Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Sad Roses & Delighted Day Lilies

The weather in Texas this spring has been wet enough to support a true English garden!

 My drought tolerant plants look weary, the roses are getting black spot and dropping all their leaves,
 but the day lilies are having their best year yet. 

This garden area is very close to the sea wall and exposed to the wind, but the lily stems are really hardy.

I think these star shaped yellow lilies are just as showy multi-petaled varieties. 
 And the flower pods are so cool.

The yarrow is really unhappy about the wet soil. 
Many of the canes just lay down and gave up!

But all the lavender (which refused to grow in the circle garden around St. Fiacre and so was replanted here and there around the property) is blooming like mad. Sometimes there is just no predicting how a plant is going to react.

Between storms my husband managed to get the supports for our raspberries and olalillieberries in place. This spot on the far side of the guest house is where we also plan to build a keyhole garden.

The supports look very rustic, but John cleverly attached the weathered wood to sturdy metal tree stakes.

The wire supports form a gentle V shape to support the canes as they grow.
I found the idea for the for the V supports on google and pinned quite a few pictures to Pinterest, if anyone else is looking for ideas.

My favorite job with the ground so wet is clearing weeds around little trees or perennials in the wild area, and then building little twig nests around them.  
This way they won't get stepped on , and the twigs hold the mulch in place.

 Sometimes I find a pretty volunteer!
Happy gardening friends, and here's hoping for a little sun this weekend!

Monday, May 18, 2015

Mysteries of Painting: Texture Draws the Eye

Texture is a particularly interesting art element because it can manifest in so many ways.

For example, art can bring us texture as pure Illusion.

Many painting and drawing mediums allow artists to render textures with astonishing clarity and realism.  For centuries still life paintings were designed expressly to demonstrate an artists skill in representing various textures.
And it's fun to do - the closer you look, the more you see. It can be kind of addictive!

Pieter Claesz (1597-1660)   'Still Life with Musical Instrument's

In this collection of carefully observed objects, my hands-down favorite is the silver platter and loaf of bread. I think the artist favored it too, placing it dead center in the composition.
Those crusty slices of bread contrast gorgeously against the cool, mirror-like surface of the platter.

These wonderfully slippery looking fish by Jacob Gillig are so realistic that I can almost smell them!

Jacob Gillig (1636-1701)     'Freshwater Fish'

And these flowers look even more fragile situated on that hard marble surface.

Willem van Aelst (1627-1683)        'Flower Still Life'

Simulated textures can add a great deal to our appreciation and understanding of a subject.

 But in addition to illusion, there is another way in which a painter can use texture.
This is by creating Actual Texture.

 If we were allowed to touch the surface of this painting by Van Gogh with our eyes closed, our fingers would read the paintings textural changes from flower to flower.

Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890)   'Sunflowers'

Creating actual texture with paint is called impasto.
Notice the how selectively the texture has been applied against a relatively smooth background. These flowers seem to press against the restraints of the canvas as if to escape the confines of two dimensions!

This work is less realistic than the fish painting, less like a photograph, but very obviously the result of close observation of a specific vase of sunflowers.
 Van Gogh is inviting us to experience these sunflowers in a different way from the classical compositions of earlier generations.

A third way that artists employ texture is by adding materials other than paint to their canvas or board.
This type of actual texture is called collage.

Suzanne Oldham                                                                     Bouquet

This is collage of recycled papers. Inspired by my garden, I wanted to capture the exuberant energy of new growth in a way that I could not with brush strokes or with a realistic style.
 The raw, torn edges of the paper and their various unexpected surface textures feels very immediate to me. There is an untamed quality - just the thing for my untamed garden!

Examining how and why an artist uses texture is a fascinating way to approach a piece of art.

Have you ever found yourself  intrigued by an illusion or a surface before even considering the theme or subject?

Sunday, May 17, 2015

And the Rains Came!

The big news here is the big water!
After months of drought the rains have come, and the lake is reborn. 

On Saturday afternoon, as the next storm was brewing up,
 I took this view of our boathouse from the lot next door.

The photo below was taken last weekend.  
Our 200 foot beach had twindled down to a thin strip, and we had our fingers crossed that the waters would keep rising.

The wave action and driving winds are making short work of all the beach weeds (and baby trees).

Really, the rain has has been amazing (our word of the week), it just keeps coming!
It's supposed to rain all this next week, too!

The boathouse has been transformed from a long-legged tree house to a floating island.
It turned out to be too rough this weekend to get the boat into its cradle.

The gardens have been just popping with nitrogen-happy plants.
Also happy weeds. I should have used pre-emergent - who knew? - the ground has been been too dry and hard for much weed action over the last few years.

The tomatoes have set fruit and squash plant volunteers have been turning up all over the place.

The lysimachia returned, covered with fairy sized yellow bouquets.

I planted a Kangaroos Paw in this mosaic pot. I think the flowers look more like this roosters coxcomb than a marsupial paw. 

The Italian oregano is in full flower above a skirt of weeping rosemary.

Also in bloom in this bed: sage, thyme, mums, lavender, and santolina.

Last of all, I want to share another rose. 
This is Cole's Settlement, one of the pioneer roses from the Antique Rose Emporium. It arrived a couple of months ago, and is quickly becoming another favorite. The flowers are larger and more open faced than my other white roses.

I notice that my Iceberg roses are not happy, and are dropping most of their leaves. Apparently they prefer it hot and dry and are discouraged by all this wet and damp. 
Anyone else out there noticing the usually reliable Iceberg looking sickly???

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Mysteries of Painting: Can a Painting have Rhythm?

Sometimes what draws me to an interesting work of art isn't the color, or the subject, but the way it's been organized.
It's beat. The way it moves.

This painting by Duchamp flows across the canvas.  
How did he capture this sensation?

Marcel Duchamp - "Nude Descending a Staircase (No2)", 1912

Duchamp created a repetition of shapes and lines, and our eyes read this as movement. 
His painting reminds me of the way waves move with their own rhythm. 

Watching how water moves is one way to consider the difference between rhythm and pattern.  Like pattern, rhythm is the result of repetition.

But pattern stands still.

Rhythm is all about movement.

Paul Signac, Opus 217. Against the Enamel of a Background Rhythmic with Beats and Angles, Tones, and Tints, Portrait of M. Félix Fénéon in 1890
Thinking of rhythm versus pattern, I visualize two dancers, each demonstrating a simple box step. The beginner moves his feet in the classic pattern over and over again. Unconnected to the music, he is making a pattern in place. 

The experienced dancer takes those same steps, marries them to the music, and moves around the dance floor, creating something entirely different from those box steps.

Rhythm in painting can be understood in the same way.
It's when pattern wakes up and starts going somewhere.

I really admire this painting by Jose Clemente Orozco.
 It's a masterful use of rhythm.

 Painted in 1931 it's titled Zapatistas 
The repeating forms move strongly, unstoppably forward. 
 I think it's brilliant because Orozco has organized this work in way that supports the painting's story and its composition!

Do you have any favorites where its all about the rhythm?

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Adventures in Sustainable Living with Dr. Deb Tolman

One of the requirements for being a Master Gardener is six hours of continuing education each year.  That is how a friend and I ended up visiting a unique property deep in Texas hill country. 

Clifton, Texas sits southwest of Lake Whitney, in the rolling hills of Bosque County. It's here, on six wooded acres of caliche soil, that Dr. Deb Tolman has created a laboratory dedicated to researching sustainable approaches to landscape design, food production, water conservation and a host of other interesting topics.

Dr. Deb holds a Ph.D. in Environmental Sciences/Resources and Geography from Portland State University, and since she also has the gift of a generous teaching style her workshops sell out very quickly!
Fully dedicated to researching every aspect of sustainable living, Dr. Deb lives on site. 

This building (cute enough to be a gnomes cottage) 
was built to house her composting toilet.

 The walls are cob and the living roof is an old satellite dish she found on the property.  'Recycle and Reuse' isn't just a catchy phrase in this garden!

Surrounding the outhouse is a collection of raised bed gardens, built in the keyhole style. The metal baffles are in place to perplex the armadillos!

The plants are growing in compost. Each of these keyhole gardens (6' diameter) required one ton of old, wet cardboard as the 'brown' component. They are built and planted in a day!
 Dr. Deb has advanced from growing herbs and vegetables in these raised beds, to fruit trees. 

An old gravel quarry on site provides the clay used for cob construction. Cob is clay and straw mixed together.  Cob constructions are strong and waterproof. Building a cob house is similar to constructing a giant sand castle, but requires a stronger back and arms!

This curving cob wall is being constructed for heat-retention. Eventually it will reach eight feet in height. Trees protect its north side, and its radiant south side will provide a mini environment for fruit trees that don't normally tolerate zone 8a conditions. 
Dr. Deb is very selective when it comes to removing any of the existing forest growth, carefully monitoring sun and shade year round before pruning or cutting down a tree. In this way she can grow bumper crops without giving up cooling shade.

She grows a variety of native plants, both shade and sun lovers.

There is an extensive rain water and grey water collection system in place, and a bicycle driven pump to get it flowing.
The tour also included her straw bale green house, rocket stove, Thai rain jar, and cob oven.   

It was interesting to discover how many people on the tour were trying out variations of these  ideas in their own gardens.  Although most of us are not tempted to try and live off the grid as extensively as Dr. Tolman, the tour was very inspiring. I'd love to have a cob oven!  And I do plan to build a keyhole garden one of these days.

I found Dr. Tolman's gardens to be delightful mix of humor and resourcefulness!

For more information start here: