Tending the untended garden, and appreciating small moments in nature

Small Daisy flower

The Untended Garden has been truly untended lately. I’ve been focusing on other writing projects this year, and it’s been hard to find time for this blog. That doesn’t mean there haven’t been plenty of nature-inspired books, art, music, films, and other media to talk about.  In fact there’s almost too much. And the internet does a great job at letting us share these amazing things. It makes me wonder about the direction of this blog, and where I want to take it.

Eventually I will come back to it regularly, but for now, here are a few recent nature photos of my own. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the small moments in nature, and how they often seem to encompass the entirety of the natural world in their own way. The smallest flea struggles to survive, just like a bird, or a lion, or a whale, and they all play their own part in the giant tapestry of the natural world. I also think that the more we understand the natural world around us, the better we can understand ourselves.

I put some of these thoughts into an article about how to reconnect with small moments in nature. I call it The 60-Second Nature Challenge, a way to observe the tiny pieces of nature in order to better understand the whole. You can read it here.

That’s all for now, I hope you can all get outside this summer, and find your own inspiration!

Tiny bee on flower

Bunny under fence

Butterfly on a burr flower

Queen Anne's Lace

Skipper on a leaf



Artists supporting nature

I’ve been neglecting this blog in recent months, as I’ve been trying to focus on my art and writing.  Thank you to all my loyal readers for staying connected. I have a backlog of interesting artists to feature in the coming year, so stay tuned for more posts.

Today I want to tell you about some artists who are supporting nature directly through their art. Cathy Berman has long had an interest in art and the environment, and after retiring she founded a website called For Mother Nature, which features artists who donate some or all of their proceeds to environmental causes. Below are three of the artists on the website.

Ann Kruglak, who creates sculptures in polymer clay, donates all of her proceeds to the Rainforest Trust.  Her donations have saved over 200,000 acres of rainforest.

Art © by Ann Kruglak

Floris van Breugel is a landscape and wildlife photographer as well as a scientist, who has traveled all over the world capturing images of nature. His work supports the International League of Conservation Photographers.

Photo © by Floris van Breugel

Eileen Doughty creates quilts and intricate sculptures out of thread, focusing on the concept of “place”. Her work supports The Potomac Conservancy.


Art © by Eileen Doughty


There are seven artists so far on the For Mother Nature website, and founder Cathy Berman hopes it will grow to include many more artists and environmental organizations. A lifelong artist herself with a degree in Environmental Conservation, she also hopes that her website will encourage visitors to build a stronger connection with nature. You can visit the website here:  http://formothernature.com

If you’re looking for more ways to support the environment through art, check out Artists for Conservation.

Also the National Wildlife Federation has an online store where you can adopt a polar bear, plant a tree, and support our earth in many ways.

Do you know other artists or organizations who support nature through their work? Share them in the comments!

The Diatomist – microscopic artwork created from nature

Sometimes the beauty of nature is so small, you need a microscope to see it.

Diatoms are single-cell algae, encased in glass shells, invisible to the human eye without a microscope. During the 19th Century, diatomists would make intricate arrangements of these tiny objects, creating beautiful designs.

Today there is one living practitioner of this microscopic art form, Klaus Kemp, the subject of a new documentary short by Matthew Killip. Klaus developed his own techniques for arranging these tiny works of art, because the original practitioners never passed down their secret techniques.

Below are some of Klaus Kemp’s designs. You can learn more about Klaus and diatoms in this interview with the filmmaker at the Smithsonian website. For more scientific reading on diatoms, visit the Identification Guide and Ecological Resource for Diatoms of the United States.

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Diatom by Klaus Kemp

Diatom by Klaus Kemp

Diatom by Klaus Kemp

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The Wilderness Project – children in the natural world

Photo Copyright by Heather McKay Bowes

Photographer Heather McKay Bowes describes herself as “an explorer, a wild one at heart, a spinner of stories, a dreamer.” She uses her photography to tell stories, and is embarking on a new project that explores and celebrates the connection between children and nature.

Photo Copyright by Heather McKay Bowes

The Wilderness Project is a journey through the wild places in our world, the forests, rivers, mountains and beaches. Heather will photograph children in these natural settings, and the same children will photograph their own view of these wild places. It’s a project designed to bring children and nature together.

As she says on her Kickstarter page, “The children will be asked to either write, tell, or sketch some of their discoveries made while photographing and this will be shared alongside their prints in a printed journal of their own.” Heather will also “connect with families whose children may need art and nature to express, communicate or heal themselves.” The entire journey will be documented and shared to inspired others.

The first phase of the project will focus on the New England wilderness, and will last a full year to experience all four seasons. She has launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund her project. You can visit the website to learn more.

Photo Copyright by Heather McKay Bowes

Photo Copyright by Heather McKay Bowes

Photo Copyright by Heather McKay Bowes

 All photos in this post © by Heather McKay Bowes


The amazing whale photographs of Bryant Austin

Beautiful Whales book coverPhotographing whales is no easy task, but Bryant Austin has developed a unique method to create giant detailed portraits of these huge and enigmatic creatures.

Bryant had worked as an underwater photographer and marine biologist for many years, but new inspiration literally tapped him on the shoulder one day in the form of a 45-ton humpback whale. This close encounter, described eloquently in the video below, led him to quit his job and sell everything he owned in order to begin a new artistic journey — to capture images that convey the amazing experience of meeting a whale up close.

But simply enlarging a regular photo wasn’t enough, it could never capture the full detail of these creatures. So he invented his own technique. These giant photographs, currently on display at the Museum of Monterey in California, are created by taking a series of 5-foot-wide photos using a 50 megapixel camera, which he then pieces together to create the whole image. But before he can even take the photos, he spends up to three months getting to know a group of whales so they feel safe enough to approach him on their own terms. The results are truly spectacular.

Photographs by Bryant Austin
Photographs by Bryant Austin on display

Life size photograph of a minke whale
Life size photograph of a minke whale

Bryant hopes that his work will help call attention to the plight of these creatures and inspire people to want to help them. Here is an interview about his work and his journey as an artist.

He also has a new book of his photographs, which includes fold-out pages to help convey the detail in these images. Below is a video where he talks about the new book.

You can read more about his current exhibit at the Museum of Monterey in California here.

You can see many of Bryant’s photographs in this recent article from Wired.

You can learn a lot more about Bryant Austin at his website.

The Snowflake Man

Wilson BentleyWilson Bentley was a Renaissance man. He had no formal training in science or art,  yet he had a talent and a passion for both. In 1885 he became the first person to photograph a single snow crystal, and would go on to photograph more than 5000.

His story is just as inspiring as his work. His father, a farmer, did not appreciate his son’s scientific ambitions, but his mother encouraged him. Bentley later recalled, “When the other boys of my age were playing with popguns and sling-shots, I was absorbed in studying things under this microscope: drops of water, tiny fragments of stone, a feather dropped from a bird’s wing, a delicately veined petal from some flower.”

But it was snow that fascinated him most, and he spent over a year experimenting with a bellows camera and microscope trying to photograph the elusive crystals. Once he succeeded, it was thirteen years before he published his work in Popular Scientific Monthly and caught the attention of the scientific world. Photograph by Wilson BentleyYet he never sought to make a profit from his work, and sold prints of his photographs for pennies because he wanted people to enjoy them.

He wrote, “Under the microscope, I found that snowflakes were miracles of beauty; and it seemed a shame that this beauty should not be seen and appreciated by others. Every crystal was a masterpiece of design and no one design was ever repeated. When a snowflake melted, that design was forever lost. Just that much beauty was gone, without leaving any record behind.”

It is all too true that often the most beautiful things in life are with us for the shortest time. Luckily we have the photographs of Wilson Bentley to preserve at least some of them.

Photographs by Wilson Bentley

Photographs by Wilson Bentley


The following video report gives a brief overview of his life:



The story of Wilson Bentley has inspired other artists as well. He was the subject of the Caldecott Award-winning book Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin and illustrated by Mary Azarian.

Snowflake Bentley book

He also inspired an award-winning solo theater production, created by Sarah Frechette of Puppetkabob. Using Czech-style marionettes, miniatures, pop-up paper art, music and live storytelling, she brings Wilson’s story to life. You can learn more about the making of her production here.

Snowflake Man by Sarah Frechette

You can learn a lot more about Snowflake Bentley and his amazing work at the official website.


A glimpse at my own untended garden


About once a year I take a break from my usual postings here to show you a peek into my own garden, which is almost as untended as this website.

One of my favorite things about having a garden is seeing all the insects that come to visit — the honeybees, bumblebees, dragonflies, crickets, beetles, spiders, green leaf hoppers, butterflies, ladybugs, ants, and many more. These are the unseen foundation of our ecosystem. Without a healthy insect population, everything else would fall apart, and I’m happy to provide them with a home for the summer.

I’ll leave you with a very short poem by that most prolific garden poet, who loved insects as much as (if not more than) people:

The Pedigree of Honey
Does not concern the Bee –
A Clover, at any time, to him,
Is Aristocracy –

Emily Dickinson

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Sweet Peas










Drawing the natural world

Tablet and insect

A few weeks ago I attended a NESCBWI workshop on drawing animals, which took place at the Edna Lawrence Nature Lab at the Rhode Island School of Design. The lab is an amazing place, a huge room filled with preserved animals, insects, fish, fossils, seeds, stones — a virtual survey of the natural world. For this particular event there were also several live animals brought in, including a huge tortoise, a ferret, and a parrot.

Most of the afternoon was spent drawing, and people wandered freely about, drawing whichever animals interested them. The entire room, with its ceiling-high glass cabinets and boxes of specimens, had the feeling of a 19th Century naturalist’s study, and one could imagine Darwin walking through the door at any moment.

Animal at the nature labAs an artist who loves animals, I found the preserved animals unnerving and fascinating at the same time. You feel a mixture of awe, curiosity, sympathy, and connection with the once-living creatures, you wonder where they came from, what kind of life they led. There is a long history of artists drawing deceased animals, from Leonardo to Audubon. You can observe an amazing amount of detail from such close observation, though the drawback is that the drawing often ends up as lifeless as its subject.

The whole day was very inspiring, and seeing so much of the natural world crammed into one room really makes you think about how much is alive all around us, and how everything is connected. Hopefully these kind of creatures will remain alive and healthy in the wild, so that nature centers like this don’t become the only places to find them.

Here are some of my photos and sketches from the day. Thanks to Christina Rodriguez for organizing such a great workshop!

insect drawings by John Lechner

stick insect drawing by John Lechner

insect drawings by John Lechner

tortoise drawing by John Lechner

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Nature Lab at RISD

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Parrot in the Nature Lab

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Ocean creatures

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Ocean creatures

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Butterfly collection

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Longhorn Beetle

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Stick Insect

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Giant Tortoise

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Finally, here’s a short video taken at the end of the day – exercise time!

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Hymn to the Earth: the evocative photographs of Ron Rosenstock

Morning Mist by Ron Rosenstock
"Morning Mist" © by Ron Rosenstock

Black and white photography allows us to see the world in a different way. By removing all color, it highlights other qualities of the world around us – texture, contrast, composition. It simplifies and abstracts what we see, revealing the world in its pure form.

The images on this page are by renowned landscape photographer Ron Rosenstock, who currently has an exhibit at the Worcester Art Museum. Here is an excerpt from a review in The Boston Globe by Mark Feeney:

The effect Rosenstock strives for in these pictures, mostly taken in rural Ireland but also in places as diverse (and beautiful) as Italy and Maine, Morocco and New Zealand, is of a higher, purer reality. You could almost describe it as a kind of unreality, given that exaltation and ineffability are forms of reality so rare as hardly to qualify as real. That Rosenstock achieves his aim so often is as much a tribute to the depth of emotion he brings to his work as it is to exacting technique.

The exhibit runs through March 18th, and I highly recommend it. You can see a lot more of Ron’s work at his website.

Landscape by Ron Rosenstock
Photo © by Ron Rosenstock
Noon Shadows by Ron Rosenstock
"Noon Shadows" © by Ron Rosenstock
Photo by Ron Rosenstock
Photo © by Ron Rosenstock
Monks Robes, Abbey of Sant' Antimo by Ron Rosenstock
"Monks Robes, Abbey of Sant' Antimo" © by Ron Rosenstock

Stone Circle at Sheeffry, County Mayo, by Ron Rosenstock
"Stone Circle at Sheeffry, County Mayo" © by Ron Rosenstock

A tree for all seasons

When people think of looking at trees, March is not usually the month that comes to mind. At least in the northern climates, March is a month when the world seems colorless, trees are bare, and the ground is either frozen or soggy. We are exhausted from winter and just want to see spring.

But I think winter trees, stripped of all their leaves, can be really amazing to look at. You can see all the twisting branches, the intricate patterns. Light falls differently in the winter, weather changes often, and nearly every day creates a different view.

A Swedish photographer named Stefan Jansson photographed the same tree every week for a year, to observe how it changed. The results are truly remarkable, as you can see the tree as it passes through variations that most of us don’t even notice. Look through the slideshow above or view his whole set of photos on Flickr to see the amazing variety from this one tree.

So don’t wait until autumn – trees can be appreciated all year long, if you just take the time to look.