Gardening Artists: Frida Kahlo & Georgia O’Keeffe

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Garden of Frida Kahlo’s house – The Blue House.

Gardens and the world of art are often intertwined. Take a look at these examples of two great artists, their gardens, and how they can inspire us all.


Some artists paint their gardens. Others garden as an extension of their creativity. Still others tend plants as a respite from the discipline of being an artist. Glimpse into the gardening lives of two famous 20th century painters.

Frida Kahlo

The New York Botanical Garden is holding an exhibition called Frida Kahlo: Art, Garden, Life through Nov 1, 2015. I am somewhat familiar with Kahlo’s life and work, but she is very popular here in the southwest.

Apparently Kahlo was quite a gardener. This display at NYBG is a replication of her studio and courtyard garden at Casa Azul, her home in Mexico City. To make the exhibition as authentic as possible, photos and paintings were used to find plants that do not grow at Casa Azul today.

Gardens inspired her art

Kahlo’s studio looked out over her gardens, which inspired her paintings. She included vines, roots, leaves, and thorns in her self-portraits, and many had beautiful greenery as a background. Fruits, vegetables, cacti, and flowers from the garden were the subjects of her still lifes, and she combined people and plants into one subject to convey hybridity or duality.

Frida Kahlo courtyard blue house

Frida Kahlo’s courtyard at  Casa Azul (The Blue House), Mexico City.

Casa Azul means “Blue House” in Spanish. The walls were bright blue, a vivid backdrop for her gardening expertise. The courtyard was also full of bright colors and native plants, many sculptural. Kahlo used the flowers to adorn her hair every day.

The courtyard and studio have been rebuilt at NYBG as close to the original as possible. A Mexican theme runs through the food and music offered to visitors. For Frida fans, gardeners, and painters alike, this is a must see. See the NYBG website for details. Casa Azul in Mexico City is now a museum, also surely worth a visit.

Georgia O’Keeffe

Most of the way across the country in the southwest desert, something similar is happening. Georgia O’Keeffe’s garden from her home in Abiquiu, New Mexico is being replicated at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, about an hour away. The Santa Fe Botanical Garden is working in conjunction with the museum to design and execute this project.


Blue and Green Music, Georgia O’Keeffe, 1921

Miss O’Keeffe is well known for her deep yet simple paintings of her seemingly barren desert surroundings. Native flowers, vast landscapes, and old bleached animal skulls dominate her work. She intimately knew the wild plant life, but what about plants at home?

O’Keeffe was an avid gardener. She bought the house in Abiquiu when she fell in love with the ornamental gardens. She tended the trees, shrubs and perennials with the attention she put into her paintings. It is these plants that will be propagated and planted in Santa Fe.

The vegetable garden

Abiquiu was a very rural area 100 years ago, and it was far and difficult to get fresh groceries. O’Keeffe chose to grow most of her own vegetables and herbs, and make the long trek only for staples and bulk items.

One of her assistants compiled a collection of recipes made with ingredients from the garden, A Painter’s Kitchen. I have this book! It is interesting to peek into Miss O’Keeffe’s life with her accompanying stories, and the recipes are just my style – creative, healthy, and simple.

Revived garden

After O’Keeffe passed away in 1986, the gardens were not maintained. Last year, however, that changed. A group of local high school interns began to restore them using O’Keeffe’s detailed garden plans and journals. The students harvested the crops, and cooked a meal for supporters and family. At the same time, the plans to recreate the ornamental gardens in Santa Fe began to take shape.

You can tour Georgia O’Keeffe’s home, gardens, and studio year round. Make reservations through the museum. The gardens at the Santa Fe Botanical Garden will be ready in 2017, in time for Miss O’Keeffe’s 130th birthday celebration.

Garden inspiration

Have you ever drawn inspiration from painters’ gardens or their artwork? You can find many ideas for using bold colors, sculptures, native plants, trees, shrubs, flowers, and edibles in your own yard.

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Nan Fischer

Nan Fischer has been living and building green for over 35 years. Nan’s emphasis on the BuildDirect blog is about how to make your dollar stretch further, while also moving toward a more sustainable lifestyle, as well as upcoming and existing technology to help us live in an ecologically-friendly way. Nan also authors posts on the website of her seed business, sweetly seeds.