Themed gardens make for spectacular... LANDSCAPES


Master gardener volunteer intern


If you lack vision for designing your yard and garden or want to create a new addition, one way is to use a favorite artist or painting as your point of inspiration.

My recent visit to the Burchfield Homestead in Salem has ignited an obsession to borrow from the paintings of Charles E. Burchfield (1893-1967), one of the best-known American watercolorists of the 20th century.

The majority of Burchfield’s works portray flora and fauna native to Salem. He wrote extensively in his journal about his love of nature, including a detailed list of plants growing in his own backyard.

Visitors to the Burchfield Homestead can marvel at the replication of Burchfield’s childhood garden.

An added bonus to using Burchfield as my inspiration will be the use of beneficial native trees, plants, pollinator-friendly flowers and perennials depicted in some of his most famous paintings: Pussy Willows by a Stream; Ghost Plants (Corn and Sunflowers); Red Birds and Beech Trees; Goldenrod in December; Wind-blown Asters.

Many terms used in landscape design, such as color, texture, repetition and unity, are also used in visual art. For instance, “Charlie used planned placement by repetition of the color of a flower to help move the observer’s eye along a path in his works,” explained museum curator, Janis Yereb.

What puts Burchfield in a league of his own is his invention of a pictorial language to express the multisensory experiences he recorded in his journals.

He used “echo” lines to convey vibrations of sound, movement, temperature, emotion and scent. When looking at Burchfield’s paintings, one can connect using all five senses, perhaps even a sixth sense.

To create my ode to Charles E. Burchfield sensory landscape and garden, I plan to use the following:

For vision/color: Crocus; New England aster; lemon lily; white trillium; cardinal flower; bee balm; poppies; butterfly weed; swamp milkweed; spiderwort; goldenrod.

For touch/texture: Pussy willows; maidenhair wood fern; lamb’s ears; gladiola; American beech tree; Ohio buckeye tree; smoke bush.

For taste: Violets; pansies, nasturtium; elderberry; maple trees (to tap for syrup).

For sound: A bird bath with a bubbler and plenty of native perennial pollinator-friendly plants to attract tweeting birds, buzzing bees, moths and butterflies.

For scent: Sweet peas; wild thyme; sweet alyssum; petunias; wild rose meadow; red clover.

For emotion: Forget-me-nots, wild bleeding hearts, black hollyhocks; blazing star.

For added dimension: Ox-eye sunflowers; creeping phlox; a grape arbor; a trellis of morning glories; corn; gourds; gray-twigged dogwood.

To learn more about landscape design, native plants, perennials and pollinators, visit and