When we began to design our garden, I was not particularly enamoured of gravel gardens even though they are a staple of Japanese gardens. The gravel symbolically represents water with rock groupings standing in for islands. Typically the gravel is raked in patterns that emphasize the water imagery.
Seeing more of that type of garden — in books and in person — slowly changed my attitude to the point where I suggested to Mark that we add a second gravel feature. We now have one in the front garden as well as in the back.
Mark rakes the gravel into patterns whenever we are expecting garden visitors. We had two big garden parties in August and I noticed that he raked different patterns for each event. The images above and directly below are of the front gravel garden which is circular. You can see the two different effects, though both clearly suggest water.
The back gravel garden is more irregular in shape and has a stepping stone path through it. For the first party, he raked it in a pattern suggesting ripples spreading out from the rocks (using that concept out front for the second party).
For the second party, he raked the back gravel garden in a pattern he had never used before. I particularly like the more decorative quality of this design.
The rocks are outlined in a way that suggests ripples from a pebble. But the edges of the gravel are are also outlined to create a border. The two are linked with yet another directional pattern that could suggest waves, though much more informally than the pattern he used in the front garden.
I love peonies as much for their foliage as their flowers. A peony adds structure and mass to a garden bed and looks good all season. Every day the color, the size or the shape of the leaves is slightly different as they grow and unfurl and get more sun. This week's much warmer temps are causing changes almost by the hour.
Paeonia 'Burnished Bronze'
The following peonies are all species or woodland peonies. This first one is Paeonia anomala or vertchii, with the shadow pattern of a wire cage reflected on the leaves. I still have lots of plants caged to protect them from the large rabbits who have been terrorizing the garden.
My summer silhouette marks a number of departures from the prior two embroideries: first, it is a less dense all-over pattern than the others; and second, I put down a base layer rather than just starting to fill in the head space. Finally I changed the title from "Inside the Gardener's Head" to "Gardening in my Head."
For this portrait the first layer was composed of random pieces of silk in a variety of green shades along with a fragment of mauve silk.
Then coneflowers were stitched on top of this "leaf" layer using twisted strips of hot pink chiffon. The centers of the flowers are masses of different beads. I stitched the beads virtually top of each other for a dimensional effect that would be as dramatic as the petals yet texturally quite different.
The exhibit at Olbrich includes a variety of types of fiber pieces like the one below, "Noah's Ark" by Donna Freiman.
At the opening reception on Oct. 30, I had a chance to meet artists whose work was new to me and I also saw lots of old friends which made the evening even more special.
I'm discussing my group of silhouette portraits with Jane LaFlash of the Wisconsin Hardy Plant Society (above and below).
The other seasonal silhouettes in my portrait series are:
My concept for a fall silhouette using pine needles, seed pods, stones and other natural materials from the garden proved so frustrating that I gave up on it — and decided that maybe my winter silhouette was going to be my lone fiber project. Then, a book I'd placed on hold at the public library came in and changed everything.
"The Art of Embroidery: Inspirational Stitches, Textures and Surfaces" by Francoise Tellier-Loumagne is the most inspirational embroidery book I've ever looked at. It is less about technique and more about how to interpret your ideas in fiber. Great photo illustrations (also by the author) including stitch samples all done on heavy white paper making for the clearest instruction I've seen.
I was so excited by Tellier-Loumagne's book that I sat down and started another textile silhouette. This time I focused on Spring with all the greens pushing through the snowy winter detritus. I cut two silhouettes out of dark green net and then cut them into pairs of puzzle-like pieces. I experimented with a number of techniques for stuffing, stitching and attaching them to the black background.
They're filled with felt, fabric, ribbon, threads pulled from assorted fabrics, and bits of green plastic bags. Some pieces have small pieces of white lace inside them but most of that fabric is melting across the large silhouette image, held in place with beads and sequins.
I've started a summer silhouette but my concept involves more preliminary background stitching than the first two pieces, and it feels more like a chore than creative work. Hoping to be ready to move on to the fun parts soon!
You can read about my winter silhouette, the first work in this four-part series, here.
I've spent the time since Tuesday's election in the garden: the most restorative place I know. I've been weeding, watering and spreading the last of the Olbrich leaf mulch that's been sitting in a pile in the driveway. I have noticed, however, that I've been humming union songs as I work!
This weekend, when temperatures are expected to be in the 90s both days, I'll be indoors. But I've got a garden waiting for me there as well. Mark brought me this lovely new book, "Angie Lewin Plants and Places," from the Kohler Art Library on the UW-Madison campus. I love Lewin, which is easy to see if you type her name into the search box at the top of my blog. She's a British artist: painter, printmaker, fabric designer. Lewin finds both inspiration and imagry in weeds, wildflowers, and natural found objects like stones and feathers.
This is the first book I've seen that is actually about Lewin and her works as opposed to the garden books I have that she's illustrated. If you are an artist who looks to your garden for ideas and inspiration for your artwork, Lewin is a great example. She reduces the most complex flowers — Alliums and Queen Anne's Lace, for example — down to their essentials. Form, rather than scale or perspective, is her guiding principle which makes for very unusual compositions.
What I find particularly satisfying about "Angie Lewin Plants and Places" is that it is large enough that you can study her work in detail. It also includes working drawings and paintings which I often find more interesting than the finished prints. If you are curious about Lewin's work, you can look at the book's pages on her website. You can order the book there as well.
Japanese spurge — pachysandra terminalis — is ubiquitous in American gardens as a groundcover. It's an aggressive spreader but is grown for its attractive shiny leaves. But I think the native version is even prettier. Allegheny spurge — pachysandra procumbens — is a slower spreader, or at least that's been my experience. I have a patch of it growing near a down spout where it seems to flower more prolifically than the nearby clumps in drier soil.
But it has gorgeous mottled leaves that have an almost tortoise shell look to them, no matter the location. These are the old leaves from last year and this is how they look after being covered with snow and going through cold temps. New leaves will appear soon but with less dramatic markings. If you've been thinking about using spurge as a groundcover, go native!