Flowers are a good place to begin when creating inspiration for your art. Below are some excellent choices to introduce into the garden for their colorful and spectacular blooms:
* Asiatic lilies--exotic, nodding flowers in gold, orange, red, pink, purple and white. Some have contrasting "halos." 'Enchantment' has orange-red petals spotted with black; 'Impala' shows bright yellow. Plant bulbs in light or filtered shade. Bloom from June through July.
* Bearded iris--wide, sword-shaped leaves with ruffled upper- and lower-petaled flowers. The lower petals, or falls, have a furry center strip known as the beard. 'Tequila Sunrise' blooms in vivid orange with lavender falls tipped in tan, and beards of yellow-gold. 'Gay Parasol' has soft blue upper petals and deep purple falls. Plant by bulb in August for spring or early-summer bloom.
* Dahlias--extremely varied in flower size and color. The large cactus dahlia boast layer upon layer of showy petals; grown from tuberous roots in late summer or early fall for late spring or early summer bloom.
* Bleeding heart--a Japanese native with pale pink hearts and drooping white petals. The pure white 'Alba' ('Pantaloons') makes a romantic addition to the garden. Plant by seed or tuber in the fall.
* Fuller's Teasel--an attractive back border biennial. Introduced by Spanish missionaries in the late 18th century, the bristle-like heads rest atop sturdy stems that turn brown in fall--popular in dried arrangements. Direct-seed in the fall or spring.
* Hollyhock--popular with Impressionists, this Asian native comes in purple, pink, apricot, yellow and red. Sow from seed in early spring as a back border plant.
* Love-in-a-mist--an old-fashioned, hardy annual, the lacy leaves balance pointed petals of rose, sapphire blue and white. Superior cultivars are 'Miss Jekyll' with semi-double blue blossoms and the mixed strain 'Persian Jewels.' Direct-sow in the fall for spring bloom.
* Nasturtium--a hardy, edible flower in vivid orange, red, yellow, cream and multicolor. The climbing variety will cover fences or low roofs; the cascading dwarf 'Spitfire' offers bright scarlet flowers. Plant by seed in summer for profuse bloom.
* Poppy--the annual Iceland, California and Shirley varieties offer tall, slender stems, see-through petals and attractive pods. Plant Icelandic poppies in fall for large papery blooms in winter or early spring. 'Champagne Bubbles' has flowers that reach 8 inches, ranging in color from orange and salmon to rose and pink-white. The Shirley poppy produces single- and double-petaled flowers. 'American Legion' offers bright red crinkled petals and black throats. California poppies bloom in smaller satiny petals; 'Purple Gleam' produces mauve blossoms with yellow throats, 'Dalli' comes in bicolor shades of red and yellow.
Below are tips from seasoned gardeners who are also experts in the fields of watercolor, oil and acrylic paint and photography:
Rafael Maniago of Bellflower
* You don't have to know how to draw to be a painter. As you continue to work, the form emerges.
* Limit the landscape palette to five colors: yellow ochre; alizarin crimson; ultramarine blue; green; and white. Everything can be painted using these colors. Pure white is never put on the canvas, but is blended into other colors to lighten them.
* Use a heavy bristled brush for outdoor landscapes. An older brush gives more visible strokes and textures.
Caroline Linscott of San Juan Capistrano
* Enlarge a photograph to 100 times its size to understand and capture a plant's depths.
* Use the largest brush you're comfortable with for applying watercolors. You can use any size as long as the bristles come to a fine tip.
* Experiment with grains of salt sprinkled directly onto wet watercolor for texture. Once it's dry, brush it off.
Mari Penny of Anaheim Hills:
* When combining fruits or vegetables in your artwork, make sure they belong to the same season (that is, don't put a peach next to a pomegranate).
* Remember that texture is as critical as color and composition.
* Be fearless. The first time you try your hand at any kind of art--be it planting or painting--and enjoy it, you will be hooked.
Linda Haun of Westminster
* Groom the area before trying to capture it on film. If there's an out of place leaf, it will be magnified in the final picture.
* Be intimately familiar with your camera. Read the instruction book.
* For clear, sharp photos, press your elbows tight against your sides and hold your breath. Slowly depress the button--don't punch it--while remaining still.
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* "Artists Manual: A Complete Guide to Painting and Drawing Materials and Techniques" (Chronicle Books, San Francisco, $30): A comprehensive text explaining hundreds of painting and drawing techniques.
* "The Best of Flower Painting," edited by Kathryn Kipp (North Light Books, Cincinnati, Ohio, $30): A celebration of more than 150 of today's best floral paintings in all mediums.
* "Focus on Nature: The Creative Process Behind Making Great Photographs in the Field," by John Shaw (Amphoto, imprint of Watson Guptill Publishing, New York, $22.50.
* "The Impressionist Garden," by Derek Fell (Carol Southern Books, an imprint of Crown Publishers, New York, $35): Ideas and inspiration for planning from the gardens and paintings of the Impressionists.
* "Painting Beautiful Watercolors from Photographs," by Jan Kunz (North Light Books, San Francisco, $28): Step-by-step demonstrations illustrating specific techniques for working with photos.
* "Painting Flowers and Gardens in Watercolour and Pastel," by Alison Hoblyn (Sterling Publishing, New York, $25): Easy-to-follow demonstrations to help you capture the essence of a garden.