For many of us, gardening is where we express our creativity, whether it's by ripening a masterpiece of a juicy tomato or planting color harmonies.
We’re all artists in our gardens, or we could be if we just drew a little courage from the artist-gardeners in these pages. We start with the knowledge that gardening and art both stem from the same deep well of creativity: Artists and gardeners share the need to experiment, to mess about with materials, to drink in color and change and beauty.
For many of us, gardening is where we express our creativity, whether it’s by ripening a masterpiece of a juicy tomato or planting color harmonies as Judith Prindle does on her Whidbey Island bluff. For these artists, gardening is just one of their mediums. Louise Durocher sculpts in metal, builds in stone and designs houses as well as gardens. Ted Hoppin is a watercolorist who crafts intricate gates in glowing copper, and now is coaching others to design their own gardens. Kirk Prindle and Robert Fairfax are omnivores when it comes to materials, seemingly able to work in just about anything that comes to hand.
The organic forms and themes of so many of the pieces at the Dunn Gardens ArtWalk are proof that plants and gardens inspire Northwest artists. So are gardeners inspired by artists’ visions. Just as we shape dirt, flowers and trees into garden vignettes, so do artists use bronze, beads, glass, wood, fiber, stone and paint to shape their own interpretations of nature’s energies.
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How did these artists create such stunning gardens? While a few, like the energetic Prindles, do all their own work and design, some relished collaborating with other talented people. Louise Durocher hired designers Withey and Price to plant her garden, not intimidated that her sculptures would share space with their showy plant palette. Ted Hoppin displays not only his own handcrafted gates but also watery sculptures by friends George Little and David Lewis. Robert Fairfax’s fantastical woodland is all his own vision and hard work.
All the artists seem able to think big yet focus in on the intimate details, too. Hoppin’s garden is filled with little stone cairns and tiny frogs embellishing gates, for instance, but he also carefully considered vistas and sightlines. Durocher’s sculptures are huge, yet I’ve rarely seen such perfection of overlapping ground covers as along the stone stairs in her back garden. Fairfax builds boulders and vacuums pine needles out of the moss. They appreciate process nearly as much as results. Durocher loves weeding. After years of caring for intensely planted acreage, Judith Prindle is still a great plant enthusiast.
In the end, these gardens are so powerfully atmospheric because they clearly reflect the personalities and aesthetics of the artists who made them. Personal totems abound; Hoppin displays a St. Francis statue that belonged to his grandfather, the Prindles’ garden is an open-air gallery for Kirk’s evolving artistic pursuits, and Durocher’s sculptures populate her garden with bold movement. Robert Fairfax’s art is so personal he could find no words in the English language to suit. He’s so mixed up the anatomies of animals and plants in his extraordinary pieces that he’s had to create his own words, like “fenulents” and “spadexes.” “I don’t have names in mind when I start . . . I just begin with a concept,” he explains. Not a bad mantra for creative garden-making.
Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer and author of “A Pattern Garden.” Her e-mail address is email@example.com. Ken Lambert is a Seattle Times staff photographer.