I have always felt that gardens were created partly as a science experiment and partly as a three-dimensional art project. It takes a touch of understanding how plants grow mixed with a healthy dose of artistic talent to place plants together to make a beautiful garden.
Gregg Perrenoud and his wife, Linda, are living proof of that. I first saw their Otis Orchards garden in early June when plants were still filling out and blooming. I knew I was looking at something special. It seems that the Inland Empire Gardeners judging team thought the same a few weeks later and awarded them the June Garden of the Month award.
When you first enter the garden, you are greeted by a 70-foot-long, double-tiered bench of imaginative bonsai plantings, many planted in containers Gregg made. The bonsai bench fronts a garden filled with topiary evergreens, shrubs, perennials and edibles woven together with hand-laid slate and sandstone paths. Many of the plants have names like curly cue for a curly Douglas fir, frosty for a beautiful small white pine and woolly mammoth for a large evergreen that looks like, well, a woolly mammoth.
In among the plants are whimsical pieces of metal garden art that give the garden an even quirkier feel. Gregg and Linda spend many evenings in the center of the garden around a table made of an old stump and a piece of slate topped with a small trough garden of sedums. Around the perimeter of the garden is an edibles garden filled with raspberries, blackberries, fruit trees and large garden boxes filled with vegetables.
Gregg’s interest in bonsai started back in high school. His first attempt failed miserably when his dog ate the project. After finishing the horticulture program at Spokane Community College and working in the local nursery industry for many years, he was finally able to get back to his botanical art.
Many of the plants that make up his collection today were nursery castoffs bound for the dumpster because of broken branches and misshapen trunks. Gregg used his talent as a plantsman and a painter to turn them into plant sculptures using the plant’s natural shape for inspiration.
“I picked up most of the plants as 1-and 2-gallon pots,” Gregg said. Because he lets the shape of the plant determine how he will train it, he does not use traditional bonsai pruning and shaping methods.
Gregg’s art isn’t all three-dimensional. He is also a talented impressionist painter who uses huge canvases to paint interpretations of nature in bold colors.
He often uses plant stems and branches as imprints in his paintings.
In one example he was working on when I visited, he had taken large ostrich fern fronds, coated them with paint and then gently pressed them onto the canvas to create a note of realism in the abstract work.