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.




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.

Sparhawk Garden & Meadow

Last winter. I sort of remember my hands stretched out in front of me, blindfolded by fear, stumbling through the chaos of what had been and was no more. Then I found a teeny new studio. Which had a massive garden. Which seized my heart on day one. Which surely angels led me to.

Moi: It’s PERFECT!

Real Estate Agent: It is?

It is. I’ll let you see for yourself. It had exquisite bare bone established, fallen, gone to seed and cluttering dead branched shrubs and trees. I watered, fertilized, tilled, moved rocks, opened to sunlight, transplanted, and incrementally added every flowery small cheapo thing I could get from Grigg’s Nursery down the block. That was the new. The old have revived, blossomed, stretched arms to the sun. Brutally pruned cherry tree, hedges brush-cut before they could flower, tall reedy Oriental Lilies chopped to knee high are all now an hourly windsong thrice the height of yore. Just started really. This is the beginning and I am very proud. And yes, naturally, I painted the chairs.

Ah, August you darling you, let joy be unconfined……..

Terra Firma Flora Changes

My meadow got a cutting. I knew it was coming and sure it would break my heart, the loss of 3 foot high waving green gold lushness. Instead it is become a thrill of blanched silver honey that in moonlight and dawn is sand on beachfront. The dark green black bushes and trees at the river border, the orange curved bridge, shock it into compelling invites to explore, to walk across, to paint.

I have the good fortune of a very old, huge Bird of Paradise in residence at the meadow fence, my side, companion to a cherry tree, and a large pink blossomed mystery fruit tree. Two full birds have burst into bloom, I’d forgotten the brilliant electric blue spear at their center, tall enough to catch first light. Five, six, who knows, more fulsome stems ready to open. The fruit trees are in exuberant rising to blue sky following years of brutal pruning.

Right on the meadow side of the white board fence another massive plant, a rambling rose covered in small pink flowers. Easily fifteen feet up and sideways. I’ve pulled out all of their underbrush, dead branches and choking vines. The beautiful stems and bowers and bark are clear to see again. The morning population of birds gather, their tiny toes holding between the thorns until I replenish the feeder in the far garden, watching me, then zoom and dive and eat when I have stepped back apace to watch. I fastened a piece of dead blanched tree branch to the gate post and drew the rose branches that would reach to it. I’m making an arbor over the gate, it should reach in another few weeks.

Some orchids close to the bungalow are still in bloom others in rest. Spider plants with long arms flowering. The geraniums, reds, pale pinks, peppermint leafed, huge hot pinks, whites, are flourishing. Purple perfumed petunias and lobelia in hanging baskets. Apricot begonias. Blue daisies, a new blue hydrangea, apricot twist wallflowers, some exquisite tall vines with clusters of blue with yellow innards, rampaging nasturtium, ferns, orange daisies, primrose of every hue, gold and purple pansies. I uncovered a struggling wisteria that is climbing back up the trellis above the rock wall. The far borders are guarded by twelve foot stalks, great huge clusters of Pride of Madeira in brilliant blue, purple, and white. I can hardly stand it if it’s true but I think I’ve lost my hibiscus after a three year love affair, it was in continuous bloom. I’m hoping it will come back to life but it’s last bloom was over a week ago and the pretty lacy leaves are dry.

Great clusters of those very tall iris like plants that produce short-lived orchid looking white/purple flowers bisect the garden with some ancient, thick trunked lavenders, evergreen hedges, rosemary hedges, Breath of Heaven starting to make teeny pink flowers, ornamental grass, sea lavender, wild ginger. I don’t know what half the things growing around me are but intend to find out. There’s a forty foot pine about fifteen feet behind me, down the meadow, that drops impressive pine cones and lots of orange needles.

Past time to set up the easel. Thank God I’m not in Brooklyn.