Gardens with a touch of glass

GLASS is a miraculous substance, fluid as nature itself. And no one has utilised this fluidity more creatively than glass maestro Dale Chihuly.

The experts all agree; in the past 40 years he has raised the ancient craft of glass blowing to fine art. The sheer exuberance and scale of his work inspires delight, amazement and euphoria.

Chihuly has a wonderful eye for the dynamics of growth. He loves to exhibit in gardens and glasshouses, where his creations become expressions and extensions of the natural world around them.

In 2005, in a tour de force of an exhibition at Kew Gardens, thousands of visitors were dazzled. Beneath the soaring roof of the Palm House, among the largest, most colourful and exotic plants in the world, Chihuly’s creations seemed like their fellows or their flowers, hanging from the roof, unfurling in the undergrowth, floating in the lily ponds like giant buds or wading herons.

The visual ambiguity is no accident; the colour, light and energy in the glass brings art and nature into an illuminating fusion.

Look at Chihuly’s work, and then look again at your plants, the fluidity of their stems and shoots, the luminosity of leaves and flowers: like glass blown by a master. Chihuly holds a magnifying glass to the magic that’s already there.

THE MAKING OF A MASTER

Dale Chihuly was born in the US in 1941. As a child, it was a sea-scoured shard of glass he found on the beach that first intrigued him. “I was struck by its translucency, its transparency, its colour,” Chihuly explained in an interview in 2002.

He learnt to blow glass in the 1960s and the combination of the process and the unique quality of the material has kept him fascinated since. The unpredictability of the material appealed to him.

“Glass is transparent, hard to understand. It is formed from sand, fire and human breath – it is the cheapest material and yet the most magical,” he said.

Chihuly studied interior design at the University of Washington. After graduating, he enrolled in the glass programme at the University of Wisconsin and, as a Fulbright scholar, went to work at the Venini glass factory in Venice. There he saw how the Venetian glass blowers worked in teams, which enabled them to achieve forms and finishes that would be impossible working alone.

Today Chihuly works with a large team of blowers, in a spontaneous process, guiding them with sketches and directions as the work evolves.

“I work with different people in different ways and, at the end of the day, I feel extremely lucky that I have an immense team.”

LIGHT AND COLOUR

The impact of Chihuly’s bigger works lies not only in their energy but in their towering size and brilliance, drawn from a palette of 350 colours.

“I don’t know if something can be too colourful,” he says. “Colour is one of the great properties of glass and it is more intense in glass than any other material. Imagine entering Chartres cathedral and looking up at the rose window: you can see a 2.5 centimetre square of ruby red glass from almost a metre away.” See www.chihuly.com; and www.kew.org. © Home Weekly

To do in November

This is a leafy rather than a flowery month, which means it’s time for trimming and tidying up.

Rain and heat have made for rampant growth in many gardens. Make sure tall plants of all kinds are well staked before they flop over. Thin and trim over-exuberant growth, but with a light hand.

Since rain leaches fertilisers and nutrients from soil, apply more after heavy showers – while the ground is wet. Top up mulch too.

Day lilies and fuchsias are two great favourites in flower this month, so put them on your shopping list.

Plant up pots of herbs or seedlings for Christmas presents now so that they are well grown and in bud or bloom by December 25.

Amaryllis (Hippeastrum) bulbs, bought now and potted up by November 10, will flower by Christmas. Flower timing is easy to manipulate, provided you buy unsprouted bulbs. If the bulbs have already sprouted they must be potted up at once. Keep them in the fridge and then pot up five or six weeks before you want them to bloom.

Sow these now for a cheerful late summer and autumn: cosmos, zinnias, marigolds and sunflowers.

If you’re in the Cape, don’t miss the Elgin Open Gardens where 25 of the Cape’s best gardens will be opened to the public. It takes place this weekend (November 3-4) and next (November 10-11). For details visit www.elginopengardens.co.za

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