Experimental: Sculpted Trees


Living in a forest, trees surround us.  We wake to the rising sun gilding the trees, and end the day watching the setting sun paint the sky behind a living lattice work of neighborhood forest.  We plant them, prune them, sweep up their leaves and measure the passing years by their growth.



Autumn’s approach brings our attention back to our garden’s trees as their leaves brighten and fall.  We watch for acorns; admire newly set buds and reddening berries.



This autumn, I’ve been inspired to explore trees in a fresh way:  by sculpting them. 

I’ve been working on a collection of trees for the past several weeks which will serve as table center decorations for a Christmas luncheon in our community.



A friend is sculpting a companion collection of small birds and other woodland animals which we will place in and around the trees to create little woodland scenes.  What you see here is an in-between stage of completed trees waiting for their bases to be blanketed in ‘snow’ and their branches to be filled with tiny birds.



Since I am a gardener, and not a trained artist, I began experimenting a few months ago with various types of wire to learn to make these trees.   I’ve learned a bit more with every tree that I sculpt.

My textbook has been a collection of images found on the internet, illustrating how others construct their wire trees.


My second attempt: ‘Oak in autumn.’


Late summer’s trees had chips of green quartz worked into their branches.  Lately, I’ve incorporated more copper wire, and have been experimenting with bundles of wires composed of different colors, weights and composition.  Each wire has its own properties; its uses and limitations.



Using only my hands and simple tools, I’m learning to transform coils of wire into an illusion of life and growth.



The trees are mounted on stones I’ve found either in rock shops, or picked up along the beach.  Each stone has a story,  just as each tree tells a story of endurance and perseverance.

Trees are our longest lived plants, living (when allowed) for centuries.  An oak may grow to live for 1000 years, and redwoods longer.  In this age when developers casually sheer forests and truck them off to paper mills, and desperate farmers burn acres of rain forest to grow a cash crop, we need to pause and take a moment to treasure our trees.



That is why I’ve been drawn to the trees, to live, to garden and now to sculpt.   I hope these little trees bring joy to those who see them, even as they remind us all that trees are one of our planet’s greatest treasures. 

Trees are Mother Earth’s lungs.   We depend on the trees for the air we breathe, some of the food we eat, and for their part in moderating our climate and our weather.  They capture carbon from the air even as they draw up moisture from the ground and release it to the clouds.  They shade us from summer’s broiling sun, and their burning wood warms us on cold winter nights. 

Trees remain an integral part of our lives.



Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017



For the Daily Post’s
Weekly Photo Challenge:  Experimental


This is one of my early experimental ‘practice’ trees, sculpted while I was traveling in Oregon last month.

Moss, Ferns, and a Fairy House

May 23, 2016 fairy house 006


This certainly has been a wonderful spring for working with mosses and ferns!   Abundant rain, muted light, humidity and cool days provide the perfect conditions for our ferns to grow and mosses to thrive.  Sometimes it feels like Oregon’s climate followed me home to Virginia!


May 23, 2016 fern garden 005~

The various ‘moss gardens’ I started this spring continue to grow, but not as rapidly as the wild mosses taking over in more areas of the garden than ever before!   We continue to find new little ferns popping up in unexpected places even as all those we’ve planted take off in our moist, cool May.

This hypertufa trough held succulents in full sun, until a couple of weeks ago, when I re-purposed it for our newest moss garden.

We refreshed the trough with fresh potting soil, over a layer of gravel for drainage, planted out some tiny fern starts found at The Great Big Greenhouse, and moved the container to shade.


May 23, 2016 fairy house 004~

An extensive collection of tiny 1″ plants for terrariums and Bonsai always excite me at this favorite Richmond area greenhouse, and I end up ‘collecting’ a few more with each visit.  They are fun to use indoors all winter and grow quickly to standard sizes.   We had a few brake ferns, and what are likely bird’s nest ferns, which needed more room to grow for summer.  The trough seemed the perfect container for them.


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There are also a few starts of Leptinella pusilla, Purple Brass Buttons, which look like tiny purplish ferns.  If you’ve seen a display of ‘Steppables’ at your local nursery, you have likely seen this plant for sale.  I first used it when a friend and I constructed fairy gardens in 2014.

It is a tough but beautiful ground cover for shade which spreads with horizontal stems.  I took the clump out of its nursery pot, pulled a few rooted stems loose from the mass, and tucked them in among the moss of this newest garden.  The rest of the clump went into a shallow pot of its own ready to divide again and use elsewhere…..


May 23, 2016 fairy house 005~

And of course the soil is carpeted with several varieties of lush, beautiful moss lifted from the yard.  Although it takes a few weeks to establish, it will soon begin growing again here in the shade of our grape vines.

But what really inspired me to construct this newest little trough garden was a wonderful ‘fairy house’ made by local potter Betsy Minney.  We were thrilled to find her at a local artist’s show on Mother’s Day, with several new items added to her offerings.  Betsy’s work is always uniquely textured, whimsical, and beautifully glazed.


May 23, 2016 fern garden 002~

We wanted to enjoy Betsy’s little fairy house in a properly ‘wild’ setting, and that meant outside amidst mosses and ferns. Knowing how our birds love to peck at moss, we now wire it in place while it establishes.  Since the fairy house now lives outside on our porch, we also want to protect it from getting knocked over by a curious bird or squirrel!  It is supported here on broken chopsticks and held in place, like the clumps of moss, with bent floral wire.


May 23, 2016 fairy house 001


These ferns aren’t hardy in our winters, so the entire garden, and especially the fairy house, will come inside in late autumn.  But we’ll have a good six months of enjoyment of this woodland garden by our kitchen door before the weather shifts.

You could make a similar garden using hardy ferns, especially some of the small deciduous cultivars of Athyrium niponicum and native harts tongue ferns, or Asplenium scolopendrium.


One of our newer Ary 'Joy Ride.'

One of our newer Athyrium niponicums in another part of our garden.


I’ve not cut flowers for a vase today.  Most of our roses and Iris have suffered from heavy rains these last few days.  But I will share this little potted garden with you, and still link to Cathy’s In A Vase on Monday post at her Rambling In The Garden.

I hope you will visit to enjoy her beautiful vase of white flowers, and follow the links she posts to other gardeners around the world, to see what is blooming in their gardens today.  There is always so much beauty to enjoy from these dedicated florists and gardeners!

Woodland Gnome 2016


May 23, 2016 fern garden 003



Conscious Seeing

January 26 2014 ice 008

A friend invited me to an event for gardeners and artists today held at our College of William and Mary, and sponsored by the Williamsburg Garden Club.  Mr. Gordon Hayward spoke on “Fine Painting as Inspiration for Garden Design.”

You may know Mr. Hayward’s work from his many articles over the years  in Horticulture, Fine Gardening, Organic Gardening, and other publications.  The author of many books on garden design, he is well known as the designer of many lovely gardens here in the United States and in Europe.

Several friends and I had the privilege of  spending some time this afternoon hearing his thoughts on the principles of good design in the garden.

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It was the perfect time for us to hear him speak, here in the depths of January. We are clearing out the last of the old in our gardens while making plans for what we will change, and what we will grow in the new year.

The suggestions offered today are quite simple and straightforward, and yet the effects of applying them make a profound difference in the appearance and “feel” of the garden.

We examined paintings by Renoir, O’Keeffe, Van Gogh, Matisse, Monet, and many other artists to see what principles can then be applied to design, plant selection, and even pruning in our gardens.  Mr. Hayward illustrated these principles with side by side slides of  paintings paired with  photos of gardens, including many he designed.

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If this interests you, I recommend that you read Mr. Hayward’s gorgeous book, dedicated to his wife, Mary; Art and the Gardener:  Fine Paintings as Inspiration for Garden Design.Art and the Gardener: Fine Painting as Inspiration for Garden Design

The starting point of today’s talk was Rene Magritte’s “The Eye,” and a conversation about “conscious seeing.”

We Americans, perennially in a hurry as we tend to be, rarely take time to simply observe, over an extended period of time.

We see superficially, but rarely allow ourselves the unstructured time to see deeply; to visually explore something in any depth.

As there is a “slow food” movement today, so there is also “slow art,” where we take significant time to view and converse with someone else about the art we’re viewing.  We may also choose to engage in “slow gardening.”

Mr. Hayward described gardening as the slowest of the performing arts.  He urged us to take our time  in appreciating the garden as a whole, as well as the individual plants in the garden; and also to allow time for a garden to evolve.

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A good garden has an aura of timelessness, and in one you may lose track of time as you become absorbed in the beauty and mood of the space.

And so I would offer you the opportunity to begin, here and now, with the photos in this post, to slow down and “see” consciously.  To spend more than a few seconds with each.

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Go beyond the superficial recognition and naming of what you see, to an appreciation of its color, its form, the geometric shapes you might recognize, and awareness of both positive and negative space.  How do you feel while looking at each of the photos?

By seeing beyond the obvious, we uncover layer after layer of beauty and meaning in the world around us. 

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As we slow down, we deepen our experience.  We enrich our appreciation, and in the process, we feel a little bit better ourselves.  Our energy increases, our happiness expands, and we are filled with the peace that a lovely garden offers.

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”

Marcel Proust

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

“Never lose an opportunity of seeing anything beautiful, for beauty is God’s handwriting.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
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Our Forest Garden- The Journey Continues

Please visit and follow Our Forest Garden- The Journey Continues to see all new posts since January 8, 2021.

A new site allows me to continue posting new content since after more than 1700 posts there is no more room on this site.  -WG

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