Making one’s garden grow

Louise Bourgeois

Kenneth Noland painting, source linked (The New England Journal of Aesthetic Research)

Well, first off – we know we don’t make a garden do anything. One (you or I)  prepares one’s soil, achieves proper drainage, ensures sunlight, you or I select promising seeds to plant and we craft straight clean furrows or curvy creative ones, we never over water, and then when we are lucky – something interesting and possibly beautiful grows and we are amazed. Even as we feel that all our hard work has paid off, in our hearts (you and I), understand that gardens make themselves and so we ask, “Whoa. Did I do that? Really? Thanks!”

(and I refer you to

“Look around and see what successful gardeners are doing and have done and let this inform your own work in the garden.”

Um, this isn’t such good advice. everyone’s garden is different: you may have dry, acid soil while in another garden across town quite different conditions obtain. Looking at garden pictures in the glossy colorful magazines won’t help much, either. These show illustrations, not means, and even the instructional and philosophical gardening stories they contain are just that – stories, not experiences. One’s experiences (yours and mine) shape one’s garden, those drawn from life as well as those drawn in the dirt.

Recall too those seductive seed catalogs that come every year, and your relative success when you give into temptation and order a bunch of exotic plants.

Harry Callahan, Eleanor and Barbara, 1953, source linked

Sonia Delauney, photograph and interview by David Seidner, link to Bomb Magazine Winter 1982

“Talk with older gardeners when you meet them.”

This is a good idea, for older people who share a practice with you have learned what you are just now finding. Their garden might look different and it may not even seem a very fruitful and successful garden to you, but the practice, the diligence, the learned motions of a hand and the kick of a toe aiming at a clod of earth, the religion (if you will) of gardening are universal, if the results are unique.

“…We are abstractions, as if the infinite
Had to eat, hold down a day job, ride the bus.”

Thomas Bolt, from Light Emitting Diode

Anne Truitt in her Dallas studio, Dallas, TX, 1949 © (which is linked)

Anne Truitt in her Dallas studio, Dallas, TX, 1949 © (which is linked)

Anne Truitt in her 35th Street studio, Washington, DC, 1978 © (which is linked)

Anne Truitt in her 35th Street studio, Washington, DC, 2003 ©

“Keep it small.”

As it happens, this can be a good idea. Small doesn’t mean pitiful. Your dreams and my dreams can go everywhere, and still the plot of land we have to tend is right around us. The plants around you and me, and the things that will grow in our ground, this is what you and I have to work with. Often when I enter a modest garden I find myself enchanted by the magic this gardener has used – amazing corners, busy insects, tiny vistas, these can all add up to giant ideas and the purity can outshine much more complicated and celebrated gardens. A smart man told me to “Keep it small, or it can turn into something you hate.” I’m adding “Keep it local,” because I know home. You probably do, too.

Sculpture in Anne Truitt's Washington DC studio 1980 Photo was used on the announcement for the 1980 show at Andre Emmerich in NYC ©

MS. BAYLY: It is April 16, 2002, and this is Anne Bayly interviewing Anne Truitt for the Archives of American Art, at the artist’s home in Washington, D.C.

Why don’t we talk a little bit about your childhood in Easton, Maryland. I’ve read in your books that your first experience with seeing art or seeing a painting would have been when you saw a Renoir at a friend’s house, was it?

MS. TRUITT : No. That was my first experience of seeing great art. My house was full of art, just full of it. My forebears were Boston — were New Englanders who owned clipper ships that went to the Orient, to China, and so I grew up in a house full of Chinese things, full of Chinese Canton china and beautiful tapestries, which are now — now that I’m 81, those tapestries are coming back into my work. Very interesting to me. Very interesting to me. One hung upstairs in the upstairs hall and the other one hung in the dining room, and they were both very beautiful, old — very old, ancient — Chinese tapestries. And my mother had a beautiful Chinese Mandarin coat, which came down to me.

MS. BAYLY: Oh, wow.

MS. TRUITT: Fascinating tapestries because, of course, details are subsumed into a whole and yet no detail is lost.

Reinhold Marxhausen working on the mosaics for the Nebraska Unicameral building.

Time to work in the garden.

By the way, the almonds are blossoming in the Central Valley and bees are everywhere from Bakersfield to Coalinga. We leave Friday for an adventure. See you Monday!

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