visit to Sculptura Botanica part 1

potted plants on the porch of the garden office at the Sherman
  • what: in-situ installation showcasing botanical-themed ceramic work of Dustin Gimbel
  • where: Sherman Library & Gardens
  • when: May 15 through September 15, 2020
  • lunch and lecture: June 26, 2020, 11:30 a.m. and tour of the exhibit by Dustin Gimbel
  • other venues: Dustin will be exhibiting his work in a group show at the Ruth Bancroft Garden Friday in Walnut Creek, California, July 17, 2020

It seems like a ridiculously short time ago that Dustin Gimbel was asking me, Hey, do you want to take a ceramics class? Was that three years ago? Four years? As a garden designer his schedule is somewhat flexible, but I was still working full time and couldn’t fit it in. From that point on, he’s been experiencing the creative equivalent of brain fever as he’s explored at a breakneck pace the possibilities of ceramics using the visual language of botanicals and in the context of garden design. He’d already done lots of work with concrete molds and other formulations to make bespoke containers and totems, so studying ceramics seemed like a great fit. But the speed at which he’s mastered the craft has been astonishing to witness, and I happily have various iterations of his increasing levels of mastery all around my garden.

About the Pollen Grain Towers Dustin says: “It’s hard to imagine something more intricately sculptural than pollen grains as seen by the electron microscope. I wanted to show pollen grains in a new light, more than just a cause of allergies, something to be seen. This series of sculptures reimagines the origin of pollen emanating from mythical towers, the pollen ever budding, growing and dispersing.
What I’ve always admired about Dustin’s garden design work is its very graphic, sculptural qualities combined with a plant-forward sensibility. In his ceramic work, he draws on and expands both these strengths.

In short order his ceramics became available online and at local design shops, and he secured his first show at the Sherman Library & Gardens this May — and then the COVID-19 virus hit and seemingly upended everything. Yet in the uncertainty over how and when to open the show safely, the work behind the scenes went on, planting, trimming and polishing until everything gleams.

All photos taken on May June 2, 2020

The extra amount of time and focus the staff had in fine-tuning the installation and plantings may have been an unintended consequence of the pandemic, but the results all that work produced are ravishing.

“anther” sculptures tucked into existing plantings.

The Sherman has done a thorough job of ensuring health and safety of attendees. Order the tickets online, follow distancing recommendations and one-way traffic flow patterns, and you’ll have a fabulous time taking in the collaboration between Dustin and the horticultural staff at the Sherman Gardens that is Sculptura Botanica. For me, the sensory deprivation imposed by COVID-19 and being homebound for months made the experience of walking through the entrance gate similar to the moment when the Wizard of Oz movie shifts from black and white to color. The scale of the Sherman is perfect for the installation, with excitement built and sustained around each new turn in the path. The horticultural talent on view at the Sherman always rewards a visit, but they really rose to this occasion with dense, detailed plantings specifically for this exhibit.

anther sculptures with leucospermum still lightly blooming in early June

The interplay between the expert plantings and Dustin’s musings on botanical anatomy in clay make for a thoroughly engrossing visit. From every vantage point, the views are enthralling.

Orange dahlias and possibly ‘Mystic Sprires’ salvia underplant the Pollen Grain Towers
Melianthus, Leucadendron ‘Jester,’ smoke tree and so much more in an established bed in the entrance garden with the Pollen Grain Towers. The sculptures were tucked into permanent plantings as well as having whole new plantings designed around them.
Always a plus when a visit coincides with the bloom of the walking iris, Neomarica caerulea

I’ll order the photos as closely as possible to the prescribed traffic flow through the garden, starting with the entrance into the central garden with the Pollen Grain Towers. There is a prodigious amount of ceramic work in the show, and this is by no means representative of all of it.

Echium wildpretii
Dark-leaved dyckia just about finished blooming
pitcher plants!

Leaving the main entrance area and Pollen Grain Towers and following the recommended path, you can either enter the tropical conservatory and count the turtles and koi or stay on the path and head into the bromeliad garden.


The next big set piece is the Equisetium Towers centering a veg-planted parterre edged in santolina and possibly a vibrant chartreuse berberis (or a gold-leaved Lonicera nitida).


And I’ll leave you here and finish up the rest of the visit to Sculptura Botanica next week. Have a fine weekend!

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5 Responses to visit to Sculptura Botanica part 1

  1. Elaine says:

    A really unique and clever display. I have a book from Kew that shows pollen grains photographed under electron microscopy. Dustin nailed exactly how they look. Look forward to part 2

  2. Hans says:

    Inspiring. I like the aqua colored pollen grain towers. I’m not always a fan of art in the garden but this feels well done.

  3. “But the speed at which he’s mastered the craft has been astonishing to witness, and I happily have various iterations of his increasing levels of mastery all around my garden.” This sentence really jumped out at me. Your garden is the perfect place for Dustin’s work to shine. And I love that you have pieces that show those levels of mastery. Andrew dislikes a lot of his artwork that his mother has hung onto, but seeing it helped me to understand how he got to where he is. Dustin is lucky to have you as a collector and cataloguer.

  4. Kris P says:

    Thanks for sharing your visit, Denise. I really want to get there before the exhibit closes but OC’s loose position on masks has put me off visiting all OC venues for the time being. I hope Dustin makes oodles and oodles from the sale of his sculptures and other ceramics.

  5. hb says:

    It all looks fabulous, plants and ceramics.

    Were there a lot of people there? I wonder about getting out anywhere before next spring. People here are being really stupid about masks. The virus hasn’t gone away.

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