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Favorite Garden Books: The Inspired Garden

December 11, 2015

One of the benefits of my $20 per year non-resident membership in the Portland (Maine) Public Library is access to the library’s wonderful collection of garden books. Recently, I’ve been enjoying The Inspired Garden: Twenty-Four Artists Share Their Vision by Judy Paolini and Nance Trueworthy (DownEast, 2009). Judy Paolini’s text and Nance Trueworthy’s wonderful photographs explore the gardens and the artwork of twenty-four New England artists. I hadn’t fully appreciated the affinity between art and gardening before I read this book; but it makes sense that many artists are also gardeners, since ornamental gardens are themselves works of art.

The artists’ gardens featured in this book are all located in the region of the United States where I garden (New England), and many of them are very close to my home in Maine. This means that the photographs of the gardens and the discussions of plants grown could provide direct inspiration for my own garden. But this was only part of the book’s appeal; it was the focus on interactions between artists’ gardens and their art that I loved most.

Many of the artists featured use the landscapes around them, including their gardens, as subjects for their art. These include Kay Ritter’s painting of squashes and Ann Stein-Aaron’s of a garden compost heap, Joe Ferigno’s representational still lifes of flower arrangements, Maggie Foskett’s more abstract rendition of the winged seeds of maple trees, and George Sherwood’s kinetic stainless steel sculpture of a sunflower. Husband and wife painters James Aponovich and Beth Johansson both paint flowers grown in their garden, and James sometimes grows certain plants specifically in order to paint them.

Some of these artists also use plant materials as a medium. Leah Gauthier’s installations of living plants fall in this category. I was particularly entranced by the “fleurages” of dried flower petals and leaves created by Connecticut artist Harry White and by New Hampshire artist Gary Haven Smith’s carefully patterned plantings of moss on stone (see the lower left corner of the cover image, above) .

Not surprisingly, most of these artist-gardeners include works of art in their gardens. George Sherwood uses his garden as a workshop for his kinetic sculptures, displaying works in progress in order to see how they interact with wind and light. June LaCombe is not only an artist and gardener, but also an important collector of sculpture by regional artists and an art curator. She is responsible for curating much of the outdoor art at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, and she uses her own garden to display art from her collection and to exhibit work for sale by artists she represents. In summer, LaCombe hosts open garden days at her Maine garden, Hawk Ridge Farm, where visitors are invited to view the gardens and the art work and to listen to talks about art.

It was easy for me to lose myself in The Inspired Garden. I found these artists’ gardens not only inspired but a source of inspiration. Like many good garden books, this one suggested plants that I might grow and garden design ideas. But this book provided a further source of inspiration in broadening my vision of how I might use art in my own garden.

14 Comments leave one →
  1. December 12, 2015 4:24 pm

    I’d like to linger with the idea of a garden as home to an artist’s works in progress.

    • December 16, 2015 10:55 pm

      Diana, Isn’t that a wonderful idea? I love George Sherwood’s sculpture and find myself fantasizing about being invited to see it in process in his garden.

  2. December 13, 2015 8:15 am

    Sounds like a very inspiring book. I hear that it is warm up there too. I am actually enjoying it after the last two winters. Have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Carolyn

    • December 16, 2015 10:56 pm

      Carolyn, Enjoy the warmth while you can. The mid-Atlantic usually gets hammered with heavy snow in these El Nino years.

  3. December 13, 2015 8:18 am

    What a beautiful book! I’ve always believed that artists and gardeners have a lot in common — the canvas may be different, but it’s art. When an individual can join the two, it’s spectacular.

    • December 16, 2015 10:57 pm

      Kevin, It is a beautiful book, and I’m looking forward to visiting some of these artists’ gardens. June LaCombe, for example, is just a few miles from my house.

  4. December 13, 2015 2:58 pm

    This looks good. The relationship between art and gardens really hit me the first time when we were able to visit Monet’s garden at Giverny.

    • December 16, 2015 10:59 pm

      Jason, Oddly, it didn’t really hit me at Giverny — even though I recognized Monet’s iconic water lilies and poppies. Now that this book has made me more aware, I’d love to go back to Giverny.

  5. debsgarden permalink
    December 13, 2015 10:01 pm

    I immediately thought of Monet. I can’t remember if Monet said he gardened because he painted, or if he painted because he gardened. But the two where tightly interconnected. Certainly creativity inspires both art and gardening.

    • December 16, 2015 11:00 pm

      Deb, This book really brings that interconnection home.

  6. December 14, 2015 7:25 am

    I love libraries, places full of knowledge and open to anyone, these references sound nice books for winter readings.

    • December 16, 2015 11:01 pm

      Lula, The United States is blessed with wonderful public libraries. Pretty much every town has a library with free borrowing privileges for residents. I also borrow books from the little library in my rural town, but the “big city” (by Maine standards 🙂 ) library in Portland gives me access to even greater riches.

  7. December 19, 2015 5:19 pm

    I can believe that this book is stunning with the gardens and artwork….it does make sense that they would have inspired gardens with some artwork. Now that is a garden tour I would love to see.


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