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Two Cities, One Blue Sage

We dropped our daughter at college in Chicago last week, which gave me a chance to visit the Lurie Garden at Millenium Park, right in the downtown area, east of the Loop. It's a striking oasis, full of flowering prairie plants and goldfinches pecking at the seedheads of coneflowers.

The garden's designer, Piet Oudolf, also designed the High Line garden on the west side of Manhattan--and a gorgeous blue sage is blooming in both places right now. The sky-blue blossoms of this plant are unmistakable and unusual; most perennials said to flower blue actually have a purple cast to their petals. I was so excited when I saw it in the Lurie Garden, I made a quick pencil sketch:


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The High Line is a repurposed elevated railroad trestle that runs for 20 blocks along the Hudson River as a stroll garden. Oudolf retained many of the plants that had grown up on the abandoned railroad bed (the goldenrod, the sumac) and added native sages, asters, and vibrunums. Oudolf, from Holland, has introduced American gardeners to the idea of using native vegetation--planted in large groups, with dried stems on perennials--as food and shelter for wildlife. These low-water gardens work as natural habitats, even in the city. Oudolf has authored many books, but my favorite is his early "Designing with Plants" for its specific plant recommendations, accurate photos, and playful translation from the Dutch.


I've been painting with Yupo, the synthetic "paper," because I like the random flow of the pigments on its slick surface. I can't use pencil on Yupo because its surface is too slippery, so I lightly paint in the plants using cobalt blue and a fine brush. Then I go back in and add the colors I want. Here is Salvia azurea, Blue Sage:


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-- Sue Fierston paints and teaches just outside of Washington, D.C. in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. As a painter, she works in acrylics and watercolor and is in the middle of a series called "100 Flowers." As a teaching artist, she works with teachers to bring art into their classrooms in grades 4-8. Her posts focus on her nature-themed art collaborations. For a look at her paintings or more about her teaching, check out her website at suzannefierston.com.

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