Change has been in the air for a few weeks now. Muggies have been nagging, noses running, eyes watering, and that can only mean one thing: spring is really here. The promise of spring does not sound quite so romantic when you put it that way, but we are not fooled in Franschhoek—we will gladly take the hay fever and bug bites in exchange for fresh new sprouts and beautiful blossoms that let us know new life is emerging in our Valley!
And there are no better greeters of the season than the Franschhoek Lions Club, who host the annual Franschhoek Open Gardens festival, coming up this weekend on 21-23 October. Open Gardens celebrates spring with a tour of ten of the town’s most delightfully curated flora. And they do it for a wonderful cause: all ticket proceeds go to Fleur de Lis, the local Home for the Aged. Please see more about the festival program and where to get your tickets here.
Beyond the noble cause that underpins the festival, Open Gardens offers something else that SoG is particularly excited about: a fantastic opportunity to appreciate the art form that is gardening. So much of the visual art we produce as a society across all media is inspired by botanic beauty and yet, day-to-day we fail to recognize the green life all around us as a living, breathing exhibition. The acrylic rose-bouquet-in-blue-vase of the still-life pales beside the organic vines, stalks, and blossoms of the garden. And the care and mastery with which such skilled gardeners and landscapers as those of Open Gardens compose their leafy canvas leaves little doubt of the artistry at work here.
As our own homage to this art form, and the lovely OG weekend that exhibits it, we present our October class theme: Medizinal-Pflanzen. It is so-named after the 1887 series from Franz Eugen Köhler that featured over 300 expertly rendered drawings of medicinal plants, brought to life with a technique called chromolithography.
You have no doubt seen some of these drawings, or similar depictions of plant life, in a text book, as wall décor, or even on Etsy (these renderings are making a comeback in certain circles). As with garden exhibits, these illustrations excite us for the way they walk the line between the natural sciences and artistic interpretation. The artists of Medizinal-Pflanzen captured in excruciating scientific detail the inner-workings of the plants, flowers, and herbs we gaze upon in our gardens but rarely appreciate in their complexity. They take us beyond the blossoms and fruit we love to reveal the roots, seeds, organs, and sometimes even the cells that give them life.
As a flora-inspired theme for our wine painting, the medizinal-pflanzen give us a lot of nice things to work with. Scientific though they are, the illustrations in themselves are an interpretation of nature—they are not the truth, but one person’s view of the truth, just as in all art. We, in turn, can interpret these depictions as we see and experience them. In the short span
of our class, we will not be able to capture every component, nor every sub-component detail in our own renderings, so we are forced to choose and respond to the things that call to us (or which we are not too intimidated to attempt!).
There is also something elegant about the composition of these drawings that plays right into our workshop approach, and which will be highlighted by our monochromatic pallet. Putting the masterful drawing skills of the Medizinal-Pflanzen artists to one side, the scattering of the plant’s dissections across the page does not appear at all different from the kinds off doodles and sketches any of us might absentmindedly scrawl over a piece of scrap paper. We hop from some geometric design, to a stick figure man, to a cartoonish animal, to a pretty petally flower, the result being a nonsensical collage of some strange brain dump. In our class, we can channel that process into a slightly more sensical collage, one that still allows us to experiment with different techniques and styles as we try to capture plant bits that vary in complexity and detail.
Our pallet is both an enabler and enhancer of this process. Confined to our GlenWood Malbec, merlot, and shiraz, we can forget about the color spectrum and focus on the contours, shadows, and highlights that will really bring the plants to life. And when we are finished, we will find that the wine has done its job, allowing our work to stand on its own, unencumbered by excessive colors, and enriching our flora with its deep shades of grape.
So please, come to Franschhoek Open Gardens festival this weekend to get as inspired by spring as we are. Then join us for Shades of October where we will channel our inspiration into wine art over some nice wine and a lovely lunch.