In the Garden

Oriental poppy in our front garden (photo courtesy Jeff Caven)


One of the great pleasures of living at Taos Ski Valley’s Edelweiss Lodge and Spa is that in addition to my responsibilities for our two restaurants, I oversee the property’s lovely Alpine gardens.  Okay — I am the gardener — and I love it.

I’ve always enjoyed gardening and have tilled soil since I was a kid — when I first planted a raw lima bean in some dirt behind our garage.  I watered the spot religiously and within a week or two the darned thing sprouted.  It was the most miraculous thing I had ever experienced.  I still remember the thrill of discovering Mother Nature’s beginnings of life.

The memory of that childhood feeling came rushing back this morning as I was drinking coffee and sauntering past the oriental poppies in our front garden.  The first five of our dozens of buds popped open overnight and greeted me with their beautiful salmon color, exotic form, and sensual mystery, as their long slender stems nonchalantly swayed in the morning’s quiet Alpine breeze.

Happily, photographer Jeff Caven is currently staying with us.  I asked him to snap a photograph, and he kindly obliged.  The lovely image is posted above.

Taos, of course, is famous for poppies, made so by its notable resident, Georgia O’Keefe.  Long before artists like Robert Mapplethorpe (whose work I greatly admire) photographed sensual depictions of orchids and calla lilies, Georgia O’Keefe painted flowers, using photographic techniques such as cropping and close-ups, even before the technology of color film or large photographic blow-ups had been invented.

O’Keefe explained:

“A flower is relatively small.  Everyone has many associations with a flower… still–in a way–nobody really sees a flower–really–it is so small…. So I said to myself–I’ll paint what I see…but I’ll paint it big and they will be surprised into taking time to look at it…even busy New Yorkers [will] take time to see what I see of flowers….When you [refering to critics and others who wrote about these paintings] took time to really notice my flower you hung all your associations with flowers on my flower as if I think and see what you think and see of the flower–and I don’t.”

Her most famous painting is arguably Oriental Poppies, painted in 1927 (two years before beginning her work in northern New Mexico) and is now part of the Weisman Art Museum‘s permanent collection in Minneapolis.  Painted in New York, the work measures 30″ x 40″ and resembles an image as if seen through a magnifying glass.  O’Keefe uses brilliant red and orange – pioneering at the time – juxtaposed with indigo of the flowers’ centers.  The crisp shading and brilliant borders provide hypnotic contrast to the petals’ velvet texture.  What soon became obvious to critics was the lack of context:  there is no background to the painting, drawing the viewer’s focus deep into the flowers, presenting them as pure abstracts.

Courtesy Weisman Art Museum - Minneapolis

“Oriental Poppies”

Georgia O’Keefe (1887 – 1986)


"Floating Bowls on a Rock Garden" in our back patio. Photo courtesy Jeff Caven

And so. . . this morning I was sipping coffee, enjoying the morning sunrise above the whispering pines — and there they were:  magnificent poppies that a transplanted busy New Yorker not only noticed, but celebrated.  A childhood amazement returned, a connection was made with Taos and its most famous artist, and a remembrance was triggered of a New Mexican poet, Santa Fe’s May Sarton [Eleanore Marie Sarton], who once wrote:

“Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is a help.  Gardening is an instrument of grace.”