30 in 30: Violet Vanda Orchid

Violet Vanda Orchids
Acrylic and Copper Leaf on Canvas
5″ X 7″

Under alternate lighting, the painting changes color

Under alternate lighting, the painting’s background changes color since it is copper metal leaf

Today I painted one of my all time favorite flowers, a rich blue-purple orchid. This one is a favorite for the depth of its color. I placed it on a copper background to take advantage of a secondary color scheme. The background changes color depending on the lighting, but I like how it contrasts with the deep violet.

Denver Botanical Garden's Tree of Orchids and Epiphytes

Denver Botanical Garden’s Tree of Orchids and Epiphytes

I love to garden.  This vanda orchid plant is in my orchid tree (a tree with many orchids planted in its branches). I have always wanted an tree filled with orchids ever since I saw a fabulous example at the Denver Botanical Garden. Theirs is a concrete structure festooned with air plants and orchids, but I saw the possibility of placing orchids in trees, and definitely wanted to plant one of my own.

My orchid tree is a magnolia tree that we were lucky to purchase with our home. It was already mature with fragrant white flowers the size of a bread plate. In its branches, I have grafted six different orchids of pink, white, purple, and magenta. The first orchid I planted on the tree is about 2 years along and has bloomed several times and gained a remarkable size. I saw its success and decided to add more orchids, but I want to be careful not to crowd the tree too much, so I have the six I mentioned for now. I place the draping orchids high and the upright orchids low. If you want to plant orchids in a tree, you need to check which climate zone you live in, which species of orchids can survive outside, and then consider water. Are you willing to water? Do you get enough rain? If you live in a rainy tropical or subtropical climate, the watering will often take care of itself and it may be easier than keeping them in pots. Simply tie the orchid to a tree branch using string or bird netting with a little puff of sphaganum moss around the roots to keep the roots wet between storms.

Magnolia Tree with the first of my orchids (not the same ones I just painted) grafted 2 years. It's larger now, and the roots encircle the tree branch.

Magnolia Tree with the first of my orchids (not the same ones I just painted) grafted 2 years ago. It’s larger now, and the roots encircle the tree branch.

They will quickly grow to anchor the plant on the tree and become free of maintenance, though if you are a doting plant parent, you could give them an occasional spray of orchid fertilizer. So far my orchids need nothing additional. They are getting everything they need in the trees. The colder climates might not be able to support outdoor orchids, but there might be a surprise species of cold-hardy orchid (A lot of them are bulbs, but you never know), or you might find a climbing vine or rose bush to give you a similar flowering tree effect. It’s nature’s original vertical gardening.

I have a couple of orchids on the trunk of a palm tree as well. I placed them on the side that gets shade in the hot afternoon sun, and they are also doing well.

Garden Planning in Photoshop, Gimp, etc…

I love to garden, and thought I would share my technique for planning the location of my plantings. I am very comfortable with Photoshop, but this would likely work with other graphic software too – anything that allows for layers.  Please realize I have massively scaled down the images so they fit the Internet’s optimized needs.  In reality, I can zoom in and see my yard plants very well!

Aerial Plan

Aerial plan of my garden made in Photoshop

Aerial plan of my garden made in Photoshop

Detail of my aerial plan of my garden made in Photoshop

Detail of my aerial plan of my garden made in Photoshop

  1. I made a grid in Photoshop using a combo of Google Maps Aerial View with measurements of the yard.  
    1. First I took my measuring tape and measured my yard.
    2. I pulled up my yard in satellite view in Google Maps. I used the PrtScn (Print Screen) Button to make a screenshot of my yard from the air courtesy of Google Maps.
    3. I figured out the scale of my new yard map. Some simple math on the maximum measurements of my yard indicated it would make the most sense to have a scale of 3 feet of real life yard = 1 inch in my Photoshop document.  I made sure all the areas of the yard were in proportion so that the grid would help me scale and position my plants. I turned on the grid view and adjusted the grid display using Edit > Preferences > Units & Rulers in the Photoshop menu so it would have lines every .33 in, this way I have one gridline at each foot of distance.
    4. I rotated and pasted the screenshot of the satellite view of my yard on the bottom layer of a new Photoshop document and scaled it until the gridlines were accurately measuring my yard. 
  2. I found photos of all the plants already in the yard (usually in bloom so I could coordinate their colors), and placed them in the yard after scaling them to the right size.  
    1. Every plant gets its own layer.
    2. I always scale to the mature size that I want to have them attain over time.
    3. If plants will be planted underneath a tree, I place their images on top of the tree so I can see them together. 
    4. Vines are usually represented by a photo of their flower repeated several times to equal the correct scaled length of a mature vine.
  3. I found photos of plants I already had in pots that I needed to put in the yard and scaled them. I named their layer with the name of the plant and the amount of sun they need. This way I knew if it is a shade plant or a full sun, or a partial, and I could more easily work them into the micro-climate they need in my yard plan.
  4.  Now if I have a blank spot, I can take various possible plants, scale them, and place them in the plan to see which one would look the nicest.
  5. Sometimes I get gifts of plants from my neighbors and friends and it takes a while to figure out where I want them.  I keep the plants I haven’t planted on the roof of my house in the plan so they don’t blend into the yard.  That way I can easily view them and decide which of the remaining plants should be put in a certain area. I group them into visual clumps sorted by sun needs.

The aerial approach isn’t enough visual planning for some areas.  Some plantings need layers that can only be seen from the side view, as in the case of my front privacy garden that is slowly taking the place of the preexisting hedges as they die (they are very old).  

Side-View Gardening Plan for a Smaller Section of my Yard

Side View Plan

Side View Gardening Plan

In these cases, I am working on smaller areas, so I can set a custom scale that is usually a little more generous (ie 1 feet = 1 inch).  I make sure to scale the height and width to mature growth.  I can arrange and rearrange to my heart’s content this way without traumatizing my plants, assuring the colors of foliage, their heights, and the rhythm of the overall garden works well for me. My mockup doesn’t have to look real, it just has to be good enough to give me an idea of what will be beautiful and more importantly, how much space each plant will need. When it is in Photoshop, I can see the grid lines and can measure the exact location of the hole I need to dig.  It’s usually adequate to work by comparison, planting it equidistant from other plants now that my yard is largely established, but for your earliest trees, that would be critical to be able to look at the scale map and measure the correct position of the hole. 

 

 

 

How to Imprint Concrete with Leaves and Flowers

I have had a lot of people ask about my cement sidewalks.  When we moved into our home a couple of years ago, the sidewalks were incorrectly slanted, so we repoured all the concrete, and of course, being an artist, I did not want the sidewalks to be plain.  I had seen a technique at Kauai’s Allerton Garden, and Denver Botanical Garden of using foliage to imprint the concrete.

Photos from the botanical gardens that inspired my sidewalk:

Kauai Allerton Botanical Sidewalk

Kauai Allerton Botanical Sidewalk

Kauai Allerton Botanical Sidewalk

Kauai Allerton Botanical Sidewalk

Denver Botanical Sidewalk

Denver Botanical Sidewalk

I set out to research how to do it.  There wasn’t much information out there.  I pretty much could only find vague references that told me to wait until the cement was firm enough to keep the imprint, but soft enough to accept the impression. When I told the cement crew about what I wanted to do, they were a little nervous at first, but quickly proved to be essential to the success of the process.  They were enthusiastic about the results since it is an affordable way to make sidewalks more decorative.

Here are the steps I took to make the imprinted sidewalk:

  1. Preplanning
    Planning where you want the various plant impressions is critical.  It turns out the cement cures quickly, so if you took time to cut plants, or even think too much about the design, it would dry too fast.  I used Photoshop to plan out the exact placement and amount of the various plant materials, but you could sketch it to scale using graph paper too. Make sure the pattern looks good from all viewing angles. Choose plants that can be pressed very flat for best results.  The best impressions for my cement were from ferns, ti leaves, hibiscus (! this one was surprising), palm fronds, and monstera. The ones that were hard to work with were heliconia flowers, torch ginger flowers, shower tree branches, and bird of paradise. I still got them to work, but they were difficult and not as beautiful in the final cement as the more easily flattened plants.

    Sidewalk Pre-Plan Example

    Sidewalk Pre-Plan Example

    Sidewalk Pre-Plan Example

    Sidewalk Pre-Plan Example

    Sidewalk Pre-Plan Example

    Sidewalk Pre-Plan Example

  2.   Cut the plants
    Count the number of leaves and flowers and tally them by type.  Have a list made up the night before.  Go to the florist for any plants you don’t have in the yard. The same day of the cement, I cut the plants about 2 hours prior.  I did have to go to the florist for the birds of paradise flowers the day before.  I kept them in a vase overnight, and added them to the stack of raw materials in the morning.

    Plants cut and ready to use

    Plants cut and ready to use

    Plants cut and ready to use

    Plants cut and ready to use

  3. Have large trowels on hand to press the plants into the cement.  Stage them near the site or ask to make sure your cement crew has them. large flat trowels will help press the plants into the cement.
  4. Pour the cement. Perform an initial smoothing. Let it set for a little while – this part is really dependent on the weather.  It cannot be soupy wet, but it can’t be too far set – watch it carefully. Mine took about 15 – 30 minutes to get firm enough to take an imprint if I recall correctly.Then it was “go time”.
  5. Place all your leaves on the cement. This was an intense process – I had to be lightning fast in setting it up, referring to my printed out pre-plan constantly.  We worked rapidly but we also had to press hard on the big trowels (The trowels we used were about 12″ X 24″ surface area) and really be fastidious to make sure the leaves and flowers were pressed evenly into the cement. It took a LOT of pressure. We ran into a situation at the end where we were actually walking on the large trowel to press the last few plants in place. I had many square feet of cement to manage at one time though.  This would have been easier with less surface area.
    Monstera in the cement

    Monstera in the cement

    Ti leaves in cement

    Ti leaves in cement

    Hibiscus and a shower tree branch in cement

    Hibiscus and a shower tree branch in cement

  6. Leave the plants in place to dry.  Some of them will peel out smoothly the next day, and some will get stuck to the cement.  Let them naturally disintegrate.  You can see the bits of hibiscus petals stuck in the cement in this photo.

    Hibiscus petals disintegrate naturally

    Hibiscus petals disintegrate naturally

  7. Give it time. The plants surrounding your new walkway will grow in and the plants will disintegrate. Enjoy your finished walkway!
    The day after cement pouring

    West sidewalk the day after cement pouring

    North sidewalk the day after pouring cement

    North sidewalk the day after pouring cement

    South sidewalk 4 months later

    South sidewalk 4 months later

    North sidewalk 4 months later

    North sidewalk 4 months later

West Sidewalk 18 months later

West Sidewalk 18 months later (the  pre-existing un-patterned sidewalk we were able to salvage is barely visible in the foreground