Inheriting a Garden

Art, Gardening, plants

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As luck would have it, the former owner of our new home is a dirt digging, hose wielding, wheel-barrow commanding, gardener! A good fellow, for those reasons. As a result, the garden beds are already made, layers of mulch are already decaying, and a newly inherited compost bin awaits! But there is also a big disadvantage – you inherit plants you’re not crazy about (and disposing of them, if no one else wants them, is a drag). Imagine being surrounded by an army of Miscanthus ornamental grasses when you subscribe to ideas from books like “Bringing Nature Home” by Doug Tallamy.

I should point out that, without an 8-foot fence, the plant palate here is limited thanks to a cute, but extremely over-abundant, 3-foot tall, plant-eating-machine called…white-tailed deer. Surely, you too have nightmares about this creature, as you recall getting out of bed, peering out the window, and shrieking wildly in despair at the sight of what remains of your precious flower garden. For this reason, I completely understand why the entire property is decorated with Japanese Barberry (Berberis thunbergii), Butterfly Bush (Buddleja spp.), Japanese Spirea (Spiraea japoniza), and Miscanthus grasses. These plants are easy to find in commercial nurseries and they are the last resort for deer.

But, I’m not a purist either when it comes to natives. I’m a sucker for blooming Crocus, Daffodils, and Tulips when most other plants are still dormant. There are few things more comforting and inspiring than the sights of Star Magnolia (Magnolia stellate) and other ornamental magnolia blooming in early spring. Among all the inherited ornamentals, I found a new mysterious plant I knew nothing about. Its speckled and contorted branches turned and twisted in odd and interesting ways. I could not resist investigating further.

The more I looked, the more familiar the plant became. I noticed catkins, which were very similar to catkins found on the Betula (birch) genus. The leaves now started to look familiar too; much like that of American Hazelnut (Corylus Americana) but larger and rounder. Finally, I was convinced that it was some sort of Hazelnut hybrid. Turns out; it is a Hazelnut cultivar commonly referred to as Contorted Filbert, Corkscrew Hazel, or Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick.

The plant’s Latin name is Corylus avellana and it is originally from Europe and western Asia, but according to online sources, the contorted variety was derived from a shrub found in the UK and named after a famous entertainer from Scotland. I do not mind this shrub at all and I am enjoying the winter interest it offers with its weird twisting branches. Soon we will find out if this shrub will produce Hazelnuts, but I will be surprised if it does. I am realizing that sometimes to gain a certain aesthetic appeal, a cultivar is a necessity that I can learn to embrace if most of the plants in my yard bring value to wildlife (especially native insects) in the form of food and reproduction.

Snowy Woods – Anthony Wayne Recreation Area

Art, Outdoor Adventure, watercolor

I painted this watercolor in January 2020. A typical northeast gray winter afternoon. The sun is shrouded in thick clouds. In January this place is very quiet and solitude is possible. In the spring, summer, and fall – get your socializing hat on.

Stairway to Heaven Hike, Vernon NJ

Art, Hike of the Week, hiking, New Jersey, Outdoor Adventure, plants, watercolor
Sunny Mud Path

Sunny Mud Path, Vernon NJ

The Stairway to Heaven hike in Vernon showcases some of the most beautiful parts of northern New Jersey. But what did I choose to paint from this hike? A puddle of mud! I’m sorry, but beautiful vistas don’t always scream “paint me”. I found beauty in this mud puddle for these reasons – simplicity, reflection, composition, and color. The view from a mountain top can make for an excellent painting, but I’m craving a certain something else these days – something sort of interesting, though difficult to pinpoint.

Simplicity

I like a good architectural challenge once in a while – buildings in truthful perspective, arranged with charm. This time, I”ll take a couple of cedar trees and a muddy path, please. The freedom to paint a simple landscape promotes a sense of joy and relief, as if a tremendous weight has been lifted.

Reflection

I’ve broken a painting rule – the reflection of a subject in water should be darker than the actual subject. Not in this painting. But that’s the way it is – there is a thin layer of water covering the muddy path, making the reflection of the tree appear lighter because the sun shining on the mud under the water is bright.

Composition

There’s no mountain in the background, but artistic liberties must be taken to make things a bit more interesting. Even without the mountain, the composition of this scene made me stop walking. I saw the potential for wonderful depth  – the muddy path and lighting draws the viewer further into the painting.

Color

This scene is located at the base of Waywayanda Mountain. The habit is mostly field with numerous red cedar pioneering the area. Whether the trees were planted here, I do not know. I found the color contract tremendous. Red-ish green cedar trees (hence the name Red Cedar, Juniperus virginiana) against a straw-yellow field, with a cobalt-blue bright sky (some of that in the reflection).

That’s what hooked me then, not sure what will hook me next 🙂

 

Kids Playing Outside – Watercolor 10×14”

Art, Outdoor Adventure, watercolor

Kids Playing Outside w/c 10×14”

Sometimes inspiration comes from a photo taken by your sister-in-law. I’m not sure what about the photo inspired me, but for some reason I just wanted to paint it. It’s great to see kids playing outside. The cold northeastern weather doesn’t seem to bother them. They are happy and curious exploring the streets of East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania with their parents.

Annual Sunflower (watercolor 10×14”)

Art, plants, watercolor

Annual Sunflower

Helianthus annuus – the annual sunflower. Bright like the sun with its radiant yellow petals surrounding a giant disc. We plant the seed every year waiting for it to sprout, with childlike excitement, until finally the plant grows into a towering beast. Birds love to feast on the sunflower’s seeds and perch on it’s strong limbs. We too enjoy it’s oil, seeds, and the many horticultural pleasures it brings. Oh yeah, the bumblebees think it’s okay too.

Moonlit Forest Watercolor Painting 14×20”

Art, Life Balance, watercolor

Moonlit forest w/c 14×20”

There’s something about winter that makes me want to paint night scenes. Probably because in the northern hemisphere there is more darkness this time of year. Night can be magical and mysterious, which is what I’m trying to convey in this painting with a dramatic sky and a full moon shining through the clouds. “Creatures” tend to become more active at night, though in the dead of winter, I’m not so sure. I bet most sensible animals slow their heart rate down and buckle down until warmer times. I like to think of ourselves as slowing down too, to take a breath and look around? Nah, of course not.

Winter of 1780

Art, watercolor

Winter of 1780 in Morristown was a brutal situation for the continental army – solders were given almost nothing to eat and supplies were scare. Meanwhile, General Washington and other high ranked officials stayed at the Ford Mansion with plenty to eat. I suppose little has changed since then; a few benefit while the majority struggles.

At this time of year, I am always grateful that I can get warm whenever I want to. This painting is a representation of the hardship that these men endured as they fought for independence from Britain. Fire was crucial for both survival and sending warning signals of British attack.

Winter of 1780 in Morristown, New Jersey

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Here’s are work in progress photos for this painting.

Original idea sketch for composition

Starting to lay in some of the washes and trees

The pines dry much lighter in color than expected

Time to refine and define values better

Winter of 1780 (w/c 14×20”)