Tag Archives: garden

Garden art brings drama, design outdoors

If you came across any of Barbara Sanderson’s work in a garden, you might think you’d stepped into Alice’s Wonderland. The Seattle-based glass blower crafts flowers, arbors, lights and fountains for natural settings, aiming to create a magical, otherworldly tableau.

“I love to add another dimension to what already exists,” she says.

Art created for the outdoors can bring drama and design to a garden or patio. Sheila Jeffrey, a landscape designer from Collingwood, Ontario, suggests thinking of outdoor space as you would a room, with a floor, walls and ceiling.

“As with interior art, consider the overall theme or feel of the space when you’re choosing outdoor accents,” she says.

“Walls or fences are often overlooked and are a great place for an interesting focal point.”

For wall art, consider vintage objects, such as picture frames, mirrors, cast iron grates, architectural elements or antique signs as outdoor wall art.

Arrange groupings of small vessels like planted terra cotta pots, buckets or paint cans. Put themed vignettes on shelves.

“Vintage ‘60s metal wall sculptures are a favorite of mine,” says Jeffrey, “and you can often find them at yard sales. Clear-coat them with a good exterior-grade polyurethane before displaying.”

Sanderson’s inspiration for making outdoor pieces comes from fond memories of visiting her grandfather’s English garden as a teenager.

“I spent some time gazing into his pond, appreciating the soothing sound that water makes in a garden setting,” Sanderson recalls. “I returned home determined to create a water feature for myself. That was the beginning of my focus on garden artwork.”

She forms glass into colorful, plump little birds that can be placed in a found nest, or in one of Sanderson’s spun-glass nests. Pitcher plants in vibrant hues of gold and carmine, mounted on copper rods, catch the rain.

There are Seussian fiddlehead ferns and mushrooms, as well as colorful “glacicles” rigged with lights to line a path or poolside.

And for a pond or birdbath, Sanderson has created the “bee preserver,” a glass ball studded with glass nubs so that bees have something on which to rest when they’re drinking. (www.glassgardensnw.com )

Margie Grace, a landscape designer in Santa Monica, California, often incorporates salvaged elements like driftwood, branches and stones into her projects. They can be used to make mosaics and interesting screens. She used an old metal bed as a planter, with flowers as the “pillows” and “quilt.” Her fondness for functional art led her to create a “canalito,” a canal made from stones that carries away storm water, while winding artfully around trees and beds.

“Art can evoke the very nature of a place,” she says, pointing out a kinetic sculpture in a hill-top garden that mimics the pelicans soaring off a nearby bluff. (www.gracedesignassociates.com )

If your balcony or backyard has no view, consider one of Gizaun Art’s wooden wall panels. The Portland, Oregon-based studio uses all-weather, ultraviolet, translucent inks to apply photo images of flowers and landscapes onto red cedar boards, ready for hanging. Designs include sunflowers, lighthouses and landscapes. (www.gizaunart.com )

Wind and Weather stocks some backlit, punched art crafted from recycled metal drum lids in Bali. Choose from a zodiac, sun and moon, or several whimsical designs like cats on a moonlit fence, or a train chugging through a wintry night. (www.windandweather.com )

For a small terrace, the Trigg geometric container, designed by Moe Takemura for Umbra, might be just the thing. The sleek, diamond-shaped ceramic or concrete-resin vessels perch inside a slim brass frame. They could hold herbs, succulents or extra keys. (www.allmodern.com )


In the garden: Show explores Frida Kahlo’s work from new angle

In a sprawling, multi-disciplinary show, The New York Botanical Garden focuses on a long-overlooked side of artist Frida Kahlo: her deep connection to Mexico’s plants and flowers, and how they inspired her art.

“Flora is a very important part of her creativity,” said guest curator Ariana Zavala, a specialist in Mexican art and director of Latino Studies at Tufts University. Even those who thought they knew everything about Kahlo, Zavala said, will come away having learned something new.

The exhibit, “Frida Kahlo: Art, Garden, Life,” includes 14 of Kahlo’s original works; an evocation of the garden at her Mexico City home, Casa Azul (Blue House); plentiful photos from Kahlo’s life; and various Mexican cultural offerings. It will be on view through Nov. 1.

A good place to begin is in the huge, glass Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, where the focus is on the gardens of Casa Azul, where Kahlo was born in 1907, lived for years with muralist Diego Rivera, and died in 1954. Pathways are lined with sunflowers, marigolds, fuchsia, palms, jacaranda, oleander, and numerous succulents and cacti, many of which still grow at Casa Azul, now a museum.

The lush, indigo-blue walls of Kahlo’s home have been vividly rendered, as has her garden’s Aztec-inspired pyramid, designed by Rivera, who painted it dazzling rose, blue and yellow. Here, it holds an array of native Mexican succulents and cacti in huge terracotta planters.

In researching the show, horticulturalists at the botanical garden, working with colleagues in Mexico and a longtime volunteer gardener at Casa Azul, came to understand Kahlo as an expert in plants, with an impressive botanical library. She replanted her parents’ European-style garden with a mix of cacti and succulents, which she saw as symbolic of the native plants of Mexico, and with tropical plants, fruit trees, and other edible or medicinal plants.

“When we learned about Kahlo as a truly sophisticated gardener, who also happened to be a great artist and cultural icon, we were blown away,” said Todd Forrest, the botanical garden’s vice president for horticulture and living collections.

Over time, Kahlo transformed Casa Azul into an expression of her deep connection to the natural world and to Mexico.

Her studio overlooked the garden, and the plants came to play an important role in her art.

“As we studied Frida Kahlo through her plants, two important themes emerged: those of duality and of hybridity,” Zavala said.

Both themes are illustrated in the 14 artworks on view at the garden’s LuEsther T. Mertz Library art gallery. In Kahlo’s 1931 “Portrait of Luther Burbank,” the horticulturalist, whose garden she and Rivera had visited, is depicted as a hybrid plant-human. Kahlo, whose father was born in Germany and whose mother was Mexican, repeated this theme of hybrid origin in other works on view.

“Two Nudes in a Forest,” painted in 1939, shows a light-skinned woman resting her head on a dark-skinned one. And in the 1940 “Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird,” Kahlo, impassive and dressed in stark white, stares straight at the viewer while lush tropical vegetation and animals, including a black monkey and cat, surround her and appear to be on the verge of overtaking her.

In conjunction with the show, the garden is offering an array of cultural offerings to celebrate the artist.

“Frida liked to have fun. She had a love of life. This project is a celebration of Mexico,” said Zavala. “In addition to taking in Frida’s paintings and Frida’s plants and what they meant to her, we hope people stay to enjoy some food and music from Mexico.”

There are Mexican cocktails and food; cooking lessons; textile demonstrations; music; an “Octavio Paz Poetry walk”; a native plant walk, and even a Mexican-themed puppet theater and “Frida’s Kitchen” exhibit for kids.

Wall texts throughout the show are in Spanish and English.

On the Web …

The New York Botanical Garden: www.nybg.org

Casa Azul: www.museofridakahlo.org.mx


Manitowoc residents combat monarch decline

Some people raise dogs or cats for their cuddly companionship. Others opt for fuss-free fish. Carol Stokes and Lori Beilke choose to mother monarchs.

Though butterflies are not as loyal as traditional pets, nor are their demands as simple as fish, their love for the insects prompts the women to raise them summer after summer.

Beilke’s been raising the butterflies since she was 7 years old, while Stokes started only a couple of years ago, the (Manitowoc) Herald Times Reporter reported.

Stokes took interest after her sister received a librarian’s grant to open a butterfly garden.

“And then it became an obsession,” she laughed. “I call myself a monarch midwife.”

Up went more than 20 butterfly cages in her sunroom. Out went part of her lawn, which she replaced with a butterfly garden and milkweed plants.

Milkweed is all a monarch needs for sustenance; monarchs lay their eggs on the plant and it’s the only food the larva can eat.

The caterpillar stage is most taxing on Beilke, who checks on her bugs up to four times a day as they munch through leaf after leaf of milkweed.

“The (caterpillars) are at your mercy,” Beilke explained.


Over a period of nine to 14 days, the insects increase their body mass almost 2,000 times as it grows, shedding its skin five times to allow for this rapid increase in size, said Karen Oberhauser, a butterfly biologist at the University of Minnesota.

Once they pupate and become a chrysalis – that’s science speak for cocoon — the women wait another nine to 14 days for the butterfly to emerge. After letting their iconic orange and black wings dry for a couple of hours, the ladies release them into the wild.

Stokes transfers the monarchs from their cage to her finger and onto a flower.

“Use your legs,” she instructed them during the release.

Most monarchs only live for a couple of weeks before mating and dying. The last generation, born in late August, gets to live for seven to nine months but forfeits mating in order to migrate to Mexico. The butterflies fly back north in the spring, where they mate and die.

“It’s amazing to watch all the different stages of life and know you helped them along,” Stokes said.


Despite the women’s efforts, monarchs are in steep decline across the nation, a disturbing trend that’s persisted for much of the past decade, said Oberhauser.

She attributes this drop primarily to habitat loss, which includes the wintering sites in Mexico but also the mating region, which spans from the East Coast through the Corn Belt.

Farmers spraying pesticides to eradicate weeds have simultaneously eliminated a majority of milkweed plants. Illegal logging in Mexico also contributed to the plummeting numbers.

Still, some experts dispute that the monarch populations are declining at all.

“It’s a difference of opinion on how to interpret the data on hand,” said Andrew Davis, an assistant research scientist at the University of Georgia. “The lower numbers are mostly at sites in Mexico, which is only one of the stages of a monarch’s life cycle.”

He went on to say he has noticed an increased number of monarchs sited at coastal states throughout the winter, which suggests the monarchs are simply adjusting to the temperature change and making a shorter migration.

“It’s not good or bad,” he said. “It just is. Monarchs are adapting to a changing environment.”


No matter how the data is deciphered, there are still many questions about this critter with a brain the size of a pinhead. Their months-long migration makes it one of the most beloved insects.

“I would hate to think that someday there wouldn’t be monarchs,” Stokes said.

While Oberhauser said it is unlikely the species will become extinct, the conservation work done by private citizens is boosting butterfly numbers.

Stokes released only 35 monarchs last summer, but this summer is already up to 133 with another month to go. Beilke usually raises up to 600 monarchs each summer. Despite the amount of work the job entails, both said they will be back at it next summer.

“The last release of the summer is always a relief because I know I’ll get a break,” Stokes said. “But it’s also sad because I know I won’t see them again till next spring.”

Published as an AP Member Exchange.

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Growing ideas. A review of urban farmer Will Allen’s ‘The Good Food Revolution’

This is a good time for sowing grains, winter wheat, oats and rye, says FarmersAlmanac.com. And it’s a favorable time for planting root crops, vine crops and plants.


Will Allen, Milwaukee’s legendary urban farmer, will tell you that you can’t learn to grow a garden – or work a farm – by jumping on a computer or diving into a book. It’s  know-how, he says, that comes with hands-on work, which is why Allen’s Growing Power Inc. holds workshops where thousands of people a year learn about growing healthy food and building communities.

But reading a book – specifically “The Good Food Revolution: Growing Healthy Food, People, and Communities” by Allen and journalist Charles Wilson – just might drive you to a hands-on workshop to learn about composting, conservation, vermiculture, aquaponics, animal husbandry and growing your own organic produce. This time next year, you might be harvesting cherry tomatoes, green beans, sweet corn, kale, collard greens and okra from a plot in the backyard or a nearby neighborhood garden.

“The Good Food Revolution,” 283 pages in paperback from Gotham Books, tells the story of how Allen, the son of a sharecropper and a former basketball player, came to be America’s most pre-eminent urban farmer and how Milwaukee came to be home to the largest nonprofit farming enterprise in the country.

“The Good Food Revolution” contains the history of Allen’s family and their part in the Great Migration, an exodus out of the South and away from agriculture. It details Allen’s return to his farming roots – even in places as improbable as an asphalt lot – and his drive to see that all people have access to the same food – not whole food for the wealthy and empty food for the poor.

The story is fertile with memorable characters, practical advice, Allen’s outline for success and the Growing Power manifesto: The way to heal a malnourished nation is to take back control of the food system, to grow and to share the harvest.

Wauwatosa holding eco-fair

Wauwatosa’s third annual VillageGreen Street Fair takes place 9 a.m.-3 p.m. on June 2 on Harwood and Underwood Streets in the historic village.

The fair “raises awareness of eco-friendly products and services and provides fun green activities,” including an appearance by gardening expert Melinda Myers, a silent auction of hand-painted rain barrels, arts and crafts, an eco-friendly food court, yoga classes, a farmers’ market, a drum circle and musical entertainment.

The music lineup includes Irish and folk tunes from Evan & Tom Leahy Band, classic rock from The Bystanders, rhythm and blues from Blues Kopf and award-winning environmental music from The Chickadees.

The farmers’ market hours will be from 8 a.m. to noon.

For more, go to www.villagegreenstreetfair.com.

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Bay View club plans plant sale

The Bay View Garden and Yard Society, in collaboration with the South Shore Park Watch and Milwaukee County Parks, hosts its annual Bay View Plant Sale at South Shore Park, 2900 South Shore Drive, on June 2, 8 a.m.-1 p.m.

The sale features local, commercial plant vendors with hundreds of annuals and perennials, hanging baskets, ornamental trees and shrubs, vegetables and herbs, exotic heirlooms and tropical plants.

For more, go to the group’s Facebook page.

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Victory gardens return to Wisconsin

Out urban gardener Yves LaPierre will remember 2011 as the year he had trouble with his tomatoes.

“The tomatoes and Swiss chard were out of control this year, something I attribute to a new half compost/manure soil recommended for our raised beds,” says LaPierre, an urban planner with Milwaukee’s Department of City Development. “The Brussels sprouts did not work out, and this is most likely because the soil was too loose. Brussels sprouts like compacted soil to create those tasty little cabbages.”

A native of Quebec, LaPierre has been urban gardening since he and partner Steve moved to Milwaukee’s Riverwest neighborhood four years ago. Through his work as a city planner, LaPierre came in contact with the Victory Garden Initiative. As manager of the city’s land bank, he’s responsible for helping VGI and other urban agricultural groups make the best use possible of open urban spaces by using them to grow fresh food.

The program takes its name from the “victory gardens” that were popular during World War II as a means to increase the food supply and support the war effort overseas. VGI’s motto is, “This is a grassroots movement. Move grass, grow food.”

“I have always been digging in the dirt and planting things,” says LaPierre, who comes from a Canadian farming family. “I don’t garden as part of VGI directly, but I do support their undertakings.”

VGI is hosting the second annual “Fruity, Nutty Affair,” a fundraising dinner scheduled for Nov. 11 at Best Place Tavern in the historic Pabst Brewery, 901 W. Juneau Ave., Milwaukee. Funds raised from the event will support the growth of the city’s urban food forest, an initiative to plant fruit and nut trees throughout Milwaukee to provide free, fresh food to city residents.

“Victory Garden Initiative is a nonprofit organization that focuses on creating a more sustainable and socially just food system by empowering people to grow their own food,” says Emily Whitcomb, VGI program director. “We envision Milwaukee as an abundant food forest full of harvestable fruit and nut trees.”

VGI supports the planting of fruit and nut trees in public spaces that would be accessible to all residents. By providing fresh produce, VGI hopes to offer residents a healthy, organic alternative that allows them to make better use of their food dollars in the face of a still-struggling local and global economy.

“We are especially interested in fruit and nut trees for the urban environment, because they take up relatively little space while producing lots of food,” Whitcomb says. “People don’t think about localizing a protein source like a hazelnut, and we are trying to change that.”

The relatively young organization, based in Shorewood and headed by director Gretchen Mead, promotes the creation and empowerment of urban farmers and runs largely on the efforts of volunteers. VGI holds various fundraising initiatives throughout the year, and also earns income to support its work by installing gardens for first-time tillers. Volunteers will cut up the turf and till and treat the soil so that it is ready for planting. A single garden installation costs $125, or a property owner can get two gardens installed for $200.

Although heavily concentrated in the city of Milwaukee, VGI has helped urban gardeners from Glendale to Greenfield and from New Berlin to the North Shore. For those without their own property to till, VGI has established group gardens like the Hide House Gardens in Bay View, which hosts 100 individual plots on a half-acre of urban land, and Concordia Gardens, a 1.5-acre plot located at the corner of Palmer and Concordia streets. 

The group also aligns with other organizations, such as Engineers Without Borders and the Urban Ecology Center, to help facilitate success among first-time food growers.

VGI also maintains the Kilbourn Gardens in the Riverwest neighborhood near LaPierre’s abundant home garden. “I walk through it all the time,” he says. “It’s a great addition to the city.”

LaPierre allows that maintaining a successful
garden is a year-round “labor of love” for him and his partner. As both a social and nutritional initiative, however, it’s always worth the effort, he adds.

“We grow our food for quality. An Aunt Ruby’s German Green Tomato picked and eaten fresh off the vine is worth all the effort,” he says. “Home gardening and VGI’s initiatives are great for the body and the soul.”


For more information about the Victory Garden Initiative and the second annual Fruity, Nutty Affair, go to www. victorygardeninitiative.org.