January 4, 2005

Cornerstone Festival of Gardens

Filed under: Art and About Art — admin @ 3:17 pm

There is little that satisfies me as much as being taken to heights of extreme emotion via a theatrical, musical, dance or visual art experience. But I think my favorite relationship with the arts happens when I see or hear something that inspires me to go home and create art myself. The Cornerstone Festival of Gardens in Sonoma provided such inspiration.

The Cornerstone Festival of Gardens (www.cornerstonegardens.com) opened last July as an art exhibit by landscape designers who, using innovative and unusual materials, demonstrate how a garden can become a living and changing art piece surrounding your home. In 20 exhibits, traditional and unusual garden plants subsist with salvaged materials, creative reinventions of common household items and wacky, imaginative applications of outdoor structures. There is a maze constructed of recycled screen doors. A dying tree is completely covered in blue Christmas balls. White birch planted among crushed-seashell ground cover make an obstacle course for an informal game of bocce ball. Broken terracotta pots line a suggestive path invoking the journey of immigrant farm workers across the Mexican border to California. And a field of giant pinwheels spins wildly on the windy Sonoma flatlands.

Chris Hougie, the founder of Cornerstone, says of the idea behind the festival, “Designers are encouraged to invent, inform and create beautiful and compelling gardens that engage and inspire the viewer intellectually, emotionally and aesthetically.” The approach sure worked for me.

You see, I’m a lazy gardener, but I love a beautiful garden. I particularly love roses. I aspire to have a rose garden that reminds visitors of Orchard Nursery’s glorious rose section, where myriad varieties form endless rows of splendor all season until the last plant is sold. All my roses have names and stories about how they became a part of the family. Feeding my roses and pruning them is relaxing and rewarding. Sitting in my home and gazing at the sea of color from April through December is one of life’s simple pleasures.

And then in January, both the roses and I go into dormancy and for three months I hibernate in the house. This is where the art comes in, at least in my theory. Although I consider the severely pruned back stems of the rose to be sculptural, it occurred to me when I went on an art and garden fundraising tour several years ago that my rose garden would be greatly enhanced in the wintertime by the inclusion of outdoor art. On that tour, I saw spectacular gardens surrounding even more spectacular homes. The sculptures on display in the gardens were beautiful, but pricey. I thought to myself, “When I make my millions, I will buy high-ticket art and enhance my garden with magnificent sculpture.”

This turned out to be a frustrating statement. Since patience is not one of my virtues and I haven’t won the lottery yet, I’ve been trying to brainstorm alternate avenues for acquiring art. I thought about taking a welding class to create my own figures. I thought about building statues out of salvaged materials. I even asked a local church music director if I could have the pipes from the church’s old organ to make an art statement. None of these ideas have come to fruition.

A light bulb went off for me while strolling through Cornerstone. Our garden can be creatively enhanced with something as simple as red spray-painted bamboo uniquely arranged. Or monochromatic rocks piled in an unusual way. Textures from common building materials can be abstract and alluring when displayed in an unusual orientation.

For me, creating art is more enjoyable the tighter my budget and the freer my imagination. Winter is here, and this year I look forward to searching for inspiration in my garden canvas.

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