A Watercolor Map To a Secret Garden

This sunshiny watercolor of Glasgow allotment (municipal) gardens is part of a tradition extending back to 18th-century Britain, and in some parts of Europe much further than that.

It is the idea that a painting is a "view."

Mapmaking was one of the origins of this use of watercolor. It is a practical, open-air medium easy to take on a journey (though this one by Scottish artist Avril Paton was done in her studio).

In the 18th century, the precise recording of places developed into "topographical painting," which the Oxford Dictionary calls a "detailed representation of the natural and artificial features of a town, district, etc."

If a painting is to be a recognizable depiction of a place, it must convince the viewer of its realism. Paton could be called a "realist." On the strength of this particular "detailed representation," I was able to find these "secret gardens" (once I knew they were somewhere "off Albert Drive") without much difficulty. The larger landmarks helped: the poplars, the unusual church spire, the angled roofs of some warehouses. But I had driven past these hidden plots full of plants, vegetables, and gardeners hundreds of times, not once suspecting they existed.

Paton, herself an avid gardener, combines two lives and loves in her work: the rural and the urban. She was brought up on the Scottish island of Arran, but spent much of her childhood with relations on the mainland. In adulthood, she has lived for years on Arran, but is now firmly ensconced in Glasgow. Her choice of allotments as a subject is hardly surprising.

They are a patchwork of rusticity jigsawed into the city's web of streets and buildings.

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