My garden began after I had just finished building my house/studio/barn. The land borders open space with a beautiful backdrop of the mountains, but nothing was on my land except a field of wild grasses. I decided to have a birthday/housewarming party to celebrate. The invitation read, “If you must bring a present, perennials preferred!” My friends came with plants of all kinds, some purchased like a special rose bush but most from their own gardens. One person brought me two trees. The day they were delivered, my boyfriend was welding a fence to go around the property while I was talking to my friend about where to put his gift of the trees. My boyfriend was so disturbed, he would take a section of fence and place it forcefully in the ground between us. We kept moving down the property line to resume our conversation. Now, I look out on our garden and see the flowers and plants that all my friends gifted and of course the two trees, a Hawthorne and a Mountain Ash that have grown up through all. Since then the garden has been like a large installation/earthwork for me. It is a true collaboration with nature. You never know what is going to happen, which plants will thrive and what trials you have to help them through. Every year I tackle different areas, like a patchwork quilt of bare land to embroider with colorful flowers, always adding texture with a variety of plants and rocks.
One year, I designed a lap pool and made the tiles- cobalt blue with gold metallic suns for one side of the pool, silver crescent moons for the other side and silver stars to line the bottom of the pool. Now the trees and bushes have grown in so that when you swim it has the effect of being in a secluded oasis.
Last summer, we made a one hundred and twenty five foot mural on a concrete wall on one side of our garden. Some neighbors bought the adjacent lot and put up a giant concrete wall. At first I was so distraught because the gorgeous open space view was compromised. Then the neighbors agreed to put in some open areas and a moon gate (round hole in the wall). I decided I could either be sad about the wall or I could see it as a gift, as a blank slate to create a mural. I really wanted to make a cobalt blue concrete wall with abalone shells stuck in it. So, I set about doing the research. I found the cobalt pigment and the abalone at an abalone farm in British Columbia. It arrived in large boxes which when opened let out an awful fish stench. We began smashing them into smaller pieces. The kids used rubber mallets and we all worked together on large drop cloths in the driveway. First we put the pieces into a rock tumbler, but it took forever. Then one day, a friend came over with a cement mixer. I laughed, but we threw the shards inside and they polished themselves perfectly just using water and their own grit. A few nights we forgot to turn off the mixer and they tumbled all through the night. The poor neighbors! Then began the process of sorting. We put them in trash cans according to size and shape. We saved the long curved edges(to make a moon) and the kids collected the heart shaped shells. Somewhere in this whole process, our youngest son, Thomas Cole said he really wanted to build a secret garden like in the story. So, we added an addition onto the cement wall, a little enclosed Medieval garden with Asian lattice work metal grates for windows and a door with an antique Indian lock. Then I did some drawings of the designs and we set to work. A mason was hired to mix the pigment and spread the concrete on the wall while we all followed behind and stuck the shells into the concrete before it dried. We had to work fast. We put the heart shaped shells around the secret garden entrance. I wrote a Kabir poem around the inside of the secret garden in abalone shell letters. Other designs include a full moon, a tree, and the constellations Leo, Perseus, The Big Dipper, The Hearth and The Crown.
Another interesting part of the garden is the rocks. I have always loved rocks and wonder at all the amazing shapes and colors that rocks come in . I like placing rocks in a landscape like a composition for a painting- a snowflake obsidian next to a spotted Lungwort (Pulmonaria) or a giant pink quartz next to a flowering Catalpa Tree.
Water features include a stream with floating stones you walk across to reach the front door, numerous bird baths from Mexico (made of the old grinding bowls), a turtle pond, a lily pond, a lap pool, frog fountain, and a fountain set in a retaining wall that I made using bronze casts of my family’s hands. I cast both my kid’s hands when they were only one week old. The water starts in my older son’s hand and trickles down through increasingly larger hands into the basin at the bottom.There are different levels or terraces to this garden since it is set in the foothills of Boulder. Terraced gardens lead up to an upper meditation terrace, and to a mini-theater terrace complete with a rock chair and stone benches flanked with large boulders creating a stage. One boulder has a hole drilled into it which the kids use to stick their puppets through. On the lower lawn is a carved wooden Indian swing that is wrapped with silver foil, a maypole (that was used for kid’s birthday parties in May), a large flat boulder with a pile of round river rocks on it to make rock sculptures on the lawn, a sand pile with large boulders to jump off of. Connecting all these areas are stepping stones made of old grinding wheels from China. They add an element of stability and integrity to an otherworldly land.
Gardening is a way for me to be a part of the magic process of life- a way to experience the growing cycles of the natural world. When you pour your heart and soul into a piece of land, it can’t help but become a sacred space. You become vulnerable by being open to the mystery and full of a sense of wonder. For many years, I have been on garden and studio tours in Boulder, but somehow, I am always surprised by the most impassioned response to the garden. People come up to me with tears in their eyes, saying how overwhelmed they are by the love that is infused into the garden. And I was able to step back and really take in this magical creation. Sometimes to take the time to appreciate and enjoy the results of all the hard work and dedication is a difficult step for garden addicts and workaholics alike!
I know this garden will always be a source of joy and an ever-evolving experiment for new ideas. I love the process, the way whatever you choose to do externally somehow reflects your inner workings. So, what does the future hold? Of course, there are dreams: a stone mosaic labyrinth embedded in the driveway, a grotto lined with leftover abalone shells, a deck to roll a bed out under the stars and whatever else manifests through dreams and hard work as time goes on…
Rebecca DiDomenicoIt took the entire spring and most of the summer to complete. Friends would come by, shake their heads and say, “I thought you were crazy before, but now it is clear!” We were stained blue and tired at the end of every day but the process of building something together gave us a great sense of belonging. The kids grew up playing and reading in the secret garden. Now I have tea in the morning and just marvel at the different flowers in bloom against the sparkling blue wall. There is a small fountain with a spouting frog in one corner. I also use cocoa mulch, so the garden smells like chocolate- a feast for all the senses.