Secret mum garden blooms in autumn

Davidsonville farmer paints with flowers

October 22, 2006|By Joni Guhne | Joni Guhne,Special to The Sun

Every year, Bill Doepkens steps out of his clodhoppers and into his artist's smock to surprise his friends and neighbors with a floral wonder: his one-of-a-kind chrysanthemum mural.

Composed of all 85 varieties of mums raised on his family's Davidsonville farm, what he calls his "field art" is spread across a third of an acre. Over the past decade, his creations have included a hummingbird, a rooster, a horse and a swan.

The 11th annual incarnation is among his most personal.

Similar to one he designed to honor his father in 2000, the mural of 2,500 flowers features a big golden heart with a lavender cross in the center. The heart is banked by two full-bloom roses made of mums. A white light spreads out from the cross, and Doepkens gave it a 3-D effect with a flying dove.

"I call it `My Mother's Golden Heart' in honor of my mom, who passed away in February," says Doepkens.

Keeping with tradition, the design had been a secret until the blooms began to unfold earlier this month. Doepkens figures that after all the planning and installation, he deserves to have a little fun, too.

In early spring, he lays out his grand design on grid paper, deciding where each flower variety with its subtle color differentiation will appear.

Then, using bamboo grown on the farm and yards of string, Doepkens lays out a grid on the ground and assigns each variety a number. In May, several friends help Doepkens plant the thousands of tiny cuttings.

While the mums grow unnoticed throughout the summer, he goes about running the farm, raising beef cattle, hens and peacocks ("for fun," he said).

Over the years, the experiments in color, texture and timing have grown increasingly intricate. Last year the mural took the form of a large butterfly, and Doepkens used early-season blooming mums to represent a butterfly's pupa stage. Mid-season-blooming mums produced the wings and late-blooming mums completed the picture.

"[In the spring] I think about when they bloom and the shapes and the 15 shades of purple," Doepkens said, "but it's even pretty when they all die. The leaf shape and shades of brown are like looking at a negative."

For more information about Doepkens Farm, call 410-721-2739.

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