Friday, July 12, 2013

The garden of Shirley Watts, where it all began…


The 2013 Garden Bloggers Fling (which I’ll be referring to as the 2013 GBF from now on) began with a cocktail party in the Alameda, CA, garden of designer Shirley Watts

Our buses pulled up in front of a house which looked to be about the size of mine, the front garden chock-full of plants, I immediately felt right at home. We all gathered on the front sidewalk, saying our hellos to each other and snapping photos…soon the front door opened and we were invited into the home and through to the private back garden. This intimate setting full of fabulous plants set the perfect tone for the rest of the Fling.

The expression on Fifa's face says “what are all you people doing in MY garden?”…while she didn’t seem too excited about the visitors, our host (Emmanuel Coup) and hostess (Shirley) couldn’t have been more welcoming.

Imagine 50-ish (not all the GBF attendees had arrived yet) strangers with cameras in your home and garden? I shudder at the thought (not because I dislike these people but because I would be worrying that my garden wasn't worthy...)

As I moved through the garden I realized something, something shocking. I don’t hate ornamentation in the garden (“garden art”) when it’s in someone else’s garden and is done with a strong sense of personal style. It also helps when it is carried throughout the garden, a piece of sculpture set randomly in a garden with nothing else to support it detracts ….this kind, well it just adds to the space…

I'm still not a fan of Staghorn Ferns, but these...these I liked.

I tried to get a good photo of this but failed. The tall screen is filled with mussel shells, the tillandsia cling to the outside.

This whole conglomeration was in a private back corner of the garden.

Real or fake?

Real. The color was slightly more blue than I could capture but still very very powdery.

Something else that adds to a garden? The people…

So yes I contradict myself. While the thought of so many people in my garden gives me pause, I also recognize that people in a garden is what makes the space come alive.

Oh and the house was anything but ordinary…I came away with fantastical ideas about how we might someday change up the back side of our house…

Finally it was time to get back on the buses and head to the hotel…a good night’s sleep and we would back up and at it again the next morning…

Thank you so much Shirley for your hospitality! For more (and better) photos of this garden and some of Shirley's design work visit this post over at A Growing Obsession.

All material © 2009-2013 by Loree Bohl for danger garden. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

41 comments:

  1. What a great way to start your garden tour weekend. Love this garden and all the things they put in it.

    Fun to see you are warming up to the idea of seeing ornament in the garden. The artful placement of their "stuff" has a lot do do with it.

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    1. Indeed, placed where it blends rather than screams for attention, unless of course it is meant to scream for attention...

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  2. I love how they modified the back of the house and all the accoutrement. The blue cast of the mussel shell installation is AWESOME.

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    1. Indeed...I would LOVE to have windows that open like that off the back of our house. Of course that would mean our bedroom and I suppose inviting all the creepy crawlys in might not be the best idea.

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  3. I don't even remember seeing the mussel shell rack with the Tillandsias on it, what a great idea! I could do something like that with all the stones I keep digging up whenever I plant. I've seen it on a couple of other blogs now. I wish I had been on an earlier flight, I barely had time to really check out this garden. Plus, I was focused on saying hello to people I hadn't seen for two years but that I regularly "see" on Facebook, or on their blogs. Thanks for showing me more of what I missed.

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    1. It was way way back in the corner, you probably never made it back that far.

      At least you got there right? Could have been worse...

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  4. Looks amazing! Art in the garden is so subjective and something I have not yet used but hope to some day. For now the "Homie Gnomes" will have to do.

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    1. And the "homie gnomes" are doing just fine!

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  5. I am going to get so many ideas from these posts... as if I didn't have enough projects already!

    Love it -- and love seeing these gardens through so many different sets of eyes. :)

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    1. True, you are bound to get a good 360 degree perspective with all the different reviews!

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  6. I loved Shirley's garden. It was so different to anything I have seen in the UK and filled my head with ideas. Ornamentation seemed to be quite a theme of the gardens we visited

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    1. You are right Helen, almost every one had some sort of ornamentation, even the Ruth Bancroft Garden got into the action with the sculpture show.

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  7. Wow...I don't think I ever realized that the underside of that porch was tin!

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  8. Lots of revelations for you from this garden. I love it when that happens.

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  9. I have such tunnel vision and never looked up at the outside paint colors of their house -- same colors as my own, including the purple roof trim. That steel blue fern was amazing. Hope somebody can ID it. Shirley said the ceramic piece in the fountain was from Anthropologie, found only one but liked it so much she contacted the artist and bought more from him direct. I always am left with the feeling that, for artists, the world is definitely their oyster! Great post, Loree.

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    1. Great minds eh? (the paint colors) I think the fern might be Phlebodium pseudoaureum, or something close to it. I love the ceramic story, that's determination.

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  10. You got some great shots and I think you captured that water feature better than anyone. I tried but none of my images were very good. I'm blaming the lasting effects of the drug I took before flying. What a great garden and a fun way to start the tour. You also got some nice pictures of the house!

    I'd be interested in learning more about what I'm calling the Berkley movement of garden ornamentation, it's origins and evolution. You know, the use of found and repurposed objects used to create art/ornamentation. Did the garden movement parallel the art trend of assemblages? Was Marcia Donohue the trendsetter or was she one of several? Has this been a movement of only the last 30 years or has it only been that long that I've paid attention to it? I'm thinking that the genesis might have been with our hippie bretheren in the 60's or 70's in Haight Ashbury. Quick, someone write a book!

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    1. Here's your book :-)
      Garden ornamentation (and garden art) started long before the Berkeley movement but the movement put it on the world stage in a very new way. As a former art historian this area of gardening has always fascinated me. Many outsider artists (and folk artists) during the nineteenth century would have loved to have been able to call themselves artists but I think that professionalizing garden art as a real art form started in earnest in the 1960s when Outsider Art and Folk Art were both revisited. Theoretically, this genesis was rooted in both Feminist and Marxist studies, but in general, I would also say that it goes back to those who futzed with metalwork and other objects on their own long ago. Folks wanted to recognize them and to break down the upper levels of "Fine Art" by doing so. Many of those anonymous folks really did make art. Even now most could be called craftspeople but the point was to show that there is never just "one canon" in art history. That is how it is taught to us. In the 1960s Feminists went back and drew out many other strands of art that had been ignored. This is still a much debated area of art history and theory. It's a great thing to discuss.

      There should be a book about this and I would love to write it but I fear no one would buy it.

      I honestly could go on and on about this but I encourage you to counter all of this with the Land Art movement. It happened concurrently and involved filling galleries in the city with dirt and things like Spiral Jetty. All of these movements fit together.

      Going back to scrubbing my kitchen floor now. That was fun for a few minutes.

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    2. Oh Ann, this is wonderful! I've read a little about garden ornamentation in middle eastern, European and English traditions but the folk/outsider movement and its relationship to garden ornamentation fascinates me and is something that I've enjoyed but know little about. Speaking of cultural changes in ornamentation, did you hear that Chelsea has lifted its ban on including gnomes?

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    3. Thoroughly enjoyed both of your comments...thank you for the interesting discussion.

      Peter re: the Gnomes yes! How do you feel about this?

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    4. I do NOT like the gnomes but they were sold off for charity. That is probably a good thing. Additionally, it caused a stir. People like that kind of thing. A few years back the public was upset over a plasticine creation. Seems to me the organizers are intelligent with a finger on the heartbeat of pop culture. Throwing it in is a great idea and it gets them the much needed press they so desire.

      I'm a hypocrite though because I'm a closet gnome lover. I just don't want them in my garden. I like wearing my gnome pjs though—a lot!!!

      Glad you both liked my tome. It inspired me to write to an old art history friend in Basel and we had a nice discussion about it. We're keeping the discussion going since she works at Herzog & De Meuron and although she loves the firm and its amazing architecture, she'd like to have fun art historical stuff to work on too. To her, it is all garden ornamentation but she'd like to blend and blur the lines a bit too so we hope to play in that sandbox together soon.

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  11. Curating garden art is an art unto itself. I really admire those who can do it well and you're correct about it needing to reflect a strong personal style. Sure there are mass produced objets d'arte (decorative art) but those are so much less personal. I love it when it is really personal and handmade or forged. That's so much why it's art.

    I've also found that garden art is much like any other kind of art installation. It needs an artist's statement of sorts with purpose. As a former gallery coordinator, I really love seeing art outside of the "white box" too. It is functioning and has an interaction with its viewer that is so much less sterile.

    Love the words and letters sprinkled around. The screen of mussels is great too. Wish I had that for my messy collection of extra-large oyster shells. Guess I better start eating more oysters!!!

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    1. Mass produced objets d'arte are indeed what send me...and not in a good way...

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  12. I've been to this garden many years ago. Your last picture of her Pineapple Guava was the exact plant that turned me on to this shrub. I had seen them before, but it wasn't until I saw the one in her garden that I new I needed one of my own. Now I'm reminded that I need to prune mine. Thanks for posting that picture!

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    1. You're welcome! Mine have both grown so much in the few short months they've been planted, it's got me wondering...

      (also good to hear from you, it's been awhile!)

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  13. I'm so jealous--I really wanted to attend. I really enjoyed your photos of the whimsy in that garden! The succulents in pots are fantastic. I can't imagine having that many people in my garden, either. Right now, they'd all have to put on several coatings of mosquito repellent! ;-)

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    1. Ah yes...the mosquitoes. They usually leave me alone but I don't even recall hearing others complain.

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  14. Great photos, Loree, and the mussel shell /Tillandsia screen is awesome. And I wish Staghorn ferns would survive clinging to exposed branches in my garden - I have always loved them! So cool! Thanks also Peter and Ann for the interesting discourse on garden art. Ann - you really should write that book!

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    1. I agree she should (yikes, I need to go back and include that in my comment)...

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  15. We both posted about Shirley's garden today! You captured the mussel screen much better than I did. I had to give up on posting pics of it, as mine were so poor. I agree about Shirley's house -- it was full of creative decorating and paint ideas. BTW, I hope you'll reconsider about having a tour of people in your garden because you really must show your gorgeous creation to the Flingers next year.

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    1. Oh Pam I'm trying to think of a way to include my garden...I would love to bring the people here who want to come but hate the idea of forcing everyone to be here...

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  16. Such a relatively intimate place but well packed with plants and tasteful personal ornaments, inspiring indeed.

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    1. It really was...I hope I was able to accurately convey it.

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  17. sandy lawrenceJuly 13, 2013

    What fun for everyone! Thanks for the link to A Growing Obsession. You're right; stunning photographs!
    Enjoyed so much Ann Amato's informative comments regarding the art in Shirley's garden and the genesis of personally created outsider garden art in general.

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    1. I almost just deleted my post and said "go see all about this garden on A Growing Obsession...."

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    2. Wow, thank you Sandy. That makes my procrastination that day worth it!

      Oh, right, and paying for those college loans...

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  18. This post sure did generate some interesting discussions and brought out new dimensions of some commenters (spell check tells me that's not a word but oh, well...).
    It seems like a crowd of 50 would overwhelm a smallish garden, but I'm wondering if it could be broken into two or three smaller groups. It would be a shame for next year's flingers to miss seeing your garden.

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    1. For the opening night bash the idea was to have everyone together in one space but yes, for smaller gardens that we toured later in the GBF the two buses went to those stops on opposite schedules. It was nice to have "only" 38ish people in those spaces. While I am steady in my belief my garden isn't "fling-worthy" I also have heard from many people who would like to see it. I wish I knew of a few interesting gardens here in NE Portland that would make the drive up here worthwhile because we haven't planned to be anywhere nearby. Need to think on that one...

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  19. Your pictures and the above comments of the garden look & sound like there was so much to see, almost too much to absorb in one visit. But WOW from the pictures, a pretty interesting garden! I just used the blue wart fern (along with the silver lady fern) for the first time around one of our client's koi ponds...such a beautiful plant. It's so awesome you can grow tropical's up there!

    I just love your blog by the way!

    Happy gardening and best wishes,

    Sheri
    www.pompanobeachgardening.blogspot.com

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