Where are my manners! I haven’t properly introduced myself.
I am a small business owner and freelance writer, a wife, a mother, a nana, a woman who has dear friends, and a colorist. Horti-colorist, if we’re being specific. And yes, I made that up.
Recently, one of my Rant partners asked me to explain the “big picture” behind my color practice that lives on Instagram (@gardenercook). It’s simple, really. Five years ago, my life blew up. It wasn’t pretty. But I think we all know enough about loss and stress to connect on some level without knowing the details. It’s the human condition. So, maybe not so simple.
And then my dad died.
Around that time, as a way to distract myself from heartache, I began noodling with watercolor trying to match the colors of the plants in my garden. For the record, I am not a watercolor painter. My fascination is color. Which isn’t surprising. Color is seductive. It is one of nature’s most potent tools for capturing the attention of all living creatures. Which is to say, we are wired for color.
Seeing color in the garden
My daily practice, seeing color in the garden, boils down to making time to see and record what I’m seeing: Pick a plant (or stone or shell) then mix paints to match the hues in the plant (or stone or shell). In the 4 ½+ years since I began, the practice has become essential, a meditative exercise that quiets my mind even on days when my clumsy attempts fall short of depicting what nature does so elegantly.
The best part of a daily practice is its constancy and forgiveness. There’s always tomorrow, and the day after that. And, if we’re lucky, the one after that. And so on. Over time, I’ve learned to recognize and accept my own cycles of attention. Wonder and boredom are strange bedfellows. I’m learning to be comfortable with wherever I land on any given day.
It sounds dangerously close to declaring that
“I hear voices,” but I really do see more than I used to. Every park, garden, beach, and the occasional parking lot throughout the year hold wonder for me, and I’m constantly gathering bits to bring home and study. A blossom, sticks and stones, dried leaves… it’s all fodder for a color study. I’m positively delighted when others bring me things “to paint.” I take this as an indication that they too, are beginning to see more.
To the garden
My garden is the lens through which I view the world. I am a gardener; it is the skin I inhabit. Tending my beds and borders grounds me, and, if the birds don’t get them first, I get berries. Caring for a plot of land throughout the year also underscores the notion that I am a part of nature, not separate. My color studies have introduced another layer of tending.
Relatively speaking, a garden is a gentle proving ground for encountering love, (and no small helping of lust!), heartbreak, loss, death, and plenty of tedium – excellent training for navigating life, grief, and let’s not forget that pesky pandemic. Though not necessarily any easier, my practice has become second nature—a virtuous cycle that prompts me to slow down, focus, and cultivate awareness.
Foraging for color hasn’t made me into a watercolor artist, but it has taught me to see the world more expansively and surprisingly, with more compassion. So much so that I wrote a book about color and plants and paying attention.