By Maggie Blackwell
for the Salisbury Post
A garden is a wide-open palette for the gardener. It can be as large or as small as one wants and is limited only by the size of the land and the gardener’s time to tend it well. It can be formal or wild, flowers or vegetables. The outcome is truly up to the person who plans and tends it.
Garden art is an open palette as well. When one paints a picture, he is limited by the size of the canvas and the two dimensions available. Garden art can be large or small, traditional or zany, polished or rustic. Art in the garden gives us the opportunity to express ourselves in the great outdoors.
Traditional garden art lends a more formal air to the garden and comes in the form of fountains, statuary, and pottery. Eclectic garden art surely has more personality and lends a real signature to the garden.
One of the kings of eclectic garden art ó who, for his own quirky reasons, does not wish to be identified by name ó lives in the heart of Salisbury. If you drive down Lee Street, you can see some of his treasures: a garden gate built from garden tools, two obelisks crowned with wheelbarrows, and a delightful display of colored paintbrushes dangling from his ancient crape myrtles. This gardener has no fear of expressing himself, and his joy in expression shows in his creations. They are not bound by fear or convention.
Paulette Gobble lives on Leonard Road in Rowan County. A Master Gardener, Gobble delights in her time in the garden. The garden really flourished when her mother-in-law moved in.
“The garden gave me a break when I was caring for my mother-in-law,” she says. “And it gave her an outlet, too. She loved to walk on the porch or sit in the chair and watch me work.”
Gobble enjoys construction and uses her own power tools to produce her creations. Her garden art is lighthearted and whimsical. A small greenhouse is filled with nests, moss and lifelike birds. A rustic birdhouse is constructed from castoff hardware, collected as she and her husband renovated their farmhouse. Her garden also sports a gate constructed from garden tools, although her gate is not at all like the one on Lee Street. In fact, it’s unlikely that any two of these gates could be alike.
For those who like things to move in the garden, Ruddy Chambers of Lowder Road has just the thing. Chambers builds delightful copper sculptures that move with the slightest breeze.
“I was fishing with a buddy in 1999, and he told me I needed to go to Grove Park Inn in Asheville and see the work of a fellow up there. My buddy said it was something I could do, myself. I went to see what he was talking about. The stuff was great. I came home and figured out how I could make something similar, but with my own stamp on it.”
The sculptures consist of copper “leaves” welded to a metal sleeve. The sleeve rests over a pole that is set into the ground. As the wind blows, the leaves catch the wind and spin. The copper can be shiny, brown, or have a green patina.
“I just tell folks if they want that patina to spray the copper with a little Miracle-Gro,” Chambers says. “It turns it right away.”
Copper of a different sort is the material for the Thai “spirit houses” found at Green Goat Gallery in Spencer. The little houses are woven from copper wire by artist Kate Groth.
She says of her artwork: “Spirit houses provide punctuation in the rhythm of life, marking entrance and exit, beginning and ending of the day. They adorn gardens, courtyards, balconies, shops, businesses, and roadsides. They are placed level with or higher than the owners’ eyes and are placed facing northeast or southeast. The shadows of the main building never fall on the spirit houses.” After being left outdoors, the copper takes on the lovely green patina that shows its age and its relationship with nature.The Green Goat also offers a small fire pit, welded with zany cutouts that promise flickering designs on the patio in the night. Many new pieces offer versatility and can be used outdoors or in.
No one in Rowan County can mention garden art without recognizing the creativity of Julie Apone, who owns Carolina Lily on Kern Carlton Road. Apone’s whimsical gardens attract visitors from all over these parts, and folks just love to use her ideas.
From the castoff china plates lining her flowerbeds to the cheerful birdies atop her fence posts to her rusted Garden Lady sculpture, Apone adds touches of this and that to her gardens in the same way that a talented baker carefully decorates a cake. The end product is always breathtaking.
“That’s what gardens are all about ówhimsy,” she says. “Garden art softens the garden in the winter when the flowers can’t be the focal point. And … it might attract fairies ó you never know!”
Maggie Blackwell is a freelance writer who lives in Salisbury.