I get such joy from working in the garden, I often wonder, “Why doesn’t everyone want to do this?”
Think about it. People love a garden. They drive for miles to visit parks so that they can enjoy the luscious green and sniff that fresh air. Botanical gardens in nearly every major city and plenty of smaller ones attract thousands of visitors each year yearning to gaze upon the beauty of the flowers. (Millions on the days I’m there!) People are instant friends with vegetable gardeners in their offices who bring in baskets of their bounty to share. (“Zucchini anyone?”) They buy gardening magazines by the bazillions. They’ll slow down as they drive by to admire the gardens they pass on the way to work.
Cutting Tulips in the Bumblebee Garden – April 2008
And although most folks dutifully march outside to mow the lawn on Saturdays and maybe even do a bit of weed whacking to keep the home owners’ association Nazis at bay, few people actually rush home from work to deadhead their dahlias and turn their compost. I’m talking about creating the kind of garden that makes people want to linger. At least not the people that I know.
So why don’t more people actually create their own oases of beauty at home?
Lettuce and Veggies at Bumblebee – April 2008
When visitors see Bumblebee the first thing most people usually ask is, “How much time does all this take?” (I suspect they’re also wondering, “How much does she spend on this gardening hobby of hers?”)
I used to believe one of the biggest hurdles for most people is time. The desire is there, but most folks just can’t seem to work it into their schedules because we’re just too darned busy working to buy things. After all, the time gurus tell us that as Americans, in particular, we are possession rich and time poor.
Climbing Roses at Bumblebee – April 2008
But wait a minute. Think about this little nugget from the 2006 Time Use Survey conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
On an average day, nearly every American age 15 and older–a whopping 95%–had several hours of leisure activity. Men had 5.7 hours of leisure time and women had 4.9 hours of leisure time. (I won’t even go into that glaring disparity right now.) That’s every single day. But for both men and women, half of that leisure time activity was spent watching television!
That means that most U.S. men and women are spending close to three hours of time watching television every single day!
Well, that explains it. Or at least part of it.
Sure, not everyone is as hepped up to sweat in the sun while ruining their manicure as I am. And not everyone has the space to garden. Some people are not able to manage the physical demands of gardening. A whole lot of people have no idea even how to get started since most of us no longer live near the grandparents, great grandparents, aunts and uncles who were traditionally our garden mentors. And I recognize that gardening on a grand scale can be costly, although there are plenty of budget alternatives to beautify the yard.
But for quite a lot of people, it’s mostly a matter of preferring to watch “American Idol” or “Dancing With the Stars.” Ultimately, it seems, Americans are making choices to tune out rather than to engage and create beauty right outside their own backdoors.
Sadly for them, these choices won’t amount to much at the end of their days. Our lives are defined by the choices we make. Some of us will know all the winning strategies to be the “Survivor.” And some of us will have lovely gardens, islands of peace, to share with friends and loved ones.
After reading about it on the Ellis Hollow blog, I decided on a whim to take an online class on botanical drawing through Cornell University.
Given that I have never before expressed (out loud anyway) the desire to draw or paint, it rather took some folks by surprise when I finally admitted to family and friends why I was stocking up on drawing pencils, pads and books on drawing.
My husband’s reaction was: “WHAT?”
My son’s reaction was: “You’re just like your mother!”
My friend Angela’s reaction was: “Why botanical drawing?”
So, to them I’ll answer:
To my husband: [Carefully enunciating here] “An…online…botanical…drawing…class.”
To my son: “Not exactly what I was aiming for, but I can see why you would say that.”
To my friend Angela: “What else would I draw?”
Here’s what I have learned in one week.
First, I have learned to never again say “I’m not an artist.”
No, it’s not that I think I’ve transformed overnight into Marie Cassatt with the help of one week of an online course. Rather, it’s that saying the words “I’m not an artist” is an excuse not to try to improve what skills I can.
On the other hand, given that I’ve reached the age of <<bleep>> without drawing much more than some stick figures here and there and poking fun at myself with a series of drawings on my garden blog, I don’t expect to discover my inner Vermeer. But perhaps I can learn to pay better attention to the details of the natural world around me, render them with enough skill to be able to put it to practical use, and—hey—why not just enjoy slowing down and communing with nature in a way that doesn’t require gloves. a shovel and a shower afterward?
The second thing I’ve learned this week is that the hardest part of learning to draw—so far—has been getting started. I have dedicated the small secretary desk by my bed as my drawing “studio” and filled all the little cubbies with pencils, erasers and inks. I have a nice basket on the floor by the desk where I keep my pads and books on botanical drawing. That was the easy part.
The very hardest part was facing the sprig of Winter King Hawthorn and the empty sheet of paper with a pencil in my hand. OMG. I am taking an online course so I can turn in stick figures and humiliate myself!
“Stop it!!!” (Mental head slap.)
I finally took a deep breath and started with the stems. Big stems. Slim stems. Slimmer stems. Even slimmer stems on the slimmer stems. Did you know there are little tiny white places on brown stems? And some little darker brown spots? And did you know that when the stem meets the tiny little orange-red berry on the Winter King Hawthorn that there is an ever-so-slight indentation?
I don’t believe I’ve ever really looked that closely—or for that long—before. I’ve been too busy pulling the weeds under the tree, I suppose.
But as I looked at the berries, I see that they aren’t just ORANGE. They are hues of orange that can be drawn to suggest the shading, circular shape and even shininess of the berry.
Capturing all this newfound insight with a pencil is not so very easy, however. This does not come naturally to me.
But as I was browsing through the Barnes & Noble for the last of the recommended texts I needed, a rather obvious revelation came to me. The reason people write and publish books on drawing and other arts is because all these fabulous techniques don’t come naturally to most people. And that’s why they have whole classes devoted to learning different art techniques. So you can learn to do it!
Just like I had to take years and years of piano lessons and spend hours and hours of time practicing before I could call myself a pianist, people spend many years at training and practice to become artists! No one (okay, hardly anyone) just sits down at the piano for the first time knowing how to play. Most people don’t just pick up a pencil and create a fabulous drawing their first try.
Isn’t it funny how the most obvious things can be the last things that you understand?