The first months of the pandemic in 2020 activated a lot of distress and anxiety for me. It was hard to imagine that there had ever been calm and happiness in my world. Therefore, memories of those good periods took on a deeper significance. I reached back to memories of early times in my life when I felt happy and content. Like the times spent visiting my Scottish grandmother and her wild garden of flowers and vegetables and experiencing with her love and kindness. But that garden. What was it about that garden that brought me such joy?
Nanny’s garden was a refuge for me. In my flawed recall, it was never winter there. My family lived in downtown Toronto in flats or apartments where we had no access to a personal greenspace or a garden.
But there on the edge of Toronto, on a 1/4 acre that backed onto a ravine, my grandmother grew a small market garden with a crop of rhubarb. She grew other vegetables for the family along with lots of old fashioned perennial flowers such as lilies, iris, hollyhock, asters, and sweet william. This idyllic Eden included 2 pear trees, a cherry tree, a peach tree and a grape arbor that was my child-sized outdoor playroom. Included were bushes loaded with red and black currants and gooseberries from which Nanny made jams and jellies for us all.
In was in that garden that I climbed trees, tasted fruit from the vines and bushes and felt happy to be immersed by nature. That connection to Nature has never left me.
Our home in Bear River has become a kind of extension of Nanny’s garden. Only now I don’t have to take 2 streetcars for 45 min across the city to get here.
I don’t have my grandmother’s green thumb. I’ve not managed to ‘tame’ the wild around me for which the birds and wildlife are thankful. But I do grow some pretty flowers and I grow a modest vegetable garden every summer. And now I can interpret my feelings of contentment and happiness about the garden with paint. How fantastic is that?
I even have plant offspring from the original iris and peonies that grew in Nanny’s garden!
So while every flower painting has its genesis with my Grandmother and/or Mother, for this particular collage, I combined a selection of flowers that I remember from Nanny’s garden. I treated it more like an illustration because the memories of her garden seem intertwined with the fairy tales that were read to me in those years.
I worked on this painting/collage in 2021. My ‘paint’ for this artwork came from former paintings on paper – cut and collaged to a painted birch board. I loved working with the tactile pieces. The bonus to working with collage is the ability to move around pieces and to try out different layouts before making the final glueing decision. In that way there is more flexibility than directly painting.
This artwork was created in the coldest, snowiest months. So in some ways, like my memories of Nanny’s garden, it’s never winter inside my studio either.
The following video is a glimpse for you of placing the pieces before the final glueing. It’s sped up by 1600% and this was the final placement.
You can see a photo to the left hand side of the collage. It depicts a a fibre art piece of a garden. I used it as reference to remind myself to place the pieces on a diagonal, as if the wind were blowing.
After writing this, I remembered breakfast at Nanny’s house. It was warm milk in a bowl with squares of white bread, crusts cut off, and sprinkled with sugar. It tasted fabulous. I never had it anywhere else. Indeed, with a child’s logic, I believed it only existed at Nanny’s.