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  • Robert Kingdom

The Artist and the Garden

The garden has long had an allure for artists. Probably the artist-garden connection that comes to mind for most art lovers is that of French Impressionist artist, Claude Monet, and the garden that he constructed and painted at his house in Giverney.

For me personally, I seem to recall over the years being more inspired by Monet's creative genius in the garden than by his paintings themselves (although I do love them too). Monet created his garden so that he could paint his garden to provide subject matter and inspiration for his art but he also saw the garden itself as art and carefully arranged colours textures and forms as if each part was a canvas. The garden at Giverney also became a great solice in times of sadness and trial - providing respite from the ravages of a war-torn world towards the latter part of his life.

Several years ago, I delved into the world of some of the great garden designers of Europe and explored changes in garden design over the centuries. How interesting it was to learn about Sir Lancelot Capability Brown and to discover that some of the classic "British" landscapes I had assumed were naturally like that had actually been carefully crafted by Capability Brown - creating artificial lakes that appeared to be rivers, opening up special views of distant church spires and landforms and constructing "ancient" buildings to add drama, focal points and narrative. One of Britain's most popular gardeners and TV presenters, Monty Don, introduced me (not personally - although that would have been amazing) to many other garden designers and garden design styles. I loved the symmetry and beautiful patterns found in the tudor gardens but I think my favourite would be the rambling cottage gardens that parts of the UK are so famous for. I can't quite put my finger on what it is that makes me admire them so much but I do love the cozy feel they offer - as though you are being embraced by the garden with its overhanging boughs, climbing, twisting vines, stones walls and beds packed full of flowers of all kinds. Maybe I did just put my finger on it! It reminds me of what I love about the interiors of certain houses - I like that warm embrace that some places give, with rich-dark timbers, beautifully upholstered antique furniture, glowing lamps, ticking clocks and fine china. But I'd better return to the garden and save the interior design side of things for another time!

I had the privilege of attending the Capernwray Bible School back in 2007-08 at Capernwray Hall in Carnforth, Lancashire.

The main building was a 19th century Gothic-Revival hall or "castle" as most described it. The hall was surrounded by farmland but closer to the buildings were very beautiful, well-kept gardens that had the cottage garden vibe (which were further enhanced by the rolling green hills in the distance. When the weather allowed, most students preferred to be outdoors - drinking in the natural beauty. Somehow God seemed all the nearer thanks to the gardens. And from a biblical perspective that makes sense because it was in the garden where God would walk with our first parents. The rest of the world at that time - though beautiful in its own way - was untamed. The Scriptures tell us that God planted the garden and then instructed Adam and Eve to tend it.

A garden speaks of order, productivity and creativity. God was the very first landscape designer and our first parents followed suit. Though they were cast out of the garden because of their rebellion, Adam and Eve carried on the gardener's role - transforming their little patch of thorn infested wilderness into something more orderly, productive and I'm guessing - creative - despite the hardships they would have to endure in the process. They and their children planted crops, grew produce and tended flocks. The memory of that very first garden would be lived out with each subsequent generation - whether consciously or subconsciously - as a reminder of what was lost and as a reminder of what was yet to come. "The Garden" has continued to be a sacred space for many people - though most stop short of worshiping the Ultimate Gardener, and some preferring to worship the garden itself.

It is interesting that human life began in a garden and new, resurrection life began also in a garden - when the Lord Jesus rose triumphant over death, stepping out of the Garden Tomb in which His body had been laid. The prophets foretold of a time when the whole earth will one day become a garden - when the Creator of the world returns to set up His kingdom upon the earth and waters flow in the desert - bringing new life wherever they flow. And the Apostle John in His vision (as laid out in the book of Revelation) saw a New Heavens, a New Earth and a New Jerusalem. Within that Holy City flows a river - clear as crystal and on its banks grow the Tree of Life whose leaves are for the healing of the nations. God's ultimate plan for redeemed humanity is that we dwell with Him once again in His Garden - but this time expanded, improved and with the addition of a sparkling, great city where nature and architecture dance flawlessly in perfect harmony. The garden will always be a special meeting place between God and His children.

A couple of years ago I got into gardening for myself in a much bigger way than I had any time before. A neighbour at the time was an avid gardener and she could see that I was finding it a challenge to get all my jobs done around the garden given my busy workload with school teaching. She stepped in and helped me "tame the wilderness" and it wasn't long before I caught the "gardening bug". I became on first-name terms with the local nursery staff as my collection of plants grew. Despite still renting the house I'm in I wanted to make the garden more of a sacred place and bit-by-bit it became more of a sanctuary for me and opened up a further opportunity to express and explore my creativity. It proved to be a huge blessing when the lockdowns in Melbourne were piled on us and I was dealing with my own personal health crisis. To be able to just step outside and get engrossed in each new shoot and flower - to see fresh signs of growth and patches of earth being filled brought a sense of wonder into my life. It was a beautiful distraction from the hurts of life and God wooed me to Himself each day through my visits to the garden.

My garden is still a bit shabby (and the fences that have been deteriorating for many years don't help) and cannot be compared to the beauty of Monet's garden at Giverney but it's a start. Much of my joy comes from the blooms themselves - even if the whole scene isn't as lush and tidy as I would like. To see (and smell) a new rose that has just opened or to wait for several days for a plump lotus flower bud to burst open brings more than its fair share of pleasure for me.

As an artist, I'm now taking a page out of Monet's book and growing my own inspiration. Whereas before, I was capturing places I would need to travel to, now I have an abundance of subject-matter at my doorstep. Every time I see the light illuminating a flower or a new bud opens up I will grab my iPhone and take some snaps to add to my fast growing collection of botanical images. It's so wonderful to have the technology to be able to capture such things before they swiftly pass. The various personalities that make up our gardens (whether outdoors or indoors) cry out to the artist to capture them. Form, colour, texture, tone, symettry and pattern - are all there in abundance. We are looking at artworks of the Divine and can learn so much for our own designs and creations by studying and capturing them. And it would be hard to find a person that didn't feel some kind of connection to artworks that tell of the beauty of the garden and its inhabitants.

May I encourage you to look at your garden with fresh, artistic eyes - looking for the fingerprint of the Divine? How you may it become for you a source of inspiration and a place for meditating on the goodness and artistry of our Maker? Perhaps you don't have a garden; even indoor plants or as my older sister is discovering - aquascaping a fish tank to make it appear as a country scene - or simply putting a bunch of flowers in a beautiful vase can lift the soul to more heavenly places. May the natural beauty - in whatever form it takes in and around your home - remind you that God is preparing a Garden such as no eye has seen and no mind can conceive for His children. No matter how bad things get on this tired, weary earth - we have the assurance of life with God - a life of neverending beauty, peace and joy where all shall flourish and grow.

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