Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Lessons from the Garden

Part of my inspiration for my work comes from time spent in the garden. For several years I was an avid gardener. The last few years have left less time to spend fussing and planning. I have been doing Darwin gardening lately....the strong and hardy survive! Fussy plants will not make it in my garden.

Right now we have an amazing magnolia tree outside my kitchen door and the office window that is in full bloom. It is a spectacular sight. Each year, for a few days we get this golorious vision of pink. We live in the house my parents owned for many years. I was ten years old when I moved into this house with my parents. My husband and I now own the house, but I know the history in the way that few people do. I remember when my brother gave my mother this magnolia as a Mother's Day gift many years ago. It was maybe two feet tall, if that. It probably had just a few blossoms. But now it is a show stopper. It has spawned several other trees. Branches grew down and re-rooted. We passed these offspring onto appreciative neighbors, friends, and my brother...and those new trees are setting down roots, and one day may grow to be as spectacular.
Sometimes you don't know what the long term outcome will be when you put a tree or plant into the ground. But you do it because of the potential it represents. The same is true of many things in life. We don't get assurances or guarantees. But we give it a try, and sometimes, over the long haul, our results are rewarded. The rewards may be brief and fleeting. We need to enjoy them when they come, because they may not last long. But it doesn't make them any less wonderful when they arrive. They are the proverbial flowers we must stop to enjoy.

This somewhat grey picture is actually one of my flower gardens. It lies under the magnolia tree, and was the first one I began working on when we moved into the house five years ago. This picture was taken from my office window. It looks as if there is nothing much there. But if you look closely there is actually all sorts of growth happening. I love perennials. Over the winter, they will go dormant, but in the spring, little green shoots start emerging. And often, what comes back the next year, is bigger and stronger than before. Sometimes though, things do not survive the winter. Where you anticipate something wonderful, there is only a bare spot. So what are the lessons that are learned from time spent in the garden?

1. Look closely. Growth may be happening, but you just have not gotten close enough to see it yet.
These are pictures of my clemantis, and a lone daffodil I almost missed. The clemantis looks like a bunch of dead leaves at first blush, but on closer inspection there are lots of new leaves and a few buds forming. It is starting to change nearly every day. The daffodil was hidden behind a scraggly looking bush, with no leaves. I spotted the bright petals out of the corner of my eye. Sometimes we are quick to dismiss things before they have had enough time to grow, or before we had a chance to see the gem. Even the dead end paths can offer insights and opportunities to learn, or potential for new terrain to explore. Before you decide that the show or idea or whatever is wrong...look for the gems, or the emerging potential.

2. Growth can create even more growth. When a plant is thriving, in order for it to stay healthy, it is sometimes necessary to divide the plant. This means digging it up, and literally cutting it into two or three plants and replanting. The bleeding heart plant that I bought five years ago, is now the size of a large bush. I never did get around to dividing it last fall, but it has already had a baby. A new plant came up in a nearby spot in the garden two summers ago. A seed carried by the wind or a bird sprouted. I have moved it to a better spot, and now I will have two plants to enjoy this spring.

The original and its offspring in a nearby garden. Just beginning their spring growth spurt.

As we grow as artists and business people, we will have spurts of growth. And sometimes that growth will allow us to try out new things, and branch out in ways we never thought possible.

3. Timing Growing a perennial garden is a lesson in timing. My crocuses are now past. But the grape hyacyinth and daffodils are in bloom. Pretty soon the bleeding hearts will be spectacular, and the tulips will be in bloom. Everything is not in bloom all at once. Somethings will not bloom until the fall. It is possible to have everything bloom at once, but then after a spectacular show, there is nothing much left behind. It is hard to appreciate it all when it all comes together at the same time. But by planning , you can have things in bloom from spring to fall. There may be a peak time when there is more in bloom at once, but the goal is to spread it out over time.

The same can be said for our businesses or even our art. The end of the year is the peak season for most of us. But trying to develop other sales opportunites to even out the cash flow and workload can be healthier for us and our business. Likewise, trying to cram all your production to the week or two before a show, or not paying attention to the natural ebbs and flows of our creative process is not going to work. Pacing your self, recognize the need for dormant periods, and anticipating those times when you will be expected to "bloom" will help your art and your business.

5. Choosing the right spot. One of the things gardeners learn, is that in the right spot, a plant will thrive with no external help. No extra watering, fertilizing, etc. It has all the conditions it needs to thrive. For some plants that is shade, for others, they can tolerate the hot sun and drought conditions. Putting the right plant in the right place can make all the difference between success and failure. Although, even then, there are the ones that should have been fine, but were not.
When it comes to our business and our art, the same principles apply. We need to do the right shows for our work and our temperament. I can no longer do the local school holiday show. it is not the right venue for my work. Not everyone wants to, or is able to do retail shows, or wholesale shows. For some an online site, or an auction site like Esty or Ebay is a better route for their personal situation. Only you can make the assesment of what fits your lifestyle and temperament.
Likewise, not every gallery or shop is the right fit for my work. You can waste a lot of time and energy trying to make something work that is not meant to be. There is a store in town that many people have suggested for my work. I had visited him several times a few years ago. Each time he decided to take a pass on my work. After the third visit, it was time for me to move on. Spend that energy pursuing other people and places. I wanted my work to be with someone who was excited to have it in their store, not ambivalent about it. Because who will do a better job selling my work? Obviously, the person who connects with it. If I held on to his ambivalence about my work, or just kept trying to convince him that he should carry my work, I could have wasted a lot of energy, and not necessarily seen a better outcome. And i might have ended up feeling less sure about my own path. Not everyone will love our work. And that is okay. In the right venue, it will thrive.

Back into the studio to "till the soil".

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