The Verdant Garden

Verdant is an old word meaning green, especially the rich green of grass and the countryside. There are a multitude of beautiful green hues and it is the colour most readily perceived by the human eye. In Aotearoa this abundance of green is most noticeable in the old temperate forests where ferns, podocarps (types of conifers) and epiphytes (plants that grow in the canopy on other plants) are very plentiful. Verdant feels like a fitting word to describe the Spring growth all around and in my artworks at this time of year. In Maori the fresh green of Spring – Kōanga, is karera or kākāriki, meaning light green.

I have been thinking about all these greens, and the pigments artists have used over hundreds of years to try to capture something of the many hues of green found in nature. From Verdigris to Malachite, green pigments have sometimes been unstable and even poisonous – as in Paris or Vienna Green, derived from toxic arsenic and copper acetate. These days the most poisonous type of green is probably not a pigment at all – perhaps in our time it is the practice of greenwashing or green sheen, as companies and even governments sometimes purposely deceive their customers and citizens in order to appear environmentally friendly or sustainable.

Fortunately, in my latest digital artworks the greens are more benign. In the case of the digital artworks the small scanner I am using imparts a green background, the tint of which seems to vary according to the plant material I am scanning. Whilst my studio has been less accessible during lockdown I have been experimenting with creating digital artworks combining scanned flowers and foliage with painted layers, and now have a collection of these, full of spring flora and sprigs of garden foliage. The Michelia and Jasmine artwork (detail pictured above), was created using this method and is available as a high resolution download via my Patreon page, where I offer a seasonal artwork each month for a small amount (starting at US$1) selected by the patron. The purpose of Patreon is to provide a sustainable and steady income for artists and creators, allowing them the chance to create more art, more often.

My Spring painting and projects have been impacted by the pandemic and the resulting restrictions, as Auckland has struggled with lockdown and a Covid outbreak. Consequently you can view some artworks only online for now – including these artworks submitted to The Upstairs Gallery in Titirangi. Included is an artwork nature printed with Jasmine, Buttercup and Lavender and some small Lockdown Bracelets, floral jewellery created over the past weeks.

Lockdown restrictions also meant that my Floristry graduation took place online after being delayed twice by outbreaks. I made a little flower crown to celebrate with my family at home, hopeful that at some time in the future I may be able to reconnect with fellow graduates in person again. The unusual blue flowers are Corydallis, planted in my garden last year, combined with Sweet William and Hellebore. Over the past year I have become interested in how traditions involving flowers vary across time and cultures. Flower crowns are one such tradition, with different types occurring through history. They are also present as part of many cultures across the world in various forms, often made to mark significant occasions.

When creating ephemeral artworks and floristry, one becomes more aware of the healing and stress relief that happens when people grow and create with flowers, particularly if it is done in a way that is kind to the environment and embraces seasonality. These activities can be a special way reconnect with nature and each other. I feel that this approach offers a path forward as we find ways to work with nature rather than against nature.

One of the highlights of the floral year is the Peony season, large and lovely perennial blooms grown in cooler climates. The availability of beautiful South Island peonies in Spring meant I was able to experiment with scanning a couple to make artworks celebrating these gorgeous flowers. I have also chosen a red Peony to feature in my Christmas artwork this year, which will be posted online for my Patreon subscribers next month.

Spring is a very exciting time for anyone interested in plants, being the season of growth and new life. I feel very fortunate to have a small and rather wild backyard garden where I can grow some spray-free flowers and take respite from city life. This garden is also the starting point for many of my paintings. My Spring artworks have included Michelia flowers, Dianthus and in the detail above, even some carrot leaves. Over lockdown I have planted some Cosmos, Snapdragons and Cornflowers to bring some colour and more bee friendly flowers into the space.

Inspiration for creative work also comes from the places I visit. One of my favourite small gardens is the Nancy Steen Garden next to the Parnell Rose Gardens. This beautiful space features a circular white garden with rows of heritage roses and traditional cottage garden flowers. On a visit to see the early roses I was intrigued by the indigo, violet and sage green Honeywort growing there. The soft colours of this plant have been echoed in my recent artworks.

If you would like to learn more about my artworks and share an interest in history, I am participating in an online workshop in early December: Antiquity and the Anthropocene: Ancient Materiality, University College Dublin, Saturday 11 December 2021, which brings together historians, archeologists and artists into dialogue with contemporary environmental concerns. Organised by Dr Giacomo Savani and Dr Matthew J. Mandich, this event is free but registration is required – you can register here: 

I will be introducing my artwork and discussing it with Dr Patricia Baker towards the end of the workshop at 5.30pm UK time. It will be recorded so I will also post a link for it in my next artist blog. 

I’m excited about the Summer artworks which I will be occupied with over the coming weeks as my artistic journey with plants and flowers continues. I’ll be revisiting one of my favourite flowers, the humble Nasturtium, combining them with grasses and foliage native to Aotearoa.

Ngā manaakitanga – with best wishes, Celeste 

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