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Green Acre #151: Don’t Read This

HAVE YOU ever done, or shall I say attempted, The Artist’s Way?

If you have any creative leaning or yearning, be it writing or gardening or painting or cooking, Julia Cameron’s guide to unblocking your imagination is an inspirational bomb. And this is coming from the least likely person to read an instruction manual or how-to book. Except diets, but that’s another story.

It’s not an easy path to follow, taking 12 weeks to complete, and few people, including me, finish on first attempt. There are even classes that you can take, hand-holding sessions to power you through.

I gave it a first stab shortly after the book was published in 1992, and quit midway through, at the week where you’re not allowed to read anything. NOTHING. I had no idea how addicted I was to reading until it was forbidden. Suddenly, gum wrappers were a temptation on the supermarket line, as were cereal boxes. Words irresistibly sucked at my eyes like vampires, and I furtively nibbled at them, feeling like such a cheat.

Then, in a eureka moment, I realized that when I stopped reading, I started seeing. Such were lessons learned.

This is a really long way to come around to the two elements, introduced within the first few pages of the book, that continue to nurture my creativity: Morning Pages and the Artist’s Date.

With Morning Pages you open a notebook, pour your coffee, pick up a pen, and just spill, writing non-stop for three full pages, about anything and everything that enters your brain. It’s cathartic. I have many volumes of mental detritus stacked on an office shelf.

The Artist’s Date is a single hour each week where you go off all by yourself to somewhere—anywhere, really—and just take in the space. In the beginning, this was peculiarly difficult, like an undeserved treat. Shouldn’t I be doing something more productive, I’d ask myself. A money-making activity perhaps? But as I wandered I realized this was refueling, fresh ideas were filling in the mental spaces emptied in those pages of writing.

Though no longer consistent with either practice, when mentally stalled, I still do one or the other. In this week’s case, despite the constant rain, my gardening brain was dried to a frizzle.

So, on Memorial Day off I trekked to the new exhibit at the US Botanic Garden, the greenhouse and gardens at the foot of the US Capitol. “Gardens Across America,” which opened this week and will run through October 1 of this year consists of 20 vignettes that represent the diversity and beauty of the more than 600 public gardens across the US.

Some are beautiful, others educational, some just there to make you smile. There’s the romance of Magnolia Plantation Garden in South Carolina; the pop-art bus from Sheboygan, Wisconsin’s Bookworm Gardens (gardens inspired by children’s books), and the carnivorous plants that represent Atlanta’s Botanical Gardens—both catnip for kids; and Tucson’s exuberantly colorful Barrio Garden, which highlights the mingling of cultures in their Botanical Gardens.

How magnificent it all is, against the shining backdrop of the Capitol dome.

Each setting is the size of a small city garden plot and offers plenty of ideas for such, though not necessarily the obvious ones, which is where the quiet state brought on by solo wandering comes in. Thoughts pop.

Look at that ultramarine blue on the walls of Tucson’s Barrio Garden, how the orange canna vibrates against it. Why not paint the house? Or perhaps a door?

Maybe a bridge could go over our little backyard pond, softly arched like the one in the Magnolia Garden, but Chinese red, not white, and shouldn’t there be moss hanging from the tree branches overhead?

Oh! Oh! That flamingo semi-topiary, a flower-studded pipe-and-wire frame in front of Ohio’s John Wolfe Palm House. There must be something in the garage, the attic, the basement that can be used to construct such a thing; put it next to the bridge and against the blue wall.

Or convince My Prince of this necessity.

Wandering into the National Garden, adjacent to the conservatory, the last of the roses still lure the nose. Perhaps they are sprayed with rose perfume, like that new-car spray used-auto dealers employ.   

Carting that thought home, I spritzed the window boxes outside the bedroom with Ben Dita Luz, the orange blossom scent Baby brought me from Spain, and a tango commenced between the powerful note of citrus and the softer notes of lavender and geranium frothing in the boxes. Really, one could have passed out in ecstasy.  

Instead, I had a hot dog and went to the pool.  

—Stephanie Cavanaugh

“Gardens Across America,” on display through October 1, 2019 at the US Botanic Garden, 100 Maryland Avenue SW, Washington DC. Free admission.

LittleBird “Stephanie Gardens” has the artist’s spirit if not the whole Artist’s Way.



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