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Plants Give Colorado Gardener New Artistic Direction

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(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

GREELEY, Colo. (AP) — Karen Genoff-Campbell hates the heat. She scowled at the temperature one morning recently as she invited a guest into her home. Here it was, 9:30 a.m., and it was already hot. Ick.

She’s not afraid to sweat. It’s just that the heat keeps Genoff-Campbell, 56, from her garden. And her garden is where she’s happiest.

Calling what she’s created a “garden” is like calling the feedlot near Kersey and its tens of thousands of head a “cattle pen.” She’ll give you a tour if you ask. She gave several, in 1996, when her home made the Greeley Garden Tour.

There are the flowers out front, which line the walkway to her house. If you start out back, you have to walk among the plants, which encroach, but never cover, a stone path that leads to the front.

If you pause out back, you’ll see boxes and lines of vegetables, with their own sprinkler system designed by her husband, Charles Campbell.

On her deck, to the right, there’s a peach tree that she planted from the pit of a neighbor child’s snack. She has a grapefruit tree that she planted from her breakfast several years ago. She brings that inside in the winter.

Genoff-Campbell planted 50 tomato plants last year because she was worried a few wouldn’t take. Yeah, right. They all grew. She had to dig deep for some new tomato recipes.

She’s got such a green thumb, plants seem to beg to fall under her care: She reserves a place in the back for wildflowers next to the veggies. Those flowers police themselves. She calls them “volunteers.” She does not enlist the help of a landscaper for any of it, save for her husband, who mows the lawn.

“This doesn’t just happen,” Genoff-Campbell said. “But there’s some satisfaction that comes in doing it yourself.”

Gardening may be her first love, something she nurtured since she was a child, when she mowed the lawn and weeded for extra allowances, but it’s sparked something else in her. Genoff-Campbell is now an artist. And guess what she draws?

She’s actually pursuing her certification in botanical art and illustration at the Denver Botanic Gardens. She’s just starting to display her artwork in places, including the Mariani Gallery on the University of Northern Colorado campus that runs until the end of July.

The certification is not something you get through an online course by tracing the outline of a flower. It took her years, as she took one class a semester, driving more than an hour one way to attend night classes, while she taught dance as an instructor at the University of Northern Colorado. Since she retired two years ago, she’s pursued her certification hard, and she hopes to achieve it in September after her portfolio is reviewed (which is why her work isn’t for sale yet). The instructors are picky, and Genoff-Campbell had to work at getting the details just right, from taking classes on how to nail the different shades of yellow to the calligraphy she uses to label the species of plant.

She didn’t touch a brush or pencil until she was 40, when she got a sudden urge to paint. She still can’t explain it, though her grandmother and a couple aunts were all good painters. She thinks it comes from her career as a dancer, with the lines, spacing and beauty, along with the discipline, science and precision it takes to get there.

Though she loves her garden, even has places to sit throughout her yard, including a large rock hidden by pine trees, she draws most of her plants inside (especially when it’s hot). She’ll cut a flower or leaf and bring it in. Sometimes she’ll put it in the fridge if she needs the extra time.

“A picture just isn’t the same,” she said. “It just doesn’t have the same details.”

Charles is building her an artist studio and greenhouse as a gift. Usually she asks for rocks or a pitchfork or a composter for Christmas. So maybe she had it coming.

She isn’t sure where the art will take her. She may take a class on the business of botany drawings. She also wants to enter a juried show at the Botanic Gardens this fall.

“My main goal is just to do it for fun,” she said.

She said that from the side of her house, as the clock struck 10 a.m. on her tour, and even in the shade that provided, it was getting too warm. She was ready to go.

But she found herself walking back through the gate, and through the plants, to her backyard, rather than the few steps it would take to reach the front door. Even in this heat, Genoff-Campbell finds herself drawn to the scenic way inside.

- By DAN ENGLAND, Greeley Tribune

(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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