|‘Chiare, fresche et dolci acque’ (Clear, fresh, sweet water) – opening line of a poem by Petrarch – surround a fountain.
Clear, fresh, sweet cocktails (well, Chardonnay for me, but, hey, poetic license) were sipped in the garden of artist and garden designer Shirley Watts and her husband Emmanuel Coup in Alameda, California. And ’twas indeed fresh. Especially fresh ideas.
Of all the things I could write about – including Watts’ clever artwork from salvage and deft plantings – it is her use of words in the garden I’ll remember. The translucent box enclosing a fountain at the top of this post is one. Etched on the panels are words from Poem 126 of Il Canzoniere (The Songbook) by Francesco Petrarch – the first stanza appears on a scrim curtain in the arbor below.
|Behind the poetry, a sculpture composed of salvaged lathed wood looks like a snow-draped Gothic castle.
As soon as I saw an image of Watts’ patio below on a preview post (do click it) for the Fling*, I knew I would be stealing this idea. Yes, I’ve said it. Stealing. I have a patio just begging for letters between the stones. Plus, I have a few letters. Google “metal letters,” and I’ll bet you find sources near you. May we all be as adept at arranging them as Shirley Watts.
|Love the marriage of straight and jagged in this carefully composed stone tapestry.
Even a few scattered letters, as below, adds to the literate touch. I didn’t search for meaning – perhaps there is a hidden message, like the name of the architect E.J. Lennox hidden in the stonework at Toronto’s Old City Hall.
|Perpetuating the fiction that I am alone in the garden. Pay no attention to the 49 other garden bloggers behind the curtain.
These themes were also explored by Watts in a group exhibition called Natural Discourse at the University of California Botanical Garden, which ended before our visit. Would love to have seen the transformation of the subway station. Take a minute to see it in the video at the bottom of that link.
Another imaginative salvage with a literary bent – the carriage lights below, papered with extracts from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, emit a soft, yellow light after dark.
|Similar lights in the front garden feature strong but simple brush drawings of insects.
Watts uses translucency such is this to great effect, inside and outside her home. The fireplace in the living room, for example, is screened by a large sheet of white vellum, behind which pendant bunches of flowers cast soft, complex shadows. And, below, panels from a back-lit billboard for the movie Troy run along the garden as a fence. That’s Orlando Bloom giving the plume poppies the eye.
|Scarcely legible as text, the movie poster’s Roman-style lettering applied here is a great mash-up of pop and culture.
*These images come from the Garden Bloggers Fling 2013 in San Francisco – an annual meet-up of garden bloggers now in its sixth year, and attracting bloggers from across North America and even the UK. Next year is Portland. But stay tuned for 2015, when we Fling in Toronto. Be there?