November 16, 2019

Stars at Descanso2
Enchanted Forest stars on the arbor, Descanso Gardens, 11/10/2019 (watercolor and Inktense pencil on watercolor paper)

If you have viewed many of my posts you will know that I am massively obsessed with the Descanso Gardens. It seems that I have been drawn to that magical place since I moved to SoCal 5 years ago. We also have the Huntington Botanical Garden right next door, with the Getty not really that far away as well. But I prefer the Descanso. Actually, the Huntington has some very specific rules about painters in their gardens and I just haven’t gotten around to looking into that. And a friend’s wet watercolor materials were confiscated by a museum guard before she even got on the tram that takes you to the top of the hill and the Getty Museum. A mutual friend said my normally unflappable artist friend was seething and probably going to write a scathing letter to the Los Angeles Times. I’ve also shared with you the rather unfriendly guards at the Norton Simon…But no one has ever stopped me as I enter the Descanso with my backpack full of watercolor painting materials. And I love them for that simplicity. In fact, they have started an artist in residence program. And their first artist was Carole Kim and some of her art was recently on display at the Sturt Haaga Gallery next to the Boddy House on the property. If you look at her bio on the Descanso Gardens website it says she, and I quote, “…seeks to illuminate the intersection between contemporary arts and the sciences represented by the garden—botany, horticulture, biology, ecology, conservation and the study of gardens as cultural artifacts.” In looking a little further into Ms. Kim’s work and background I noticed that she was a past artist in residence (2013) at the Montalvo Art Center. This is cool and significant as Montalvo is in northern CA and I lived very near that place growing up. We used to ride our bikes over and around the hills of Villa Montalvo. My mom was part of a Montalvo service league that had fundraising events to rebuild/remodel various structures on the property. Every Christmas they had a huge event at the house, with each room decorated for the season. And of course because it was a fundraiser, they had various hand crafted gifts for sale as well. My poor mom was always upset with many of their “hand crafted gifts” and each year would say something like, “Why doesn’t someone tell the little old ladies that no one wants a crocheted toilet roll cover made from strange colored yarn?” She thought they should do wine or champagne tasting as the Paul Masson winery was nearby, not to mention The  Novitiate Winery that was then in the hills of Los Gatos. As you might have guessed, my mom quit after a few years. But she found a happy home as a volunteer at Village House in Los Gatos. 

I think that in the past few years the people who run the Descanso have been making a great effort to improve almost everything there, from upgraded garden areas to special events, without a strange hand crafted item in sight. One of the more successful events they have been presenting since November 2016 is the Enchanted Forest of Light. We went to see the lights that first year and have gone every holiday season since.

So, as you might imagine they were getting ready to debut their November 2019 season, opening Sunday November 17, when I was there last weekend. Most years I never actually plan to be there when they are setting up—so many wires and unlit lights. I go there so often to paint that I’m always surprised to see that it’s once again time for the event. But this year I remembered it was happening and thought I had heard of a new light installation that was to be featured this year. I thought I had heard of a stained glass house that was to be placed next to water and I thought it would be fun to try to paint that. So, when I got to the garden last Sunday I set about to find the stained glass house. I wandered all around the places that had massive amounts of wires and lighting, but did not see what I imagined would be there. No matter. I found myself in the rose garden, under the dangling stars that are hanging from an arbor near the fountain. And I found a lovely covered bench, surrounded with climbing roses, and painted the gorgeous fall trees, dangling stars and blooming roses you see here. (We have had such warm weather that there are still some roses blooming. If you are living in a very cold place, I am sorry…) 

praying mantis
Praying mantis on rose in rose garden at Descanso Gardens, 11/10/2019

While I sat there, comfortably creating this sketch, I had a strange feeling that I was being watched. Sure enough, I looked beyond my perch just a bit and saw a praying mantis looking right at me. I think he, or she, was also enjoying the roses in the rose garden that lovely morning. 

I have sketched the “Enchanted” stars in the rose garden a couple times now, and they look pretty spectacular even in the daylight. It’s actually easier to draw them during the day as you can pretty much sit where you like. At night, they block many pathways through the garden and you are forced to be directly under the stars. Aside from being too close to the stars to make them look interesting, there really isn’t anywhere to sit and sketch. The Enchanted Forest of Light designers have set up a carefully directed event that takes people from one place to the next, cutting out most of the rose garden all together. Here’s how it goes: They let in groups of people every half hour, with a very tempting (if not compulsory) journey from one display to the next that also goes past several outdoor bars and gift shops along the way. 

I’m not sure we’re going again this year. I know some people are really into traditions and might consider doing this every year as a compulsory holiday event. That’s fine, I guess. But I think our trip to their newest block buster event called “Carved” will be our fall/holiday evening at the Descanso for this year. What was “Carved” you say? Well, the short answer is lots of pumpkins. They had 1000 professionally carved pumpkins that lined a 1 mile walk through the Camellia Forest and Oak Grove and we were there the evening of October 26th. Just imagine hundreds, yes hundreds, of lit jack o lanterns winding along paths, past a couple bars and gift areas. (Now that’s the way to have a fund raiser, right?) And then every few yards or so there were some giant-sized pumpkins that had been very intricately carved. Once you found your way to the house made of pumpkins, there was an area where artists were busy carving away some very large pumpkins—quite dramatic and amazing, I must say. I was trying to imagine where you would find people who could do this. I thought maybe they could be tattoo artists, but a friend said he thought that there was no shortage of animators around here and the pumpkins were probably done by them. There is quite a bohemian artists culture here and their pumpkins were there that night.

That’s all from one SoCal girl right now. But the big news is that it is supposed to rain this week. Oh, Yesssssssss!

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