Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Burning blue - Frida Kahlo's La Casa Azul in Coyoacan

I wonder if there can be a single art lover who hasn't been touched by Frida Kahlo's (1907-1954) fiercely colorful and deeply personal paintings. Raising from a life of severe physical suffering and long periods of immobility - Frida went through both polio as a child and a severe traffic accident when she was 18 that left her handicapped and in permanent pain for the rest of her life - her art became the language in which she formulated and expressed her thoughts, ideas and beliefs. La Casa Azul, the Blue House, was Frida's home where she was born, lived and painted - many years together with her famous artist husband Diego Rivera -and finally died.

It is not known if Frida actually gardened at La Casa Azul - given her fragile health, she couldn't have physically done much. But with its Pre-Columbian sculptures and Mexican pottery, her garden is a seamless extension of her home. It is a place where she spent much of her time, entertaining guests with Diego and even teaching pupils. Together, the house and gardens form a homage to her boundless love for and admiration of the Mexican culture, history, nature and people; all themes that are central in her life and art.  

Wildly popular already in her own time, countless articles and even filmatizations have made Frida into an icon of Mexican art, almost like a madonna of art and suffering. Floods of reverent visitors make their pilgrimage to her vibrant home while visiting Mexico City, and my visit there last week wouldn't have been complete without sharing this experience. What took me by surprise was the intimacy of the place despite its huge popularity; even now, almost 50 years after Frida's death, her atelier and gardens still radiated a touching sense of intense emotion and creativity. Wandering through the rooms and gardens, I felt like she only just had left. Maybe, she never really did. Viva la vida, Frida.   

Viva la vida, painted by Frida Kahlo shortly before her death in 1954, hangs still in La Casa Azul. 

A bowl with a lid made out of a gourd, with a pomegranate knob, on a beautifully embroidered table cloth.

One of the smaller rooms, like a corridor between a bed room and the kitchen. A so called 'Judas figure', a skeleton reminding of Judas who betrayed Jesus, hangs in the corner; several of them were around the house and gardens. 

Pre-Columbian and other artesanal masks filled many of the walls.

Frida's kitchen, an bold and beautiful symphony to honor Mexican pottery and other handicrafts. Color therapy at its best, and my new favorite - a wilder version of Monet's kitchen in Giverny.

A touching and intimate moment of the tour - Frida's atelier with her paints and even her wheel chair left as they were when she last worked here.

One of Frida's characteristic dresses - she loved to dress in costumes from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, wanting to show her solidarity to the native people.

 Frida's night time bed, with a butterfly collection that she got as a present from her close friend architect Isamu Noguchi.

Frida's daytime bed - because of her pains, she spent a lot of time in bed - with her death mask. From here, she could see directly into her garden, with her parrots and pet monkey.

Frida's sofa that she got as three year old.

Frida's atelier and day time bed room in the background, facing a fountain and the garden.

A detail from the fountain - a leaping frog looking at a conch shell... 

Detail from the inner garden, with Mexican terracotta pottery and Pre-Columbian sculpture.

A four-tiered pyramid built as a display for Frida's and Diego's collection of Mexican artefacs and Aztec idols.

More information about La Casa Azul: Museo Frida Kahlo.

Friday, February 10, 2012

The cutest container garden at the show...

I feel like I need to rinse the palate after my last, slightly acerbic post... so here are pictures of the cutest display of the container garden section. Ravenna Gardens usually take the price in this area, and they didn't make an exception this year, tapping into the world-wide terrarium craze - just as many other things from the 70s, terrariums appear in gardening magazines from Australia to Finland, and in California, Flora Grubb is well-known for her magnificent arrangements.
Ravenna Gardens filled their tiny booth, called the 'Laboratory of the Terrarium Maker', with miniature landscapes in glass vessels from the brand-new minimalistic to the repurposed ornamental. This tiny show garden was trendy, humorous and well executed, and it definitely deserved its Gold Medal for the best container garden. I would love to have one of these!

The thing I really don't get at garden shows...

...is all the tchotchkes, knickknacks, baubles and other trinkets available (and not just at the Northwest one; the Scandinavian shows and even Chelsea are equally quilty in this area...). Anyone willing to explain why we are supposed to neeed this "stuff"?  

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Gold medal for the 'Birdsong' at the 2012 NW Flower and Garden Show

Above, the lights are tested before the media and judges arrive; there are still some white buckets, brooms and watering cans in the display area.
Our efforts at the Northwest Flower and Garden Show were rewarded with one of the three Gold Medals given out this year - a great result. The concept of the Birdsong was to celebrate birdlife in the Washington Park Arboretum. Three different habitats for birds - marshland, woodland edge and deeper forest -  were planted with vegetation to provide them with food and nesting places. A bird blind was the only built structure in display. The design was by Bob Lilly, Phil Wood and Roger Williams, all three experienced renowned garden designers and plantsmen.

The bird blind was the only built element of the garden; it imitates the structures that bird watchers use to observe wildlife. I got to attach twigs from the arboretum to the outside of the structure... Most of the garden materials - twigs, whole trees and bags of collected leafs -  came from the arboretum.
Of course, a show garden rookie like me didn't have anything to do with the concept or design, but I was happy to shovel, cover, carry and plant things. Here are some of my 'achievements': a perfectly naturalistic flow of dry leaves cascading down the little hill at the back of the display (above), and a planting of ferns and small blueberry bushes by the pathway though the show garden. Maybe I can graduate to something a bit more advanced at the next show? Anyway, I loved being part of the show garden team, so I won't mind even if I just have to shovel sawdust again next year.

Below - kinnikinnick planting by me; well done, don't you think...? Birds love to eat the red berries of this native plant. Behind - humming birds love nectar and are especially drawn to red flowering plants, so red camellias were included in the display even if they are not native to the area. Witch-hazels are also an important source of nectar this time of the year.

And just one more of the building stage... just a couple of hours left, and the garden still looks like a mess. But Bob and Phil had full control over the process so we finished in good time, having over half an hour free time to enjoy the results before the judges arrived.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Building "the Birdsong", days 1 and 2

The Arboretum Foundation show garden on the first building day on Saturday. This year's garden is called 'Birdsong', displaying three different habitats for birds to nest, eat and live in - more about it in my next post. Pretty difficult to imagine this as a habitat for birds...

The Northwest Flower and Garden Show starts tomorrow, and I've been helping to build a show garden for the Arboretum Foundation for the last four days.  The process was immensely satisfying for my inner Bob-the-Builder; huge trucks and other power machines around, lots of hammering, sawing and shoveling; and then finally, planting and mulching. After just 4 to 5 hours on site, I came home happy and tired, ready for a warm shower and a glass of wine. Tonight, I'm attending the Opening Night party, so before revealing any of the completed show gardens, I just wanted to show some pictures of the building process. Tomorrow, I'll be back commenting the designs and plants of this year's show - after spending hours on the site watching them emerge from the plastic covered, grey concrete floor, I feel like I really know them in detail...

Sawdust arriving to our booth; tons and tons of it, all to be shoveled by hand to the right locations...

The sawdust, pathways and main trees are in place... way to go. 

Other guys built a small hut/green house; cute, still difficult to say where this is going...

These guys lifted some serious tree stumps into their show garden... wonder how it will come out?

Our natural stone bird bath arriving, it weighs about half a tonne...

Arranging the bird bath in right place is not the lightest task to do.

 Train of fresh, young bulbs and perennials, all to be "sacrificed" on the show garden altar... 

These guys decided to underplant their magnificent, 150-year old Japanese maple with ...pink tulips??

Our plants, most of the native to the Pacific Northwest, starting to arrive. Now just some black mulch on the sawdust, and then the planting starts. I'll be back tomorrow...

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Problematic black pussywillows

Sooty catkins of black pussy willow, Salix melanostachys.

I was trying to find more information about black pussywillows, but was blocked by my browser for "adult content"... which is a completely reverse situation experienced by all those people searching the Internet for "naked ladies next door" who land on my blog post about Colchicums, showing pictures of prudish looking pink flowers. What a surprise it must be for them... I need to choose my blog post titles a bit more carefully, I guess.

Anyway, I spotted these black pussywillows at the Washington Park Arboretum. Originally from Japan, they are rare and unusual, which is reason enough to make them desirable for many gardeners. I've seen them in recommended plant lists of many publications during the last couple of years; another reason for that might be that they fit into the garden trend of all things black, from flowers, planters to furniture and built structures.

The small catkins of black pussywillows look quite exquisite combined with other early spring bloomers like witch-hazels, winter honeysuckles and Cornelian cherries. Like many other flowers and plants called black, the scales of their catkins are actually very dark purple. As they age, their anthers turn from brick-red to yellow, which makes a dramatic contrast with the sooty scales. Just like other black plants and flowers, black catkins disappear almost completely into a dark background, so a back-lit position is needed for them to come to their right.

The black pussywillow is a plant that appeals to my appetite for the unusual and unexpected. But lacking the lustrous, glossy hair of their white colored cousins, these black scaly ones look a bit scorched, and it is easy to walk past thinking that the plant is damaged or diseased in some strange way. If I'm completely honest, like many other curiosities of the plant world, they do look best in close-up photos. Still, given the opportunity, I would happily add one to my garden, if then only to provide another discussion item for my gardening friends...

For those with similar browser problems, Arnold Arboretum provides an excellent little plant information document with details about growing black pussywillows.