Thursday, June 30, 2016


Until I came on this trip it never occurred to me that floral design is a type of art. As someone who enjoys art of all kinds and LOVES to make it, this is unacceptable. I am always the first person to say that everyone is an artist. If you think you aren’t, you either haven’t found your medium or you haven’t put in the time. And if you say you’re “not into art” I’ll say yes you are. Your clothes. Your hair cut. Your car. Your video games. TV. Movies. Music. The food on your table. Anything in your life that has any non-utility detail to it. It is all art.

            When I see flower arrangement in the grocery store or in people’s homes, I never think about the human hands that created them. When I see bridal pictures with beautiful bouquets, I think that they are beautiful, but I never consider them in terms of color, composition, texture, size, direction, etc. Floral design is design. It is art. And so far, I have not developed an eye for it.

            We took a floral design class with Massimo Benetti, a local florist, during which he gave us demonstrations and then set us loose to create. His demonstrations were interesting because he has a very unique style that is more naturalistic and because he creates his own structures in which to place the flowers. An example is the woven, woody structure pictured. His style was not my favorite, but hey, art is subjective.

            He brought with him several crates of flowers and other plants that we could work with and then he let us have at it. It was fun thinking up palettes to work with and different textures to throw in, but in the end I decided that my arrangement was a waste of flowers, so I deconstructed it for the other girls to use. Walking around and seeing what they other girls came up with really flicked on the light bulb in my head and clued me in to the fact that floral design is art. There were so many beautiful combinations that I had never considered, and so many distinct styles.

            While floral design might not be my favorite form of artistic expression, it does take time, talent, thoughtfulness, and surely some classes or mentorship. I already had an appreciation for florists from a business standpoint because I know the kind of demands they work with and the logistics that they must work out to be successful and to have fresh looking flowers. After this experience I have a new respect for them as creatives.

            So floral design people, go forth and create! Make something cool and I’ll paint it for you.

Emma Gaas

Symmetry in Gardens and Bodies

Symmetry in Gardens and Bodies
 Rome, Italy

Symmetry can be seen almost everywhere. Without noticing it with our minds, our eyes see so much symmetry during one day. For the most part our bodies are symmetrical, faces alone are, for the most part, symmetrical, hair can be symmetrical, along with the muscles in our body. The human body is so fascinating to me, it’s something I love to know about, how it works, functions, fights off illnesses, builds muscle. So once we started our lecture on symmetrical gardens, my mind went to thinking about in which ways this lecture could teach me more, even further than just gardens, and it did, it taught me to see the symmetry and even the asymmetrical things and gardens in life.

 While in Rome, we all got the privilege of seeing the Papal Gardens, where the Pope formally resided in the summer on occasion, and man, what a garden to experience. It was a gorgeous day and the flowers seemed to be alive. The well-manicured hedges placed in a very particular place was a sure sign of a symmetrical garden. As we were walking amongst the most beautiful hydrangea’s and cork trees, we came to this one section of the garden that was, without a doubt, a symmetrical garden. We got to look at it from above on a balcony and see just how it flowed. It consisted of a long pathway of gravel with one half of the garden being a mirror image of the other side. It was spectacular to see. A sense of balance is so evident and present. Rhythm and balance stand out. Being enthralled by how the body works, I found this correlation fascinating. The human body moves in balance and with a rhythm, our heartbeat is constant rhythm, our eyes blink and are in balance, it all just made me realize our connected the human body is to our earth and especially to gardens. Being in the Papal Gardens that day was really a wonderful experience all around.


Art & Horticulture: A Match Made in Heaven

It is a bittersweet feeling, leaving Italy after almost six incredible weeks here. I’m not going home, but starting a whole new adventure in new countries with new people. One of the most exciting things about visiting new countries, for me, is seeing the famous art from each. After taking Dr. Starman’s course, and learning about the importance of horticulture in art, I will be looking at paintings with new eyes.

            Looking at horticulture in art gives us historical insight on so many subjects including the types of plants that were found in certain regions, garden styles, gardening techniques, etc.  In the last few weeks we have seen art in the form of frescos, architecture, paintings, drawings and sculpture in every city that we have visited. Different types of plants are also used symbolically in art, which is what has interested me the most when visiting museums and churches on this trip.

            Among others, I am visiting Vienna, Austria this summer; the birthplace of my favorite artist is Gustav Klimt. Klimt was an artist from the late 1800s and early 1900s and one of the most important artists from the Art Nouveau and Symbolist movements.  His art contains many symbolic elements but one of the most recurring symbols that he used was flowers. I am most excited to see his painting “The Kiss” from 1908 which hangs in the Ă–sterreichische Galerie Belvedere, Vienna. I have always loved this piece. I even recreated it on a ceiling tile for my school as my legacy when I was in 8th grade. This year I found out that the piece was inspired in part by a visit Klimt made to Venice.

            The painting is oil on canvas depicting a man and woman in a passionate embrace. The figures are locked together and a shimmery flat gold-leaf background surrounds them. They stand on a lush bed of grass carpeted with flowers. In this painting, the man wears inorganic dark colored shapes to represent masculinity. The woman, in contrast, is covered in flowers, symbolic of her femininity. She kneels on a carpet of flowers similar to the ones she wears, linking her to mother nature.

            Klimt uses flowers in many of his paintings, and sometimes plants are the main subjects of his work. “The Tree of Life” and “The Sunflower” are two famous examples of this. Klimt isn’t the only one, either. Art and horticulture are inseparable. There are so many important works of art throughout history that depict flowers, trees, and entire landscapes. Art would be bland without it. I’ll be keeping an eye out from now on for the plants that I’ve learned about, in the art that I see.

Emma Gaas

Art in the Real World

 A quick lesson on how art and design are evident in every day life.

I wanted to write about how horticulture influenced art immediately after visiting the Boboli gardens nearly a month ago. I wanted to but couldn't because I didn't think I knew how it did. I could feel it and see it, but i couldn't put words to it. 

But the other day, we had a lecture on the different art forms of plants. Landscaping, bonsai gardens.. Floral design..

And I realized that I already knew a whole lot about art and horticulture, specifically art and flowers! 

In floral design, you have color, line, mass, pattern, repetition, negative space, and so much more. My favorite aspect is natural negative space; looking at nature and seeing where there isn't anything at all, and incorporating it into my designs to add movement. Movement is what keeps the flowers alive long after they have been cut. It is what tells the story. In my opinion, all aspects of design work together to tell this story.

It is so cool to see how the information I learn in class shapes the lenses I view my life. The first time I learned about the elements of design was in a floral design class, but I am now able to translate it to other aspects of my life. My mom recently completed culinary school, and I see line and mass and color and balance incorporated in her art form when she plates food. My sister is an artist and I can see it in her art and photography. I see it in potted arrangements and in gardens and parks. 

Art is around you everywhere you look if you dig deep enough, that is the most valuable lesson I've learned on this trip!

XO - Amelia Goodall

Happy Birthday, Venus

There are a mess of things that make The Birth of Venus an incredibly special work of art. In the fifteenth century, painting on wood was "all the rage," so The Birth of Venus, commissioned by none other than the Medici family, is known as the first example of a painting on canvas in Tuscany. It is also one of the first nude paintings of it's time & possibly wasn't made public until 50 years after it was painted because it hung in place above a married couple's bed. The whole work is inspired by Homer's writings & a poem by Agnolo Poliziano, the greatest Neoplatonic poet of the Medici court. 

The Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli is not only an incredible masterpiece in itself but also a frame chalked full of symbolism, the floral symbolism being my favorite. In the meadow behind Venus & the other characters, one can vaguely see violets, which are the symbol of modesty. This really plays up the idea of Venus' preservation as she covers her body with her hands. In the seas behind her, one can again see flowers but this time pink roses. Pink roses are the classic symbol of love, appropriate for the Goddess of Love. If I had to guess, the tree in the painting would be a myrtle because one of the symbols of Venus is myrtle. One of the reasons for myrtle being her symbol is because myrtle is a powerful aphrodisiac, how fitting! 

The characters surrounding Venus also hold significance. The couple on the left are Zephyrus, god of the west wind & a nymph, Chloris. The woman on the shore is the Goddess of Spring, Pomona, welcoming her to the world.

I went into the Uffizi with little knowledge of the painting & was able to just bask in the beauty that was just Botticelli's The Birth of Venus. Without picking it apart & trying to understand the symbolism, I was able to just see it as a piece of art work & it really is something. Venus' eyes seem to look at you, but also right through you & past you. Everything in the painting points to her & you wouldn't think she was anything other than a goddess.


My Little Home Away from Home

Something that my mom mentioned to me before I left for Italy was how surprised I was going to be to find how similar the Tuscan landscape looks to the rolling hills of central Texas. Since I grew up in Austin and work at a summer camp near Kerrville, I am no stranger to the Texas hill country…it’s the view I spend every camp meal staring at. I was doubtful as she told me this because all I could think was “there’s no way that Tuscany, the landscape that some of the most famous painters in all of history have studied and painted, could even remotely be compared to Texas. I mean, I have a LOT of Texas pride but let’s be honest…it’s ITALY. Boy was I wrong though, because that’s all I could think as I took
in that breathtaking view from the top of the main piazza that first day on our tour. We, as residents of Castiglion Fiorentino, have the pleasure of being located on top of a decent-sized hill and can get a 360-degree view of hills in every direction, like standing in the middle of a bunt-cake pan. No matter where I look, I am staring at the Texas hill country.
It’s soothing to me in more ways than one. First of all, it reminds me of my Texas. Secondly, there is a very present unity to all of the hills. The landscape is a hundred different shades of green; the silvery, light green of the olive trees, the dark, sharp contrast of the cypress trees, the rich green of the stone pines, the yellow-green of the magnolias, the list goes on and on. This particular color scheme is very relaxing, I have found. Your eyes are drawn to the splashes of orange and brown of the roof tiles sprinkled throughout the landscape. The beautiful, messy hodgepodge of trees is contrasted by the distinct, sharp lines created by the rows of grape vines and tree nurseries. Additionally, the vertical lines of the Cypress trees contrast the bushiness of the stone pines. What I love most about this landscape though is that is is not intended to be garden-like even though it possesses so many of the aspects of gardens that we have discussed in lecture. It doesn’t really try to be beautiful, but it achieves its beauty through its wild and naturalistic theme. There is a quote from The Secret Life of Walter Mitty that I really like. “Beautiful things don’t ask for attention.” I love this quote because it has proven to be so true all throughout my trip. Even the most unassuming things—the side of a building or a tiny potted succulent garden in front of someone’s home—urge me to take a picture of it. This is what I think about as I look at the hillside out the window, sitting in the cafĂ© and writing this post. For something that was never cultivated and pruned into beauty, it sure leaves me in awe.
I know I will have such a different view of the rolling Texas hills when I get home. I will stare at them and let it take me back to my time here, my home away from home. Signing off for the last time from Tuscany, grazie and Gig ‘em.

Quincy Barton

Reflecting on the Papal Gardens

In our last days in Italy I have started to reflect on my time here, the people, the places, and the plants. I know that when we get back most conversations will center on where we went and my favorite and least favorite parts of the trip. While perhaps not the most beautiful, I do think the most peaceful garden we visited was the Papal Garden in Castel Gandolfo. Maybe it was the small town atmosphere after the hustle and bustle of Rome, or the fact that the gardens have only recently been opened to the public so the garden felt quiet and undisturbed. My favorite part of that particular garden was a quiet space in the back of the garden with a lily pond in front of a statue of the Virgin Mary where a previous Pope came to pray. While the space itself was beautiful I was drawn in by the water lilies growing in the pond itself.

Water lilies are part of the Nymphaeaceae family and are considered basal angiosperms. They grow as rhizomatous aquatic herbs with their roots submerged in a body of water and their leaves and flowers floating on the surface. There are two types of water lilies, hardy and tropical with tropical lilies being separated into day and night blooming. Lilies can grow well in any USDA hardy zone; however, tropical waterlilies can become highly invasive in mild Mediterranean climates. Lilies require a lot of sunlight in order to grow and bloom and prefer still or slow moving water. Lilies provide both an aesthetic and functional purpose when planted in a pond. Water lilies function in a pond is to create an ecosystem where fish and other animals can live by providing shade which limits the growth of algae and the temperature of the water. These plants also help to recycle nutrients and keep the water clean. So when I’m asked what my favorite place in Italy was, I think I’ll have to say this spot, not just because of the water lilies, but they definitely did help.
-Lisa C. Maciques