and the task doesn't becoem boring. We went from recording snow in March, to noting our raking last week, and today we will note a new garden we have dug.

Give your child a spot all his own. My daughter loves to graze through the vegetable patch. She remarked the other day how she remembers chomping on onions last year. So, I raked a spot near her playset and we planted her very own patch of onions. This way, when she gets a little munchy on the swing she can hop off and have an onion break! (I've also planted berries nearby, so she gets a little variety in her diet.) She was so exited about the idea that she "planted" trees next to her garden, taking little sticks, poking them in the ground, hanging last year's dead leaves on them, and claiming the spot as her own.

The idea of our own space also spread to relaxation. This year I cleaned out under a tall pine. I trimmed low branches and raked to make a little hideaway. I placed small chairs under the tree near the driveway where my daughter can wait for daddy to come home in the evening. I'm encouraging her to spread blankets and bring favored outdoor toys to her new spot. Her "old" spot is on the other side of the house. A hideaway shade garden where she can sit and read out of the sun on a hot summer day. We also placed her very own bird feeder near here, so she could relax by watching them and listening to bird songs.

If you make children space in the garden, they will take to it like bees on sunflowers. Help them feel the garden magic. Recognize that kids need their own garden spaces and activities, Just sharing yours may not be enough for them to grow an interest in gardening.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Creative Spirit

The garden has a way of unleashing one's creative spirit. According to the Mirriam Webster dictionary, to create is to make or bring into existence something new. The creative spirit is that part of you that comes up with new ideas. You then apply these ideas toward creating something. We create things all day long - reports, dinner, a clean house - but the creative spirit goes beyond the mundane. When we use our creative side, we tap into an inner power that allows us to make something extraordinary.

When I think of the creative spirit, I think of the part of myself that sees things with fresh eyes. This side of me is not something that I can access easily all of the time. Have you ever sat down to write and couldn't think of an idea? Do you serve the same foods over and over again at every Thanksgiving meal? Have you ever had free time and just ended up running your chore list for the week? This is not your creative spirit at work. You creative spirit helps you to think outside of a box, to do different things, to DARE to do different things. For example, you open a dictionary, point to a word and decide to write about it. (I didn't do this today by the way.)
To get rid of writer's block we have exercises to get the creative juices flowing. We have recipe books to help us rethink our meal planning. We have books and magazines to help us plan our free time and get moving in a new direction.

For me, and I suspect for most other gardeners, stepping out into the garden achieves the same effect. Last year, after a weary winter of freezing and thawing then flooding here in NH, I stepped out in April to visit the trees I have pictured above. They are located only a few miles from my house, on a hill in an office park. I've passed them on the highway many times. Actually, I shouldn't say that I "stepped" out because I remember dragging myself out. I felt low and told myself that perhaps if I got moving I could change things around. As I approached the beautiful pink blooms, I parked the car. It was a Sunday and the only people around were the landscape crew. the only noise was their lawn mowers. I stepped up to the tree and snapped a picture. "Okay, this isn't so bad," I remember thinking.

Three trees in a row and how best to capture them? I only work with two lenses, which is sometimes a detriment. Usually those two serve me well because they are meant for small closeup flower work or portraits, the primary photos I take. But shooting trees is difficult. I wanted to photograph the way my eyes saw the scene and that was not really possible for me with my fixed macro lens or my other lens (which I think is 50-120 for anyone who cares, but don't hold me to that. I'm sitting in a car dealership and can't check. I also have so many numbers in my head that I have difficulty remembering things like lens length.) I wanted a wider panorama. Anyway, I did my best. The creative juices began to flow. I walked around the trees and under the trees. I probably would have climbed them if I had been able, but the landscape crew might have looked at me funny if I had done that anyway.

I went home feeling not totally satisfied that I had achieved greatness, but the blahs were leaving me. Later, I got on the computer to see the digital files I had shot. Then it hit me. I wanted to highlight the contrasts of the road, sky, grass and blossoms. I boosted the intensity of the colors and darkened the road. I wanted more texture to shake off the flat whiteness of winter. I added some boxes of texture. I wanted to shout "Spring!" And I think I did with this picture. I created something extraordinary. No, it's not extraordinary in a prize winning photo sort of way, but I expressed myself. I let the voice deep inside of me shout out. I brought something mundane outside of the box. It made me feel more alive and content.

So, this is the creative spirit. Whether it involves creating a piece of art, helping your orchids grow, or playing with your child on the playground. It is the part of you that speaks up and allows you to do something out of the ordinary. It allows you to see the world around you from a different dimension than where you started. with any luck, your vision will help others change a little too.

This year I hope to photograph the apple trees a few towns away while they are in bloom.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

It's Time for Fairy Houses!

A month ago my daughter informed me the Elina lives in a peony. "Ah..." I responded, "Doesn't she know about fairy houses?"

I had seen the fairy house series by Tracy Kane when I visited my local Audobon Center a few years back. So, I knew a little about fairies. I knew the time would come when I would need that book and it seems that today is the day. Elina is a much loved Barbie fairy in the Fairytopia series. My daughter is also reading about Tinkerbell's Disney fairy world. In case you are not up on your little girl contemporary literature, I should tell you that Tinkerbell is now a star unto herself. She doesn't need Peter Pan. She's got her own little world in Neverland and is surrounded by fairy friends. Then, finally, my daughter is reading about the lesser known Rainbow Magic fairies. In the Rainbow series of books, nine year old girls one day discover that they are fairies. So, you can see...If I hadn't known fairies were going to be a hot topic in my garden this spring I would have had to say that I was not paying attention.

Near our peonies, which are just starting to poke out of the ground, we piled sticks together in a teepee shape, tied string around the top, and covered it with pine branches.


"Yes, dear."

"How will Elina find our fairy house?"

"She'll smell the peony and come looking for it and since our house is right next to it, she'll find it. That's why we need to do a really good job and make it so pretty that she'll want to live here and not in the peony."

We took last year's dried flowers that I clipped from the yard to make the house "pretty."

Now, my daughter is only four, but she's a pretty bright kid. I'm know that she knows that fairies aren't real. Yet, four is that magical time when reality and make-believe mix so beautifully. We amuse our little ones imagining if the Easter bunny is tiny, but super strong so he can carry an Easter basket. Or, maybe he is big, like Daddy? (I wouldn't want to meet that bunny in a dark alley) Santa comes down the chimney to get in the house. (I like to now picture him using flue powder like they do in the Harry Potter books. And then, of course, there's the tooth fairy. My daughter has had a special pillow for this magical fairy since she was born. One day, when a tooth falls out, she will tuck it in the pillow flap so the little lady can easily find the tooth and leave my daughter a treat instead.

But the magic goes beyond the age of four when it comes to fairy gardens. Almost every true gardener I know has some kind of fairy in her garden - a statue, a doll on the windowsill looking out at, a fairy presence that she says she can feel. And why not? When we garden, the magical feeling of nature is alive all around us. A fairy is just a personification of the garden muse we feel on our shoulder when we are out in the yard deep in our own thoughts, beautifying our surroundings. I like my four-ear-old reminding me that I may be tidying up for a little fairy to appear. It's nice to think of my handiwork and cooperation with nature as part of a fairy story. I hope that my daughter never loses that innocent spirit that allows her to believe in fairies. I'm so glad that she brought them to me too.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

"Read a comedy will ya?"

This morning my husband said to me, "When you are done with this book would you please read something funny?!"

His comments came after I announced to him that I think humans are stupid...I guess that's not a nice thing to say huh? But I do lump myself in with the group. So, why do I think we are all stupid? It's not totally our fault. I think in part we've been duped. We are slowly destroying our world by the things we do without giving it a second thought. I, for one, never really thought to give some of the things I do a second thought.

So, what am I now reading that brought me to the humble realization that I and most of the rest of my country is made up of stupid people? "Silent Spring" by Rachel Carlson has opened my eyes. This is something I should have read twenty years ago. Every high school student should be required to read it.

Before this book I read "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" by Barbara Kingsolver. Kingsolver's book makes a great case for buying local organic food, perhaps even growing your own. She convinced me to look a new way at my food purchases. But seeing as I am originally from NY, cynicism is in my bones. (Is that another terrible thing to say? Just how many people am I willing to offend today?) Kingsolver's tone rubbed me wrong at times. I agreed with her, but still wanted to say, "Would you get off your high horse lady?!" The book is worth a read, but be prepared to disagree with some of it.

Back to the Carlson book. Carlson's book is acclaimed for having started "the environmental movement" in the 60s. Carlson was a trained biologist and writer who was very concerned about what large chemical companies were (are) doing to the environment. She writes in a gentle style, telling it as it is, not "getting on a high horse." Her language is simplistic, so even the non-biologists can understand it. I am appalled by example after example of ways we tampered with the environment without considering the consequences in the mid-twentieth century.

More than that, the book made me start thinking about the environment today. Do I really know anything about the chemicals I use? The pesticides and fertilizers, the dish soap, the makeup? How do I know if I should believe that it is safe, even when it says so? How do I know the Roundup I used to kill the invasive weed last year isn't now in my well water? How stable is that chemical? Does it dissipate or will it now be around forever? How healthy is the soil where I plan to grow organic vegetables this year? Will they really be organic after the lawn service was here last year and who knows what happened to this land before I moved here? Beyond global warming, our planet is in danger from the inside out. If we kill the good organisms in our soils, if we pollute them with chemicals beyond repair, we will have no food to eat and water to drink. It would take millions of years for our bodies to adapt to the changes we are causing in the environment. And we wonder why so many people are getting cancer today...we wonder why so many people have food intolerances and this disorder and that disorder.

So, all this thinking is a far cry from my training as an archivist (a person who works with historical records.) I never thought I would become an environmental activist. I attended earth day rallies, composted, and cleaned up garbage in my neighborhood, but now I've heard the call to do more. I think I'm declaring it today. I am an activist. I will seek organizations to support with my time and will use my vote to save the earth and my daughter's future....then I'll go read a funny story...

(I also promise that I'll post pretty pictures tomorrow)

Monday, April 14, 2008

Going Natural

For me, last year was all about meeting other gardeners and learning how they garden. This year it will be about going completely organic...or as much as I can as I learn how to do it. (I already missed the organic seed bandwagon - buying hybrids and then learning about heirlooms and seedsavers. DOH! But learning is a process.)

Last year I set out on an adventure to interview fellow gardeners. I've written about it a few times in this blog. (See postings related to my book "The Gardener's Soul" if you would like to read more.) One day, I stood in the garden photographing flowers thinking about my own gardening and art. I love flowers. I garden for the sheer joy and comfort of it. Flowers to me represent everything good about life. They make me happy... I had an epiphany. Others must spend a lot of time in their gardens thinking about why they do it too! I decided to ask. I posted a notice in my favorite garden center, asking gardeners to contact me if they were interested in participating in a project that would lead to a book and exhibit. I photographed and interviewed 14 women in their gardens and spent the winter writing about the experience.

In the course of writing, I also did a lot of research. I read about women gardeners over the history of time. I read about spirituality and gardening. I read many musings on gardening, gardener's correspondence, books on ecology, books on growing your own food. Above all, my readings and my meetings with gardeners last year impressed upon me the importance of conservation. I have always leaned toward organic gardening, but I think I have crossed a threshold. I am currently reading "Silent Spring" by Rachel Carson, which in my opinion should be required reading for all high school students. It took me until my thirties to read it. I am moved to do something about man's abuse of the earth. Starting in my own backyard, I will change things.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Hydrangea Dreams

During the growing season, I frequent garden centers at least once a week. There is always something new that catches my eye. I buy a particular plant, or two, or three of them to put in my garden. The plant brings me joy and I move on to the the next. But something happened to me last year to change that pattern. I found a plant and kept buying and buying it. More than that, I plan to spend most of the money I allow myself for gardening this year buying more of it.

I have been a rose lover most of my life. Every year I buy a rose or two to add to the garden. It's a special treat for me. But this new addiction goes beyond the rose. I put on rose brakes because I know that the roses are fussy. I love them more than they love me. I don't expect much from them because I don't give them the attention they long to have. Roses are the prima donas of the flower world. I have never been one for prima donas...Work with me or I cut you loose. But I appreciate the intense beauty of a rose. I like to have it around, but will never allow it to control me. I honor it, taking what it will give me and moving on to the next flower. We live in peace, giving each other just enough love to continue the relationship, but never enough to encourage exclusivity. I'm sure I"ll add another rose or two this year...

But I digress...this story is not about the rose. It's about a new love. I've developed a passion that may encourage faithfulness. Three years ago I moved to my new house. A few miles away is a 28 acre preserve of land that includes an old garden featuring hydrangea. The white hydrangea were planted in an L shape. They flower from early to late summer. They make a remarkable play area for my daughter and her friends to play hide and seek. They remind me of "old fashioned" gardens in the English style I so love.

I bought a hydrangea for my own yard the first year I moved here and think I even had one on my old property. But for me hydrangea was like a friend who has a crush on you and waits in the wings until you are ready to reciprocate. I knew of its existence. I enjoyed the relationship. I did not recognize its inner being for what it truly is. Hydrangea is perfect! It is easy to grow and it grows fast. The plants get better and better over time. One can easily find native varieties that take little care. It can grow in sun or shade depending on the variety. It can be pink, or blue, or white and often the color only depends on your whim. Change what you feed it and it changes color if the variety allows. The blooms are huge. (Size does matter.) When the blooms are through for the season, you can dry them and make pretty arrangements in the house.

I now have six hydrangeas. My goal is to rim the whole yard with them. I have a wooded lot and the hydrangea would blend perfectly against the backdrop of myrtle. I estimate it will take perhaps 40 or 50 more shrubs to accomplish my vision....anyone know of a great nursery for purchasing hydrangea?

Friday, April 11, 2008

Reading in the Great Outdoors

For my family, a large part of nature's attraction is that it offers is a great place to sit and read. There is nothing quite like spreading out a blanket on the lawn and sitting with a good book or magazine. Breezy spring days are especially pleasant after being cooped up inside all winter.

I heard a report on National Public Radio yesterday where the guests debated the future of the printed book. They discussed how computer use is changing the way children read. More and more kids do their primary reading on the computer, rather than in book form. Psychologists talked about how the wiring of the human brain is changing due to this major change in the way kids learn. It was a fascinating discussion about the future of books, the future of the computer, and the future of civilization.

As former librarian with a master's degree in library science and as a bibliophile, I have a keen interest in this topic. In my first professional job as a librarian, I was also the library's archivist and Internet Coordinator. I had my foot in many camps - past, present and future. I do consider myself a techie to a degree, though compared to my husband who works with computers for a living, I am nothing of the sort. I love computers and history. I tend to see the good and bad in moving quickly forward with technology. But I won't go into that here, except to say that it would be more than a shame if we lost the ability to hold a book in our hands and turn the pages.

Those who believe that the printed book should die obviously do not regularly sit in the garden with book in hand. Though I can see how it would be nice to save some trees by not using so much paper, I see little benefit to moving all information to a digital form. Sitting in the garden with a laptop before me does not bring the same sense of peace as a book does. The book's smell, feel, weight, design - in short, it's uniqueness - give me an almost perverse pleasure. This is the same pleasure I feel when I examine an individual plant. To me, a book is a man-made miracle. It is a work of art - a view of the world brilliantly packaged. We can read a book on the surface level, enjoying the author's story as we would enjoy the vibrant colors of a flower. Or, we can dig deeper, trying to read between the lines, forming opinions about the obvious and looking for the not so obvious meaning behind the author's words. This is analogous to the way I sometimes settle back to enjoy an overview of a garden, yet other times the garden experience makes me think about nature's handiwork, the future of the environment, or some other deep topic.

I've never had quite the same inner stirrings for a computer, though I know my husband probably has. He was taking them apart and putting them back together by the time he was ten. He is fascinated by the inner workings of electronics. That is how his brain is wired. Mine is not. Why do we have to settle for one way of thinking? I think that he and I make a very complementary team.

There is room in this world for books and computers just as there is room for peonies and pansies. Each has a place. Think how well-rounded our children will be if we transfer appreciation for all forms of information in our world. The book promotes linear thinking. The computer promotes multi-tasking and non-linear thinking. Both are beneficial depending on the time and you really want to sit in your hammock and read from the computer? What would happen to your electronic reading device if you fall asleep there anyway? I have visions of it crashing to the floor. Dropping a book would be much less expensive if nothing else.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Getting Close with the Macro Lens

I'll often end a still life session by just popping the macro lens on my camera and getting close. I love to look for sensual shapes and blocks of color when viewing flowers. Using a macro lens is the perfect way to achieve that. I see the garden and flower arrangements in very different ways depending on the lens I use.

When I teach children about photography, I encourage them to look at a subject from multiple angles - to get close, to move back, to climb on a chair and look down and to get on their knees and go beneath. It is amazing how many different photographs one can take of the same subject.

When I was a senior in high school, I attended the summer school for the arts in Buffalo, New York. We were awakened pre-dawn one morning by the instructors to travel down to the millyard. We were dropped off in front of a big brick building and told to get to it. Cameras in hand, the students scurried every which way. At the time, I was throughly uninspired by my surroundings. "What pictures can one take of this dirty old mill?" I thought. When we returned to class, I was given a lesson that I would never forget. Each student had captured something totally different from the person sitting next to him. One student focused on the sunlight seeping between mill buildings. (Actually, I think those photos may have been mine...) Another student focused on his reflection in some old metal remnants he found in the yard. Another studnet focused on the landscape of the buildings. Another focused on the shapes within the building...I think you get the picture.

Everyone has a different vision and each is inspired by different elements of their surroundings. In fact, an artist will generally develop a recognizable style based on her vision of the world. Those who know my work would immediately recognize the above photos as mine. My still lifes are simple, use rich colors, and generally have feminine curves. My macro pictures are soft, yet detailed. I accentuate the backgrounds using a very small f-stop and concentrate on contrasting colors in flat blocks behind the flowers.

So, the next time you are out taking pictures, whether they are pictures of your kids or your flowers, try to think out side of your box. Don't just point and shoot. consider your landscape. Where should you stand to make the subject more interesting? Perhaps even getting on your belly would help. Should you move in close to your subject or far away? Have fun trying different things and soon you too will develop your own style.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Shifting Gears

Okay. .. so, now who is going to clean my house?..How do I get dinner made? How do I even get my indoor plants watered? Oh yeah...and who is going to write this blog for me? I want to be in the garden permanently now that the temps. are in the 50s. They say it may even hit 70 on Thursday. Don't expect me to be blogging then. I've got my camera geared up and ready to go. The garden centers open in a couple of weeks. How do I shift gears from winter to spring? I've waited so long for it to get here and now I am overwhelmed!

Monday, April 7, 2008

Clover Lawns Protect the Environment and Beautify Your Yard

My new blogger friend Esther commented on yesterday's blog that she wanted further explanation for my attraction to clover lawns. I realized I've only mentioned that I've become a big fan of them, but I haven't explained myself.

As we all know, keeping a grass lawn green takes a lot of water and often a lot of chemicals. I have been convinced by a fellow gardener that American's attraction to grass was the result of clever marketing. We deem clover a weed, but how many of us have ever seen a full clover lawn?

It is a beautiful site. While interviewing gardeners for my upcoming book, I met Cindy. She is the first proponent for the clover lawn whom I have ever met. Here is why:
  • Clover stays green without chemicals
  • It takes little water
  • It maintains the health of the soil - proper nutrients, proper animal life, healthy microorganisms thrive in a clover lawn
  • It takes less mowing than grass
  • It is softer under foot than grass
  • It is gorgeous!
Here is a photo of Cindy's lawn:

Eleanor Perenyi in her book Green Thoughts: A Writer in the Garden espouses the benefits of "alternative" lawns. She says, "Alternatives are few, but there is one I would commend to lawn-lovers in the North: that old favorite, white clover (Trifolium repens). Clover lawns aren't new and time was when all good grass mixtures included clover seed. Clover will grow almost anywhere that isn't too dry or too hot, isn't particular about soil (which benefits by adding nitrogen), makes a dense, weed resistant carpet that cuts mowing by half, greens up early...The real reason you don't see clover any more is that it is killed by broad-leaved herbicides...Once again a good thing is pushed off the market for reasons that have nothing to do with the consumer's interests" (p. 115) Perenyi wrote this almost thirty years ago. It's time to bring back the clover lawn!

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Random Sunday Ruminating

Among the common bulbs I have in my garden is the modest little crocus. The crocus ushers in spring for me. I always remember the crocus as the first blossoms in my garden. Just when I feel the snow is not melting fast enough...the blooms arrive. They arrived this morning.

I just started digging my new garden yesterday. The perimeters of my my yard are still surrounded by snow, but the center of the property is soft enough to drive in a spade.

I see that the moles were busy at work over the winter. I am going to try to chase them away by burying fish heads in their holes. I picked this tip up in a gardening book I read this winter. The poison I used last autumn obviously didn't work...I'd prefer to go natural anyway and I'm heading to all natural throughout the yard this year.

My husband told me that since I canceled lawn service last year that he planned to go pick up Scott's 4 step. I told him, "I don't want that crap on my lawn." He smiled patiently at me and told me that it is cute when I curse. Since I don't do it often, he says he knows I'm serious when I do. He also told me that he thinks to himself, "Isn't it cute? She's trying to curse." I guess I can't be offended in any high school athletic director nicknamed me "the ivory soap girl." Twenty years later I'm not quite so pure, but I guess I haven't thoroughly changed either. Anyway, I told my hubby that I have a plan to use natural things on the lawn... as well as slowly changing over to clover . (But the clover part is between you and me okay? I"m easing him into it.)

The spring iris bulbs, tulips, and daffodils are poking through the snow and straw mulch I laid down last year. The foxglove is already green and looking plucky. The roses bushes show green branches.

Plans for the week...digging, raking, and picture taking. Hooray!

Friday, April 4, 2008

Little Bulbs

My mother sent me an e-mail yesterday with "The Daffodil Principle." (This story is available as a book written my Jeroldeen Edwards. Since the "Daffodil Principle" is posted all over the web, I am hoping that reiterating the story here is not copyright infringement. Please everyone, go out and buy Ms. Edwards book if you like her story. The illustrations look lovely.)

The Daffodil Principle

Several times my daughter had telephoned to say, "Mother, you must come to see the daffodils before they are over." I wanted to go, but it was a t
wo-hour drive from Laguna to Lake Arrowhead "I will come next Tuesday", I promised a little reluctantly on her third call.

Next Tuesday dawned cold and rainy. Still, I had promised, and reluctantly I drove there. When I finally walked into Carolyn's house I was welcomed by the joyful sounds of happy children. I delightedly hugged and greeted my grandchildren.

"Forget the daffodils, Carolyn! The road is invisible in these clouds and fog, and there is nothing in the world except you and these children that I want to see badly enough to drive another inch!"

My daughter smiled calmly and said, "We drive in this all the time, Mother." "Well, you won't get me back on the road until it clears, and then I'm heading for home!" I assured her.

"But first we're going to see the daffodils. It's just a few blocks," Carolyn said. "I'll drive. I'm used to this."

"Carolyn," I said sternly, "please turn around." "It's all right, Mother, I promise. You will never forgive yourself if you miss this experience."

After about twenty minutes, we turned onto a small gravel road and I saw a small church. On the far side of the church, I saw a hand lettered sign with an arrow that read, "Daffodil Garden." We got out of the car, each took a child's hand, and I followed Carolyn down the path. Then, as we turned a corner, I looked up and gasped. Before me lay the most glorious sight.

It looked as thou
gh someone had taken a great vat of gold and poured it over the mountain peak and its surrounding slopes. The flowers were planted in majestic, swirling patterns, great ribbons and swaths of deep orange, creamy white, lemon yellow, salmon pink, and saffron and butter yellow. Each different-colored variety was planted in large groups so that it swirled and flowed like its own river with its own unique hue. There were five acres of flowers.

"Who did this?" I asked Carolyn. "Just one woman," Carolyn answered. "She lives on the property. That's her home." Carolyn pointed to a well-kept A-frame house, small and modestly sitting in the midst of all that glory. We walked up to the house.

On the patio, we saw a poster. "Answers to the Questions I Know You Are Asking", was the headline. The first answer was a simple one. "50,000 bulbs," it read. The second answer was, "One at a time, by one woman. Two hands, two feet, and one brain." The third answer was, "Began in 1958."

For me, that moment was a life-changing experience. I thought of this woman whom I had never met, who, more than forty years before, had begun, one bulb at a time, to bring her vision of beauty and joy to an obscure mountaintop. Planting one bulb at a time, year after year, this unknown woman had forever changed the world in which she lived. One day at a time, she had created something of extraordinary magnificence, beauty, and inspiration. The principle her daffodil garden taught is one of the greatest principles of celebration.

That is, learning to move toward our goals and desires one step at a time--often just one baby-step at time--and learning to love the doing, learning to use the accumulation of time. When we multiply tiny pieces of time with small increments of daily effort, we too will find we can accomplish magnificent things. We can change the world ...

"It makes me sad in a way," I admitted to Carolyn. "What might I have accomplished if I had thought of a wonderful goal thirty-five or forty years ago and had worked away at it 'one bulb at a time' through all those years? Just think what I might have been able to achieve!"

My daughter summed up the message of the day in her usual direct way. "Start tomorrow," she said.

She was right. It's so pointless to think of the lost hours of yesterdays. The way to make learning a lesson of celebration instead of a cause for regret is to only ask, "How can I put this to use today?"

Use the Daffodil Principle. Stop waiting.....

Until your car or home is paid off
Until you get a new car or home
Until your kids leave the house
Until you go back to school
Until you finish school
Until you clean the house
Until you organize the garage
Until you clean off your desk
Until you lose 10 lbs.
Until you gain 10 lbs.
Until you get married
Until you get a divorce
Until you have kids
Until the kids go to school
Until you retire
Until summer
Until spring
Until winter
Until fall
Until you die...

There is no better time than right now to be happy.

Happiness is a journey, not a destination.
So work like you don't need money.
Love like you've never been hurt, and, Dance like no one's watching.

If you want to brighten someone's day, pass this on to someone special.

I just did!

Wishing you a beautiful, daffodil day!

Don't be afraid that your life will end, be afraid that it will never begin..


So, I got curious and decided to do a bit of research. I learned that this kind of story is called a glurge. "What's a glurge?" I asked myself. According to the yawictionary glurges are " Sickeningly sweet stories with a moral, often hiding slightly sinister undertones..."[none of those undertones here that I can see] "Imitative of the retching that might be induced by stories of this kind." LOL! I don't usually get taken in by "sickeningly sweet," but this is garden related so I'm a sucker. Plus mom said this story reminded her of me. How could I not get taken by something so heartfelt from my mom?!

The story also reminded me of a non-fiction book that I am reading entitled "The Little Bulbs" by Elizabeth A Lawrence. Miss Lawrence was a well-known gardener and garden author in the mid-twentieth century. She had correspondence with many gardeners around the country, including a man who maintained a plot of land that sounds a lot like the one in "The Daffodil Principle." Turns out they are not the same person. Evidently this passion for daffodils is not so rare.

I imagine myself planting one bulb at a time to achieve a yard filled with daffodils, or tulips, or hyacinth...My friend Regina, who I am working hard to turn into a gardener, nearly burst yesterday when we were in her yard and she discovered that the bulbs she planted last autumn came up. She was amazed. She decried, "There's hope for me after all! I didn't kill them! I can be a gardener!" Nothing can awaken the passion like those easy to care for, spreading bulbs. Long live "The Daffodil Principle!"

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Still Life Part Deux

Back on February 19th, I posted about creating still lifes. Today I want to walk you through one of my still life sessions. This session took about 30 minutes and included 45 photographs. There are three photos that I will likely print. This was a good session. I often only end up with one photo and the sessions often take longer than this did. I am going to show you some selected images from the session. I was inspired by some standard supermarket tulips and the early spring light that shines through my dining room window. My house is filled with large windows, so I am often stuck by light at a particular time of day while I'm sipping tea or playing dolls with my daughter. I think, "Hmmm, I must capture this light in some way..." And off I go with an idea.

I started with the idea that I wanted to incorporate an old tulip photo with a live tulip arrangement, based on my "Art in Bloom" blog posting two days ago. As I shoot, the idea changes. I get new inspiration from what I'm doing and get into a bit of a groove. The arrangements I did with the framed image included a vase of flowers and sometimes two. I've posted my favorite from a series of about ten where I moved the vases around to all different positions to find the spot where I liked it best.

Then the idea morphed. I used a bowl to prop my photo. this bowl eventually came out from behind the photo and became an element in the picture.

I soon decided that I wanted the emphasis to be on the simple flower vase, the white wall, and the lighted window. I added some blue cloth to change the color palette so that it would complement the flowers and brighten the picture. I keep about ten different fabrics on hand to use as backgrounds, swags, and cloths just for this purpose.

I then chose to emphasize the vertical aspect of the flowers and window by turning the camera. These are the final products.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008


I generally like to photograph flowers in full bloom, but Robin at Robin's Nesting Place gave me the inspiration to post seedlings. This is the first year that I have started seeds indoors and I am thrilled. I have tomatoes, eggplant, and chinese cabbage. I've got more to put in this week (cucumbers and I forget what else needs to be started indoors, but I do have a plan for once.) I also started some cosmos and butterfly weed seeds. What a thrill to watch the little green sprouts come up in my sunroom, while the windows still look out on snow. It makes "real" spring seem that much closer for me.

The pictures themselves are nothing to get excited about, except for the tiny hairs visible on the tomato stems. How miraculous is that? I also like to watch the little dew drops collect on the two tiny leaves. There are also some seeds that we must have dropped directly into the tray without soil. They are coming up through styrofoam holes. My daughter finds this fascinating.

I've got 70 tomato that obsessive? I already have friends claiming my "extras." The good news folks is that I like to share. The bad news is that I don't generally share tomatoes. One has to be very nice to me to get fresh organic tomatoes. And I have plans for these babies too if they can make it off my kitchen counter. We generally keep a tomato bowl on the counter and dip into it all through August for snacking. I only had 6 plants though last year. With 70 I'm counting on extras. Let's see..tomato sauce, salsa, frozen tomatoes to eat with mozzarella...the list is endless really. There is no food more perfect than a tomato. Leave me on a desert island with just tomatoes and I'd be happy. (And so far I haven't developed an intolerance to this food. If I eat too much of any one thing that's what happens to me...but I"ll save that story for another time.)

The anticipation of fresh vegetables will now carry us through until we can move our maturing plants outside. We still have garden prep work to do since we are starting a garden in a new spot this year. We have ground to turn, composting and top soil to add, and a fence to put up to keep away deer. This horrible NH winter (with about 115 inches of snow this year) will be quite faded in our memories by the time tomato season roles around.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

The Art of Gardening

Gardening means "to cultivate a plot of land." And in the case of my perennial garden, which takes up most of my gardening effort, I would like to refine the definition to say: "To cultivate a plot of land for beauty and enjoyment."

Art means " The conscious production or arrangement of sounds, colors, forms, movements, or other elements in a manner that affects the sense of beauty."

Do you think that perennial gardening is an art? I certainly do. Gardening is a creative means of self-expression. The type of garden you create makes a statement about who you are and what you enjoy. Your garden provides visual stimulation with its colors and forms. It can also provide aural and scent stimulation. The multi-sense experience available in the garden certainly affects one's "sense of beauty."

Every year around this time, museums all over the country host "Art in Bloom" events. The Boston Museum of Fine Arts event will take place April 26-29. If you have never had the pleasure of viewing an "Art in Bloom" exhibit, I encourage you to attend one. Flower arrangers are invited into fine art museums to choose a painting and base an arrangement on the artwork. The flower arrangement is then set alongside for visitors to enjoy. Obviously, the arrangements only last a short time. The arrangement mimics the original artists sensibility, but the ability to duplicate the original emotional expression of the fine artist is an art in itself. Not everyone can create such beautiful arrangements. For the arranger to be able to apply this skill to interpreting what the original artist had to say is miraculous to me.

Locally, in my area, I read that a gentleman recently wrote a book about gardens inspired by art. Unfortunately I misplaced the ad for the talk he is going to give at a local museum and I am unable to find reference to it online. But I am intrigued by the idea of this book. Imagine creating a whole garden to mimic one of the great fine artists. You could create the obvious gardens in Monet's work, based on his own personal gardens in Giverny. (Monet was actually an avid gardener who saw his own gardens as works of art and used them to inspire his paintings.) You can create fields of iris inspired by Van Gogh's iris. Or you can reach beyond flowers and just be inspired by vivid colors in pictures to create your own interpretations. Maybe Degas' dancers put you in the mood for tiny pink blossoms? This kind of gardening would be "Art in Bloom" on a grand scale!

I have never tried to create a garden based on the artists. Perhaps that can be a side project this year? What I do consciously accomplish in my own garden is a harmony of colors. My front garden is made up of primarily oranges and yellows. Purples overlap with yellow early in the season, creating a contrast of opposite colors on the color wheel. In my backyard garden I focus on pinks and purples with splashes of other colors. This color harmony stimulates me. I feel calm when I look at a garden with flowing waves of color. I like my two dimensional art work very much the same way. I also appreciate tight compositions that allow the eye to flow from one element to another.

For those of you who have never thought of yourselves as artists, try thinking about your garden in this way. What patterns do you see? What colors attract you? What elements do you appreciate in a garden? How do you decide where to place things? Then, take a look at a history of art book. (I recommend H.W. Jansen's History of Art if you can get your hands on a copy of his book. He provides a diverse range of works to get you fully acquainted with the art world through time.) Determine what attracts you to certain pictures. Are they the same elements that attract you to a particular gardening style?