If you plant it,
back in 2010,
I loved straight lines &
beds high enough to deter
our new puppy. All I wanted was to
grow lots of food as efficiently
the compost had
moved out; Three layers
were too hot & dry; And a new
just felt better.
time, the ideas in Toby
Hemenway's book Gaia's Garden,
transformed my thinking, inviting experimentation
with fewer paths, more curves & the
integration of pollinator-
thinks it's crazy to
redesign the garden every
few years as each one seems pretty
cool, like this rounded mounded central axis
filled with a mix of annual vegetables and perennials.
But for me, these changes reveal how this garden was becoming
more than just a space to grow vegetables. It was
a safe place for me to connect with and
explore the power of the
earth herself, this
from beneath pole beans, borage
invited pollinators, and there was hardly a
need to water, as the composted and well-shaded
soil sustained itself throughout the summer. I had finally
created my own 'Gaia's Garden' paradise.
So it seems strange that I would
take it apart & essentially
what I did, creating
a circular space aligned with
the quadrants of a compass and based
on historic herb garden designs.
I didn't know what this
new space would
I planted the
echinacea and finally
understood that gardening is not
about how many peas I harvest. For me, it's
about how I can heal myself so that
together my garden and I
can help heal the
In addition to re-reading Gaia's Garden, these others books have also captivated and inspired me this summer. It feels as if the earth is in all of our hands right now. Digging deeper is the only way to go.
Drew, Sarah Gaia Codex
Hemenway, Toby Gaia's Garden
Jewell, Jennifer The Earth in Her Hands
Kincaid, Jamaica My Garden (Book):
Penniman, Leah Farming While Black
work to do
at home and all
around, so we've been
working - digging & mulching,
pruning & planting. It
feels good to
these phlox are out
of control and need attention,
I'm OK with their extravagant abundance
because five years ago, there was
nothing in that particular place
but a neglected corner
of the terrace.
lupin blew over
from a neighbor's field,
but the comfrey by its side and
those chives behind were intentionally
planted to increase soil fertility on what was once
a rocky dry hillside. These woodland phlox, so different
from those flowers surrounding the bird,
thrive in a space that was once
a pile of sticks.
this myrtle (or
Vinca Minor) have
finally merged on the
hillside by our driveway.
5 years in the making,
this space is, at
to my garden
for reminding me
that neglected places
can be transformed. There
just needs to be a plan, focused
attention, and patience to
let what will emerge,
to share the stage with
other colors, like these white
flowers on a lone Hawthorn tree that
is abuzz. It was for these pollinators that we
created this garden in the first place, so hearing them
in action gives me hope and purpose as I
go outside to get back
my blog or following
me on Instagram, you'll know
that I was planning to include my altered
Cotillion Dress in my current
solo show at AVA
If you've been
to AVA to find the dress,
you'll know that it's
me how the creative
process works, and how hard
it can be to separate one thread from
another when they all feel
integral to each
evolved from last
year's curiosity about how
I could share Walt Whitman's poem
"This Compost" in a colorful and affordable
manner by embroidering it on old
things, like a pillowcase or
a cloth diaper from
I listened to numerous
podcasts about art, women,
the climate crisis, racial justice and
the idea of white fragility. Each voice I heard
inspired me to rethink my past and
my relationship to it. And then
I remembered the white
dress in the attic...
it all began
because I love the
colors of compost and so
started taking pictures of it all the
time...until, magically, I had
what they call a 'body
of work' worth
what you love most just
has to stay home. In this case, I am
grateful that I gave my work to the Exhibits
Director at AVA and let her decide. The dress, even
though it seemed essential to the show for
me, just didn't fit and would have
been a distraction.
I am grateful
to this beautiful piece
of silk and lace for inviting me
to explore my own identity as a creative
person, not just with a camera,
but in life. The dress, as
What is it
about corn husks,
besides their enticing shade of
light green, fanlike spread on the pile,
and their capacity to
For me, it is
much more than the
reassuring taste of what they contain.
It has to do with their history, and the fact that corn
was originally a gift from the indigenous people who lived in
New England to my people, who showed up
500 years ago, unannounced and
unprepared. The results
were not pretty.
I am deeply
grateful for the gift
of corn then and now. Though
today it has a different purpose, perhaps,
inspiring a new point of view on the conversations
that gift started centuries ago. Who has the
right to what land and for what
purpose? And who is
going to care
It is an honor
that later today I will
be among friends new and old,
celebrating these Compost Compositions.
They are at once framed compositions of color, shape
and texture as well as narratives about what it
means to live in our world today - - the
beauty and the mess of it all. Some
days it feels more beautiful
I choose to see
the beauty of what is,
not just in the compost pile,
but in my life. Please come see the
show at AVA Gallery.
It's really cool.
And also, please
take a moment this weekend
to express gratitude for all those before
us who made our current
My first solo show opens in 11 days.
What is the story I want to tell?
Is it about the cool colors,
textures and shapes of my Compost Compositions?
Is it about the stories
those Compositions tell about
food, culture and the regenerative
power of waste?
there is more.
Behind these photographs
there is me, a woman in mid life
choosing to share her work
and, by default, her
story - -
A story that
begins with a beginners
mind - - a willingness to explore
not just content that most
ignore, but process
that is why last year I had
so much fun dismantling and composting
my Harvard and UVA Degrees.
Why not explore?
that is why I am OK
sharing my first attempt at decorating
a silk dress with embroidered
imagery of my own
that it is Show Time
the connections between these
In a world filled with fear,
I am no longer afraid to reframe my
relationship to garbage or
To learn more,
you'll have to come to
the show. The opening is October 11
at AVA Gallery in Lebanon, NH. My Artist's Talk
is November 1 at 5pm, also at AVA Gallery.
Or, you can just keep reading this
blog. More will be
The re-imagined Hood Museum of Art re-opened
last weekend at Dartmouth College.
Among the treasures, I saw
this work by Elias Sime.
Undulating. Pulsing. In motion.
Alive. And yet it's made out of castoff
motherboards, toxic contributors to multitudes of e-waste.
And yet the city he envisions is "a sprawling ecosystem
of form and water." It's a huge work, covering a
wall. Is it a tile mosaic? Is it marble?
No. It's a captivating vision of
what's possible when we see beyond
what appears toxic and allow beauty to emerge. Bliss.
And then, on another wall, in the same gallery, this.
El Anatsui's "shimmering tapestry" evoking
material flowing in a breeze, but no,
it's a carefully constructed compilation of
bottle tops and copper wire. Garbage comes to life.
So when I got home with this week's buckets full of
compost from Umpleby's Bakery & Cafe,
I was startled when I saw this.
Lemons. Lots of lemons. I hadn't planned
on taking any photographs, but who could resist the vibrancy?
That's how it is for me. Apparent waste evokes joy. There
is possibility. I wonder if that's what Elias Sime
or El Anatsui were thinking? Or not.
It's just what happens when creativity and
climate action converge at the compost pile or anywhere.
What have you seen or experienced this week
that evokes joy or invites creativity? Let
it happen, when and wherever
it may. It's magical and life-giving and for
me, makes the world a much more interesting place.
Happy January my friends.
Evelyn R. Swett
reframing the narrative in community and with myself, finding transformation and joy in the mess of it all
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