November Musings: Art As An Inspiration For Gardening

– Posted in: Miscellaneous


On this first day of November (which happens to be my birthday), I am in a contemplative mood. As I reflect on beauty, the ability to be present and enjoy the abundance in our lives, my thoughts go to artists working in a variety of mediums who provoke and infuse our senses.

Alot of us have heard gardening authorities over the years discuss the importance of exposing ourselves to other art forms: painting, sculpture, movies, music and the written word to inspire us. The majority of gardeners, I believe, are involved in at least one of the following activities: visiting  gardens, reading gardening books and magazines, participating in gardening clubs and attending workshops and symposiums.


But how many of us, if we’re honest, actually take advantage of all of the other exquisite art forms to inform and implode our senses so that our garden making can become a richer, more fluid and creative process?

When I wrote a post earlier this year, Great Movies That Have Inspired Your Garden Making , the response was robust. As I was pondering the subject of this post last night, it was by no accident that I came upon a French movie on TV called: ‘A Conversation With My Gardener”,  in French ” Un Conversation avec Mon Jardienere” with subtitles in Hebrew. Not knowing either French or Hebrew beyond a rudimentary level didn’t stop me from watching the movie. You can guess the rest: the breathtaking landscape, a newly planted, sprouting vegetable garden and an unkempt, wild garden surrounding the run down farmhouse. An extremely touching scene was when the gardener wheeled a huge, ripe pumpkin to where the owner was sitting with easel and paints intently involved with his brush strokes. It lasted for only a few seconds: the artist stopped what he was doing, looked at the pumpkin and then locked eyes with the gardener. For me, this scene made the entire movie worthwhile.

exotic mushrooms-resized

How about a visit to a museum, perhaps on a Sunday morning or for a specific exhibit of a renowned artist, or even leafing through a book to become acquainted with an artist’s work? For years, I was a big fan of Georgia O’Keefe’s work. By the time I first visited Santa Fe, I had barely unpacked before I rushed to the  museum to gaze at her paintings up close. They didn’t disappoint. Or how about the photo of the Gaugain pictured above, painted in 1891 and hanging in The Musee d’Orsay in Paris? For me, Gaugain’s use of colors are daring, flamboyant and unique. Perhaps by taking the time to look at more of his paintings, well, who knows how they might impact the color combinations I use in my garden making in the future?

FS garden-Haverford College-102708-amsonia with asters-resized

For those of us who love music, whether it’s classical, jazz, folk, country, contemporary or rock ‘n roll, we know how it feels when we listen to some of our favorite pieces. If you’re a musician and love making music, then it’s likely that intermittently you’re transported to an altered state when playing. Check out the Toronto Music Garden: a collaboration of a garden designed by Julie Moir-Messervy which was inspired by Yo Yo Ma’s playing of the First Suite For Unaccompanied Cello written by Johann Sebastian Bach.

One art form that, in my opinion, gets the short stick in the stratosphere of art is poetry.  It has only been over the past few years that I’ve begun to read poetry, usually a few minutes a day. But if I like what I’ve read, I leave the piece on the kitchen table so that throughout the day I can easily read it as many times as I want. One of my favorite poets is Rumi whose choice and depth of words leave me with a spectrum of feelings: anywhere from a deep sigh to thinking that this man was divinely inspired, like in this poem, called Beloved.

In all the worlds and heavens
not a bird moves a wing
not a straw trembles
but by God’s eternal law.
No one can explain this
and no one should try.
Who can number the roses
in the Almighty’s rose garden?
How could the Beloved be
snared in a net of words?

Ovate leaf with brown under leaf shrub-tree-resized

So, now you have the right to ask me “What do any of these other art forms ultimately have to do with garden making?” My answer is: “Just savor each moment and let your unconscious do the rest.”

For anyone who wants to share a painting, sculpture, movie, dance, photographs, music, written words, architecture or anything else in the world of art that has had an effect on you, link back to your site. We’ll all benefit from you doing so.

On a final note, the recent death of Pamela Schwerdt, former Head Gardener at Sissinghurst Castle, is worth noting. Pamela was an extremely talented gardener who, along with her partner Sybille Kreutzberger, was hired by Vita Sackville-West in 1959. Upon their arrival at Sissinghurst, they found a garden with tremendous bones but filled with weeds and little color. It was their hard work and artistry (along with Vita’s) that transformed this garden into one of the most visited gardens (if not the most visited) in Great Britain. Pamela stayed on at Sissinghurst, under the auspices of The National Trust, long after Vita died. She retired in 1990. Her legacy is one that will be remembered for several generations of gardeners.

Fran Sorin

Fran is the author of the highly-acclaimed book, Digging Deep: Unearthing Your Creative Roots Through Gardening, which Andrew Weil, M.D., recommends as "a profound and inspiring book."  

A graduate of the University of Chicago with Honors in Psychology, she is also a gardening and creativity expert, coach, inspirational speaker, CBS radio news gardening correspondent, and Huffington Post Contributor.

Learn more about Fran and get free resources that will help you improve your life at

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Fran Sorin
17 comments… add one

Leave a Comment

carolyngail November 1, 2009, 10:14 am

Happy Birthday , Fran . Its a special day for me as well -my 46th wedding anniversaray.

Love your very reflective post on art as an inspiration for gardening. Actually I believe that gardening is an inspiration for art as Monet famously said if it hadn’t been for gardening he would never have become an artist.

As both artist and gardener I use a lot of nature inspired paintings on my blog, especially for my Muse Day poetry circle on the first of every month

Here’s my august post for Garden Bloggers’ Muse Day featuring one of my paintings :

Dear Carolyn-
Happy Anniversary….hope you had a beautiful day.
Your point about gardening as an inspiration for other art forms is well taken…especially with Monet.
I tried your link but it appears to be broken. Fran

carolyngail November 1, 2009, 10:18 am

Oops ! Wrong link. This one should work :

Ahhh…now I see the painting….love it and thanks for sharing! Fran

Iris/Society Garlic, Austin November 1, 2009, 1:06 pm

Wonderful, thoughtful, inspiring post! As a musician, painter, and gardener, I find they all influence each other. Thanks for reminding me to be more conscious of the connections.

You are one talented individual participating in 3 art forms. Am glad you enjoyed the post! Fran

Les November 1, 2009, 2:55 pm

In gardening I find I constantly return to my early experience in art class color theory when making planting decisions. It is nearly second nature now. I am also a sucker for a good landscape, be it a painting or a photograph.

I’m not surprised that you use your background from art color theory to inform you. Thanks for your thoughts. Fran

donna November 1, 2009, 5:12 pm

Happy Birthday! Mine’s the 3rd.

And how about dance, watching the movement of plants dancing in the wind? That’s one I think about sometimes when I’m watching my garden and its butterflies…

Dear Donna…
Happy Birthday! I hope you have a beautiful day. Great point about dance in the garden…for me, it’s the ornamental grasses in the fall, swaying in the breeze, that makes me feel like the whole garden is swaying in a whirling dance. Fran

Craig @ Ellis Hollow November 1, 2009, 7:36 pm

How ’bout Sydney Eddison using the colors in her favorite paintings (I think she’s a Gaugain fan too) when designing her plantings?

Good point. Thanks for chiming in. Fran

ryan November 2, 2009, 3:49 am

We’ve done that exact Sydney Eddison trick, grabbing a copy of a painting and matching colors for container plantings. It works really well.

Dear Ryan,
Good idea….how were the results?? Fran

Lisa at Greenbow November 2, 2009, 8:20 am

Happy Birthday Fran. Gardening is art to me. I think all art influences our choices in the garden. I really like this post. You explain it so well.

Dear Lisa,
Thanks for your kind words and birthday wishes. It was a wonderful day. Fran

Yvonne Cunnington November 2, 2009, 10:37 am

I hope you had a great birthday. Sad to learn about the death of Pamela Schwerdt. Visiting Sissinghurst a few years ago, was truly special, particularly after reading about the partnership of Harold Nicholson and Vita in creating the garden. And following their deaths, the inspired partnership of Pamela and Sybille Kreutzberger certainly continued the garden in the spirit of Harold and Vita. What an inspiring garden it is.

Dear Yvonne,
Yep….agreed. It is still breathtaking after all of these years. I heard Pamela speak one time at Longwood. My impression was that she was by nature a shy person. Don’t know if that’s true but the woman was one talented gardener! Fran

Jean November 2, 2009, 11:38 pm

Such a great post. I know I’m influenced and moved by art (sometimes to tears!) and maybe my garden reflects that. I don’t know but it takes reading something like your post for me to start wondering. Your photos are beautiful. And happy birthday (mine’s on Wednesday)!

Dear Jean,
An early Happy Birthday! Am glad you enjoyed the post…without even being aware of it, I’m sure that other art forms are influencing you in the garden. Fran

catmint November 3, 2009, 6:09 am

happy birthday for the 1st. I love this multidisciplinary or multisensory approach to gardens and gardening. Apart from anything else it ensures an endless supply of topics for blogging!

Dear Catmint-
Thanks for the birthday wishes. Am glad that you enjoyed the post and picked a practical tip from it! Fran

Saxon Holt November 4, 2009, 3:14 am

Fine post Fran

For me I the act of gardening is like conducting a symphony – managing many disparate parts each in their own time. The visual side, and my in own work, I see tapestries that tell stories (and am a great fan of Medieval tapestries). For most satisfying poetry, I can not do without Mary Oliver.
Life is art.

I too love Mary Oliver. I always have a book of her poetry near my side. I love your use of the word ‘tapestries’ in telling stories AND that you are a fan of Medieval tapestries. Fran

Chookie November 6, 2009, 7:23 am

Happy Birthday, Fran! What an interesting idea. I’m not particularly *visual*, which probably makes a difference; I love poetry and music (especially Baroque, which is both ornate and orderly). Not sure how that feeds into my gardening. By chance, my blog post today is about music:

Dear Chookie,
Thank you so much for sharing that wonderful music with us….of course the music feeds into the gardening…’s all interrelated. I too am a lover of music…big time… thanks for your belated birthday wishes and have a great weekend! Fran

Town Mouse November 7, 2009, 11:43 pm

What I love about gardens is the combination of the wild and the tamed, the living plants and maybe some things we made (or bought, or received as gifts). So, here’s a short post on some art in my garden that inspires and delights me.

As for poetry, haiku come to mind.

Even the general
Took of his armor
To admire the peony

Wow! What you wrote has tremendous significance and is a good reminder to all of us about the art in our own garden. I am a Buddha lover… of course, I the several that you have in yours. And the Haiku you sent us….it doesn’t get much better than that. Thank you! Fran

Lois J. de Vries November 9, 2009, 7:42 am

Hi Fran,
Great topic. As a frustrated artist and former head of our local arts council, I find tremendous inspiration in all types of art. Link here to see one of my favorite sculptures; and here to see my attempts to mimic Georgia O’Keefe with my digital camera.

Dear Lois,
Great stuff. Thanks for sharing. I particularly appreciate your attempts at mimicing Georgia O’Keefe’s work.

LINDA from EACH LITTLE WORLD November 9, 2009, 11:36 pm

If you are not familiar with Gordon Hayward’s book “Art and the Gardener,” treat yourself to it as a b-day present. Here is my review which will give you a bit more info:

Dear Linda,
A HUGE thank you for your link to your post on Gordon Hayward’s book and on him (the person) as well. Your description of the book tantalized me as did he. I will definitely order it from Amazon for myself. And your words about how you and your husband use gardening in your art and vice versa is wonderful…..without being a formally trained artist, I can appreciate very much what you’re saying! Fran

Alice Joyce November 12, 2009, 2:43 am

Hi Fran,

This is a rich topic that I could go on and on about, but I’ll simply include one particular link:

…to a post I wrote while reading a provocative novel, ‘Vanessa & Virginia,’ – the Stephens sisters, painter Vanessa Bell & the brilliant, Virginia Woolf. Thinking about Vanessa’s paintings inspired a summery bouquet.

I really enjoy your posts, and those of your cohorts here, too! Cheers, Alice

Dear Alice-
Thanks for sending the link to your story and photos. I am a big fan of Virginia Woolf and think of her each time I visit Sissinghurst Castle. Your kind words about GGW are appreciated. Fran

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