We were driving home one evening on a “school night” *gasp*…the sky really captured my attention. At this time of the day, the greenery, barn, and road are sort of muted in color and tone, as the sky is lit up in the few remaining moments before the sun has set. And so, in this painting the sky becomes “the story” or the point of focus. There’s this feeling of calm at the end of the day… less to do (hopefully), maybe a cup of tea and less TV.
Still thinking about our trip to the Adirondacks last September. Wetlands in the Adirondacks have long been a source of inspiration for me. This watercolor painting is not of the wetland where we first heard the haunting cry of the common loon or where we plunged into the water to cool off after a long hike. This one here is where Emma fell in love with Goldenrod!
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.
I often get excited about the idea of planting trees near my home. Trees that will grow to become old, gnarled giants – beautiful sentient beings that amaze us. Then, a selfish reminder sets in. I will not be around to witness the transformation; my lignin endowed friends and I live on different timescales.
But wait. I can still plant things and watch them grow to large proportions in my lifetime! Trees, such as water loving willow species grow rapidly and reach mature size in just 15 years. Shrubs likes Red Osier Dogwood can grow to their maximum size in just a few years. Better yet – tall native perennials like Joe-Pye weed can grow a foot taller than me by its 2nd year of growth.
Still, how many of us have watched a little green Shagbark Hickory sapling spring 120 feet upward and put on fierce slabs of gnarled bark, pointing every which way? How many of us have planted American Sycamore and hung around long enough to see its smooth gray bark become a rugged mass, adorned with white, brown, and gray-green flakes? In the winter, the Sycamore takes on a ghostly form, as monster’s white tentacles reach out over icy water.
Finally, I come full circle and realize that my initial excitement is valid. Shortsighted are gardeners who plants trees for themselves only. Who am I to prevent air and water purification, food and shelter for living organisms, and many other gifts offered by trees? Plant trees I will – and if the exotic bug doesn’t get them, maybe my grandchildren will have a magical place to swing and climb
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 🙂