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Originally published March 17, 2012 at 7:01 PM | Page modified March 18, 2012 at 7:17 AM

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Be an artist in your own garden from the ground up

Plant Life columnist Valerie Easton says that with wind and words, paint and pans, we extend the art of the garden in the Northwest.

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Valerie Easton writes in her blog about gardens and the people who make them.
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WIND, RAIN, slugs, growth and decay keep your garden in a state of perpetual flux. Maybe that's why it's easier to be creative outdoors. It's freeing to know that a project will weather, fade or fall apart soon enough.

To love gardening you must learn to accept nature's ceaseless mutability. You need to exercise imagination and optimism as surely as your muscles. Awareness, patience and resilience are as important to your success as sharp clippers and a sturdy shovel.

When the garden has sunk this deeply into your bones, you're more than halfway to being an artist. Simply allow that creative impulse, usually focused on plants and dirt, to spill over into fashioning objects and setting a scene.

No wonder gardeners are inspired to glue a little moss onto a rotting wooden chair, handpaint vegetable-garden labels or try their hand at pebble mosaics.

"Folk art has always made me smile, so funky, beat-up old enamel pots and pans fill the bill," says Sharen Heath, whose enamelware garden in her Whidbey Island backyard was born of necessity. When she and her husband, Simon Frazer, moved from a house with a huge kitchen down the street to a smaller home, she had no place for her prized enamelware.

"When we down-squeezed, I didn't want to pack it away," she says of the collection assembled second hand over 35 years. Heath hatched the idea of moving rustic bookshelves beneath the eaves of a shed to hold the weatherproof dishes. The result is an outdoor dining room defined by colorful pots and pans. This is practical artistry because Heath pulls down a basin to collect weeds as she gardens or serves strawberry shortcake at summer picnics in the bowls hanging handily nearby.

If your creativity tends more toward the verbal than the visual, consider posting a poem or two in your front garden. Doug Trotter has crafted more than 80 poetry posts and installed them in gardens around Northeast Portland over the past few years (http://www.poetrypostspdx.com/). You know those clear, lidded boxes realtors use to display flyers in front of houses for sale? Trotter's poetry posts are a gussied up version, set on cedar posts, some with copper roofs to protect precious words. Seems like such a fine way to share your garden with friends and passers-by. I hope Seattle steps up to compete for the most poetry posts around town, despite Portland's impressive lead.

It's impossible to mention art and Portland without Nancy Goldman's exuberant gardening coming to mind. "When people visit my garden they always ask if I'm an artist, but I've never thought of myself that way," says Goldman. This is a woman whose uniquely personal garden is known as "Nancyland." "Nancified" has become a verb in Portland gardening circles. "It pretty much means more is more," she admits.

Goldman loves to use repurposed and unexpected objects in the garden, from high heels to old flour sifters. She collects shoes at estate sales and thrift shops, drills holes in the soles for drainage, plants them up and enjoys them as they slowly rot away. While some of the shoes last for years, Goldman advises staying away from sling-back pumps, which are dismal at containing soil.

When a friend discarded a pedestal sink, Goldman planted it with ferns and ajuga and set it out in the garden. "It's such an elegant sink, and already had drainage," says Goldman, who draws the line at featuring toilets.

It'll be worth a trip south to see Goldman's next project. She plans to create curved gabion walls of rock-filled wire. She'll "Nancify" them by tucking plastic animals in between the rocks, so you'll get a glimpse of tusk here and tail there poking between the stones.

"There are just so many possibilities," says Goldman, putting her finger on why we can't resist the urge to be artists in our own gardens.

Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer and author of "petal & twig." Check out her blog at www.valeaston.com.

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