Pigment, Perspectives and Pandas || Living with Nature

Posted in Blogs, Gardens, Visual Art

February 10, 2016

Getting outside to garden for at least one hour a day is essential for those of us who spend our working lives seated at an easel or in front of a computer screen. And when I say gardening, what I really mean is bludgeoning nature into submission.

(In the kindest and most loving way possible, of course.)

I live on a five-acre parcel that is mostly wooded, except for the driveway and right around the house. Here in the left hand side of Washington State, we are blessed with an abundance of rainfall—at least most years and at least so far. This means that nature never gives you a break. Spend one winter out sick, or on vacation to a warmer climate, and you are likely to come home to find your entire house engulfed in blackberry vines (not to mention the little critters that use this cover as a clever way to storm the walls of your castle.)

There are three classifications of “garden” on my property:
1) Indulged chaos
2) Benign neglect, and
3) Run for your life.

The indulged chaos areas are the ones closest to the house. Purchased trees and shrubs and a few perennials are included in this area, and it’s the area that most people would refer to as “a garden.” Keeping it at least vaguely garden-like is my aim, although it’s not always achievable.

The Benign Neglect areas are those along the driveway or a little bit further from the house, but still visible from said house. Sometimes I refer to this area as the De-Militarized Zone, and 85% of my garden work is focused here.

Sunset in the benign neglect area

Sunset in the not quite Benign Neglect area…

The truth is, you can rarely get rid of blackberries unless you’re willing to hire large machines or use chemical warfare. The best you can hope for is keeping them contained, like ill-humored cats that will whack you on the nose with their claws out, if you’re slow in the morning to fill up their food bowl. With a limited amount of time available, not to mention limited funds for the afore-mentioned large machinery, I prefer to do hand-to-hand combat.

Well, it’s more like lopper-to-vine combat, if you want to know the truth.

The benign neglect area

The Benign Neglect area: a garden in miniature.

Every year, I make a pledge to spend my hour a day in the area that seems to need it most, making a new assessment every time I walk out the door. This means projects are left started, but only occasionally finished, all over the property, and I’ve learned to be at peace with that.

But garden triage sometimes leads me into Area Three, aka Run for your Life!!!!!  These are the areas that have been nominated Most Likely to Need Napalm in the plant world Award Competitions. These are the 20-foot deep, 40-foot wide, well-over-my-head bastions of blackberries. I stand before them with my garden loppers, rake and wheelbarrow and think, “what the hell was I thinking?”

I get this same feeling when I stand before the three-foot by four-foot canvas, on which I’ve started an incredibly complex drawing for a painting.

What was I thinking? 

But I start slowly, with some trepidation, working slowly and methodically. One line—one short piece of blackberry vine severed and tossed on the wheel barrow. One brush stroke—another three feet of blackberry removed, until the painting is finally done, weeks or months later. Until the spot where blackberries and nettles partied till sunrise is an empty stretch of dirt.

What was I thinking?

Anne Belov is a painter, printmaker and purveyor of panda satire. Her paintings can be found at The Rob Schouten Gallery at Greenbank Farm on Whidbey Island and at The Fountainhead Gallery in Seattle. Her panda-focused humorous cartoons can be found on her blog: The Panda Chronicles, and her books can be found at Moonraker Books in Langley, as well as on Amazon. At least one hour a day, you can find her standing in front of a large encampment of blackberries, waving a rake and using bad language.


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