Monday, March 29, 2010

Is It Art in My Garden, or Cute, Kitschy or Trashy? Recycled, or Junk?

As if plants aren't art enough, many of us have an overwhelming desire to put objects in among the foliage and flowers. For some, it's gnomes, plastic flamingos, cutesy painted stuff ala Mary Englebright; for others, it's statuary, birdbaths, Japanese lanterns, gazing balls. There are folks who like things like bowling balls, bottle trees, various rusty old farm and garden machinery, old tools, even an old pickup or two (just kidding--or not!). Avid flea market hunters dote on old painted lawn furniture, vintage rakes, plant stands, antique gates and even weathered wood tool sheds. I have a friend who actually drug home an old boat that she used as a fish pond! People bring home all kinds of crafts and souvenirs from trips, craft fairs and amusement parks and display them in their gardens. Any of a thousand mail order catalogs sell cute garden animals in all sorts of poses, tree "faces", signs, stepping stones, lights; just about anything somebody's imagination can conceive will appeal to somebody. Big box stores are full of things; gift shops and garden centers appeal to our senses of amusement, amazement, and the "aaww!" factor with an astonishing array of garden "art" accessories.

Then there are the artists and crafts people, who create their own works and display them, often for sale, in their own gardens and public gardens as well. Books have been written about them, describing pieces as "quirky", "a sense of style", dreamlike imagery", exuberant", "funky". Just like in a  museum, art pieces in a garden tend to have descriptive phrases attached to them according to how "outre" they are in character, which can range from the elegant to the plain trashy, depending on the eye of the beholder. 

There are gardens which are works of art on their own. Japanese gardens, with their own sense of style, rely on stone, mosses, pruned and trained plants that are sculptures in themselves, with rules of placement that are sacrosant, in traditions that are centuries old. Topiary gardens are living examples of garden art, and modernist gardens rely on architecture as much as they do on plants. Creations of some landscape gardeners are as much art as any object carved of stone, wood or cast in bronze.

I, for one, and for a lot of people I know, (possible influenced to some extent by the many garden books and magazines I've read) tend to be more or less eclective in collecting objects for my garden. I also belong to the generation of "use it up, make it do", which, combined with my artistic sense and love of shapes and textures, puts me somewhere between the scavengers, the flea market crowd and the artists. I love to create, and my garden is as much a creation as the objects d'art (laughingly) that I decorate it with.

Part of "art" is a sense of fun, but just as important to me is placement. We have all seen tiny front yards populated with dozens of yard ornaments that outnumber the flowers, making you wonder however those people manage to mow the lawn!  Though I recycle and create any number of things for garden use, they aren't on display like a group of whatnots on a shelf. Among all the plants and flowers, you come on many of them like little surprises.  My dry creek is populated with a collection of frogs that you have to look closely to notice. A small collection of lizards hangs out here and there among the wild flowers and trees; you might not see them until they are right in front of you. A pair of vintage, lichen encrusted benches await you by the paths in the woods, and just for fun, a trio of tree branch "sculptures" resembling nothing so much as a family of Ents marching through the trees. These replace a group of huge grapevine balls that rolled about the wood as the wind took them, a few years ago.

Closer to the house, in the daylily garden just off the deck, there is yes, a bottle tree! I found myself fascinated with the lore of them last summer, and had to have one! This one was made with a branch taken down from an oak tree by The Ice Storm of 2007, as we remember it around here, and blue bottles were collected over the winter. I enjoyed emptying some of Riesling; others came from friends and the local recycling center. It spent the winter on the deck but is now in its more or less permanent place surrounded by daffodils and red Greggi tulips which have yet to bloom this spring.

I do have fun with recycling and repurposing things, too. Old rusty kitchen graters become candle difusers, twinkling like fairly lights after dark. Clay drain tiles standing on end and filled with sand also hold votive lights (citronella in the summer) when we have a garden party.

A discarded fireplace insert becomes a patio fireplace; a huge cedar stump topped with a flat stone becomes a garden table.

And I do love vintage plant stands! One is topped with a vintage floor grate. A discarded fire hydrant fitted with a waterline and faucet bib helps keep the herb garden watered; 1940's era metal chairs provide comfortable seating throughout the garden. An old round galvanized tub with a liner and an antique pump (non working) holds a purple taro and water hyacinths, and a real frog or two in the summer. A garden table is made with a concrete top that was poured into an old barrel ring (a project with my granddaughter when she was 8), decorated with tiny heart-shaped ceramic tiles, and supported by three left-over clay drain tiles.

The Yardbird was inherited.

 Various vintage tools and found things decorate the tool shed and studio, and hang on the fence that separates the back yard with the beginning of the woods gardens.


Small logs from trees that either fell in The Ice Storm or were thinned out of the woods make a rick-rack fence along the woods, and a rainbow of irises lines the roadside.

A limestone bench came from a porch that was being dismantled; our driveway/parking area is constructed of concrete slabs from our own front porch that was broken up when our house was remodeled. (see above behind the patio fireplace) It also provides extra seating when we have a large garden party! A pair of huge planters recovered when a fast-food restaurant was re-landscaped (my husband was the landscaper and hauled them off) are filled with chrysanthemums that spill over the sides in the fall. A fancy old child's bed iron headboard becomes an herb garden gate; a piece of concrete architectural salvage found by the side of the road becomes a birdbath base. And of course, being Airstream owners, (kind of a weird little quirk we have) there have to be plastic flamingos somewhere, and there are, by the pond among the irises.

No garden would be complete without a toadstool. This was once a garden light.

Art, as they say, is truly in the eye of the beholder. 

 A couple of my favorite books: "Artists in Their Gardens" by Valerie Easton and David Laskin; and "Garden Junk" by Mary Randolph Caarter

Friday, March 26, 2010

Blooming Pink Bloodroot, Not all Natural Diversity is in Plants and I Have Rocks in My Head!

The pink bloodroot bud is finally open! All silvery pink petals except one, and they are translucent. The pink gene appears to have infiltrated many of the bloodroot plants in the woods, several of them show one or more pink petals, and some have more than the normal eight, but are not fully double. Very curious!

This one is half pink!

Diversity is not all in plants, either. As rockhounds, we have brought home loads of rock and mineral specimens from all over the US, and those that are just pretty or interesting, or can't be cut for jewelry, wind up in our dry creek. Agate, in the quartz family, is one of the more common stones and has so much unbelievable variety and color that it is one of my favorites. It cuts and polishes wonderfully, and shows up in everything from rings and necklaces to bookends, floors and countertops. But it doesn't stop there. Stones can be precious gems like diamonds, rubies and emerald, semi-precious like turquoise, malachite, tigers eye, and hundreds more. They can be granite, sandstone, quartz crystals, or minerals like sulphur, iron, copper, silver, gold or lead. They can even be petrified wood!
Lots of pretty colors! All of these are in the dry creek.

red and white agate

banded chert in the center, agate nodule bottom right

Lava rock (Basalt) upper left, sandstone formations

The pink rock in the center is Mozarkite. Lots of diversity in Missouri rocks.

The red rock in the center is red jasper, the metal looking thing upper right is native copper.

Some people believe that various stones have metaphysical properties and can affect a person's state of mind, or health, or help them develop their psychic qualities. It may be true that stones and minerals have "wave lengths" or "vibrations". They do contain lots of energy. It is a fact, for example, that the characteristic purple color of amethyst is caused by electrons bouncing around in there. If amethyst is heated, or sits in the sun for a long period of time, voids open up in the stone, the electrons escape and the resulting color will be kind of a pale, washed out gray. It is also true that quartz crystals will have faces that attract, or repel each other. This effect can actualy be felt if you take two large-ish crystals (small ones won't have enough strength for you to feel it) and bring the flat faces close to each other. If you have them oriented right, they will act much like magnets and you will be able to feel the attraction or repulse. It will be slight, but it is there. Do crystals have an attraction to an individual psyche? Perhaps. If you are looking through a flat of crystals, picking them up one by one, and you find yourself examining and holding the same one over and over and feel somehow reluctant to put it down, it could be "attuned" to your own mental or physical vibrations. Perhaps that may also explain why, when sometimes you may pick up a particular rock on a hike, or on a beach and put it in your pocket for no reason that you can think of, it becomes "your" rock, and you might keep it for years. 

Looking down the dry creek in the woods

Polished stone, agate, wire wrapped crystals, Turquoise is in center, bright orange on  left is fire agate. Bead at top right is carnelian, other stones are various agate.

Missouri has a lot of native rock, also, from lead and zinc in our 4-States mining area and all the associated minerals that go with it, calcite, pyrite, Smithsonite, et al, plus there are just "rocks" (leaverites--'yeah, it's a rock. Just leave 'er right there') with a lot of character, that make wonderful garden rocks. There are "holey" stones, rocks that are packed with fossils, rocks with "faces" (sometimes you have to use your imagination), flint and chert that early native Americans used to make tools, and our Missouri state stone, the pink/grey Mozarkite, a type of agate. I've seldom met a rock I didn't love!

"Mother's Milk"
 Handbeaded necklace in seed beads with pink agate centerpiece.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Pink Bloodroot and Nature in Chaos

When you have mossy paths in the woods, you can't rake them to get the leaves off, they have to be taken off by hand. That means you have to get down there and look the little spring flowers right in the eye, and see what they are up to. Which is how I found the pink bloodroot. There it was, right next to the dry creek, this little pink bud. At first I thought oh, a pink anemone, cool! A second look told me my mistake, and I couldn't believe what I was seeing! Last spring, I transplanted a few bloodroots to a new area, and I am pretty sure they were all white, but when I went back to look at the blooms this spring, where the original clump was, lo and behold! There was one with alternating silvery pink petals! Can't wait until tomorrow to see if the little pink bud opens up all pink, or with alternate petals also. The pink color variation is a rare occurance. This is the first time in my life I have ever seen it. 

The pink is a little hard to see, but my camera has decided not to work on macro, so this is all I got!

Four out of the eight petals on this bloodroot flower are silvery pink!

The funny thing was, I had been thinking about chaos, nature, evolution, plant DNA, what drives genetic change, just moments before, and there was the result, right before my eyes. Chaos is something most of us never think about, unless it happens to us, and then we just think of it as something terrible and upsetting.  Actually it is a "new" science, only recently recognized and studied. I don't even pretend to understand the higher mathematics of chaos, but it is a fascinating concept that includes fractals, which I love, and wouldn't be possible to calculate fully with without computers!. I can easily see how chaos drives Nature, or maybe it is Nature that drives chaos, or chaos that drives evolution, that drives Nature....or......the old question of what comes first! 

It involves a linear equation, such as the life of a plant: the seed sprouts, grows, flowers, sets seed, which sprouts and begins a new plant, and so on. Without error, this cycle could go on indefinitely in all the complexity that it takes to grow a plant to reproductive success, amd there would be no diversity.  But there is always an "error", no matter how slight, something unseen or unexpected that will disrupt the cycle. The plant dies from lack of rain, no bee is present to pollinate the flower, a deer eats the plant, a bird eats the seed. This is called a non-linear event, and chaos results. But the result of chaos is not tragic, it just triggers a change, into another linear cycle, until another non-linear event comes along to cause chaos again. A tree grows, year after year, a linear cycle. Then chaos: a storm fells the tree. The end? Only for the tree, the cycle of decay begins, and new life is nurtured with millions of chaotic events before the tree is gone, and even then, the process never stops. The chaos concept involves everything in the universe.  

No action can take place without causing change to something, and in order for change to take place, there has to be a chaotic non-linear event, so matter how infinitesimally small, to cause it. All sorts of things, big and little, can cause chaos that changes the environmment in some way. A big one that comes to mind is Hurricane Katrina. One change that came about because of the chaos caused by that storm affected the bird population of the midwest: immediately after the storm, fish crows began showing up in Missouri. They are a seacoast species, and were apparently either blown north by the hurricane, or escaping from the storm. They apparently liked it here, because they have decided to stay, throwing our native crow population into chaos by competing for food and habitat, thereby changing the ecology of our area.

So what caused the bloodroot to become pink? Some unknown non-linear event in the life of the plant, no doubt, throwing its DNA into chaos and causing a diversion in its genetic makeup. This sort of thing occurs in nature millions of times in a day, resulting in slow evolution of all species, including humans! (need evidence? Look at the changes the enviroment has caused in our physical bodies!) Plant hybridizers have learned to harness and use this type of event, giving us those wonderful new cultivars that we all covet.

Without Chaos, we would have no wonderful diversity of Nature. But without the actions of Nature, we would have no chaos. It is the Circle of Life, the Web of fragile threads to which everything is connected. Whatever happens to the Web effects everything in it. It drives climate change, our health, our daily lives, and the universe as a whole.  Our own actions cause chaos every day. In my woods today, it was me--cleaning up leaves, throwing millions of little microbial creatures' lives out of whack, uncovering plants and exposing them to sun and rain, changing my own environment ever so slightly. But those ever so-slight changes are non-linear events that could, over time, change the ecology of the woods. All gardening and farming efforts, for better or worse, cause chaos and change, as we can plainly see, looking at what has happened to the forests and prairies in the United States and the populations of many indiginous species, both plant and animal. Sometimes one chaotic event can set in motion changes that take many years to become evident; sometimes it happens in less than the blink of an eye.

Pretty deep musings for a day spent in the outdoors, huh. But it really made me aware of the amazing, complex life on this planet that we take for granted every day, and what cause and effect our (my, your) actions have on that life. Our very lives are as a result of Nature, and we depend on her for our lives. Nature is our nurturing Mother. So..... mind your Mother.

Patterns and New Beginnings

The snow has mostly retreated from all the open spaces, but on the north side of the house and the stone wall, there are still drifts in spite of the 70 degree temperatures today. By tomorrow, there will be no sign left that the world was covered with a foot of snow just 3 days ago. It actually was good for the garden; since it has begun to warm up and the moisture has seeped into the earth, flowers have bloomed in just a few hours time. Weeping cherries, magnolias, redbuds and lilacs are all showing us a tease of their spring dresses. Forsythia and flowering quince couldn't wait, they have burst into full flower since this morning. Shade trees are lacy with buds, and the woods has a feeling of eager anticipation.

Weeping cherry

Magnolia soulangeana
As the snow melts, I am seeing things that I have never before noticed. Not long ago, my attention was caught by a photo of, I think, bluebells planted in a river in the woods, and I wanted that effect. Not having access to all those thousands of bluebells, I thought to plant a stream of grape hyacinths, which do grow in my garden, literally by the thousands! Transplanting some wouldn't make much of a dent in the 60 year-old swaths of grape hyacinths under the forsythia, so I started it last fall, trying to follow a natural path in the woods, but I couldn't quite see where it should go. Not to mention that it was difficult to find the bulbs when they weren't up. Watching the snow melt this spring, I saw the pattern through the trees, exactly where to follow the lay of the slope. Grape hyacinths are easily transplanted in the spring, even in full bloom, so I am going to work on that in the next couple of warm days. It may take two or three years to get the full effect, but I have patience.

Follow the snow trail to the left,and imagine this to be a river of blue blooms! Flowing around the   
young Kousa dogwood in the center of the picture, and down the slope to the bottom of the hill.

Other patterns begin to emerge; when the ground is somewhat bare of foliage it is easy to see where new beds should go, where curves could be made more pleasing to the eye, and in my mind's eye, where plants would give the best effect if I moved them around a bit. Some of my plants spend more time on the end of a shovel than they do in the ground, I think. I have planned a big new hosta and shade bed, where the Virginia waterleaf was removed last week. It has all been nicely dug and prepared with a thick layer of compost, and I spent most of the afternoon planning where the new plants should go, sticking labels in the soil to mark the spots and planting the bare root ones I have already. It is bordered on one side with a mossy path, and on the other with a huge patch of giant Solomon's seal. The whole thing is shaded with a black walnut, and I have left a 2 yr old redbud as an understory tree in the future. I have also left surprise lilies (lycoris) and a few purple violets.  

On the other side of the tree are Jacob's ladder, ferns, wild sweet William (phlox divaricata), a hellebore, a "Paul's Glory" hosta, and here I have spared a few of the Virginia waterleaf. (I may be sorry later!) It is edged with crested irises, ajuga, yellow wild violets and strawberry begonia (saxifraga stolonifera). There are also daffodils scattered about the whole area, and trout lilies transplanted from the lower part of the woods.Stepping stones and a birdbath separate this area from a whitebud (cercis canadensis alba) surrounded by honesty, more daffodils and other spring blooming bulbs, and a colony of Virginia bluebells. This whole area is all part of more extensive plantings that lead down the hill into the woods itself, getting more naturalistic as it goes deeper among the trees where the truly wild things live.
I've left plenty of room for the plants I've ordered, but they won't be here until late April or May, which somewhat distresses me. It usually gets pretty hot here in the Ozarks by mid May, and most perennials should already be in the ground and growing by then, but no one will ship this early to my zone. By mid May, most of the spring bloomers have come and gone. There seems to be a "window" of planting for spring wildflower perennials here, about 3 weeks between mid-March and mid-April, and if it is missed, sometimes they have a difficult time getting established.

Tomorrow I will also be transplanting wild ginger, woodsia ferns, Virginia bluebell babies, hellebore seedlings, trilliums, wild phlox and Jacob's ladder into areas that we've cleared of Japanese honeysuckle and wintercreeper euonymous. I've been doing that for the last couple of years, and they are carpeting the woods floor nicely.

April, 2009

 I also have elderberries, which arrived in the mail the day before the snowstorm, and blueberries to plant in the sunny edges of the trees. We probably won't get any fruit from anything. The birds and animals snap up all the gooseberries and serviceberries that grow here, but at least I will have the flowers. I planted an apple tree for the same reason--because I love the flowers! I expect I'll have to cage them until they get established to protect them from the deer. We planted a row of serviceberries along the edge of the woods last fall, and every one is leafing out this spring. They were suckers from a established bush closer to the house.

Part of my day was spent checking out the nurseries and garden centers in the area, and tho a couple of them don't have any new spring plants in yet, I didn't come home empty handed! I've been lusting after Invincibelle Spirit hydrangea, the pink Annabelle that is being promoted to help fund breast cancer research; and I bought one today! Not only does it promise to be beautiful, money raised from the sale of it will help this critical research. This is a cause very close to my heart as I have lost good friends in recent years from breast cancer and several other friends are survivors. If you have room in your garden, please consider Invincibelle Spirit.

I also picked up a wintergreen, gaultheria procumbens; a good woodsy groundcover, and another hydrangea, mycrophylla "Pia", which only gets about 18" tall with pink blooms. It should be pretty in the new hosta bed.

More planting tomorrow!

Grendel, soaking up some sun!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

More images of spring

Tritellia, a little bulb that, as they say in the garden catlogs, "colonizes nicely". It does, too, popping up in unexpected places, always beautiful and welcome. It blooms for weeks, then is gone until next spring. Such a beautiful blue, it nearly glows after dusk and lights up the evening garden.

Ginger, just unfolding it's leaves

Trout lilies, one of the first wildflowers to bloom in my woods.

A crocus coming up in the moss.

Virginia bluebells have buds!
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It's Spring!---Hey, wait a minute!

It was such a beautiful day Friday! Spring was popping up all over the woods. Ginger leaves were getting ready to unfold, bloodroot, anemones and trout lilies were blooming. Toothwort was budding and the moss, though somewhat ravaged by birds and squirrels, was beautiful!

Then Old Man Winter, in a hissy fit, blew in with a mighty cold breath and dumped what he had left in his snowy bag of tricks, all over us.

I have to admit, it is beautiful. The woods is transformed into a fairy land, benches and garden furniture into works of art, even the brush pile that we keep for the small wild critters that live here, is a beautiful confection.

Our Argosy Airstream trailer is fairly shivering, waiting for nice days to get on the road.

The flamingos by the pond seem to be dreaming of Florida.

Even the dogwoods have gone back to sleep.

Robins and mockingbirds have taken shelter under the eaves on the deck, but it hasn't stopped cardinals, finches, juncos and chickadees from visiting the feeders. I tried to get pictures but they weren't in posing moods. My cat couldn't believe it, he kept going in and out all day, from every door he could get someone to let him out of, checking to see if it was warm yet. Like Ray Bradbury's dog, looking for a door into summertime!

But this week, promise of spring is back, with temperatures in the sixties. It's getting closer to April every day!