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Green Acre #60: Making Art in the Garden

These sticks are place holders for flowers to come. Just think of them as an art project. / Photo by Stephanie Cavanaugh.

I’VE BEEN LIMPING around Capitol Hill in Washington feeling sad for myself; my hip replacement won’t happen until September. Today I’m saying I fell off the trapeze as explanation for the cane. Another day, another story, anything but aging joints.

Before I left the house I looked at my camera, my near-constant companion, sitting on the kitchen counter. Looked at it for a good 20 seconds or so, and then said, nah. Don’t feel like schlepping it and it’s gonna rain again and just don’t feel like it.

So of course I am stopped in my tracks by a fascinating collection of twigs painted in woozy stripes of purple and blue and Chinese red, massed—there were many—in a garden border behind a wrought-iron rail.

It’s a newish border, so the plants haven’t yet filled in the blanks, and though there are flowers, they are widely spaced, with the twigs massed in the blank spots, and I’m thinking—This is wonderful! And I’m also thinking, there are people in this neighborhood who would do this little twig thing so seriously, buying twigs of some exotic wood, and then looking at them this way and that, and then measuring off the distance between stripes and so forth . . . or hiring someone to do it for them.

But here is someone who took a bunch of twigs, painted them and stuck them in the earth and they . . . look like flowers.

So after I completed my hobble around Eastern Market and had written an elegy on various life complaints over a San Benedetto peach iced tea (delizioso!) at Radici, I went home, grabbed the camera and, because I’m in pain and it’s now getting late, hopped in the car and drove the two blocks back to the house with the sticks.

Illegally parking at the corner, and quickly snapping this way and that before looking up and, hellooooooooo.

There’s a young woman, with a billow of black hair, perched on the doorstep watching me. And I say, Oops, and explain that I’m writing this piece and I love the sticks and she says, “My mom did them and she’ll be so happy you like them. She’d like to meet you but she’s in the shower . . . then hopped up and skittered into the house, dragging Mom out in a flowered muumuu of sorts, with soaking wet hair dripping fetchingly on her shoulders and I say . . .

Why sticks?

“Because it was raining and raining,” she began. “And I was looking at these sticks I’d piled up for kindling and thinking I had some paint and also thinking about the neighbor’s daughter who was disappointed that I didn’t have pink flowers last year . . . ”

Which she still doesn’t. She now has a collection of sticks painted violet, blue and Chinese red amid a border of perennials, still in the, shall we say, subtle stage.

And I say, What I love is how they read as flowers!

She laughed. “A woman walking down the street the other day said, ‘Those are the most interesting flowers! What are they?’ And I told her, ‘They’re sticks.’

“If it keeps raining, I’ll make more,” she continued, adding this bit of wisdom: “No matter how unsuccessful an art project is, if there’s a lot of it, it looks great. “

Which is, I think, quite true.

Think about The Gates, the 2005 installation by Bulgarian artist Christo—7,503 saffron-color “gates” (more like flags)  planted in New York’s Central Park, fluttering a path. One gate is a gate. But thousands?


—Stephanie Cavanaugh

LittleBird Stephanie wanted to write about how Radici’s ladies’ room was out of toilet paper, but we wouldn’t let her. To read earlier columns—about gardening—you can type Green Acre into the Search box at the top of the page.

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