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Student of Gardens, Gardening Grows Her Hobby Into an Art

November 20, 1985|KAREN KENYON

LEUCADIA — "My mother raised me to draw beauty toward myself," said Jo Reed. "Gardens were important during the years when I was growing up--growing flowers and arranging them. If we didn't have flowers at home in our garden, we'd go to another garden to find some."

Reed, 35, a watercolorist and art history teacher at MiraCosta College in Del Mar, sees an important link between gardening and fine art--two ways she draws beauty into her own life. It is this connection that she hopes to share in a talk and slide presentation of gardens from France, England and the United States at 10 a.m. Saturday at the college's Del Mar campus.

Reed, her long brown pigtail draped over her right shoulder, pointed out features of her own garden in Leucadia. She approaches it as a painter surveying her canvas. (In fact, she has often painted her garden).

"The trees were already established when we moved here," she said, "but I added palms and banana trees--and since it's basically green I try to create color. I add ranunculus in the spring, and day lilies and zinnias in the summer." Reed pointed to a reddish banana leaf. "See how the light shines through them like stained glass?" she said.

Reed said this link between art and gardening is not new. She said the early French gardens were all designed in relation to architecture, and were linked to an earlier formal aesthetic going back to ancient times. The English garden revolution in the 1800s brought into focus the idea of gardens created with a natural, looser look, which had the quality of a picture.

Reed has traveled and studied in Europe, photographing gardens in France and England. It was only recently, however, that she realized she had a sizable collection of garden slides mixed in with other art slides. Two of her art students (who belong to the Fleur de League Garden Club in Rancho Santa Fe and Las Jardineras Garden Club of La Jolla) suggested that with her strong interest in gardens she talk to a joint meeting of their clubs. Now she wants to share her interest further.

Reed's own obsession with gardens goes back to her high school days. "There was always a significant garden nearby," she said.

Reed was a boarding school student at the National Cathedral School in Washington. "I needed to find a private, yet public, place to go on Sunday afternoons," she said. "The Bishop's Garden next to the cathedral was just such a place." Reed often sat and walked in the formal garden, which was complete with herbs and boxwood, all in geometric patterns.

Then in graduate school at Tulane University, she was entranced with the Garden District of New Orleans. "This is when I developed my love for the tropical setting--the palms and banana trees," she said.

Later, living in Northern California, she was inspired by Sunset magazine's garden in Menlo Park and by the Stanford campus in Palo Alto, where she worked as a volunteer for two years after graduate school, teaching docents and leading sculpture tours of the campus. "Stanford is itself like a formal garden on an axis, like Versailles," she said.

Reed says she believes gardening is man's effort to be at home in the environment. "This need is very evident in Europe," she said. "There, the people who live in the cities have a plot of land in the country to cultivate flowers and vegetables. In Europe people live in the city in order to survive, but they can't ultimately survive without a plot of land."

The French love their formal gardens and French gardens are world-famous.

"The French originally had a Renaissance notion of gardening--very formal, stylized," she said. "In France the garden originally related to architecture. The properties of the garden were determined by the properties of the home. The garden was also seen as a work of art--like looking at an Oriental rug. This is especially true when the garden is viewed from above. The Oriental rugs were also derived from nature."

Reed said that in Paris, gardens have always had to do with class. "For example, the Jardin du Luxembourg, a popular garden in Paris, is a promenade for the Latin Quarter and for students. (Reed lived near there while studying at the Sorbonne).

"The Jardin des Plantes is a haven for visitors from the nearby provinces, and is associated with the zoo and the School of Botany. The painter Henri Rousseau (famous for his meticulous paintings of lush jungles) went to this garden to study and draw the plants. In fact, Rousseau had never been to a real jungle.

"The famous Tuileries (garden on the property of the Louvre) is known as the garden for those who have social aspirations. It has been said that the Tuileries is the 'true garden of Paris.' The Tuileries is highly stylized and organized, with sculpture in the center of a circle with fountain."

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