Atop a pillar at the end of a private lane in Bozman sits a bright red pepper. It’s shiny and curled upward, almost as if it is waving a welcome. Come in, it says to visitors, I have delightful secrets.
Further down the lane, giant stalks of aqua, indigo and green asparagus nod toward one another as if confiding secrets. Just across from them, a lone purple artichoke coolly rests atop another pillar.
Sculptures of round, luscious fruits and vegetables live in many spots all over sculptor and landscape designer Jan Kirsh’s gardens. Her sculpture is born of her landscape design work.
Inside Kirsh’s studio, which is attached to her home, she is working on a commissioned pineapple. It has to be balanced; it has to be able to drain. Four pineapples of this design will sit atop four brick gate posts leading to a patron’s vegetable garden. The pineapples must be able to drain rainwater and melted snow, and they must be made of light material.
Sculpture is a feat of art and of engineering and in Kirsh’s studio — much like in her landscape design — she collaborates with other experts.
Across the table from the large pineapple are much smaller designs, part of a new project she is putting through research and development, 3-D printed jewelry made from her designs. She is wearing the fig pendant. The fig is shown bisected and is incredibly detailed. Crystals are clustered where seeds would be.
From large sculpture to delicate jewelry, Kirsh’s subjects are nearly all produce.
As a college student, Kirsh took a photography course and took photos of eggs. She remembers going to the grocery store at about 19 when her then-husband was in law school in Tallahassee, Fla. and asking the produce manager if she could photograph the vegetables.
“Not everybody goes to the grocery store and says, ‘Oh my God, look at those beautiful pears!’ but I do,” she said. “When I was an avid vegetable gardener, I enjoyed seeing the fruit form and loving the shapes.”
Kirsh’s gardens and sculpture inform one another.
“I’m constantly thinking about shape and texture and color and form and, you know, looking at those berries, looking at those paw paws when they’re young, I mean, it’s just … constantly texture, color, form, texture, color, form, shadow, light, reflection – there’s all that stuff that happens,” she said.
At a client’s home on the water in Oxford, Kirsh is nearing the end of a two-year landscape design project. At the start of one work day, she was altering a hardscape. She and a stone mason squatted on a walkway to consider the stone. She asked for strips to be cut from a slab of naturally shaped Pennsylvania bluestone and for a row of Mexican river stones to be added in the gap created.
She pointed out plants that had been moved from their original location.
“I don’t want to throw away good plants,” she said. “I like reworking them or moving them to where they make sense.”
Kirsh in all of her work notices incredible detail. After tweaking the walkway design, she asked a landscaper to remove a barely visible plastic ring from a plant in the vegetable garden. Her clients appreciate this level of attention to their gardens.
Recently, one of the owners of the Oxford home said he would like Kirsh to consider where in his garden she might place a piece of her sculpture — that is meaningful to Kirsh.
“I’m friends with my clients,” Kirsh said. “It doesn’t take long to develop a rapport, and then you care about them and their garden.”
And clients return asking Kirsh to design new gardens for their properties, to design new gardens as they move to new homes, to guide new landscapers how to care for gardens she designed, or to modify gardens she designed but have matured and should be reconsidered for their new circumstances. Gardens are not static.
“I’s kind of fun, and it’s nice to be invited back,” Kirsh said.
Her love of color, and her detailed understanding of texture, color, form, light, shadow and reflection helps her to envision breathtaking settings.
At the Oxford home, a small dipping pool off the side of the house features a small stone waterfall and is enclosed by black metal fencing. But around the pool is garden and intricate hardscape. It is in the perfect spot, not easily viewed from someone who might wander up the driveway, but a sweeping view of the river. When I say it is like a secret garden, Kirsh turns and says, “That is what the owner calls it, the secret garden.”