A rectangular courtyard, Ginny Ruffner's Ballard garden is overhung by balconies and surrounded by tall, brick buildings. It's snug, warm enough to nurture tree ferns, and stunningly 3-D with as much going on overhead as at ground level.
MULTIMEDIA ARTIST Ginny Ruffner’s home and garden are an exuberant, mind-blowing party. No matter whether her medium is glass, paint, metal, paper or plants, the result is a kaleidoscopic explosion of color and form that blurs the lines between indoors and out, natural and mechanical, dream and waking.
Ruffner lives, works and gardens in historic Ballard. Despite a life interrupted by a near-fatal auto accident in 1991, Ruffner’s years of painstaking recovery have been richly productive, both in the garden and in the studio.
Her ex-boyfriend, novelist Tom Robbins, fondly describes her ebullient creativity in the recent, award-winning documentary “A Not So Still Life.” It’s no surprise that a movie about Ruffner would be a visual delight, but it’s also a heartfelt look at the fantastical complexity of Ruffner’s lifework, of which her garden is no small part.
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Ruffner captures the energy of nature in her work. She plays around with the qualities of soft and hard, translucent and opaque. Who else can make glass and metal look so voluptuously organic you’re entranced into believing the pieces are living, growing plants and creatures? Not that Ruffner confines her art to the realm of nature as we know it. She finds the thought of injecting vegetables with animal genes so intriguing that she’s working on a series she calls “Aesthetic Engineering.”
“My garden is my oasis, it frees my soul,” she says. She’s a gardener who both shapes the garden and frees it from constraint, allowing vines to stretch and drape, and ground covers to rampage about. She sees the world as one big vat of raw material from which to form colorful visions, with art as much a part of the garden as her beloved roses and contorted plants.
A rectangular courtyard, Ruffner’s garden is overhung by balconies and surrounded by tall, brick buildings. It’s snug, warm enough to nurture tree ferns, and stunningly 3-D with as much going on overhead as at ground level. A cartoonishly huge silver chain swings through the treetops, arbors are festooned in roses, every inch of space is decked out in plants, sculpture, furniture, curvaceous metal rails, and art made by Ruffner and friends.
While the garden is a riot of plants and art, it’s also practical and comfortable. “I like to analyze space to make sure I’m using it well,” says Ruffner, who has squeezed three seating areas into the courtyard. Arbors and awnings provide shelter so she can sit outside in all weather. A raised deck at the back of the garden holds a couch, table and porch swing. A recent addition is a fire pit lined with chunks of glass and topped with long, brown pods that look more like primeval insects than dried vegetation. And this past summer Ruffner started growing vegetables in raised beds on a top-floor balcony. “It’s the first time I’ve ever grown anything useful,” she says about the tomatoes and herbs filling the sun-drenched little space.
Ruffner goes outdoors first thing every morning to see what’s changed in her garden and help nature along by moving things about. “I like to be aware of everything,” she says. “Creativity comes from awareness.”
While Ruffner’s art is wildly floriferous, her garden has grown less so. “I still have iris and roses and lots of flowers, but I’m more into weird plants,” she says, pointing out a potted Corokia cotoneaster with branches as twisted and untamed as Ruffner’s trademark curls.
“I feel so lucky to have a garden,” says Ruffner. “The plants are all living beings to me.” Perhaps it’s this depth of appreciation that allows Ruffner to fuse both the utter randomness of nature and its intricate, underlying patterns into the vivid energy of her sustaining vision.
Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer and author of “The New Low-Maintenance Garden.” Check out her blog at www.valeaston.com. Steve Ringman is a Seattle Times staff photographer.