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Creative Life News Blog

Art and Gardens

Art, Gardens and Us

What do Art and Gardens have in common?

Both are wonderful to look at and spend time with. Both take work and a dedicated process. Both produce individual results depending on the artist or gardener. Both burst full with new creations and also have fallow times, times for replenishing their sources and seeds.

Where do We come in?

Most of all, both art and gardens have a lot to do with us, that is, human beings. Neither art nor gardens are "natural" in the sense of springing directly from nature. Human intervention can hardly compete with nature's forms of wildness and beauty. Yet we seem forever to have needed to insert our visions and intentions into both art and gardens. Why? In order to sustain and connect us, I think. To relate, make meaning of our inner and outer worlds, to transcend our limitations and biases, to create and transform, to open our eyes and our possibilities.

BSummer Garden, beautiful garden painting by Janet Strayer at
Summer Garden, painting by Janet Strayer

We have little or no control over natural circumstances and little personal impact on world disasters caused by our species. But in art, as in gardening, we take some control in the form of intention to make something out of the ground and materials we've got, to create something for its own sake. Both art and gardens are also an attempt at something more, something that sharpens our vision and interest in the world we have or want to have. Maybe it's something transcendent or just a reminder to look out there and into ourselves as people on the earth.

Garden as Symbol, Story, and Gift

I've come to value my garden over the years. Growing up in apartments, never owning land, gardening was something others did. I lived vertically in towers, even working in the ivory tower of my choice. Settling into a rural community as adult was a revelation to me in many ways. I started by very first garden right in the plowed earth. Not a terrace garden, but a real from-the-ground one! This garden became my symbol of how things change and grow, not always for the better, but making the best of it anyway.

My garden started as a fantasy. No experience, but an idea that mixed Oz's yellow brick road with a catch-as-catch-can assortment of flowers. I planned out the essential rose bushes at corners of my intersecting little red brick road. I favoured perennials, knowing so little about maintaining plants.

The results were incredible! Things actually grew and flowered and offered amazingly colourful, aromatic delights. Yes, a little bit of paradise. Perhaps you can imagine how proud and grateful this made me, to know my concrete-raised hands could have had a part in creating this.

Over the years, my garden has continued to surprise me. It's a joy to walk by this time of year, seeing new growth daily, to sit in for a bit, watching the bees (too few) and hummingbirds. I've never aimed at perfect, but now (unlucky spinal woes) can't manage the weeding, so a trained gardener, Tina , has been a big help. It's led me to think about how much my garden means to me, and how it relates to my other main creative activity, my art.

Creative Link between Art and Gardening

My rural garden in my magical spot on Saturna Island is one the most enjoyable things I've helped to create. Nature plays a large role in this creation. Wildflowers enter where I haven't planted them and things bloom that I may or may not have intentionally planted. It may not be everyone's 'most beautiful' garden. Why should it? I planted it with regard to my own vision and wishes. Still, it's a treat for many people who see it. I remain an always "amateur " gardener, and my garden remains a wonder to me!.

As mentioned, I designed the garden at the outset as my personal fantasy, never having had one before. I worked to get the plan I had for it laid out: quadrants with rose bushes, an off-center focal area, contrasts of color and texture, some border areas After this initial "structure was laid, the garden that now grows is more than I could have imagined. And It invites me to be part of it all. It's been a delight, and one I think carries over into my art, though I seldom paint flowers. It's just amazing to watch things grow as they do. I sometimes wish I could approach my visual art process the same way!

I've been a full-time visual artist since my first Vancouver public show in 2002. As a painter, I typically don't paint flowers. I have my garden for that. But the links between creating art and gardening seem even more powerful to me now. My garden has become a gift that's always giving, requiring minimal effort. Not so for art since trading in my amateur status for a more professional one

Control, Risk, Expectation, and Joy

Art is different from gardening, despite their underlying creative links. The earth "knows "what it will produce from the plants and seeds in it. The canvas doesn't. So, the artist's intention and skill matter more. I'm far more demanding as visual artist than as a gardener. Perhaps there's some value in remaining an "amateur" (in attitude, at least). You have fewer expectations and do things because you love the doing and learning, not because it's your profession with its own demands. The process itself gives you some joy. Perhaps because you know so little of what to expect as an amateur, you remain open and risk trying new things to see what will happen, often with pleasing surprise.

The links between art and gardening are powerful reminders and clues for the creative process. The creative art I value is about rendering a vision or experience, rather than copying what's there. It's about connecting our inner and outer life. What gardening helps remind me is how generative just being inside the creative process can be. Just doing the work, preparing the ground, putting seeds in here and there, seeing what works and what doesn't, weeding perhaps. And some appreciation, also, of being in the garden at all. One needs both to exert some control and to relinquish it in the process of an evolving artwork. Knowing when and how is the art of it! That seems a life lesson too.

*A short video on Janet and her art was recently made by Art2Life. You can also see it at


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