I was delighted to open my local paper, The Observer, and right there on Page 3 upper right was a big and generous article about my Virtual Garden Tour Video. David Ambro the Publisher, outdid himself by putting into words the far-flung conversation we had of how people are coping with the Covid-19 pandemic. As an artist and a gardener, it was a natural for me to share my garden online since the many garden tours I’ve hosted over the years were not going to happen anytime soon. My garden provides the inspiration for my art but it also gives me emotional solace. This is what I love to share with my visitors.
I thank David so much for sharing my thoughts and my garden with a wider audience.
I love to share my garden! This is a creation that I’ve been working on for over 30 years and what fun is it keeping it all to myself? That feels so selfish to me.
So the best thing I can do, since it’s hard for so many of you to travel here, is to take you on a garden tour around my 1/2 acre woodland walks in Northport NY. We’re Zone 7 here and this Garden Tour video is in the early spring on March 21, 2020 around 6pm in the evening.
I haven’t yet finished my fall cleanup at this point and of course, as gardeners well know, the garden is never perfect. At this time of year, in my neck of the woods, something new opens every single day. It’s a very exciting time for me each day as I walk around to see what’s new. Spring is about renewal. About optimism. About color. About surprises.
This is the first in a series of Garden Tour videos I’ll be doing so please remember to subscribe to my YouTube Channel to be alerted when I publish new videos.
My garden is the source material for almost all of my paintings. It is where I get my inspiration. It’s where I present yet another aspect of my creativity but this one is in 3D and seasonally adjusted over time and temperature.
My muse is my garden. Other gardens as well, but my garden in particular. I move in it, feel it, and hear the breezes whisper through it. I watch the lighting during the day as it slides over and around the textured surfaces.
This azalea and tree peony combination bloom in my garden together every year. Their colors match perfectly and are so inspiring to me!
Lighting is so different on days with sun and with clouds. Lighting in the spring with the bright yellow-greens of optimistic new growth and lighting by the fall with ambers & tans of a lived life. Morning light offers tender ambiance while afternoon colors not only light the scene from a different direction, the colors are deeper and warmer.
My garden brings consciousness and meaning to me. It keeps me grounded. The ephemeral beauty of an unfertilized blossom studied up close with magnifiers and macro lenses is a representation of a miracle. The world of possibility. The beginning of a story I represent in my Art. I walk through my garden gathering ideas. Stories I want to tell. Suggested ideas I want to convey.
In my garden I spend time designing the landscape or I spend time closely and intimately with a singular specimen at a particular stage of growth. In my studio I may paint a vignette or a full landscape view of a part of the garden I’ve designed, or I may choose to paint a small portion of one flower that has moved me. The minute miracle. This is my work. Outdoors and indoors. These are the stories I tell. This is my Art. You can see more of my work in my online Art Shop.
There are some plants in my garden that just demand to be viewed together. In my front garden bed is a Fire Flame Tree Peony that for years has bloomed at the same time as a perfectly color matched azalea. Together they light up their niche in the world for a week or two each year if I’m lucky.
These Fire Flame Peonies blooming in my May garden along with the azalea inspired my original painting.
Keep the rain away from the peonies and the heat away from the azalea & I’ve got a perfect vignette. I love the way the focal points shift around my garden all year when either color takes prominence or form, as it does in winter.
I think of my garden as a theater production where spotlights guide your eyes around the action on stage.
If you want to extend the season of the colorful joy of these planting combinations you should consider buying one of my pieces of Art. Visit my Art Store to see your options. You won’t be disappointed!
Fire Flame Peony – Available in the Mary Ahern Art Store
My Garden and my Art go side by side. Both require me to make aesthetic judgments about composition, scale, color, texture and style. When I’m deciding where to plant the flowers I’ve hauled home on my endless trips to the nurseries it doesn’t seem that much different to me then when I’m deciding how to compose them on a two-dimensional surface.
I think about what style I’m looking for, what colors will work together, whether the scale of the placement works for me. I think about the type of flower and texture of the leaves. I make decisions about the 3D composition of the garden much like the 2D composition decisions on a painting.
. Anemone coronaria – Watercolor Painting also, available as a print.
The garden adds so many additional layers of complexity since the artwork is moving in time with nature, the seasons, the elements, and time. The painting remains caught in a moment.
Capturing that ephemeral moment is so gratifying to me in my Fine Art. I control it, unlike my Garden which is usually out of control.
This watercolor painting is available directly from me, Mary Ahern, as an archival print on Fine Art Paper, double matted and ready for framing.
Grape muscari, otherwise known as Grape Hyacinths live close to the ground. For years I never took much notice of them except for the little spots of brilliant purple that bounced so nicely against the bright yellow daffodils they bloomed along with in April.
Then I got down. Hands and knees down.
What a surprise! How intricate the little flowers are. Little bells dance around a central stem forming a small pyramid. This inflorescence changes shape as it ages and can be more and less tightly knit.
The individual purple doesn’t seem to change on each bell but the overall purple varies when viewed at a distance based upon the tightness of the overall flower.
I enjoyed these 4″ bulbs so much in my garden that I bought a bag of them from Costco one year and low and behold the next spring the flowers that bloomed were very different from my originals. They were more blue than purple and were more rounded than pyramidal.
So I googled Grape Muscari and found a world of cultivars I didn’t previously know existed. That’s one of the things that is so much fun about gardening. You are constantly in a learning mode. You are in for surprises every year and every season. The knowledge and information you acquire just keeps on growing, along with your garden.
So now I know that so far in my garden I have Muscari armeniacum and M. azureaum. Next year I’m sure to have more.
When I made my Digital Mixed Media Painting of my Grape Muscari I was careful to recreate the basal growth of the leaves. It would not have been accurate if I’d placed the leaves higher on the stem. The painting would have looked like a plant Frankenstein. As a Garden Artist, that is not what I’m trying to create.
Sometimes the most fascinating aspect of a flower is before it even arrives. I love to watch the progressive morphing of the Allium bulgaricum as it pushes through the ground early in my perennial bed, usually before I’ve even managed to clean off the winter debris.
These tall, 36″ stalks are very strong and have never needed staking. These particular bulbs have been living in my garden since 2003 after I bought them at an after-season sale at Home Depot. I always scour the sales in various Home Depot stores in my area to capture the treasures left behind by the undiscerning customers.
Allium bulgaricum breaking through the tunicate.
As the flower grows you can see it bulging through the paper thin protective membrane covering.
I walk daily through my perennial bed waiting for the first tear in the parchment like shield. I would liken it to the first beak marks I’ve seen when a chick is breaking out of it’s shell. Not that I’ve seen chicks very often since I was raised in Brooklyn, which is not noted for farmland.
Allium bulgaricum stretching it’s wings
The flowers pounce forth in a gleeful display of empowerment and spread their wings in umbel fashion sitting proudly on tall stalks overlooking a still short, unfolding and early season perennial garden. These are not glamorous flowers in my opinion but they always add weeks of drama to my early spring theater.
Not to say that I don’t have any ivy, pachysandra or periwinkle in my garden but I try each year to add more interesting ground covers and reduce the spread of the ordinary.
Epimedium x versicolor ‘Sulphureum’ has proven to be a valuable asset to me since I can play with the sweet pale yellow color of the gentle flowers while they are in bloom in April here on Long Island. One of the chores that I need to do very early in the season, however, is to cut back last year’s growth which becomes ragtag during the winter. This allows the enjoyment of the delicate sprays of two-toned flowers. This is the only maintenance care I need to give this ground cover.
• Epimedium x versicolor ‘Sulphureum’ hiding in the dark
Since this plant has flourished in my garden, each year I am able to divide and share the wealth into other sections of the garden and in fits of generosity even give them to other gardening enthusiasts like myself. I always try to keep a bed of them close to the entrance though since they bloom so early that I want to enjoy each day with them.
Rhododendron PJM & Epimedium x versicolor ‘Sulphureum’
In 2001 I transplanted a Rhododendron PJM that was growing under some hemlocks that were, at the time, providing too much shade. I planted it just off the entry deck and placed some epimedium in the general area. Together these bloom in April providing a nice combination of purple and yellow to brighten up my day.
Once the blooming season is over, the leaves open and create a wonderful and carefree weed suppresser. I have not experienced any insect damage which otherwise would make the planting unattractive.
• Dicentra spectabilis vignette with Athyrium nipponicum var. pictum fern, Hyacinthoides hispanica and Polygonatum biflorum or Solomon’s seal.
Isn’t that a fantastic name? Dicentra spectabilis. It just rolls out of your mouth in a lilting singsong kind of rhythm, doesn’t it? I love to say it quietly under my breath as I walk around my woodland garden in May. Not too loud so as to scare the birds and the neighbors (and myself for that matter.)
I love their color pink. I have some white ones, but the pink ones are just so luscious. They reseed very freely for me and I’m able to reposition the offspring into springtime vignettes
• Dicentra spectabilis otherwise known as Bleeding Heart dazzling in my spring garden.
When I bought this property in 1989 there was one plant of Dicentra native here and I’ve managed over time to spread the wealth around my own garden and also with other gardeners. What a treat!
I don’t mind that they die back in the summer because it gives me another planting opportunity but some of the holes they leave behind can be very BIG planting opportunities…all the more opportunity for creativity to kick in.
I made a Digital Mixed Media Painting, which I call, “Dicentra Necklace”. I think of these joyful little gems in my garden, decorating the light greens of spring with their pink heart shaped “jewelry”.
• Dicentra necklace is a composition I made using the beautiful flowers from my own garden.
• This photo from my studio shows the reference to the size and treatment of the “Dicentra Necklace”, 12×36″ framed.
I have a number of varieties of White Daffodils growing in my garden but I don’t feel that I ever have enough. Since I am overrun by squirrels I try to focus away from crocus and my beloved tulips. (After all, both my parents were born in Holland!) Squirrels consider the bulbs as an entrée and the flowers, if they arrive, as a delectable garnish but they leave my daffodils alone.
The abundant shade in my garden causes challenges to many of my daffodil plantings but I still crave the color in early spring. One of the fun parts of designing gardens is figuring out how to hide the declining leaves on the daffodils as they absorb the chlorophyll for next year’s growth.
I’ve been known to hide them using daylilies, Siberian iris and ornamental grasses. I’ve stopped braiding the leaves since it seems so demeaning to their dignity plus is reduces their exposure to sunlight which helps photosynthesis.
I created a Designer Print from one of these white daffodils. I love the way daffodil leaves have a slight twist to them. One of the things I kept in mind when composing the piece is that the stem is offset where it enters the back of the flower, unlike a tulip which is a straight up vertical.
Another issue is making sure that I paint the shadows different from when the “light” hits the round stem vs. when it hits a flat leaf.
You can see this Single White Daffodil on a Black Background is available in my Online Shop. in a variety of sizes on canvas, fine art paper, metal and acrylic. I think it has a rather heroic feel to the composition don’t you!
My garden is often the source material for my Art. Though I am not a Photographer, I like to use my digital camera to record the progress and changes in my garden from day to day and year to year.
Springtime is such a hectic time since I’m always late uncovering the perennial beds. These jolly yellow daffodils came up in my entry garden and I was lucky enough to catch the early morning light behind them.
My entry garden is still in need of some tidying but putting the pansies into the pots and baskets takes my mind off the leaves from last fall.
My front entry garden with yellow daffodils and purple accents.
Though I like to create gardens and like to create Fine Art using my garden, in the garden I get messy and dirty while my Botanical Art is clean and stylized.
This Designer Print is a very popular piece that surprisingly sells all year long, not just in the spring as I would have imagined. People buy this Single Yellow Daffodil as an individual piece and also as a grouping along with some of my other daffodil Art Works. You can see them in my Art Shop
While composing this painting of the light blue irises, I began to visualize the rhythmic composition in the famous painting “The Dance” by Henri Matisse. I often visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC where his work is prominently displayed.
I find his painting joyous. Buoyant. This is how I felt while creating this painting.
I have designed a rather informal garden with meandering paths using a variety of materials. At the end of, or just around the corner of each path, is some type of focal point, which draws you forward, in eager exploration. My garden is about moving through and around rather than sitting in one location and observing the whole.
The irregular bluestone pavers serve as the path to bring you from the front entrance, around the deck, and under the aging mountain laurels. The azaleas to the left are rather dense so you don’t see the deck but instead have the sense that you’re walking through a woodland. The path is narrow and the laurels create a ceiling of sorts until you emerge into the openness of the front garden.
Oak Tree focal point as you emerge from the mountain laurel path
Frank Lloyd Wright designed the ceilings in his houses to give the same effect of enclosure and expansion as you walked from room to room. Variation of space enhances the experience of the individual as they explore the design.
This giant oak serves to keep the garden and deck cool all summer and feed the squirrels all winter with it’s abundance of acorns. In the fall you need to sit on the deck with an umbrella over your head since the acorns come down with such determination.
I am an Artist so color, texture, scale, focal points and other factors drive much of my garden design. My son gave this Japanese Maple, Acer palmatum ‘Dissectum’ to me many years ago. Not knowing the eventual size of the tree I placed it right by the deck where I would be able to enjoy the delicate filigreed leaves all summer.
For a few short weeks in May this wonderful, almost stage setting display of cool pink azaleas blooms as a backdrop to set off the wine colored purple leaves of the maple. The azaleas were already on the property in this location when I bought the property in 1989 though they have certainly grown and expanded.
Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’ or commonly known as Creeping Jenny with dandelion
As a ground cover underneath the mounding maple, I planted Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’, commonly known as Creeping Jenny. The bright, almost chartreuse yellow offsets and lightens the ground underneath the purple leaves of the maple lightening an otherwise potentially dark corner. Happily, both the maple and the nummularia retain their vibrant colors the entire summer.
I would like to take credit for the whimsical placement of the dandelions in front of the maple but alas, that was the creative idea of Mother Nature.
My garden doesn’t go into the winter season all tidy & neat. I enjoy seeing seed heads popping through the snow. The visual treat of shadows cast about by the wind, dancing along the walls seen from the windows of my warm home.
From my dining room window, the seed heads of tall grasses are seen swaying in the breeze with the floodlight of the pure winter sun behind them.
From the kitchen window the afternoon sun gleams through the slivers of peeling bark of the Acer griseum, wisely named Paperbark Maple. Tissue thin decorations provided by nature.
What a joy to watch teensy birds land on the seed stalks of last summer’s Echinacea, barely bending them. My winter garden provides them a smorgasbord of treats so they keep coming back for more. We have an agreement.
The evergreen stalwarts of my woodland garden, the hellebores & Polystichum acrostichoides (what a fabulous name for a Christmas fern), help to delineate the pathways once the snow has fallen. They’re markers keeping me on the right track. I need that help quite often.
The hellebores serve another important service. They are the harbingers of spring. As I enjoy the subtle visual treats of winter I can’t help but poke underneath their large leaves seeking hungrily the buds signaling the beginnings of a new season of visual excitement.
Chasmanthium latifolium. Northern Sea Oats gracing my winter garden