Confessions of a Gardener Who Begins to See the Light


I’ve had the garden meadow studio about a year. Well established, beautiful old plants of myriad form and color here, firmly rooted and full of surprise. But there have also been years of austere pruning leading to squared off, cut to the knee, flat-topped geometrics on everything in sight including ornamental grasses.  Not so much a south of the border big-hearted flower-loving gardener as one local noted when her rambling rose up the side of her office was trimmed to, well, a flowerless twelve-inch stub in the dust. The grounds guy is more Aztec invader with machete and weed-wacker. Not a visionary.

My garden is separated off the common path by high hedges, down a flight of stairs, bordered by a silvery-yellow meadow that folds in to the Carmel River’s steep and wooded banks. To the industrial-strength gardener it is MINE…forbidden territory. Do Not Enter Here.  I’m up for whimsy, wild shapes, curves, arches, bowers, and Let’s See What The Plant Will Do.

Saddest of all to see one year ago was one stunner of a cherry tree only recognizable by its distinctive bark. The hint at its possible size was its neat system of living trunks, 4 ~ 6 inches in diameter, horizontally cut at about five to six feet up, desperate sprouts shooting tentatively upward to the ghost of its former self. And the neighbor who remembered its enormity of size in the olden days, branches weighted with blossoms in spring and a great crop of summer cherries. It’s been a year.Cherry Tree, Meadow, MARCH 2013

I begin to see that I spent the first spring and summer clearing out the dead underbrush of everything, pruning back hedge at ground level and around tree bottoms to expose the gorgeous old rock walls and pathways, and studying how to circumvent field mice and gophers. New heretofore unknown plants have risen from the now well-watered dust. I discovered a fantastic willowy kind of shrub planted deep in a Dixie cup! that through the miracle impulse toward life was growing larger even blooming. It has bright red and white petals on tiny blossoms. Now it’s in a huge pot, renewed, in full sun, thrilling to see. Cherry Tree Dawn

Under the bespoke cherry tree is a massive Bird of Paradise DSCF3405that had been crushed against dead branches, struggling through weeds. This spring it’s already twice the size it was. When rain hits those long, broad leaves there’s music, a drumbeat. Gardens are audio, too.

The Bird of Paradise is bordered on the patio side by a Breath of Heaven, that delightfully airy bush with teeny pink flowers. A year ago it was dying, flowerless, cut back to three feet high. Now it’s a breezy, a constantly in motion, a heading over five feet blossom-filled spectacular, which I regularly embrace (the gardener’s feather boa) and inhale.

I’ve made a kind of corner potting shed with boards set up on saw horses surrounded by pots clippers, trowels. I love the changes taking place and how much I am unexpectedly part of that.

The thing is, I see it’s like painting. And possibly true of any creative endeavor whereby you get to watch what your brain and heart and soul are up to. Look at that! kind of moments, not knowing previously how you actually thought about it but knew what you knew. 

And plants, as well as pigment and canvas, are happy cooperatives in the process, and are saying simultaneously, Look at that! Why, I had no idea.

I’ve started a book with illustrations, paintings and drawings, handwritten notations in India ink alongside, to document my experience with my garden. I’m giving myself through to November to complete the work because I want to go into the die-back stages and how that feels and what it means to see and be in, as well as lush, endlessly colorful summer. It’s going to include a lot of bright, high-color paintings.

If you’d like to contribute to the Sparhawk’s Meadow Garden book emergence and self-publication by Christmas, please send a contribution to the Hawks Perch Gallery. Any size will help. You’ll get a hand-calligraphied, signed receipt in return, from me, and any amount over $25 guarantees a free copy as well! There is a great deal to be said for gardening that lands in so many internal human places, and I intend to investigate, to discover some of that, and print it up.

BARBARA SPARHAWK 

THE HAWKS PERCH GALLERY  THE FARM CENTER

9698 CARMEL VALLEY ROAD CARMEL CA 93923

I’d like to add that I had not considered this til I got to the near end of the page, wondered how I’d get it done and remembered that Audubon achieved publishing his books by inviting Subscriber Contributions in advance. Helping him to eat and keep the home fire burning while he painted those beautiful North American birds. Suddenly seemed like an excellent idea!  Thanks in advance for faith and hope, and charity toward artistic endeavors.

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8 thoughts on “Confessions of a Gardener Who Begins to See the Light

    • I’m getting into it, and it’s an exciting project, a kind of unusual three dimensional thing going on where the words are coming from and/or going to a thing outside the page. A stage play, maybe. Thanks, John. You are always so encouraging.

  1. Count me in! Will add to your ck when I see you over the weekend. How does Easter look for you? We’ve been invited out for b’fast & could come by for the Coney Is. paintings.later in the morning. Email me & let me know what would be best. By the way I LOVE Lootie, She is so whimsical!

    • Hoorah to all that!
      I’ll be here, I think you mean Easter Sunday? I’ll get cracking on the little bit that needs a touch of paint. The paintings have SOLD on them, so that’s covered. I think the book is going to turn into something really beautiful, thanks for your perpetual encouragement!
      And Lootie is underway, heading out. She’s very costume oriented, I’m working on a Sherlock hat and cloak. Maybe a monocle, to check for clues. Or night vision gtasses.

    • Thanks, Gunta. I’ll be standing in some fullsome California flora bunda with my jaw on my knees and catch myself at it, and think… I moved. I’m not in Brooklyn any more. What a place this is.

    • Thank you, Gunta, it is indeed. I really love the perpetual change, the movement, the way the plants acknowledge each other. Too many concrete jungle years. In New York, if my indoor geraniums produced blooms it was reason to pop champagne and have a party. I still look at all this with Brooklyn eyes.

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