the work of gardening gnomes & painting peonies

by | Aug 10, 2020 | a slice of life, All Things Home, Art, Artistic Endeavors, Gardening, Oil Painting | 26 comments

My typical gardening routine each year is to start enthusiastically and then fizzle out as the weather gets hot and beds are overwhelmed with weeds.  A part of that is I was battling beds filled with rocks, deteriorating weed-blocking fabric, and plants I didn’t like.  There wasn’t a lot of incentive to care for it until we did an overhaul.  This spring, we did a complete overhaul of the beds.  It was a lot of work, but I’m enjoying gardening so much more now that I’m tending to plants that I like and we addressed some of the problem areas.

We’ve even been giving our grass more attention!

You can see how our garden beds have progressed in these posts…

Front Garden Reveal

Tending to the Back & Side Gardens (before & afters)

Patio Makeover Reveal

We planted a bunch of Annabelle Hydrangeas, I split and relocated some hostas, and we weeded, cleaned out, lined, edged, and mulched all of the beds.  We also added some stones to help with erosion.  The work was spread over several weeks and weekends, but it made a huge difference in the curb appeal of our home.  I’ve even been getting compliments on our flowers and beds from our neighbors.

And I love my Annabelle hedges!  I’ve already been clipping bouquets, but I know they’ll be even better in future years as they become well established.  The other hedges get morning sun, so I can water them a little less frequently, but the ones along the studio/garage side of the house get afternoon sun, so they need a lot of water.  I bought a soaker hose a few weeks ago and turn that on for a while every day to make sure they don’t wilt or get stressed.

annabelle hydrangeas minnesota miss mustard seed

Now that the labor-intensive work is done, I’ve been taking a little time a few evenings each week to “do the work of gardening gnomes.”  It’s the small detail work that makes the landscaping look so good.  I’ll prune off anything that’s half-eaten or is browning/dried out, deadhead flowers, pull weeds, and just tidy things up.  I’ll work my way around the house with a five-gallon bucket until it’s full and then I’ll stop.  My mom and I even did that together one beautiful evening last week.

gardening by the bucket miss mustard seed

Some evenings, I’ll set out, certain that I won’t be able to fill the bucket, because I just filled one the night before, but I always end the gnome-ing with a full bucket.  I’ve enjoyed the time outside as a bonus of this gardening by-the-bucket method.

(THESE are the pruning shears I use.)

gardening by the bucket miss mustard seed

From gardening to painting…  (I’m learning why so many artists enjoyed gardening, too!)  When our peonies bloomed a few weeks ago, I was determined to make a bouquet and paint it.

peonies minnesota miss mustard seed

I’ve always loved peonies, but have never been very happy with my paintings of them.  They are so detailed and it overwhelmed me!

peonies miss mustard seed

peonies miss mustard seed

One thing I’ve learned as I’ve been studying oil painting is that good pictures don’t always make good paintings.  Paintings rely on light and shadow to show form, so when I’m taking a picture to paint, it looks very different.  The ones above are to use as photographs, the one below is to paint…

peonies miss mustard seed

I was happy with the underpainting…

peonies underpainting miss mustard seed

…I was even okay as I was adding the shadows.  I avoided the pink for as long as I could, which is so funny!  Peonies are pink, so you’re going to have to mix up some pinks, Marian!  

peonies oil painting miss mustard seed

I’m telling you, I struggled through this one and was never really happy with how the petals and blooms turned out.  I got way too fussy and muddied the colors.  There were actually times that I completely sabotaged one of the blooms with a big smear so I could try the petals again.

peonies oil painting miss mustard seed

I know that I’m just getting overwhelmed with the detail of the petals and I’m not slowing down to really look at them.  I’ll try some sketches of that picture and try again at some point.

peonies oil painting miss mustard seed

The good news is that the painting sold and found a good home.  Sending them off in the world helps me to let go of the painting and any struggles I felt while working on it.  It’s finished and out of my studio.  I’ve learned from it and I can let someone enjoy it while I continue to practice and grow as an artist.

I was the same way with furniture pieces, too!  It’s funny how your process can follow you from one creative medium to another.

While all of this angst was happening at the easel, Violet was enjoying the last bit of sun on the cabinet next to me.  After a few paws landed into piles of paint on my palette, I banished the kitties from the studio while I’m painting, but I didn’t have the heart to move her…

calico cat art studio miss mustard seed

calico cat art studio miss mustard seed

So, there you go! A little bit of gardening and painting peonies!

This week, I’m going to take a few days off from posting on the blog in order to spend time with my parents and finish up a few more home projects before they head back to Pennsylvania.  I have a ton of progress to share, though, from beams on the ceiling to wallpaper in the office, to wooden shoes hung in the foyer!  We’ve been busy little bees…


  1. Gail clarke

    Love our kitties

  2. Brenda

    Violet, now that’s a picture worth painting! I love peonies. I bet they would be difficult to paint! Have a great day!

  3. Jan

    Why don’t you paint from direct observation? It really is the best way to see and create volumetric forms and the variety of value contrast. You can aim for a certain amount of time to work on it to challenge any tendency to over work a study.

    • Marian Parsons

      Yes, I do whenever I can, but sometimes I know I won’t have the time to paint the subject in the light I want, so I’ll take a picture and paint from it later.

  4. Barbara King

    It’s so enjoyable to watch you grow as an artist painting with oils. Peonies are so very beautiful in person and very hard to paint a likeness of them that we can accept! Yardwork is always there, and it’s a good time to think through solutions to life’s problems and knotty ideas. You always inspire me. Enjoy your time with your parents.

  5. Danielle

    Your painted peonies are gorgeous!

  6. Reta Lehman

    I have done all your painting classes and loved them!!! I miss them so much. Would love for you to do a tutorial on the peonies!

  7. Carrie

    I think your peony painting is lovely! I especially like the varied colors in the flowers and how you painted the tabletop. I’m new to oil painting and find that peonies, and really most flowers, seem to be so difficult for me. All of my flowers end up a bit more abstract than I intended them to be:)

  8. Mary

    I love the bucket idea! As something of a perfectionist, I tend to put things off because I feel like I have to “complete” it. This gives permission to pace yourself! Love it…love it!

  9. Crystal Brown

    Instead of a soaker hose, have you considered installing a micro irrigation system? They’re inexpensive, DIY friendly and run on timers. You can set the timer to turn on at a given time, for a set time, even choose how many days of the week you want it to run, depending upon your system and the needs of your plants. That way you don’t have to remember to turn it on… or off, it conserves water and is almost goof proof. Every planting bed in our yard (which is large) has its own system set for the type of plant and its watering needs. All on timers. Saves me so much time and energy.

  10. Wendy Y

    I was just telling my husband last night as we sat out in our backyard enjoying the view of the garden, that I think people love gardening because it gives you a reason to be outside. (Kind of like golfing or fishing for some people😁). Glad you are getting in some good summer time activities before your long winter rolls around again! Sweet to have your Mom and Dad around too💕

  11. Cindy A Redman

    Annabelles are the best! …and painting peonies is the WORST! They’re sooo beautiful and tempting to paint, and then when you try… they are so hard to paint! I think you did a damn good job for your first try.


  12. Anna Murphy

    I love peonies too but in California we don’t see them in gardens as much as other areas. I think with painting peonies, you might have to treat it as if painting a tree and simplify. Just like a tree, you can’t paint every leaf and branch so you just try and get the overall shape and color and the feeling of how delicate peonies are.

    I’m a beginner plein air painter and I’m so happy I have found your website and blog! You have a wonderful style and attitude about painting.

  13. Jenny

    I loved the painting and would buy it if you did more. Please. Pink is and always has been my favorite color. I love it most in a soft blushed pink or a rosy watermelon color. Pomegranate pink is my go to as well.
    I have a tin compost pail and I try to fill it a few times a day. Love all your projects. I wish my Allen had his young energy. Be grateful for Jeff while he is still willing and able to help. My sweet hubs is 71 and not interested or…. ??
    IN tackling a new toilet and tile small only bathroom we have. We need a few new closet doors in our 3rd bedroom..his sleeping room. Really or painting it because it needs a new coat of paint. He built several homes and used to get into a big project here. What a difference 5 yrs makes. I am 69 yrs old and had 4 major back surgery’s. I do 9-9 workn steady. I just have not had time to do my crats and fun stuff. I used to paint,quilt,etc. Not any more. To much to do in summer especially keeping up. We are very rural and it is hot CA weather and dusty. It is hard to keep our plantings green and thriving.

  14. Patti

    Marian, I have a large patch of Lilly of the Valleys that are overcrowded and have never been divided. I’ve lived here 38 years. Do you any advice on how to do this? Thanks, Patti

  15. Ruth

    I bought Mo’s peony painting off Instagram!
    I was so thrilled. So fun to inspect it close up in person and see how bold and confident her strokes are. Something I strive for.
    I’ve enjoyed yourFriday painting so much, it really launched me into oil painting. Thank you.

  16. Mary S

    This is for Patti—If you plan to divide Lily of the Valley you have your work cut out for you. I had large patches of them when I moved into this house. I didn’t want them so started the task of digging them up. You will NOT believe their root system!! After digging, and digging, and oh yah,,, a little more digging ove many weeks, I was finished with this fight. I covered them with black garbage bags and held them down with some 2×4’s and rocks, etc. and let them cook all last summer. In the all, I pulled up the plastic bags and they were pretty much gone. I wish you all the luck in the world if you plan to divide them. You might consult your garden center or the internet for some tips. But just know they are ultra invasive.

  17. Mary S

    If you notice bugs chewing on your plants, especially hosta, a simple solution is to get a bag of Diotomatious
    Earth. It’s a deterent for slugs and other critters that want to eat your plants. It has the consistency of powdered sugar and you just need to sprinkle some around the base of the plants. I put a tiny bit on the leaves too. Just so they get the message. It’s white in color but the first rain will knock it off the leaves.

    Your plants look very pretty! Good job!

  18. Jean

    I have the same problem with giving up when it gets hot ant it’s been over 90 for the last 4 – 5 weeks so our beds are overrun. I did manage to deadhead the hydrangeas this evening so they can be cut back this winter. I’ll probably split them again in the spring. I need to find some Annabells though – love he white blooms!

  19. Kimberly Carnegie Bruhn

    LOVE your peonies! I just found out that our deer will not eat them…so I can try planting some this fall (not sure if we plant those here in Southern Oregon in autumn?!) But it’s been quite the struggle to find pretty flowers that do not tempt our deer herds…btw, we live about 5 blocks off the main street here in our town…not in the country!

  20. Meredith MacRitchie

    I might adopt your bucket idea! I always feel like I have to tackle it all at once.

    There ARE white peonies, though less common! I think your painting is beautiful, but I know when I paint something, I always end up focusing on how it *doesn’t* look like what I wanted it to, and how I pictured it. We can never see our own work objectively!

  21. Jo Nelson

    I think the painting is absolutely gorgeous!

  22. Judy

    Have a wonderful time with your parents! I appreciate that you will take some days off to be with them before they depart. Your blog friends will anxiously await your return!

  23. Judy Karlson

    Have a wonderful time with your parents! I appreciate that you will take some days off to be with them before they depart. Your blog friends will anxiously await your return!

  24. Celeste

    Oh I can relate to wanting to paint something beautiful but not being able to get what you want. Most recently I struggled with painting succulents. I was trying to re-create the purple/brown/mint tones (yeah try mixing that!) My final result was not what I’d hoped and looked like a completely different artist than the other elements of the still life. Oh well, I learned what not to do. I miss your painting posts. While I didn’t paint along with you, I saved the pictures and work on them later. I’m sure peonies would prove as difficult as the succulents.

  25. Claire

    everything is very beautiful. congratulations


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Marian Parsons - Miss Mustard Seed

I’m Marian, aka Miss Mustard Seed, a wife, mother, paint enthusiast, lover of all things home and an entrepreneur, author, artist, designer, freelance writer & photographer.  READ MORE to learn more about me, my blog and my business…


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