Artists’ Gardens


I’m researching a new project. The  general subject is gardens, of course, but the specifics are amorphous and swirling in my mind trying to identify themselves. Still, until they do, I am researching gardens. This has lead me further a field than the internet,  and back to the library. I am always happy to be reminded of what a wonderful resource a library is. I am particularly lucky to live in the Boston metropolitan area where I have access to not just the connected suburban library system, but the world renowned Boston Public Library and a number of university libraries.

Today I spent part of a rainy Sunday afternoon reading Bill Laws’ Artists’ Gardens (Trafalgar Square Publishing 1999).  The book  features the gardens of 20 artists. Most of the artists in the book may be familiar to readers’ of ofgardens : there is Renoir, and Monet, of course, and Gertrude Jekyll and William Morris, Paul Cezanne and Frida Kahlo. More men than women, sadly predictable, but also slightly incorrectly because the gardens of these artists were mostly designed and kept by the wives of the artists. By the act of painting the gardens, the ownership of the garden reverted to the artist and his wife, the true gardener, became, once again, anonymous.

There are some bright exceptions in the book. Isamu Noguchi’s garden is all his, although there isn’t any plant life in the garden. The plot twist, for me, is that the women artists featured:  Kim Ondaatje, Frida Kahlo, Gertrude Jekyll, Barbara Hepworth and Jennifer Bartlett  are both the artist and the gardener. As in gardens as in life. Women do it all.


Art in Bloom

IMG_3312 2.JPG                     I’ve ventured into new territory this week, that of floral arranging. With a partner,  I am participating in The Museum of Fine Arts  annual floral show Art in Bloom. Each spring over 5o garden clubs are invited to interpret a work of art. Our assigned piece was Mrs Billington as St Cecilia by George Romney. Above, you can see both the painting and our arrangement.

Before this past Friday, neither my partner nor I had ever participated in Art in Bloom. While my partner has floral arranging experience, I am a complete novice. We were excited and nervous, and happy to rise to the challenge. The whole experience has been a fun adventure. The Associates at the MFA run a very well organized event. It’s a lot of work for everyone, but it draws the crowds, every year thousands of visitors come to see Art in Bloom and for good reason. The number, diversity and creative interpretations of the arrangements are fun, and impressive,  to see. If you’re in Boston, I hope you’ll go see for yourself.

Art in Bloom



THE BIG ISLAND: Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden



Tucked away on the East side of the Big Island of Hawaii in Onomea Bay, just outside Hilo, hugging a bend on one of the most picturesque roads on the Big Island, is the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden.


The garden is a unique tropical nature preserve and sanctuary. But more than that, it is a testament to the vision and efforts of its founders, Dan and Pauline Lutkenhouse, who purchased 17 acres of land in 1978 and then proceeded to make a garden, literally inch by inch. When they brought the land it was covered in a dense, seemingly impenetrable jungle under which lay all kinds of junk: abandoned cars, machinery, appliances and trash as well as some treasures: amazing views of the Pacific, hidden waterfalls and the graves of an anonymous family of four.

The Lutkenhouses began chopping down jungle by hand with machetes because the jungle was so thick it was the only way to make space. Within six years they had reduced chaos and began the introduction of order with winding paths and groves of garden dedicated to different genus. There is a Bromeliad Hill, an Anthurium Corner, a Fern Circle and a Ginger Trail, among others.

The Lutkenhouses meant the garden to be a sanctuary for people as well as plants and on the January day I visited it lived up to their intention. It is a steep descent from the road and Visitor’s Center down into the garden. Almost immediately after getting on the boardwalk that takes you up and down into the garden you are engulfed in vegetation. The light is lovely, and intermittent. The hot Hawaiian sun so unforgiving on the beaches is in the garden is no more than a hidden guest playing hide and seek amid the foliage, making grand gestures when highlighting a hidden waterfall or spotlighting a bit of foliage. The foliage and flowers are accompanied by sounds of waterfalls, parrots and the crashing of the Pacific against the rocks. Even in January there was a lot in bloom to these North American eyes. I found myself thinking that even without blooms, the foliage, the light, the waterfalls, the ocean views and the opportunity to walk in this creation which was hewn out of neglect is well worth a visit.


But don’t let the name deceive you! Yes, the garden is in Hawaii, yes it is tropical, yes it is botanical and yes it is a garden but it is not an Hawaiian Botanical Garden. The garden houses species from all over the tropical world. I became interested in counting the number of different pine trees, until I lost count. And I couldn’t get enough of the ginger or birds of paradise, which are so exotic to my Zone 5 sensibility.


As I do whenever I travel, before I left I researched gardens to visit. There were several on the Big Island. I only had ½ a day to visit gardens because the reason I was on the Big Island was to go on a bicycle trip with my daughter. I flew over a few days ahead of my daughter and the start of the bike trip so I could savor the Big Island, get over jet lag and of course visit gardens. The Hawaiian Tropical Botanical Garden was on the other side of the island from where I was staying. I rented a car and drove several hours over to see it. From the East Coast of America, it seems like Hawaii and its sites are just that far to get to, but I am glad I made the effort. The garden is a remarkable memorial to Dan Lutkenhouse, who donated the garden and all the land for future conservation. I was also touched that there are quite a few memorial plaques honoring people who have been important to the garden, and the garden to them. Hawaiian Tropical Botanic Garden was a grand scale of a project, but I like to think that all gardens are in some small way share the vision, the effort and the loyalty that the Lutkenhouses and those who helped them achieve their dream garden.

If you find yourself on the Big Island, go see for yourself:


My Poor Garden

My poor garden. You wouldn’t know it to look at it today, but it has suffered much recently. Over the past weekend New England was plunged into Arctic temperatures, down to -9  with a windchill of -20. It was cold, the coldest it has been in more than 50 years!! AND, this weather descended only a few days after a day in which it reached 55 degrees, and then yesterday it climbed back into the 50s for a temperature swing of 70 degrees in two days. It is hard to make sense of it.

The weather pattern was not good for the garden. There is very little snow cover. The plants are bound to suffer winter kill, just how much I’ll know when they break dormancy in the spring. Even the weatherperson commented on how the Arctic cold and erratic weather was harmful to plants. I am glad I didn’t plant any woody plants this past fall. Hopefully all will survive and it will look like this again in a few months:


How are your gardens faring this winter?

Give Thanks, and give back


Nothing becomes obsolete faster than pumpkin decor the day after Thanksgiving when all the neighbors are putting up Christmas decorations. And so today I find myself in this situation. I have a bonanza of pumpkins decorating my front steps this year, thanks to the generosity of a Vermont farmer who GAVE them to me. I happened to stop by to buy some pumpkins the same day that she was going to call the pig farmer to ask him if he wanted them to feed his pigs. So, lucky me, I got the pig food to furnish the front of my house.

Each year I compost my jack o’lanterns and Thanksgiving decor. This year, the squirrels and the birds have inspired a different plan. Rather than fight the squirrels gnawing away an entire pumpkin, or this year an entire mini pumpkin patch, I am allowing the squirrels and birds to feast on pumpkin. As the squirrels make progress and the pumpkin becomes unrecognizable as anything other than squirrel food and bird feast, I take the pumpkins to a secluded place in the garden behind a shrub and leave the pumpkins for the birds, and the squirrels. It is a marvelous symbiotic relationship. Within a very short time, the pumpkins are eaten into disappearing.


Why not try it yourself?