The Sketcher’s Garden in Winter

By Jane Rabinovitch, Fairfax Master Gardener

dried oak leaf

Dried oak leaf

I love to garden and watch my plants grow and change over time. When I’m stressed, I find that walking through my garden and just sitting and observing can center me like nothing else. A few years ago, I wanted to try and take the beauty I was seeing in plants and capture it on paper. I started sketching in my garden and took some art classes to develop my skills. I have found that doing the drawings has given me a deeper appreciation for nature. I observe plants even closer now and I’m further fascinated by their form and function.

Winter may seem like a dull time to be out in the garden, but it can actually be a great opportunity for the beginner artist. With less leaves to get in the way, the structure of our plants and trees really shows through. There is also a shift currently in the gardening community to delay the fall garden clean-up. Authors like Douglas Tallamy are encouraging us to wait until spring to cut down our perennials and grasses so that birds can feast on seeds and insects can overwinter in hollow stems or on leaves. I endorse this mindset for all of these reasons, plus it gives me more time and things to sketch!

echinacea flower head

Echinacea flower head

Let’s start with leaves. It’s not just those beautiful fall colors, but even brown, curled up leaves are lovely. Some leaves have holes or galls or have been skeletonized by insects, but they each have a story to tell of what they experienced over the past year. I find this very grounding as I think back over my own year and the highlights and scars it may have left behind.

liquidambar styraciflua seed

Liquidambar styraciflua seed

Dried flower heads can also be works of art. Coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea) are native to North America a