My best days start out on the back porch sofa with a cup of Barnie’s coffee (Santa’s White Christmas with 3 Splendas, don't bother me with anything else). The corner seat of the sofa is heaven. The pillows are fluffy. The sofa table is in perfect reach. But really the view is what makes the day so great.
My backyard is nothing spectacular. What makes it so perfect is the slow growth over time.
Few things in life allow you to measure growth and the passage of time in such a worry free manner as plants.
I have lived in my home for 11 years now and in that time, slowly, I have pulled out all of the old landscaping and made way for new. Now, other than 2 trees, every plant in my landscape was set in the ground, watered, fertilized, and trimmed by my own hands. Most are some free propagation from a friend, neighbor, or family member.
Plumeria, now more than 6 feet tall, was grown from a 10 inch, leafless stick. Amarillys sprout triple bloom heads after starting from a quartered piece of bulb. Marigolds are from last year’s seed heads. Beds of Mexican Petunias flower en masse from branches stolen out of my doctor’s office parking lot. A key lime limped along as a dried out grafting now fruits more than 30 times in a year.
These plants mark the passage of years, not days. It is so easy to lose track of the time and the progress. But when you grow up, patience allows you to see the fruits of your labor more than the toil of the work.
As an artist, you get a little better every time you create. But that growth is hard to measure in days. And often, things go sideways from your intentions and your art begins to feel monotonous. But art, like plants, marks the passage of years, not days.
The quality of a piece is often not evident at first either.
One year, I purchased (gasp) a Sweet Almond bush. It was a twiggy little thing in a gallon pot barely two feet tall. I had read they could grow six feet tall with a six foot spread, so I gave him lots of room, water, food, and light. Nothing impressive happened in the first year. Sometimes it takes a while for them to get going, you know...plants can take a while to warm up to you. But after the end of his second year in my garden bed and still barely three feet, he was slated for removal. Sometimes, plants just don't bond with you and that's ok-you learn to move on. I got busy and he accidentally got to stay. And I'm glad fate played out that way! In his third year, he exploded to his full six feet (although he was still twiggy). I have to cut him to the ground every spring and yet, by Fall he is pushing ten feet every year now. With time, he has become a truly unique and beautiful anchor plant in my garden.
Many pieces of art turn out the same. When I painted Pulsing, I didn't have a clear idea in my head where it was going. I was trying paint brands I had not used before and was playing with washes in a way I had not done before. At first, I loved the way the paints were interacting with each other. Then I added more thinner and white to the canvas and all of a sudden, the paints began repelling each other rather than swirling. The canvas was changing in a way I hated and faster than I could figure out how to fix it.
I sank down on my comfy corner sofa seat in horror watching chemicals ruin the work. There was nothing I could do. It was late. I went to bed. The next morning during coffee I sent some photos of the disaster to a friend. He reassured me it was exactly what it was supposed to be and beautiful in its own way. He encouraged me to finish the edges, varnish it, and claim it as my own. Eventually I did, but not before it sat hidden in a closet. With time though, this work too has truly become a unique and beautiful anchor work in my portfolio-just like my Sweet (not-so-little) Almond bush.
We have to surround ourselves with things that help us measure the passage of time and help remind us of our progress as a person. We must embrace things in our life that grow up around us so that we too can embrace how much we’ve grown up. And personally, I keep planting those things because I want to keep on growing personally, too.