As a gardener-artist, there’s forever the need to “finish” the canvas. Area gardeners cherish this season of abundance and brilliant beauty. Over the years the canvas along the river has changed. As the James River is raised and lowered, trees lose hold and fall in, and the embankment gets eroded. Plans change, but dreams never do; they just have to be adjusted as change happens.
In order to follow the trend of fresh-air Impressionistic painting, Claude Monet designed what in his mind was a Japanese garden. Giverney is a spectacular Chinese-like garden where he painted his famous water-lilies and the sunlit reflections that almost blinded him.
For this artist, the pursuit of “that” peaceful garden space grew into an obsession ... even as a teen. A tea house, a koi pool and a garden that required work beyond what two hands could do, but did.
In Jamestown, changes have been imposed via the river. Floods, levees and construction needs changed the space at least four times. After each flood event, the canvas was wiped clean, redesigned and had to be started over. Before each, research was necessary. A new publication (from 1979) by Irmtraud Schaarschmidt-Richter and Osamu Mori, “Japanese Gardens,” became the newest inspiration.
It isn’t often one reads a text that feels as personal and sacred as a childhood dream come true. The authors wrote of Asian objectives that differ from Western traditions. Where Western gardens (gardeners) usually design the garden around uses (as in vegetables and herbs) and lay them out geometrically (where they are more easily controlled), the Japanese garden was traditionally laid out depending on what was already there. In other words, the Japanese garden is planned around what nature has already provided as opposed to clearing a space and planting everything to provide efficiency and beauty.
Bent trees, gnarled and wind-blown, share space with rocks and water to form the foundation within a natural terrain. There are few “grand” elements. Even those that are included are downplayed to seem natural in the setting. Flowers are secondary to “sculptural-form” created by trees, stone, evergreens and bamboo.
Like artists at the easel, he or she mulls over the next brush stroke (or planting) as the canvas fills. Like most artists, it’s usually a solitary effort (needed in order to think), and rarely seen by anyone other than the artist until the “reveal” moment. Even then, much like Monet, the sacred space may never have a premiere or be “done.”
With the coronavirus pandemic of 2020, many events are being postponed or outright canceled. North Dakota usually has flower shows and garden tours that hopefully will return next year. Between now and then, get some books to inspire and spend a little extra time planning the 2021 garden. Dreaming about your own corner of the world removes many worries and at the same time beautifies your tomorrows.
If anyone has an item for this column, please contact Sharon Cox, PO Box 1559, Jamestown, ND 58402-1559.