Life is Art

Artist at work along the Colonial Parkway

Artist at work along the Colonial Parkway

“The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.”

Pablo Picasso

I am still intrigued by the metaphor of gardening as the slowest form of  art.

Just as music and dance rely on the fourth dimension of  time for their unfolding and appreciation; so a garden slowly weaves itself together from its daily rations of water and light over weeks, months, and years.

We may wait more than a decade to see our vision grow into itself as saplings grow to trees, perennials slowly expand to fill their places, and vines progress in fits and starts to cover their supports.

Even within a single season, there is waiting for the tubers to sprout and the  roses to bloom.

Patience is a gardener’s most useful attitude; along with the inner vision required of an artist to visualize the work before the paints are mixed.

The Alliums bloom for only a few days out of each year, but they are such a brilliant sight!  They bloom wild along the Colonial Parkway between Williamsburg and Yorktown.

The Alliums bloom for only a few days out of each year, but they are such a brilliant sight! They bloom wild along the Colonial Parkway between Williamsburg and Yorktown.

“This world is but a canvas to our imagination.”

Henry David Thoreau

 

Life is art.  If only we can remember to stop and appreciate the beauty which surrounds us each day.

Pitcher Plants growing in the swamps around Jamestown were collected by John Tradescant the Younger around 1638.  It was difficult for English gardeners to keep them alive until they learned to grow them in pots of moss standing in water.

Pitcher Plants growing in the swamps around Jamestown were collected by John Tradescant the Younger around 1638.

When we take time to visit a gallery or attend a concert we make a conscious choice to schedule time out of our daily lives to appreciate the art someone else has created.

When we sit down to sketch or play  or write we make the choice to take time to create something of our own.

And yet we live and breathe our daily lives surrounded by the ultimate creation.

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All art simply imitates and interprets what already IS in nature.

All that is required of us is to stop, observe, and appreciate.  We simply  make time to actively see and hear; to stop our constant conversation with ourselves to hear the whisper of beauty.

And perhaps to participate in its unfolding…

Astilbe in bloom at Forest Lane Botanicals nursery.

Astilbe in bloom at Forest Lane Botanicals nursery.

“The essence of all beautiful art, all great art, is gratitude.”

Friedrich Nietzsche

 

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

 

Painted Leaves

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We were told a story, when I was a child, about a mythical character who came out on autumn nights to paint all of the green leaves in bright colors.

His name was Jack Frost. 

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In picture books he was shown as a little elf carrying pots of paint and a huge paintbrush.

 

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He painted all of the green leaves so they turned bright yellow and orange, scarlet and gold.

 

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This, or course, was an attempt to communicate to a very young child the scientific understanding of how frost, or freezing temperatures, causes green leaves to change colors.

 

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Years later, I learned that frost killed off the chloroplasts, and thus the chlorophyll which gave leaves their green tint.

Once the chlorophyll was killed by the cold, the true color of the leaf was revealed.

 

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But what of these gorgeous leaves?

 

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They open in kaleidoscopic colors.

 

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Looks like Jack Frost has already painted each leaf as a perfect masterpiece of line, color, and form.

 

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But these  leaves are dressed in their summer finery.  No frost has touched them.

 

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Their brilliant pigments are able to carry on photosynthesis, and sustain the life of the plant, with a minimum of green.

Are they using different wavelengths of light?

 

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What a beautiful mystery.

 

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

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Hypertufa In The Stump Garden

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The stump in the stump garden has been bugging me.

When the tree guys cut this  broken oak tree last summer, leaving me a stump as instructed, they didn’t make an even cut.

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It seemed trivial at the time, given the enormous task of cleaning up the mess three downed oak trees left in our front garden, and restoring what we could of what little was left behind.  I planted up a large glazed ceramic pot and we balanced it on the uneven stump last summer, just to try to make things look a little better.  I knew we needed to do better this summer.

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The stump garden in October of 2013

We’ve worked on this area ever since, building up the Hugelkultur  bed around the stump, planting  the bed, pruning away dead wood from the shrubs, repairing the deer fences and spreading mulch.

The entire area looks worlds better, but there was still the issue of the uneven stump.

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I decided back in the winter to make a new, much larger pot for this stump from Hypertufa; and I ordered a Brugmansia, “Cherub,” which will grow very tall, to grow in the large pot.  I expect a 5′-7′ tall shrub covered in huge, pendulous fragrant flowers growing from the new pot on the stump by late August.

The large hypertufa pot I've made for our stump garden.

The large hypertufa pot I’ve made for our stump garden.

But there was still the small matter of the uneven cut on top of the stump.  And the even uglier matter of the missing bark.  Left as it was, I knew rot would set in, and soon this pedestal would begin disintegrating.

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I decided to transform the stump into a work of art; a fitting pedestal for the beautiful hypertufa pot and blossom covered Brugmansia.

Using a fairly wet hypertufa blend, I first covered the entire top of the stump, leveling it out as much as possible.  The top is decorated with bits of glass.  I expect the glass to help hold and stabilize the pot, holding it up a little to allow for drainage.

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After the top had a chance to set up, I came back with a second batch of hypertufa to address the torn and peeling bark.  I was careful to seal the top edge of the bark all the way around the stump under a coating of the concrete hypertufa mixture.

The top was already dry to the touch when I finished the patch on the side.  We’ve had a bright and windy day, which has helped the concrete to set up quickly.

I’ll give the stump a good 36 to 48 hours to dry before placing the pot on its new pedestal, where it can remain indefinitely.

Brugmansia growing from the center, this pot is planted with Coleus, Dusty Miller, and Sedum.

Brugmansia growing from the center, this pot is planted with Coleus, Dusty Miller, Creeping Jenny, and two varieties of Sedum.

The tiny Brugmansia start  grows now from the center of the pot.  It is flanked with Dusty Miller on the ends, and sun tolerant Coleus on the sides.

All of these plants, except the Sedums and Creeping Jenny, will grow at least 18″ tall, helping to hide the “knees” of the Brugmansia as it grows.

These plants will do well in full sun to partial shade.  These plants are a mix of annuals and perennials.  The Brugmansia  is rated to Zone 8, so I’ll most likely cut the plants back in late autumn, and bring the pot inside for winter.

two large drainage holes are important so the plants' roots don't get too wet when it rains.

Two large drainage holes are important so the plants’ roots don’t get too wet when it rains.  Wine corks held the drainage holes open as the pot dried.

Creeping Jenny  and cuttings of two different Sedums will fill in around the base of the Brugmansia to cover the soil, helping to hold in moisture.  The Creeping Jenny will trail down the sides of the pot, tying it visually to the stump and garden below.

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A piece of netting covers the drainage holes, and a layer of pea gravel holds the netting in place.

Brugmansia is a heavy feeder and needs daily water.  I mixed a good handful of Plant Tone fertilizer into the soil before planting.  I’ll top the soil with some Osmocote, and a pea gravel mulch once the pot is lifted into place on its stump pedestal on Tuesday.

Espoma Plant Tone is mixed into good quality potting soil before planting.

Espoma Plant Tone is mixed into good quality potting soil before planting.

It will be interesting to see how the hypertufa and the wood come together over time, as the concrete cures.  I expect this will prolong the useful life of the stump indefinitely, keeping moisture and bacteria out of the wood.

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I expect this to be a beautiful focal point, visible from both the street and the house.

All of my plantings in this front area this season are chosen with their size in mind.  I’ve chosen large plants, with the expectation that they will create a lovely display, and re-create some of the  the privacy we lost when our trees fell last summer.

Even though these plants are tiny now, they will grow quickly to fill the pot.  This should be a beautiful summer display of interesting foliage, with flowers developing by late summer.

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

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Hypertufa Pot Ready For Action

Hyper-What?

Hyper-What?

Hypertufa

A sand cast hypertufa pot, inlaid with glass scallop shells.  The corks in the bottom are to hold the drainage holes open while the cement hardens.

A sand cast hypertufa pot, inlaid with glass scallop shells. The corks in the bottom are to hold the drainage holes open while the cement hardens.

Have you heard of it?  This is one of those projects that stuck in my brain some years ago as something I wanted to try.

Hypertufa is a light weight cement like material one can use to cast pots, stepping stones, troughs, bird baths, stones, and other garden ornaments.

Peat, sand, vermiculite, and perlite measured, and ready to be mixed.

Peat, sand, vermiculite, and perlite measured, and ready to be mixed.

You mix the hypertufa from Portland cement and a mixture of other materials more commonly found in potting soil, and then mold or cast it to your liking.

After 36 to 48 hours you unmold it, perfect the finish, and then allow the piece to fully dry and season for the next several weeks.

It  finishes to look like stone.  Tufa is a type of limestone frequently carved into pots and garden ornaments in Europe.  Expensive, it isn’t easy to come by in the United States.  Hypertufa can be cast to make lightweight containers and ornaments with a similiar appearance.

As interesting as the hypertufa pieces featured in hard core gardening magazines look to me, there was always a reason not to do it:  too busy, too many materials, too complicated….  Do you have a project you have always wanted to do, but never quite got organized to try?

Here the dry cement on top is ready to mix into the other dry ingredients.

Here the dry cement has been mixed in.  The next step is to add water, and mix it all into a slurry.

Well, I finally made the decision to try it.  Blame it on the excruciatingly late spring we’re having.

I haven’t been out to do my usual spring garden clean up yet because of the cold weather, so I decided to at least give hypertufa a try… inside.

Last week a good friend and I went to the Home Depot in search of the materials.  We brought a flat bed cart inside with us, and were so fortunate to find a young, strong, friendly and extremely helpful clerk who became our personal shopping assistant.

We had to traipse from one end of the Home Depot to the other to gather all of the materials.  And thank goodness Kelley stayed with us, and enlisted his colleagues to help us.

They got their work out for the day!  The Portland cement only comes in 96 lb. bags.  The sand and pea gravel are packaged in 50 lb. bags.  We finally located small 8 qt. bags of peat moss and perlite; but never were able to find the final ingredient, vermiculite.

Two cubic feet of vermiculite.

Two cubic feet of vermiculite.

Home Depot had some large plastic tubs at a good price, and so we loaded five onto the cart.  These have hinged lids which open down the center and fold back to allow access.

Kelley loaded the cement into a large, heavy duty trash bag for us, and everything else into the tubs.  Sadly, I couldn’t take him home to help with the unloading.  We ended up with about 400 lbs. of materials, including the sand I purchased for making molds.

Getting it all inside was a slow job, but the tubs helped enormously.  At least they had handles.

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It is important to wear gloves, goggles, and a dust mask while measuring and mixing the cement. A job ends up being easier when you first assemble all of the needed tools and materials.

The next morning, my partner and I headed to another Home Depot, some thirty miles away, which stocked the vermiculite and larger bags of peat.

I wanted the 2 cubic foot bag of vermiculite, and a large bale of peat.   Thank goodness the vermiculite is light and easy to handle!

Now vermiculite is heated mica chips.  It looks golden, a little more coarse than sand, and is feather light.  Most potting mixes include some vermiculite.

This container is cast in a very large nursery pot, lined with a plastic bag.  I hope that oatmeal box comes out OK....

This container is cast in a very large nursery pot, lined with a plastic bag. I hope that oatmeal box comes out OK….

Chemically inert, it promotes drainage in potting soil, but helps make hypertufa strong and light.  Perlite, the little white pellets you see in most potting soil, is also used to make the finished hypertufa pieces light.    Most recipes call for one or the other.

Because I found the perlite first, I bought it, and am using it in combination with the vermiculite.  Once I’ve used up what we found on Wednesday I’ll probably switch to all vermiculite in future batches.

This is a stepping stone, cast in sand.  I laid a mosaic design of glass marbles into the sand before adding the cement mixture.

This is a stepping stone, cast in sand. I laid a mosaic design of glass marbles into the sand before adding the cement mixture.

Today I decided to mix my first batch of hypertufa. 

I’ve read about several different methods for casting pieces, and wanted to try out several different techniques.  I prepared a few sand cast molds, which are more free form and allow you to work and shape the hypertufa by hand.

After dampening the sand and hollowing out the basic shape I wanted to cast, I laid stained glass pieces into the sand.  Next came the hypertufa mixture.

I’ve cast one solid stepping stone, and several hollow pieces which I’ll plant up in a few weeks when they have cured.

This is the mold for the container shown at the top of the post.  See the glass shells set into the sides?  The corks set in the sand at the bottom of the mold are for drainage holes.

This is the mold for the container shown at the top of the post. See the glass shells set into the sides? The corks set in the sand at the bottom of the mold are for drainage holes.

I also prepared a plastic pot and several boxes with plastic bag linings.  The hypertufa goes into the plastic lined mold, and then you either form the cavity by hand, or place another plastic bag and another, smaller mold inside to form the cavity.

Seeing how these first pieces come out, in a few days, will teach me which methods seem to work best.

This will be a trough, probably planted with succulents since it is shallow.  It is large enough that I set the plastic bucket inside to support the long walls as they dry.

This will be a trough, probably planted with succulents since it is shallow. It is large enough that I set the plastic bucket inside to support the long walls as they dry.

But for now, at least I know this is a process I can enjoy and can manage in my work room.  Casting one’s own pots and troughs is far more affordable than purchasing glazed or terra cotta pots at the garden center.

And as a bonus, the size and design can be tailored to the available space in the garden and the needs of the plants you want to grow in them.

When I ran out of corks, I experimented with keeping the drainage holes open with sand...

When I ran out of corks, I experimented with keeping the drainage holes open with sand…

Once I refine my casting technique, there are all sorts of interesting things I’d like to make.  We’ll see how these first few items turn out, when they are solid enough to lift out of their molds on Wednesday.

I’m already making plans for the next batch…

 

These miniature daffodils bloomed today.  So tiny!

These miniature daffodils bloomed today. So tiny!

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

March 24, 2014 projects 004

Another project finished!  These stepping stones are made by gluing the glass to a purchased cement block, and then grouting them into place with mortar.  They can go outside when the weather finally settles.

Another project finished! These stepping stones are made by gluing the glass to a purchased cement block, and then grouting them into place with mortar.   They can go outside when the weather finally settles.

 

 

 

What Is It, Anyway?

How did a scallop shell find its way to the ravine?

How did a scallop shell find its way to the ravine?

As you’re out walking, do you ever stop to look at something more closely, and ask yourself, “What is it?

Did the pearl already fall out of the oyster?

Did the pearl already fall out of the oyster?

Whether you’ve spotted a bird or a leaf, a flower or a pebble, perhaps you’re engaged, for a moment, in simply looking.

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Our chameleon world loves to masquerade.

You may have noticed that one things often resembles the other.

How can coral grow in a forest?

How can coral grow in a forest?

Sometimes it’s our minds and our eyes playing tricks on us.  We catch sight of a color, a flash of movement.

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In the moment between seeing and naming, the world is wide open to new possibilities.

What do you see here?

What do you see here?

When silence is allowed, the tap of thought turned off tightly,

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Eyes engage the world in novel and unexpected ways.

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Perhaps instead of explaining the world away, our mind allows questions to burble to the top of consciousness:

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“Where did it come from?”  “What does it do?”  “Why is it here?” “What does it mean?”

“What is it, Anyway?”

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These are some of the best questions, the important questions, but …

 

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Simply observe, without naming, and allow the world to open up in beautiful, and unexpected ways.

 

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All Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

“Not till your thoughts cease all their branching here and there,

not till you abandon all thoughts of seeking for something,

not till your mind is motionless as wood or stone,

will you be on the right road to the Gate.”

―Huang Po

Woody Flowers? (Forest Garden)

First Signs of Spring (Forest Garden)

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