Art In The Garden

By Carol Baird Krul

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Shortly after moving to her Island home, renowned artist Morag Orr-Stevens noticed what was missing - a celebration of the artists' in the community that had made her so welcome. After some thought, she offered her garden as a venue for colleagues she admired to display their work. In August, her Art in the Garden event celebrated its 10th anniversary with a colourful mix of sights and sounds - a delightfully unique combination of Morag's two loves: gardening and art.

Part of the decision to settle on Gabriola was Morag's desire to actively pursue her art. She had started painting at the kitchen table about six years earlier; but what she really wanted was a proper studio filled with the right light, where she could explore her creative side. Taking time to design and build the cottage-style home, Morag, with the help of husband Don Stevens, began working on her charming and eclectic garden shortly after the treed property was purchased in 1990. With care, thoughtful consideration and a touch of whimsy, Morag turned a small, rectangular-shaped property into a hidden gem that blends the natural with the cultivated. Decks add another dimension, especially in the summer when Morag's art spills out from her studio to join the feast of texture and colour that is found in this delightful garden.

The house and garden are set back from the road so visitors walk under a canopy of trees to reach the first of Don's driftwood creations - a specially designed gate that leads to the main area. Once in the garden area, one quickly sees the special touches, such as the rough-hewn arbours, fencing and interesting artwork that speak volumes about the owners, who have a knack for combining the common with the unusual.

The design of hidden nooks combined with open spaces cleverly disguises the rectangular shape and relatively modest size of the lot. Native plants, shrubs, a water feature or two, wind chimes and pots of seasonal annuals are displayed against a backdrop of forest green. Not a pristine or sculptured garden, this is a mix of cultured and naturalized plantings combined with art objects set to complement and contrast in interesting ways. As visitors explore Morag's garden, they discover salal, ferns, wild current and holly trees mixed with rhododendrons, viburnum, beds of periwinkle and St. John's wort, hydrangea, photinia and a gorgeous Japanese maple.

Participation in Art in the Garden is by invitation only. In the first few years, seven artists were invited, however, it has now been expanded to 12. The participants in Art in the Garden range from the well-known to the neophyte, from those who make their living with their art to those who simply do it for pleasure. Glass art, silk hangings, pottery, jewelry, woven items, photographic art and paintings of various techniques; there's something for everyone. Just as the artwork is integral to this unique event, so too is the accompanying music of recorder, guitar and harpsichord that adds another dimension as visitors move from one garden room to another. And everywhere the garden forms a canvas for the riot of colour, texture and sound.

The individual artisans decide how to best display their work within the context of the garden. Some choose to use the garden as a backdrop; others blend their work into garden features, or prefer to display their art in a more conventional manner on tables nestled into corners of the garden rooms. The two-day event attracts people from near and away, who enjoy making the event part of their summer calendar.

Morag Orr-Stevens' Studio and Gallery is open to the public all year from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; as an original organizer she also participates in the annual Gabriola Thanksgiving Tour and other Gabriola art events.

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