Santa Maria Sun / Art
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 15, Issue 16
Francis Dawson has installed living walls and designed gardens across California
BY JOE PAYNE
Francis Dawson is the real deal. While some would call him a gardener, most recognize he is far more than that. He calls himself an environmental artist and designer, which scratches deeper under the surface, but it neglects the fact that the young artist and “earthscaper” is truly on a spiritual quest. He has been helping Central and Southern Californians get longevity and peace from their gardens for years, but his living wall installations are becoming increasingly popular in private residences and wellness or meditation centers.
“Living walls are like living paintings,” he said. “They are little microcosms, for me, of the self, just like gardens.”
Dawson’s living walls are indoor or outdoor installations of some minor hardware and a variety of plants, which live their vertical existence thanks to a simple watering system. Indoor pieces include low-light tropical species, but it’s his outdoor succulent arrangements that are all the rage, especially since he started arranging the desert-dwelling plants in the shapes of mandalas.
“Succulents themselves have a natural, spiraling, mandala- symmetrical shape, and doing plant arrangements for years and years, I was finding some of this beauty,” he said. “I made a succulent wall that was kind of geometric and mandala-like, and people started using these as tools of intention.”
One of the living plant sculptures became a place where people would leave small bits of paper rolled up in the leaves, with meditations or messages penned on them. Motivated by the fact that his work was getting people in touch with themselves, Dawson started creating unique pieces that used several kinds of plants.
“The way I do living walls is definitely a different approach than someone else,” he said, “but that really comes down to listening to the needs, desires, and heart of the community, individual, or business that thinks a living wall fits their needs.”
Dawson’s environmental design background keeps him busy when he isn’t making living wall art. He is also a landscape or “earthscape” designer, as he calls is, tailoring each yard to the unique environment and desires of his customer.
“People call me when they really want the answer,” he said, “or the truth about their property in terms of longevity and sustainability of their garden and the land around them.”
You probably won’t see too much crab grass in any of Dawson’s design work. Leaning heavily on native or semi-native species and wild varieties, he tries to create yards that are site and customer specific.
“The living environments in the world—the thousands of tiny microclimates everywhere—if we expand that into our own world,” he said, “we have to find the microclimate that best suits ourselves.”
That’s the goal at the heart of Dawson’s quest: to help express natural harmony, no matter the amount of space he is allotted, and to also repair any possible damages. Not only can he design sustainable and food-producing gardens, but he can also restore and bolster natural microclimates, like the riparian area he is currently restoring.
“I think it’s about living softly; my landscapes are softer,” he said. “We live in a really hard, hard world, so what I like to do is soften the landscape again so we are giving a mind to what was here long before we were.”
Dawson’s landscape design, sculptures, and living walls are alive all across Central and Southern California. Sure, he can still supply customers with fine flower arrangements for special events, but the green-thumbed artist would rather create something for you that lasts.
“I’ve been given the task of working with the earth. I call it my work; I really feel like I’m led to it,” he said. “And there’s been a response, a response in my heart, and there is a response in the hearts of the people who have my work installed.”
Arts Editor Joe Payne thinks the Earth must be a cool collaborator. Contact him at email@example.com.