When you take a flower in your hand and really look at it, it’s your world for the moment. I want to give that world to someone else. (Georgia O’Keeffe)
Inspired by my friends’ gardens in Mindo Ecuador, this evolving make-believe garden of acrylic paint has grown one flower at a time! Gingers and heliconias make excellent subject matter for botanical studies, but it’s been about ten years since I painted the lovely queen of the night.
Capturing the essence of the elegant datura (brugmansia) raised the bar and challenged me to transport the viewer into the mysteries of a nocturnal cloud-forest scene. Datura, a bewitching queen of the evening, opens at dusk and releases her intoxicating fragrance throughout the night. A dangerous hallucinogen, it is used by shamans in ayahuasca ceremonies and is also abused by criminals to drug unsuspecting victims. Devoted gardeners cultivate it for the beauty of its flowers and the delicate lemony aroma.
The daturas preside over shade loving plants, and each compliments the other. Deep crimson king’s torch gingers dig their toes into the cool soil and stretch skyward toward the datura. Flaming-orange heliconias squeeze between available gaps and fill in the middle ground. At night, I sometimes wonder what creature might be lurking in the shadows only a few feet away!
Life-giving rains prompt the datura into a blooming frenzy, and a succession of long pendulous flowers extends the blooming period for about a week; the plant rests, sometimes briefly, until rains prompt another explosion of flowers! To best capture the upper tier of the gardens, my best choice was to bring the blossoms inside when they opened at dusk, and I worked late into the night!
The true challenge was to capture the wildness of the Jack-in-the Beanstalk tropical gardens! The image below represents botanical accuracy, though the flowers seem quite tame and manageable!
Acrylics are more forgiving than watercolors; adding that first application of dark background was like paddling down a new stream in the dark of the moon! I wasn’t quite sure where I was going, but the effect below seemed too flat, as if the flowers were suspended above a blue panel.
I’ve often urged students to master the study of one flower before tackling a complicated design. As Georgia O’Keeffe noted, that flower becomes her world for a moment. One flower at a time; one leaf at a time; one wash at a time, the pretend gardens weaned from crisp ‘scientific’ study into a nocturnal scene cloaked with layers of mystery.
Photographing the darker version has been difficult. Bright lights wash out the deep colors and alter the greens; diffused light makes it too dark, and the colors don’t stay true. The darker version best illustrates an actual night garden.
(If only I could share the delicate aroma of the datura as well!) What insects might frequent this night garden; suggestions, anyone?
I’ve enjoyed sharing the world of the night garden with you. It’s time to put away the gardening tools and take a break!
Thanks for stopping by the gardens! Mint juleps, anyone? Z