New work: The Strawberry Thief

The definition of a pattern is a discernible regularity. I’m working out what that means in terms of petals around a central disc, stems in a vase, and natural forms stylized using mathematical models to repeat seamlessly, such as wallpapers and textiles.

William Morris created a way of life through pattern: in ornament, textiles, product design, writing, and political activism. I was interested in the rigorous complexity as a backdrop to the riot of random color of the flame azalea branches.

painting, stilllife, oilpainting

The Strawberry Thief, 24 x 18, oil on panel

 

 

New work – Halfway There

I’m involved in a series of diptychs; an exploration of overlapping images with a contiguous background and subject matter. What that means in practice is that, while I draw up both panels together, one half is actually painted before the other is started. It’s great for my color discipline as the lighting and hue of both panels was originally the same but it might be a month before I start on the second image. Here’s the left side of the current set – the right panel is still in progress.

Teapot marked MIJ c 1928 with 4th Century Moorish textile, Museum no. IS. 96-1993, © Victoria and Albert Museum, detail

Oil on gessoed panel, 36 x 24, detail

 

New work – on site drawings from Sunset, Maine

I recently spent some time on one of the hundreds of islands in Penobscot Bay. It was wonderful to have a chance to work on site in that beautiful landscape of rocks and water. Drawings are Coates brand vine charcoal and white Conte crayon on Ampersand pastelbord, and are all approximately 20 x 16 – big enough to encompass the view and small enough to securely carry over those rocks!Maine seascape

New work: Diptych of Poppies and Margarites

I’ve been experimenting with twin panels of overlapping arrangements. Diptychs are the art historian’s version of a chapter book, one view leading to another and sharing the overlap.

Here, alpine poppies, margarite daisies, cosmos, marigolds and woad spill out of 50’s vintage vases in morning light.

Diptych stilllife painting

Poppies and Margarites, 36 x 48 on two panels, oil on archival board

Hugels and Waffles, drought-proofing the garden

In the photo below you’ll notice a heap of garden refuse (the hugel) in back of a trench dug below grade planted with kale and bok choi varieties (the waffle).

 

waffle garden

Hugel plantings: daylilies, ornamental allium, elecampne, lupine (volunteers), valarian. Waffle planting: kale varieties, bok choi, arugula

Hügelkultur is a composting process using raised beds constructed from decaying wood debris and other compostable biomass plant materials. The process helps to improve soil fertility, water retention, and soil warming, and improves the insect and bacterial life of the beds around the hugel. Building several hugels around the garden makes a handy depository for the constant outflow of pruning and weeding debris, making it much easier to “compost in place”. I use the top and sides of the pile to stash plants that need a temporary home; clumps of daylilies that needed separating, unexpected plum seedlings, and the like. The top of the pile dries out in my very arid Downeast summer weather so I don’t plant vine crops or flowers there, although many people recommend the practice. Someday, when I have more water available perhaps that will be an option!

The hugel is paired with a waffle bed. Waffles are the opposite of raised beds and are built by removing soil in a small area, replacing and augmenting the best soil available, and then planting below grade. This practice has been used since ancient times in arid climates to preserve water and soil, and to shade roots and seedlings as they develop. The combination of the hugel acting as a windbreak, moisture reservoir, and beneficial critter refuge with the waffle offering fertile soil, bottom shade, and slower evaporation, is hard to beat.

The hugel/waffle combination can be quite small and still provide a significant benefit. Here a small hugel on a slope is planted with Marguerite Daisy (Argyranthemum frutescens). Note that this plant is generally considered a weed for it’s prolific seed production but is also a good drought proof pollination plant. The trenched waffle bed upslope is planted with onion sets, and the small, deep waffles below are planted with tomatoes. Both sides benefit from the hugel providing water diversion and storage and wind protection.

hugel waffle

Here a small hugel planted with chives borders a waffle planted with greens: kale, Australian yellow lettuce, spinach, and lettuce var. Pablo.

small hugel waffle chives kaleFor those of us with poor soil in an arid climate, just a little digging can make a big difference.

Early Spring in the Garden, 2018

Early May might not be early spring where you are, it’s not even early for Maine, some years. This year we’re still in the grip of winter long past the usual garden landmarks. I couldn’t plant peas on St. Patrick’s Day because of all the snow and when the drifts finally washed away under cold rains a few weeks ago I put them in south facing beds where they’re still sulking, under ground.

Pruning is a good task for days when I should not be planting seedlings out no matter how tempting the noon day sun. This is a wild apple planted from seed that my toddler son found in Acadia National Park. I probably would have let it grow for sentimental reasons, but it produces bushels of good-sized tart crabs, dark red skinned with snow white flesh, that are excellent for roasting and canning. It is extremely vigorous and growing on its own roots so when I let it go for a year it puts up a thicket around the main trunk. The whole pruning job took about an hour and resulted in a pile of thorny branches bigger than the remaining tree – sign of a job well done!                                                                                     crab apple, pruningcrab apple, pruning

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I planted out four kale varieties and baby bok choi in a bed that grew potatoes last year. Brassicas are a great cleanser for soil that may have picked up potato-related bugs and virus issues. These are right out of the seedlings trays in the cellar, grown under shop lights. I covered them with a layer of floating row cover and they should be fine during the next few days of cold rain and wind.seedlings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rhubarb is one of the harbingers of spring in my garden and it’s still tiny! Last year we were well on our way to pie by mid-April, this year we have just the first tiny leaves unfurling.Rhubarb

The bergenia by the corner of the house is always a good bet for first paintable flower of the year. The plant has large leathery leaves that overwinter. The common name “Pigsqueak” comes from the sound made by rubbing two leaves together.Bergenia

 

 

 

 

 

New work

I had to do errands Downeast this fall and made time to stake out a painting spot on the wharf in Corea. The tide here runs 10′ or more, so timing my visits for the same time of day (for the light) and tide was complicated but worth every minute staring at the fine print in the almanac. I hope to get here when there’s snow on the ground some day.

Maine wharf Corea

Corea Wharf, Low Tide, 24 x 36, oil on panel

Garden 2018 – The Seed Order

It’s minus four degrees F in the garden today, the high temperature at noon was five above. I worry about the bees in their wooden boxes, the shallow roots of the strawberries under their blanket of snow, and the kinglets huddled together at the very top of the spruce tree singing like tiny tea kettles in the still air. Meanwhile, the gardener sits all snug in the Morris chair by the wood stove and plots next summer’s garden, row by row.

This is our seed order from Fedco, Maine’s premiere garden co-op, for summer 2018:

204A – Provider Bush Green Beans ( A=2oz ) 1 x $1.60 = $1.60
210A – Strike Bush Green Beans ( A=2oz ) 1 x $1.60 = $1.60
230A – Jade Bush Green Beans ( A=2oz ) 1 x $1.70 = $1.70

We ordered more green beans this year and are committed to irrigating them for a better crop through the drought months of July and August. My general rule is to build in drought proofing, rather than add water, but we’re going to make an exception for this crop in 2018 and see what happens. Enough surplus to freeze, dry, and pickle green beans over what we eat for meals will be proof to go forward.

658A – Silver Queen White Sweet Corn ( A=2oz ) 1 x $2.50 = $2.50
818A – Oregon Giant Snow Peas ( A=2oz ) 1 x $1.80 = $1.80
927A – Mayor Canary Melon ( A=0.4g ) 1 x $2.80 = $2.80
1382A – Super Zagross Beit Alpha Cucumbers ( A=1/16oz ) 1 x $1.70 = $1.70
1606A – Sweet REBA OG Acorn Winter Squash ( A=1/8oz ) 1 x $2.40 = $2.40
1633A – Eastern Rise Buttercup/Kabocha Winter Squash ( A=1/8oz ) 1 x $2.80 = $2.80
2058A – Red Cored Chantenay Carrots ( A=1/8oz ) 1 x $1.20 = $1.20
2063A – Yellowstone Carrots ( A=1g ) 1 x $2.20 = $2.20
2073A – Shin Kuroda 5" Carrots ( A=1/8oz ) 1 x $1.30 = $1.30

More carrot varieties, and more root crops overall, reflect 2017’s success with building waffle beds – beds that are recessed below the general garden soil level. We added more compost and soil amendments into these very discreet areas and they were sustainable with very little rainfall, resulting in much better crops.

2121A – Red Ace OG Beets ( A=1/8oz ) 1 x $2.50 = $2.50
2485A – Rossa Lunga di Tropea Red Onions ( A=1/16oz ) 1 x $1.80 = $1.80
2510A – Space Spinach ( A=1/4oz ) 1 x $1.70 = $1.70
2539B – Oceanside Spinach ( B=1/2oz ) 1 x $3.30 = $3.30
2766A – Australian Yellow OG Leaf Lettuce ( A=1g ) 1 x $1.80 = $1.80
2879A – Parris Island Cos Romaine Lettuce ( A=2g ) 1 x $1.10 = $1.10
2905A – Cardinale OG Batavian Lettuce ( A=1g ) 1 x $2.10 = $2.10
2984A – Freedom Lettuce Gene-Pool OG Lettuce Mix ( A=1g ) 1 x $2.50 = $2.50
3020A – Astro OG Arugula ( A=1/16oz ) 1 x $1.70 = $1.70
3063A – Très Fine Maraîchère Olesh OG Endive ( A=1/16oz ) 1 x $2.30 = $2.30
3075A – Speckled Friz Chickendiva OG Endive ( A=1/16oz ) 1 x $2.20 = $2.20
3099A – Sea Kale Sea Kale ( A=1g ) 1 x $2.40 = $2.40
3216A – Lady Murasaki Asian Greens ( A=1/16oz ) 1 x $1.80 = $1.80
3217A – Garnet Giant Asian Greens ( A=1/16oz ) 1 x $1.50 = $1.50
3260A – Shuko Pac Choy ( A=1/16oz ) 1 x $1.50 = $1.50
3309A – Green Super Broccoli ( A=0.5g ) 1 x $1.70 = $1.70
3322A – Arcadia Broccoli ( A=0.5g ) 1 x $1.90 = $1.90
3327A – Piracicaba Non-Heading Broccoli ( A=2g ) 1 x $2.30 = $2.30
3334A – Hestia Brussels Sprouts ( A=0.25g ) 1 x $3.00 = $3.00
3451A – Beedys Camden OG Kale ( A=1g ) 1 x $1.80 = $1.80
3459A – Darkibor Kale ( A=0.5g ) 1 x $2.40 = $2.40
3834A – Early Jalapeño Hot Peppers ( A=0.5g ) 1 x $1.20 = $1.20
4031A – Aosta Valley OG Tomatoes ( A=0.2g ) 1 x $1.90 = $1.90
4225A – Mountain Magic Tomatoes ( A=10 seeds ) 1 x $3.90 = $3.90

2017 was the year of fifty-five tomato plants. I hadn’t really planned to do that but it was a glorious harvest of sauce, paste, chutney, jam, and fragrant piles of fruit dried in the wood fired oven. I imagine I will have enough tomato “product” to last well into 2018 so I’m not looking for that result again right away. One package each of two varieties, Aosta and Mountain Magic, should provide a dependable, tasty, and not overwhelming crop in 2018.

4418A – Genovese Basil Basil ( A=2g ) 1 x $1.30 = $1.30
4518A – Santo OG Cilantro ( A=1g ) 1 x $1.20 = $1.20
4899A – Blazing Stars Blazing Stars ( A=2g ) 1 x $1.60 = $1.60
5035A – Sensation Mix Cosmos Cosmos ( A=1.4g ) 1 x $1.30 = $1.30
5411A – Gentian Sage Salvias ( A=0.1g ) 1 x $1.70 = $1.70
5423A – Northern Sea Oats OG Northern Sea Oats ( A=0.2g ) 1 x $1.60 = $1.60
5620A – Black Knight Sweet Peas ( A=2g ) 1 x $1.50 = $1.50
5731A – State Fair Mix Zinnias ( A=0.5g ) 1 x $1.30 = $1.30

Subtotal: = $85.40

This is my inspiration for still life painting from the garden next year – look at the Sea Oats!

Jan Davidsz de Heem