Artists have always been drawn to a beautiful garden. It’s easy to see why, especially at this time of year when flowers are beginning to bloom and the outdoor world is lush and green.
Here’s an opportunity to view the kinds of landscapes that inspire artists to pick up their paint brushes. Thanks to the women of The Garden Club of Dayton, some of the Miami Valley’s most spectacular gardens will be open to the public Saturday, June 8. The club’s inaugural walking tour, Garden Gems, will lead visitors on garden paths through the grounds of five Kettering and Oakwood homes. Allyson Danis is chairing the project.
“Gardens are a great topic in relation to art,” says the DAI’s chief curator Jerry Smith. “Gardens are areas capable of exciting the imagination. They can be filled with explosions of color and minute and fascinating details.” Gardens, he adds, are areas of controlled nature, separate from untamed nature. “They come in various styles and sizes and have provided inspiration to artists for centuries.”
You’ll see that variety in the local gardens slated to be on show: one focuses on native and pollinator plants, another features 135 maple trees tapped annually. There are garden sculptures, a greenhouse, a pagoda and a fish pond. On the grounds of one of the homes, you’ll encounter a cascading waterfall. Another features a fairy house nestled in the woods that’s been constructed by the owners from a felled tree.
For Lindsey Clark, a longtime member of the Garden Club, gardening is painting a visual palette with plants. “I hope to create rhythms with different planting beds,” says the Oakwood woman. “It’s like an outside concert that uplifts and energizes me. Being outside in nature is therapeutic. It’s educational living with my gardening successes and failures.”
Where the money goes
Monies raised from the June tour will be used to beautify public spaces in our community. The historic organization (GCD) was founded in 1922 by Katharine Houk Talbott and a group of her gardening friends. In 1926, the club was invited to become the fifth member of the Garden Club of America. The mission is educational: “to stimulate knowledge and love of gardening; to aid in the protection of native trees, plants, birds and other creatures and to encourage historic preservation, civic planting and the general knowledge of nature.”
Over the years the club has made lasting contributions to Dayton and the Miami Valley. Members encouraged the planting of victory gardens during WWII, helped create Cox Arboretum, supported the River Corridor Project, funded the Marie Aull Nature Trail at Wegerzyn Garden Center and helped found MetroParks. “We’ve planted trees in Old North Dayton, helped Kiser School plant a school garden, revitalized Flood Park on Valley Street, and assisted with the cleanup of Pineview Park in west Dayton,” says club member Susan Sauer, chair of the Garden History and Design Committee.
Now the group’s 70 members are excited about the prospect of a 2022 Centennial project — working with MetroParks’ Riverfront Project to redevelop Sunrise Park, the park on the west side of the river that runs from Third Street to the Dayton Art Institute. “The GCD and MetroParks see development as a way to bring both sides of the river together,” Sauer explains. “Our Centennial celebration in 2022 will also include special events, speakers, garden tours and more.”
Art in history
Smith says when you consider the importance gardens have played throughout human culture, it isn’t at all surprising that images of gardens appear regularly in art.
“Gardens in art date back to the biblical story of Adam and Eve and the Hanging Gardens of Babylon,” says Smith. “They are found in Egyptian tomb reliefs, painted on the walls of luxury homes in Pompeii. Louis XIV built remarkable gardens at Versailles to demonstrate his wealth and power. In America following the Civil War gardening became increasingly popular. Nurseries were opened and seed companies grew alongside the publications of gardening manuals and magazine stories about the pleasures of gardening.”
Three works by Monet act as centerpieces for the DAI’s newest Focus exhibit, “Monet and Impressionism.”
“Monet’s highly planned and cultivated garden in Giverny was the site of some of the most popular paintings ever made and includes Dayton Art Institute’s own ‘Waterlilies’ from 1903,” says Smith. “His garden proved a source of continuous inspiration for Monet and for many other artists.”
Gardens, he adds, are areas that suggest leisure and time away from distractions of everyday life. “The ability to relax and enjoy a garden grew with the expansion of the middle class in Europe,” Smith says. “Not surprisingly, art collectors want to bring images of beautiful, peaceful gardens into their homes.”