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.
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.
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
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 & tulips are part of my Dutch heritage!) Squirrels consider the tulip 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 it reduces their exposure to sunlight which helps them with 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 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!
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
Daffodils are classified using two parts of the flower. For the purpose of this description, the daffodil is divided into two regions, the perianth (petals) and corona (cup).
In further classifying daffodils the perianth (petals) is described by identifying first the outside edge of the petal, then the middle, and lastly the inside part next to the corona.
The information I am providing in this article is gleaned from two sources, The American Daffodil Society and Brent and Becky’s Bulbs. Both of these websites offer untold amounts of information and make enjoying the spring displays even more rich.
The Daffodil Society even has downloadable & printable coloring books for those individuals who work with children’s groups. Brent and Becky’s information filled Fall Bulb catalog arrived just in time for Spring so that we can go out to view daffodils in other gardens and make a list for next year’s display.
All daffodils are classified into one of the thirteen divisions described below:
Division 1 – Trumpet
One flower to a stem, corona (trumpet or cup) as long or longer than the perianth segments (petals).Trumpets usually produce larger bulbs than other divisions. Most have gray/green foliage ½” – 1” wide
Division 2 – Large Cup
One flower to a stem, corona (cup) more than one third but less than equal to the length of the perianth segments (petals).The group that you see the most often used in gardens; perfect for perennializing, picking, forcing and showing; some of the showiest daffodils are in this division and are the ones that give you more ‘bang for your landscape buck’.
Division 3 – Short Cup
One flower to a stem, corona (cup) not more than one third the height of the perianth segments (petals).These are long term perennializers, show flowers and late season picked flowers, often with a spicy fragrance.
Division 4 – Double
Daffodils have a clustered cup, petals or both. There can be one or more flowers per stem.Camellia or roselike flowers; with single of multiple blooms; good for shows, showy gardens, picking and bedding.
Division 5 – Triandrus
Usually more than one flower to a stem, head drooping, perianth segments often reflexed and of silky texture.Fuchia-like blooms often with a fruity fragrance; great in containers.
Division 6 – Cyclamineus
One flower to a stem, perianth significantly reflexed and corona straight and narrow. Some exceptions exist.With their faces looking like they are standing in front of a fan, they look & perform wonderfully in pots & are terrific for forcing; seem to be more tolerant to partial shade moisture as a group.
Division 7 – Jonquilla
Usually several flower heads to a stem, flowers usually fragrant, stem is round in cross-section and foliage is often rush like.Foliage is often reed-like or at least very narrow & dark green. Most like the hot baking summer sun. Better in southern gardens but some are adaptable in cooler climates. Sweetly fragrant. Most are great in pots.
Division 8 – Tazetta
Usually three to twenty flowers to a stout stem, sweet scented and very short cupped. Perianth segments rounded and often somewhat crinkled.Excellent perennialzers with a musky, sweet fragrance; good for Southern gardens & forcing.
Division 9 – Poeticus
Usually one flower to a stem. White petals sometimes stained with the corona color at the base, small flat cup edged with red.Excellent perennials with a spicy fragrance, dogwood-like blooms; good for picking.
Division 10 – Bulbocodium Hybrids
Usually one flower to a stem. Perianth segments insignificant compared with Corona.Cultivars in this division are offspring of the species bulbocodium conspicuus, often referred to as ‘Hoop Petticoat’.
Division 11 – Split Corona
Corona split – usually more than half its length.A division where the cup of the daffodil is split into segments & spreads back against the petals. Sometimes the cup is smooth, often it’s frilly & many other times it’s in between.11a) Collar Daffodils Split-corona daffodils with the corona segments opposite the perianth segments; the corona segments usually in two whorls of three11b) Papillon DaffodilsSplit-corona daffodils with the corona segments alternate to the perianth segments; the corona segments usually in a single whorl of sixColoration of the corona often appears in sunburst-like streaks.
Division 12 – Other Cultivars
Daffodils not falling into any of the previous categories.
Division 13 – SpeciesAll species and reputedly wild forms.
Ones that are referred to as species daffodils & most of which are Heirloom & suitable for restoration gardening from 1700 on.
All photos are from the Brent and Becky’s 2013 Fall Catalog.
Disclosure: We receive NO financial or other consideration from either of these organizations for linking to their websites.
This large vase-shaped hosta emerges slightly behind some of my other hostas such as ‘Blue Cadet’.
This slug-resistant architectural specimen is a commanding presence in my perennial garden. Though planted in full sun with absolutely no sunburn effects, I plan to divide it in the fall and put a portion of it in the woodland near the Hamamelis. I think their V-shaped structure will echo each other offering a nice rhythmic change of scale and will tie the two plants together.
The distinctive vase shape of the Hosta ‘Krossa Regal’
I’ve put that project on my to-do list for the fall. The spreadsheet keeps growing. Soon I’ll have to employ a Gertrude Jekyll type labor force to keep up with all my ideas.
I bought this plant in the early 1990’s from a mail-order house that I don’t think still exists. At least, they don’t have a web presence at this point in time. I still remember the excitement I felt when a box with the plants showed up on my deck.
It was my first plant mail order purchase. I’d worked so hard to pick and choose varieties of hostas with different leaf shapes and colors. I was still in my newbie phase of disdaining variegated plants so all my purchases were solid greens and blues.
Hosta ‘Krossa Regal’ in the perennial garden
I remember how horrified I was when those straggly roots came out of the package. I felt so robbed. I’d never seen or even heard of bare-rooted plants at that time. Was I ever that young and naïve?
Well, I planted them all and they all lived. But over time many of my plant labels were lost or destroyed or misplaced so I no longer can easily identify some of them. The Krossa Regal is an exception since it has such distinctive charisma.
There are so many stages of hostas that I enjoy seeing. None of them include slugs by the way.
Having a shade garden I naturally grow many different cultivars of hostas. This particular one is named ‘Blue Cadet’ and was given to me years ago by my son Chris for Mother’s Day. Two Cadets and a Phlox subulata, I made out like a bandit!
• Hosta ‘Blue Cadet’ top view
Each year I try to catch the hostas as they emerge from the ground but each one has its own timetable and the prime time is very short. If you go into the garden in the morning to look at their progress, by the afternoon’s stroll they’ve changed again.
I’m always glad when I take these worm’s eye view shots with my Sony digital with a swivel screen so I no longer have to lie in the mud like the good old days. I can thank my friend Elise for nodding in the right direction when it came time to buy my first digital camera.
I love the textures of the newly emerging hostas and the changes in coloring at the base. I love the unfurling spirals so dramatic from the top view. Each leaf unfolds with its own personality and destiny.
• Hosta ‘Blue Cadet’ in June
I don’t grow hostas for their flowers but some of them do have quite beautiful and in some cases, fragrant blooms. The Cadet has a nicely formed lavender flower emerging by the end of June. The heart-shaped leaves have a blue tinge to them and in my garden is almost slug free. It forms a compact, well-balanced medium sized tidy mound like the rest of the tokudama clan of which it is an offspring.
I think I should transplant some of my Athyrium nipponicum ‘Pictum’ to create a vignette. The scale of the two might get along nicely.
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.
Muscari azureum up close but only 4″ high.
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 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 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.
In October of 2012, Superstorm Sandy felled 4 large Oak trees in my woodland garden. We were lucky that was the only damage we suffered in that severe storm other than loss of electricity. Instantly my garden went from full shade to sunshine a dappled shade. What a transformation for it and for me.
Oak tree lost in battle with Hurricane Sandy
After a period of mourning, I started rethinking, planning and studying what to do with this newfound daylight.
One of the mighty Oak trees was left with an interesting sculptural remnant which I originally planned to keep in remembrance of what had been. As usual, I changed my mind as I started designing and replanting. Like most gardeners, I change my mind all the time as I work in my garden.
I decided to plant a Heritage River Birch, Betula nigra “Heritage” in memory of my Uncle Teddy who introduced me to gardening. As a child visiting him in Schenectady from my treeless home in Brooklyn, he one day found me peeling the bark from one of his many white birch trees. When he asked me to stop as I was pulling the “skin” from the tree and hurting it, I looked around with tears in my eyes and realized that the entire garden was alive. I was transformed!
Theodorus Hendrik Gerrits, 1914 – 1991. Thank you!
This tree is for my uncle who shared with me his garden and his love. Thank you!