The Painted Tree



Michael Petrie has been an award-winning designer for the Flower Show for more than 20 years, but this year, he’s busting out on his own. His new business, Handmade Gardens, opened in March 2008. If we know Michael (and we do know Michael) his creation will be nothing short of spectacular. Called The Painted Tree (L’Albero Verniciato), the exhibit will be located in the far right corner of the main exhibit hall at the Convention Center.

“It’s not so much a garden as it is three-dimensional environmental sculpture meant to inspire people and give them permission to try out their own ideas in their gardens.

So what are you doing for the Flower Show this year?

Our exhibit is called “The Painted Tree” –L’Albero Verniciato in Italian. The focal point is a leafless weeping beech painted in bands of bright colors so it appears to radiate and shimmer. The tree emits vividness and life, due to the vibrating colors. The tree is mirrored in several above-ground circular pools.  At the same time, there are large container gardens of succulents and other plants in the same receptacles as the pools.  The shapes and forms of the plants and pools all echo and reflect each other, making an integrated design.

Why a leafless tree and why a painted leafless tree?

The leafless tree is symbolic of the dormancy of trees in winter. Painting the tree these vivid colors is symbolic of the tree’s Spring return to life and vibrancy. I wanted to illustrate both events simultaneously, plus I liked the idea of painting a tree so one can clearly see its shape and intricacies. This emphasizes the beauty of trees at their very core – something people can take for granted and fail to really see.”

In keeping with the theme of Bella Italia: In Italy everything is painted bright, stylish, happy colors: Ferrari red, etc. It’s a hallmark of Mediterranean and other countries that have bright, clear sun.  They use lots of clean, crisp colors on buildings and elsewhere. I wanted to play with that.

Where did you find a 25-foot weeping beech?

It was on the property of my new nursery, HANDMADE GARDENS, in Downingtown. I chose it because it had an uncharacteristic shape for a tree. It’s not perfect, it’s somewhat twisted and distorted, it’s swept to one side. It has movement. I found that interesting, more interesting than a tree that was perfectly straight and symmetrical.

Explain the design concept in “The Painted Tree” exhibit.

It’s a walk-through design, very spare and elegant. We are using ten circular pools: some contain water and some contain plants. The pools with water reflect the focal point of the exhibit, which is the painted weeping beech.  The pools with plants resemble floating jewels — giant earrings or brooches with intricate shapes of color and texture. To create these we used various succulents such as burrows tail (Sedum morganianum), agaves, aloes and echavaria, which we obtained from ArizonaEast Distributers in New Jersey

We are also using an exciting new selection of Tiarella cordifolia, the eastern species of foam flower.  This is actually a unique and hardy new introduction by famed plants-man Sinclair A. Adam, Jr. of Dunvegan Nursery, who is often referred to in horticultural circles as the Pharaoh of Foamflowers. As of this interview, the selection hasn’t even been named yet. But I can tell you it is part of a new series of clumping selections called the Diva-rellas. They will all be named after highly successful women who are Divas in some way. One plant will be named for Stephanie Cohen, one for Sherry Kito, a plant scientist at the University of Delaware. I know for whom our plant will be named, but I can’t divulge that name yet. It’s a good one, though.****

(NOTE ****For more information, contact Ms. Angela Treadwell Palmer, PresidentPlants Nouveau, 410-858-0577 phone 443.836.1492 Fax

Your exhibit description says your design is inspired by turn-of-the- 20th-century jewelry.

Yes. I’d been noticing that the design and fashion world has been showing a resurgent in interest in very elaborate, big jewelry: large colorful broaches splashed with swirly color, very Victorian/Baroque/Rococo. I thought it would be fun to translate this into a garden concept.

You’ve always been about art and using art and painterly concepts in the garden.

Yes, well, that’s just my nature and background. In addition to being a horticulturist, I studied painting and printmaking at the Philadelphia College of Art and the Pennsylvania Academy of Art.

So – should people paint the trees in their garden?

If they want to – why not? But that is not necessarily what I am advocating here.  Here I am showing many ideas: I’m demonstrating design principles I like, I’m working with shapes and form. I’m experimenting and having fun. “The Painted Tree” is not so much a garden as it is three-dimensional environmental sculpture meant to inspire people and give them permission to try out their own ideas in their gardens.

You’ve been designing and installing major landscape design exhibits in the Flower Show for over 25 years, winning Best-in-Show most of them.  Last year, for the first time since 1980, you weren’t there. What happened?

Sadly, the over 100-year old independent garden center where I worked for over 20 years was sold to a corporation. I didn’t think I’d be happy working for a large organization. So I decided to start my own, unique, independent plant nursery where we would sell interesting and unusual plants, do garden consultations and design, have a greenhouse and boutique garden shop and be all about creativity, service and horticulture.

Why did you call your place “Michael Petrie’s HANDMADE GARDENS”?

I used my name in the title so people who know of me and my reputation for design and plant expertise could find me again. I used to be in Delaware County, now I’m in Chester County. I thought using my name would let people know where I am now. We use the name “handmade” because I believe in hands-on, get-down-in-the dirt gardening. Plus we sell a lot of unique, handmade garden and other art made from found objects and antiques.

Such as?

Birdhouses made from old wood and copper, wind chimes from antique silverware, hose guards topped with glass doorknobs. We do a lot of container planting in silver and other re-purposed containers – coffeepots, lettered wooden boxes. Containers that have a history and beauty to them – we give them new life as planters and garden art. We re-use objects in beautiful and aesthetic ways. It’s the ultimate recycling.

2 Responses to “The Painted Tree”

  1. Susan Purtell Says:

    Is the beech tree still alive?

  2. Touch Up Kit Says:

    I’ve been looking for this exact information on this topic for a while.

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