I was born in Waterbury, Connecticut, and lived in an Italian neighborhood with a large extended family. My mother and grandfather had a big vegetable garden out in back. One year they planted a thousand tomato plants. I remember running through the rows of plants, smelling the wonderful tomato leaf smell.
In the front yard, my mother had a beautiful flower garden, with old-fashioned rose bushes, bleeding hearts, peonies, irises, great stands of phlox, bachelor buttons, and Japanese lanterns, among other things. I spent a lot of time there too, often eating the bachelor buttons. They’re still my favorite flower, although I’ve stopped eating them.
Also, there was a grapevine that ran about half the width of the property, maybe about forty yards. I spent a lot of time there too, eating a lot of grapes – something that I still do.
There was a small, ramshackle wooden greenhouse in the back yard. As you opened the door and stepped down over the worn wooden threshold onto the dirt floor, you were met by the rich smell of earth. I thought that this was one of the best places in the world. I still think so. My uncles tore down the old greenhouse and built a new bigger one, with cinderblock and cement going halfway up the walls. There was still a dirt floor but it never smelled the same.
These were my formative garden experiences. After I left Waterbury and went to college, and then out on my own, I had only intermittent opportunities to garden in the various places I lived. It was not until my family and I moved into an old farmhouse in Medford in 1981 that once again I developed a relationship with a garden.
I love my wild unruly garden, which, it is true, has been left too much on its own. I love to stand in front of it and just take it all in. In return for this unconditional love, the garden gives me unlimited inspiration. Actually, it is sometimes as if the garden is almost dancing and asking to be painted. Then when I am painting the garden, it seems that I am not making a painting of the plants themselves but of the life that is in them. I can feel the life and can only keep trying to put it down in paint. And I know that the life in the gardens of my childhood is still with me, in a good way, and is asking, too, to be given painted form.