Monday, April 13, 2015

First Flush of Roses

We came home this weekend to a garden transformed. While we were in New York, the spring rains woke up Mother Nature in north Texas. The trees leafed out, the weeds went nuts, and the roses burst into flower.

The Knockout roses sadly lack any scent, but they certainly add splashes of brilliant color. And they are tough - heat, cold, disease - they bear up.

Also dressed in red, and just beginning to climb the wall is Fourth of July, a very prickly climber with a lovely sweet apple scent.  I particularly like open form roses where the yellow stamens are in full view. It's a more old-fashioned rose style that seems just right for a informal country garden. And the bees love their easy access!

This gorgeously rambling rose is the wonderful Jaune Desprez. It wants to cover the wall and be a ground cover - I love it. This one is three years old. Evergreen and hardy and carefree, apparently it can grow up to twenty feet.

The flowers are cream colored, sometimes with a blush of apricot in the centers.

This brillant pink rose inside the walled garden is Carefree Beauty. 

Fragrant and repeat-blooming, it also produces hips.

On the other side of the drive the lemon mint has come back clearly intending to rule. I thought this was a less aggressive type of mint that might make a good ground cover.  It certainly does cover ground. I think the Indian Hawthorne will need regular rescuing until it it grows up! 

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Composing a Collage of Recycled Papers

Documenting my work as it unfolds is on my list of 'things I really should do more often'.  It's a good learning tool because stopping and photographing a work at various points in the process gives me a different perspective.  Strangely enough, viewing a piece through the eye of the camera creates a moment where it's almost like looking at the work of someone else.

This small piece (11"x15") is a playful take on the garden as a fantasy realm.  The inspiration is a garden at night, with a lohan figure from ancient China to set the mood. A lohan is an enlightened person dedicated to acting as a spiritual guide between ordinary humans and the Divine Buddha.

The collage papers are mounted on 140 lb. watercolor paper. I don't sketch when making a collage. It's such a forgiving medium - if something doesn't work I just paper over it and move on!

First I created a dark background, not perfectly black, but hinting at hidden shapes. To set the rhythm, a turquoise branch sprouts dramatically from a heavy piece of jade. 

The curve of the branch helps create a sense of movement in the picture story - perhaps a gentle night breeze. It also creates the beginning of movement within the structure of the picture. A good composition will keep a viewers eye unconsciously moving around the whole picture. That is something I consider before placing each shape.

The sweep of blue leaves carry the eye to the right, where the larger, simpler shapes of the palm fronds lead down to a moonlit branch. I'm building toward a circular composition.

A few more branches and the curve leads to the lohan figure placed just off center. Now I have to bring left hand side of the piece into balance. As an artist (for me) this is the fun part, like solving a puzzle.  If I cover the black strip on the left, its immediately obvious that the composition would not work as a square. 

More foliage, repeating the curve, strengthens the circular composition.
The last problem is weight. The lohan figure is not heavy enough to hold down the left hand side of the composition alone.  A pair of light shapes, pale roses, will serve to balance the weight of the left side foreground against the small bright palm leaf on the upper far right.

Here is the finished piece.

And now it's back to an abstract composition that I'm still wrestling with!

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Make and Use an Olla for Happy Tomatoes

What is an olla?
An olla is an excellent old-fashioned way to keep the soil moist around thirsty plants when you can't be with them every day.  Since we are only out at the lake on weekends, last year I made a couple of ollas to keep my tomatoes happy.

Here is what they look like - two unglazed ceramic pots sealed to each other with Gorilla Glue.
One drainage hole is left open, and the other is sealed closed with a piece of broken tile.
Ollas are always unglazed because they must be porous to work.

I have two ollas and three tomato plants going into this space in the herb garden.
Step one - the ollas are buried so that the tops are level with the soil.
Then the open drainage hole is covered with a stone.

Next the plants are settled into place. My tomatoes have basil and marigolds as neighbors.

Then comes the mulch and a thorough watering.
Finally I removed the stone from the top of the olla, used the hose to fill it with water, and put the stone back on top.

Now the ollas porous surface will either release or hold water, depending on the moisture level in the soil. The plant roots will grow towards the olla, sometimes wrapping around the pot!
I used these ollas last year with great success. Sometimes they were completely empty after five days, and other times if we had had some rain, they were still half full. The tomatoes were very grateful!

The showiest place in the garden this weekend was the trellis supporting our Lady Banks rose.

Lady Banks only blooms in the spring and is a wild crazy girl the rest of the season, sprouting long arms and climbing up through the studio balcony. But it's so pretty I find it worth the effort to continually super prune it just to have this display for a few weeks!

One of my other exuberant plants is purple verbena. Highly colorful, but as aggressive as mint!

Here's a spot in the strong sun and drying wind that I thought would tame it somewhat.
 Not a chance - I have to hack it back or move everything in its path. Still it's hard to dislike a plant that wants to grow.

Notice our rising waters?! Let there be boating this year!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

New Painting in Progress

Last weekend was rainy again, keeping the light in the studio pale and cool.  The fog on the lake erased the far shore all day Saturday, and muted the color outside. It certainly influenced my current painting.

This is 'Spring' in progress. 
Taped above the easel is the original sketch of color ideas made during February when the light was harsher, and I was seeing more rust in the grasses.

I'm not sure it's finished - I need to see it in better light!  My studio does not have a lot of artifical light. It's usually so sunny here that I haven't needed it.

Outdoors the little Shasta 'Angel' daisies opened up in the rain.

The yarrow was pushing up bright green fronds.

And seven new roses arrived from the Antique Rose Emporium. With such a great catalog selection it's always hard to choose, and this time I picked a variety of colors and types.

I did dig in the rain and get them all settled in their new mucky homes.

Here's 'Republic of Texas', one of their Pioneer roses.
It's a small shrub rose, a yellow flowered repeat bloomer that will be two or three feet high.
And it's scented. And it produces hips. Sounds like a winner!

Monday, March 23, 2015

In Praise of Magnolia 'Jane'

These are the beautiful tulip sized flowers of Magnolia 'Jane'. 

Undeterred by that unexpected snow, or the fierce winds that can sweep across the lake, Magnolia 'Jane' is in full glory. Here in north Texas (zone 8a), fat purple buds appear in February and the blooms continue for weeks.

A couple of years ago I planted two of them in the bed that fronts the pool deck. Full grown they will be ten or twelve feet tall and we'll be able to see them from the window seat in the dining room. Of course my mind's eye sees a full pool lake gleaming blue behind them - garden fantasies!

I planted a third 'Jane' in the front yard where it's just starting to show over the garden wall. 
There are more than a hundred different types of magnolias, some evergreen and some deciduous.

Once the flowers have passed 'Jane' will have thick medium green leaves about four inches long.
By the end of summer the leaves often show some fungal damage in the few weeks before they drop, but the overall health of the shrub has not be affected.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Adding Texture to an Acrylic Painting

We have had buckets of welcome rain this last week! The lake has been steadily rising, and water is back under the boathouse - it's shallow, but it's progress.

And I've been in my studio making progress of my own..
This is the now completed painting 'Swallows'. I wrote about this piece in a previous post, musing on some of the work I knew needed to be done with color and composition.
 And then I decided it needed texture.

Going back in time, here it is on the easel about two thirds complete, with it's bright under painting in full glow, and its compositional pieces floating around like untethered boats.

Before pulling the composition into line, I glazed the painting with subdued shades of gray and blue.
For those of you who don't paint, shades are colors that have been altered by the addition of black to reduce their brightness.
 It helped, but it wasn't enough. During the fall and winter months the dried beach grasses create a maze of subtle textures. So I decided to apply a variety of different papers to the surface of the painting to enhance that effect.

Made from natural fibers, these beautiful papers are largely transparent allowing the painting to show through.  They are applied by brushing under and over the torn pieces with the same acrylic medium that is used to thin paint to a glaze consistency.

Taped above the painting is the original color sketch.
The color is certainly dramatically subdued from my first quick strokes of paint!

Here's a close-up of the new texture before I continued to paint over the top of the papers.

And once again here is the final version.
The composition has been pulled into balance by eliminating some colors and using a gradation of color in other areas to guide the eye in a rough figure eight around the canvas.

The original and print editions will be available at

Sunday, March 8, 2015


Yes, Dallas has seen snow again this week.
We are about thirty degrees below our usual temperatures for this time of year.
Here's Kye hoping those balcony railings are just a bit too slippery for that squirrel up there!

Friday, February 27, 2015

Progress in the Corner Garden

Our main focus for the last few months has been the corner garden, a spot at the back of our property that has been used for staging over the last few years.
Here is the view of  that corner, as seen from our neighbors yard, in December of 2011 when our house was under construction.

The large tree in the center is a bumelia (Gum Bumelia, Sideroxylon lanuginosum), a native to Texas, and one that we very much wanted to save because it's big and shady, and birds love the tiny sweet fruits.
In the spring the scissor-tailed flycatchers nest in its branches.

Visible in the right hand corner is the green "Save-Me" ribbon around its trunk.
The tree is growing in a spot below the grade of the house.
And it's the place that ended up being home to the geothermal installation, the pool equipment, the irrigation equipment, and the gas. 

 Here's the garden house going up. 
Poor tree - lots of digging and compacting around its roots!

Next came the decking and the trenching.
Notice how the shady spot under the tree has become a work area?

The photo below was taken in the fall of 2013.
Finally the decking is done and the raised beds for the herb garden are complete.
That's as far as we got on this part of the property until this winter.

Now here is the view from my studio balcony!
My in-house path maker laid a beautiful stone foot way connecting the sidewalk that runs along the seawall to the walk leading to the pool equipment.

Then he built a curved,  raised wall to protect the bumelia tree.  
The tree did not look good this past summer.  I think too much soil accumulated around its roots (along with all the other stresses).  Also, when the gas tank was put in, the builder failed to protect the tree, and a big chunk of bark was scraped from its side (see the white scar?).

I've started planting the raised area with a variety of shrubs in the hopes of creating a dense and woody cover for birds.  And of course, when the shrubs grow up they will create more  privacy and shade for us.

The lower part of the garden will have a small grassy area, and one of these days a garden swing!
I'm using sticks and twigs to hold the mulch and to discourage the dog from dashing through here until the plants take root.

The stones mark where the sprinkler heads are hiding.  It's so easy to lose track of them!