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July 11, 2023

Art and Garden: The Border

Artists and gardeners are creative risk takers. They will try to fill an empty space with grace and beauty no matter how small or large that space is. Starting with intention, gardeners and artists choose what they will create, how they will create it, and what story it will tell. They forge something new, unique and tangible into existence by manipulating shapes, colors, light, shadow, textures, and lines.

I am an artist and gardener. Inside my home studio I paint, draw, and write. I garden inside and outside my home. I recognize similarities in the creative processes of making art and gardens. At start, they both share an intimidating blank space. Once marked, the space is informed as a center of creation. When I am deep in that center, I focus on making ephemeral ideas concrete in a gradual process of change and modification. In the end, when only finishing touches are needed, I look at what I’ve done with satisfaction and actual wonder.

During the scorching month of June this year, I spent many morning hours sculpting a border outside the wrought iron fence enclosing my backyard. I wanted my border to provide an engaging, graceful, and seemingly effortless barrier. So to these ends I shaped the border with rocks, plants, glass, shells and the occasional garden ornament. My work was wearying. It required intense concentration of heart, mind, and hands. By the end of each morning’s labor, I was sweaty, overheated, sore and dirty, clothes and exposed skin streaked with earth. Still, when I would step back, to appraise my work-product from a panoramic distance, (just like I step back from a canvas) I felt pleased. If from the new viewpoint I noticed anything that needed tweaking, I’d make the change quickly and then walk away knowing I’d continue my efforts the next morning with renewed attention.

Essentially, I was hardscaping. Hardscaping is hard work; and using muscles I’d forgotten I had, I hauled pounds of individual rocks, bagged rocks, stones, pebbles, and plants from streetside to backyard. I took great care not to drop the bigger, heavier rocks for fear of breaking their smooth, curvaceous heft into smaller, sharper fragments. I dug out sod, added new plants and snaked the rocks and shells in a loose pattern around a few plants already thriving in the area. I wanted the border to appear casual but grounded, fluid but solid. Within the border, close-to-the-ground bird baths describe my love of birds; and a few carefully chosen garden ornaments evoke a sense of serenity.

As I worked from the North end to the South end of the fence a plan emerged much like one does when I start a painting. One rock placement, like one brushstroke, led to another until shapes emerged and I started spilling and piling stones, prompted by an unseen source of creative confidence. When I started the border I attended to the sizes and shapes of the rock groups. At this early stage colors and shades of stones were less important than their placement. Placement was essential for constructing the illusion of languid movement that was my intention from the start. Color would be my finishing touch.

Color was necessary to mimic a cool, shallow stream of water wending its way through the center of my rocky border to somewhere even colder and deeper. The watery illusion was contrived by quenching the center of my border with blue-green sea glass. I scattered the glass sparingly in some spots and more amply in others to imitate the narrowing and widening of water as it sluices through spaces between rocks and roots. The color is exactly right; it works. The glass, my imaginary water, looks lovely in the sun as well as in the shade.

The suggestion of water is perfect because it is hot outside my home on a small island off the Southeast Coast of Georgia where summer ignites and humidity climbs. I and my garden bask and bake in heat’s grasp and need water to slake a thirst felt in skin and bones and roots. Water surrounds my island. It flows through creeks and rivers into the Atlantic ocean. That is the journey I visualize for my constructed water made of glass. While real moving water would bubble and gurgle on its way to the sea, water sounds in my border are made by birds splashing in birdbaths. Birds sing as they flit about the border from plant to branch or rock.

This garden work is finished; the space is filled; and I am satisfied with the result. I like what I’ve created. Nothing needs to be refined. The new border is a charming replacement for a once rather unattractive space. I’ve created an unexpected addition to my garden area that rewards my creative risk taking everytime I water the plants, hear the birds, or just observe the border and all its elements from afar.