Beauty and Courage: Thoughts on Life, Gardens and the Human Spirit

There’s a garden near my home in Auckland, New Zealand, that borders on bedlam. Beans twist in frenzied haste up teetering stakes, dahlias veer and collapse into banana palms, hollyhocks tower to the sky and beds of lettuce and chard bake in steaming compost.

I spend a lot of time here, often bringing my daughters to feed the cows and admire the plants and insects. Every time I come it’s different. Plants grow at break-neck speed, butterflies and insects thicken the air, and paths zig zag randomly, moving as new soil is opened up for rotating beds.

My favourite part is a small hut nestled under a plum tree in the back corner. Grass and wild flowers grow thick and high, branches sag under the weight of ripe fruit, the air is cool. I dream about moving in.

'Ramshackle Riot' by Katherine Throne

I feel compelled to talk about this garden – and others like it – and paint is my language. I am an artist, a painter of beauty and courage, and the garden is my metaphor.

I am most drawn to the parts of the garden that are slightly overgrown and ramshackle, where the unruly spirit of nature is left to ramble. Here, the pretense is dropped and filters don’t exist. Audacious blooms run riot, turning their gaudy faces to the sun in a declaration of self-worth; the pale and delicate grow contentedly in the shadows. Each member of this community cares nothing for the awe and adulation of its neighbours, co-habiting instead in a varied and supportive community.

Gardens like this make me consider my relationship with the earth. Contrasting and complex ideas about control, conforming, normalcy, and freedom to be myself present themselves for reflection.

In the ramshackle garden I feel the buoyancy of liberty. Members of this community are allowed to get on with doing what they need to do, without judgement or rebuke. Sprawl over that path? Fine. Ramble over the shed? Why not? There is no colour-code or formal grid, no absolute right or wrong.

I also feel excitement. There is a wildness here, seldom seen in an urban setting, and it puts me on edge. When the formula is unknown, we are encouraged to think more laterally and use our intuition. Places that exist just beyond our control and comfort zone may seem threatening, but offer so much more scope for imagination and possibility.

Mostly though, I sense an overwhelming puIsing of life. Everything oozes gumption. Every single flower here is striving its upmost to exist. The audacious and the petite, the decaying and the damaged, the self-sown and the longed for. Each flower’s life force is concentrated into the effort of being beautiful in the hope of being chosen by the bee or the bird. Existing in such optimism is vulnerable, and vulnerability takes courage.

The stages of life and the traits of every flower are natural. Both also mirror those of our own life cycles and personalities, and that is why I paint these places. The wild garden and the flowers it contains are a metaphor for our own communities and the individuals within.

I believe that the more we are connected to nature, the more whole and grounded we will become. The more we encourage the diversity and incongruence of the garden, the more accepting we will be of difference. As we relax the requirements and expectations of the green spaces around us, maybe we too can find the courage to let our own beauty blossom.

'Kelmana Foxies' by Katherine Throne