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Finding a Space that Inspires Me

Posted on May 4, 2020 at 12:30 PM by Ellen Sattler

~ Ellen Sattler, Anderson Sculpture Garden intern; senior in English and Horticulture

Hi everyone, Ellen here, the Elizabeth Anderson Intern for the Anderson Sculpture Garden. One of the reasons this internship caught my attention is my interest and pursuit of a Horticulture degree. However, another thing I am strongly passionate for is English, which is why I added it as a second major. These subjects don’t seem similar at first, but upon discovering that my main interests are rooted in imagination, specifically creative writing and landscape design, you may see a clearer connection. My ideal career would incorporate both aspects of these fields, such as being a writer or editor for a horticulture magazine.

Natural spaces like the Anderson Sculpture Garden feed into my passion of landscape design, my interest for my internship, and my love of writing. In landscape classes at Iowa State, I have loved the challenge of not merely filling a space with plants, but creating a harmonious environment that draws one into the garden again and again to facilitate new experiences. The differing bloom times, dramatic color shifts, and maturation of the garden over time are factors designers take advantage of to achieve this. From the bright red foliage of the 'Brilliance’ Autumn Fern that comes and goes within the season, to the new territory Creeping Jenny graces with its presence each year, the garden is always evolving. It’s changing on its own, but the designer, as the instigator of the landscape, knows the forms, textures, and colors of each plant at its different stages and orchestrates a complementary union between plants.

I enjoy sculpture gardens not only because of the plants, but the sculptures as well can hold aspects of change. Though they may be inanimate, some sculptures, like Panthers by Christian Petersen, evoke a sense of movement and excitement. Also, many sculptures rotate for temporary exhibitions, so the look of the art within the sculpture garden is often different. Still, several permanent sculptures act as anchors and are a nice contrast to the change in the garden. This week I’m excited to install the diverse plant palette we’ve chosen this summer and visit the garden often to see both its timeless, defining elements, as well as its more ephemeral features.

My interest in nature inspires much of my poetry; I often write about water, the seasons, flowers, and my experiences on my grandparent’s country homestead, all which elicit a sense of serenity for me. I think revisiting one’s goals every so often is important, and natural spaces can be great settings for reflection. 

One of my favorite memories I have at my grandparent’s farm is stargazing in spring on lawn chairs in the gravel driveway. Just lying there, with no distractions other than the sounds of night life, a wonderful space for understanding the power of quietness and meditation, taking it slow, and realizing what I was missing. 

During this COVID-19 pandemic, I want to echo the positive pleadings of many others: this is an opportunity to better ourselves. The times I have been out in the past few weeks have only been to go walking on a trail, play tennis, or plant my personal garden, and I have enjoyed it! There are many ways to see the spring blooms that are appearing right now. Just taking a walk through your neighborhood can be a great place to start, and bike trails are great to see woodland flowers like Virginia Bluebells, Bloodroot, and Dutchman’s Breeches in bloom. 

This is a picture from April of Siberian Squill on campus by the Knoll; the colors and the space inspire me. Below is a poem I wrote after my stargazing experience called “Country Night.” I’d encourage you to find a space like this that inspires you, nature-related or not. You don’t have to write about it; maybe get crazy with the colored pencils or learn how to use that dust-collecting camera. And if you don’t feel particularly creative, now is a great time to get outside your comfort zone, experiment with something new, and learn more about yourself. Let the self-exploration begin!

Country Night  

There’s a soft rustle at my bedside 
It’s Grandma whispering the plans I’d been sleeping through 
I sit up in darkness to see her face in the dim glow of a duct-taped flashlight 
Fogginess lingers after I rub my eyes, but I still make out the bright “1:07” on the nightstand 
I am soon out of bed, but my sister is less eager, still sleeping after Grandma tempts her in whisper 
I scurry ahead, sliding across the kitchen in wool socks and hair on end 
Making the room creak while the rest of the farmhouse sleeps silent 
I push my feet into my shoes, and Grandma takes the chair outside 
The night is fresher than unopened orange juice,  
Straight from the fridge, new and cool 
We walk off the porch, shadowy figures darting after us, 
With curling tails and pricked ears 
Wanting in on the apparent excitement 

Grandma plants my chair in the gravel driveway, 
The kind of plastic chair that sticks to you on a hot day, 
With a long caterpillar abdomen 
Aluminum legs steadying itself below tubular segments, 
Mesh faded and cracking, untroubled with not having metamorphosized 

Grandma unfolds a sheet, bright against the night, mummifying me to keep out the cold 
She does the same to my sister who has come out, 
But I barely notice, as my eyes are drawn to this sky,  
One not blocked out by city lights, 
But instead sprinkled with infinite sparkles that brush by, 
Making their one and only debut, seemingly just for us 

In a short while, Grandma helps my sister back to bed 
As I move my chair closer to the house, 
The cats swarm me like I’m potato skins and veggie scraps, their favorite delicacy 
All have charcoal fur, except their mother  
Who identifies well with her name, Gravy 

One hops up with me to take part in a silent exchange: 
I pet her coat as she offers insulation 
Grandma comes to find the familiar kidney-bean shape of a farm cat nestled in my side 
The porch light reveals Gravy sitting there, 
Eyelids shrouding green pupils as her heavy purr rolls louder than a freight train 

Right now, I have everything I need: 
The stars winking at me, a true friend by my side, and the country, 
With its vibrant, humming rhythm that soothes my soul better than any song: 
The night is all mine. 


 Ellen Sattler by Bighorn by Gwynn Murrill in the Anderson Sculpture Garden.

BOTTOM: Image of Siberian Squill, courtesy of Richard Jauron, Extension Program Specialist, Department of Horticulture at Iowa State University

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