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Abundant Future: Cultivating Diversity in Garden, Farm, and Field


Garden Tangle

Raphanus sativus 'De 18 Jours'

I watched the radish grow and then, instead of harvesting it, watched it send up long stems of delicate, pink-tinged, white flowers. The flowers were left to develop into this dried tangle of fruit, the pods full of seeds. This stem of seed was saved in late 2019, though was not yet the chosen subject for a submission for the exhibition Abundant Future.

During the 2019 growing season, I observed and painted many vegetables-with-histories from my garden. Due to my long interest in saving seeds of heirloom vegetables, I knew that the subject for any submissions for Abundant Future would be grown here. While I have gardened in New England for at least 45 years, “heirloom” gardening became a serious endeavor of mine about 20 years ago. I have saved seed of many vegetables and planted those in following seasons, developing strains that are viable in this specific climate. I am reminded of the story behind the potato of the Andes Mountains where thousands of varieties were developed due to careful management by the local people, each chosen potato best for a certain altitude and amount of moisture. Saving the seed of this radish continues my interest in and support of the preservation of genetic variety. After the 2019 growing season had passed and I had painted other vegetables, though not this radish, I was able to better appreciate the subtle beauty of this tangle of radish seed pods.

Over the winter of 2019-2020 I sketched this specimen, puzzling out the tangle, sketching again, tracing numerous times, and finally placing the drawing on a sheet of bright white Arches paper, hot press, 140 lb. The foreground was painted first, then the underlying layers slowly added. Really, the pandemic gave me the time to sit, focus and render this complex piece. Teaching and commissions for illustrations for books were cancelled. Could this tangle be symbolic of this complex and disruptive time?

Apparently, the radish delighted and nourished ancient civilizations. According to scientists writing for The Crop Genebank Knowledge Base (, there are two or possibly three genetic radish traces from the family Brassicaceae. One genetic variety evolved from southwest China, where wild radish can still be found growing. Another genetic variety evolved from the Mediterranean - Caspian Sea area. This vegetable was a very important food for ancient cultures - for the Chinese, for the Egyptians where radish images can be found painted on pyramid walls, for the Greeks who created a sculpture of a radish for a temple at Delphi, and for the Romans. Later, imported to medieval Europe, the radish had become more of a medicinal item, as well as involved in superstition, including alerting one to witches.

The radish continues to delight contemporary gardeners with its peppery taste that comes in round or cylindrical shapes in beautiful pinks, reds and purples; more recently with the import of other global varieties, there are many more choices.

Observing and painting seeds and sprouting plants has been a focus of mine, especially, of native trees, shrubs and vines, plants that have been living in this New England area for centuries. My painting for the ASBA exhibition Following in the Bartrams’ Footsteps showed a collection of seeds that the Bartram family gathered for their nursery business. My own ongoing small-books project features the life cycle of native perennials, beginning with the seed. I intentionally sprout seeds for observation, and I am always delighted and in awe when I find an endemic seed sprouting in my gardens, somehow having settled in that soil, traveling from the woods that surround my home. I have a sketchbook devoted to sprouting seeds; my other 10 or so sketchbooks contain more observations of the life cycle of plants that I encounter. Seeds are life! How awe-inspiring it is to understand, even a little, of the process of successful pollination needed to form a seed. How wonderful it is to watch a seed germinate and grow! Painting this ‘Garden Tangle - Raphanus sativus ‘De 18 Jours’ continues my interest and joy. To continue the cycle further, I planted seeds from this tangle in 2020 to test for viability in my garden and they have proven to be strong! While the species name ‘De 18 Jours’ implies a speedy harvest in 18 days, the seed took a bit longer to harvest in my garden!


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Read more about this artist’s work: 16th annual

Abundant Future-Duncan - Garden Tangle

Raphanus sativus 'De 18 Jours'

Garden Tangle

Watercolor on paper

16 x 20 inches

©2020 Beverly Duncan

2024 ASBA - All rights reserved

All artwork copyrighted by the artist. Copying, saving, reposting, or republishing of artwork prohibited without express permission of the artist.

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