For our first visit to the Blake Garden, I thought I should talk about its enduring appeal to east bay painters. While the garden “contains a large diversity of plant materials that grow in our Mediterranean type climate” as well as “new and historic garden design and structures” I’ve long suspected this is not why artists flock to this enclosed space. It is more because, unlike other (and perhaps more) popular gardens in the area, this one packs a lot into a relatively small and it seems to have been designed with the plein air painter in mind. No, there aren’t a lot of benches, but there is plenty of shade near its most popular attractions, and a high number of secluded nooks and crannies where one may paint undisturbed. If to this you add that it lies nestled in a very quiet neighborhood, protected from the worst winds, you realize what a jewel it is.
No matter what the result is, the garden encourages you to reflect on your work. This is a place where you can hear your own thoughts, where you can listen to your quiet artist voice. Seven years ago, I was able to write this after a day of painting at the garden: “I didn’t feel inspired by the reflecting pool or anything else. For some reason, i didn’t feel very talkative and retreated into the northern part of the garden. At the bottom, I saw a pool formed by creek water and then I saw a bench. It felt like the place was beckoning me, so I stayed. Onlookers had to leave the path to come see what I was doing, so I felt safe. I was going for the feeling of the place. I love this painting.”
I miss dearly a painter friend of mine, who often wrote about the Blake Garden on our East Bay Landscape Painter’s blog. Even though she was a fantastic painter, on some days she struggled, and let her frustration flow freely: “This painting was a struggle to work on, after my easel broke and I had to work on the ground. The colors developed in a way I liked but in the end I lost some of the composition and may work on it from memory. I like Blake Garden but never get a painting I like there.” But other days were better: “What a good idea it was to go to Blake Gardens this week. Every year when the fruit trees start to bloom I want to find a place to paint them. The cherry and plum are blooming on Thousand Oaks.”
What a wonderful assurance it must be to know that no matter how our paintings may turn out, the Blake Garden will always welcome us with open arms.