Nov 4th, 2011

"The Old Tree" in a New Light – A GardenFest-ful

By Nancy Turnage, Public Relations & Marketing Intern, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden

I know what it means … saw through my telescope … woodsmen … sawing down trees … with Xs on them … like ours….  They’re going to cut down our tree!

As both author and illustrator, Ruth Brown brings to life bustling, bickering neighbors of the animal-variety in her 2007 children’s story, “The Old Tree”.  Birds, bunnies, badgers, and a few other boarders, who share not only living space as well as uncannily human personalities, join forces for a common, greater cause – to save their home by outsmarting the woodsmen.

This “book for the growing years” is the motivation behind the efforts of Garden volunteers Nancy Butler and Alexandra Slusher in the West Wing of The Conservatory at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, in following our tradition of bringing a storybook to life for GardenFest. In keeping with the Dominion Gardenfest of Lights 2011 theme, Nature’s DeLights, Nancy and Alexandra will indeed bring to life “The Old Tree”.

Their methodology is simple … or not:

  1. Begin with a naval orange tree approximately 15 feet in height.

    The framework of the tree. Built with chicken wire & pots.

    The framework of the tree. Built with chicken wire & pots.

  2. Layer terra cotta flower pots graduating in size, upside down and stacked, spidering towards the base of the tree from four directions (these are the roots).
  3. Cover the whole thing with chicken wire and subsequent paper mache.
  4. Complete with paint and animal vignettes.
Nancy Butler mixing the first batch of paper mache'.

Nancy Butler

Nancy inherited her love of art, and paper mache’, from her father, a former float-builder.  She expresses her talents by also making and decorating extraordinary cakes for friends and family, and by volunteering here at the Garden, where she met Alexandra.  Alexandra is a Virginia Commonwealth University School of Art graduate and now a portrait and mural artist.  Together, these volunteers extraordinaire have contributed over 560 hours to Lewis Ginter since they joined in 2010.  Consequently, because they spend so much time in the “Jewel of the Garden”, the Conservatory, they are regularly approached with horticulture-related questions, which prompted them to pursue and complete the Hanover Master Gardener program together in March, 2011.

Alexandra Slusher

Alexandra Slusher

The work-in-progress in The Conservatory is a collaborative effort.  Frank Robinson, President and CEO of the Garden, chose the story.  Dick Abbott of the “Geezers” volunteer group handcrafted two mini-wooden and engraved arched doors for the tree.  And, of course, there are the tireless efforts of volunteers like Nancy and Alexandra, among others.  They are even testing the waters as mini-seamstresses by fashioning the little animals in hand-designed couture, as the carrier pigeon vignette in its little red cap and mailbag can attest.

The Old Tree

The Old Tree

’HIP, HIP, HOORAY!’ everyone cheered.  And that night they had a wonderful party.

Candlewick Press’ “The Old Tree” is also available for purchase in the Garden Shop.  The Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden version is scheduled to be completed for Dominion GardenFest of Lights, opening  on Friday, November 25,  and is available in the 11,000 square-foot classical domed Conservancy – the only one of its kind in the mid-Atlantic.  We hope that this vignette will appeal nature-lovers everywhere, from the young to the young-at-heart.

Nancy Turnage is a former PR & Marketing Intern.

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