Creating Natural Balance: Making a Garden Peace Pole, Part 2

Reader Contribution by Barbara Hengstenberg
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For me, garden art creates natural balance. The flow of creating a piece of garden decor, especially from design to development, enhances my life balance. Seeing garden accessories sprouting in the midst of plants provides a personal human touch to my natural world.

As a writer, a blank page (or, better yet, a blank journal) excites my creativity. The artist in me sees a blank canvas, blank wall – really, any unmarked surface – and imagines the array of designs and colors I could add. For instance, when I was a teen, my dad had steamed the wallpaper off our dine-in kitchen walls. I somehow convinced my parents to let me paint a large mural on the wall behind the dinette table. It took me three years to complete, finished just in time for me to marry and move out of state. I was thrilled when Dad built a frame around this painting of a forested waterfall. The mural remained in place at least until the house sold, some 35 years later.

Just as that painting became a centerpiece in our home, this peace pole was planned to hold court in a special place, too – my garden. The whitewashed, four-foot pole I chose to keep became my blank canvas. I was in awe of the possibilities.

Planning the Artpole Design

Thus began the planning process. I knew the peace pole would ultimately embellish my flower garden, so I began searching for quotations and designs focused on nature. However, garden poles can focus on anything you love and enjoy. For example, my friend who provided the antique newel posts painted one of hers as a gift for her parents. She decorated it with a painting of their beloved dog and other important mementos of their life.

Searching through poetry books and online, I decided on the following words of wisdom:

“Go in peace…it makes the flowers sweeter,” inspired by artist/author Michael Dolan.

“Nature is not a place to visit. It is home.” – poet Gary Snyder

“Lose yourself in Nature and find peace.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Love – Joy – Peace”

These were just the right words for this garden peace pole. Propped atop two paint-splattered sawhorses (put to use over the years during many home improvement and art projects), I was ready to start the best part: painting! Out in the sunshine, listening to the chorus of early springtime birds whose songs welcomed the new season, and dodging a bumblebee who seemed enamored with my work, I painted the variety of decorations intuitively.

I’d spend a couple of hours a day on my project, as long as my new hip would allow. It was time spent in flow, in life balance. Colorful butterflies, ladybugs, sunflowers, irises and grasses found their way onto my hardwood canvas. My advice to anyone embarking on creating a garden peace pole: find your focus or theme, and then let your intuition guide you through the flow of painting. 

Protection and Installation in the Peace Pole Garden

To ensure a long life in the elements of North Carolina’s four seasons, once I painted my designs using interior/exterior acrylic paint in a variety of opaque, bright colors, I applied a spray polyurethane as a first line of defense. Once the (at least) three spray coats had dried, I brushed on at least three additional coats of spar polyurethane. My husband, Bill, who provided much-needed assistance in the initial prep of the poles (as I mentioned in Part 1), inserted rebar into the bottom of the post. This acted as a stake which could be buried deeply into the ground.


Balance of Nature

The artpole now sits proudly amongst my hellebores, black-eyed Susans and lavender. It is sited next to our road, welcoming walkers throughout the day. One neighbor called it a jewel in our garden. It makes people smile and it makes my heart happy to see neighbors and strangers stop and take the time to read the messages it holds. As plants grow around it, embracing the pole, it becomes an organic member of my garden. In winter, as snow gathers around and upon it, this garden peace pole becomes a colorful reminder of the spring to come…a reminder of the balance of nature.

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