The Artist’s Garden
A social worker changes her life with gardens and glass
Many gardeners cultivate flowers for their beauty and visual excitement and grow vegetables for the wholesome nourishment that they provide. Stained-glass artist Layne Gregory does all that and more. She attributes her satisfaction in gardening to her former career as a social worker. “I enjoy creating relationships,” says Gregory, who lives at Lincoln Farm in Falmouth, Maine.
In fact, the relationships that Gregory creates inform not just her gardening but also her art. “I love mixing unique shades of color. I like using orange where other gardeners would avoid it,” she says, referring to a swimming-pool planting of 10-foot-tall, orange Mexican sunflowers (Tithonia rotundifolia) entwined with blue and purple morning glories (Ipomoea spp.). “It’s the same with my stained glass. I like putting images, colors, and shapes together and making something unexpected from them. What makes them interesting are the juxtapositions.”
Gregory and her husband, Daniel Oppenheim, have lived for 20 years in an old colonial at the 1805 dairy farm. They own 7½ acres of the original 100-acre establishment. Six of those acres are cultivated and include a swimming pool, patio, pond, vegetable garden, bee hives, rolling lawn, and several landscaped seating areas, as well as the farmhouse and Lincoln Farm Studio, a 100-year-old, renovated shed.
“I started gardening the first summer we moved here,” says Gregory, who also has two sons. “The only thing that was here was a stand of orange daylilies and some rhubarb. I make a new garden every year, but I’m starting to feel like I’ve reached capacity.” Her gardens include perennial borders around the swimming pool and a large fenced and gated vegetable garden with 19 raised beds and an area for planting corn. In addition, there are two more raised beds in front of the barn, where Gregory grows tomatoes and zinnias.
Her creative urges do not stop at garden design and cultivation. They extend to various forms of food preparation, including the preparation of homemade meals. “I make soups and freeze them in quart canning jars. We enjoy them for lunch all winter,” she says. “I also benefit from the garden harvest by doing a lot of canning and preserving. I make jams, chutneys, and pickles.”
Gregory raises honeybees, but not in plain white hives. “Our hives are colorful, like sculptures in the garden,” she says of the red, yellow, blue, grass green, and azure stacked boxes that reflect her passion for juxtaposing bold hues.
Her mixed borders and vegetable gardens exemplify order, balance, and abundance. Each June, the swimming-pool garden is ablaze with white flowering deutzia, red cardinal flower, yellow globeflower, and sun drops. The same garden in September displays white, trumpet-flowered datura, pinwheel zinnias, anise hyssop, yellow and pink Echinacea, masterwort (Astrantia spp.), bright pinkish-red phlox, pink anemones, and salvias in magenta and blue. Gregory buys many special plants, including “an incredible array of annuals and great clematis,” at Garden Spot Farm in Pownal, Maine. Last spring, she visited Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay, Maine, and discovered Italian bugloss (Anchusa azurea), a drought-tolerant perennial with royal blue flowers that attract swallowtail butterflies. Gregory liked it so much that she bought five of them for her yard. “My gardens evolve and bloom through the growing season,” says the artist, who also created the bright mosaic-topped patio tables by the pool.
Gregory’s landscape pays homage to the gardeners of her childhood. “My grandfather and grandmother had a large yard in southern California, where they raised and hybridized camellias,” she says. “My grandfather’s goal was to have something blooming in his garden year-round.” Gregory shares that ambition and keeps plants blooming on all four sides of her house. The example of her father, an avid vegetable gardener who kept bees and chickens, inspired her to acquire them over the last few years. Her father also taught her that vegetable gardens can be beautiful. Although Gregory trained as a master gardener in the 1990s, she says she learned much of what she knows “by trial and error, mostly error.”
She starts many plants from seed and maintains the gardens, including planting, pruning, and weeding them, herself. “There is a Zen of weeding,” Gregory says. “Having been a social worker in the field of family violence prevention and not seeing the effects of my work right away, I find seeing the immediate impact of what I do to be very satisfying.”
The worlds of art and gardening, where Gregory gets relatively quick results, lure her. “I have always been somebody who likes to make things: gardens, dinner, hooked rugs, a mosaic backsplash,” she says. “It’s nerdy but it’s true.”
When Gregory left her job two years ago, she devoted herself anew to the landscape and took a class in making stained glass, an art form that resonated with her interests and her desire for a different occupation. “I knew I wanted my new career to be creative,” she says.
Gregory started incorporating found and unusual pieces of glass such as old photo negatives and lids from Depression-ware glasses along with colored glass shards into her mixed-media panels, which measure roughly 12 x 16 inches. “What I like about glass is that it can bring the outdoors inside,” she says. “That’s why I tend to stay away from opaque glass. Even though some of the glass I use has color, you can still see through it and incorporate what’s outside.”
To accommodate her glasswork, she transformed the farm shed into an art studio bathed in northern light. “I did very little in terms of structural change, except for removing the doors that opened to the barn and putting glass there,” she says. Gregory not only makes glass art here but also teaches workshops ranging from wreath making to creating mosaic tile birdbaths and patio tables. She and her husband also hold occasional potluck movie nights for 20 or so friends in the new space.
“It’s a blessing to be able to do what I really love to do,” Gregory says. “My life is now focused on creativity, because creating involves giving and receiving at the same time.”