In the High Peaks

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Summer Project: Painting Gardens and Garden Memoirs

Like the meteorologists in the Northeast, I consider June 1st (or Memorial Day) the beginning of true Summer, with a capital "S". Several weeks ago I became involved in what I now hope will be a deep, deep Summer Project.

My plan is to visit many gardens all over the Northeast (well, probably not Maine) and take many photographs and careful notes. I then hope to come home and paint gardens, in pastels, watercolor, and if I'm lucky, in oils. I may paint some in acrylic, but to tell the truth, acrylic paint and I do not work together harmoniously, although I have tried for so many years to make the relationship work out. Acrylics dry much, much too quickly for my eyes and brain, especially when I need  loads of time to think and consider what I'm doing.

I haven't been deep, deep into painting since the winter of 2010. So there's that hurdle to leap over.

Garden Books and Memoirs:
You're probably wondering how they fit into this picture. Right now I have collected such a cartload of these from lots of libraries. Several I own and a few have been recently purchased. Let me list some of the ones that I lose myself in for long stretches of time because of the incredible art and photography.

Painting the Modern Garden from Monet to Matisse. (Numerous authors.)
This huge book, which includes all the paintings from an exhibition that was shown in Cleveland, Ohio, and in London, is loaded with a wide variety of paintings from English, American, French, German, Scandinavian, and eastern European painters working between the late 19th century and the early 20th century. Also included are photographs of the gardens and painters, and stories of each garden and how they inspired individual painters.  I borrowed this one and then had to buy one for myself. It was a book I wouldn't be able to part with. Using coupons and gift cards, I only paid $18 including shipping for this remarkable $75 hardcover, very hefty book.

I then started searching for books written by people telling the stories of how they created their gardens. Quite a genre! What fun.

I first stumbled upon the several gardening books of Beverley Nichols (1898-1983). He wrote three about his gardens, and they remain the most popular of all his books to this day. They have been reprinted by Timber Press in Oregon. (Nichols also wrote novels, children's books, travel books, political books, and autobiographies, etc.)  So I found one of his gardening books in my network of libraries--Merry HallMerry Hall, although supposedly not his first account of his gardening, was an account of his first total- renovation gardens. It has been beloved for generations for the author's humor. I hope to be reading it soon.

My coffee--table favorite of the moment is HighGrove: An English Country Garden, a book replete with the most eye-defying knock-out photographs of all of Prince Charles's gardens at High Grove. Visitors do go there--maybe someday I will make it when they're open. A section of the book is devoted to each month of the year. When I examine these photographs (some spread out over two very large pages), I can imagine that I am there.

My last garden book to talk about today is another coffee-table wonder--The Writer's Garden: How Gardens Inspired Our Best-Loved Authors by Jackie Bennett and photography by Richard Hanson. (2014--UK).

Writers and gardens. Artists and gardens. What is it about gardens that have inspired so much creativity and so supported the life force in each of us? That is my quest--to find out.


  1. I haven't read any of those books, apart from the Beverley Nichols ones, but the more modern books sound wonderful. I'll be very interested to see your paintings when you get around to them.

    1. I recently returned from the Boston area, and while I was there I visited the gardens of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society at Elm Bank, a beautiful site along the Charles River. When we left Boston, the gardens were just getting started, and naturally, were nothing particularly lovely to look at. Now, in the past 12 years, they have fleshed out and are vibrant and beautiful, although I expect they will be even more lovely in another 8 years as the trees grow and the flowers "settle" into the "Plan."
      What did you think of Beverly Nichols? Were they too ridiculous? Haven't started it yet.

  2. I enjoyed the Beverley Nichols books, they're quaint and charming, amusing at times. Nichols was a terrific snob, but I find that quite funny.

    1. So glad you enjoyed them. It's so interesting that his gardening memoirs are still popular today.