In our new section, area growers discuss their gardens and growing projects. This week Pattiy Torno, owner of Curve Studios in the River Arts District, tells us how she created a green sanctuary in the middle of an industrial zone.
Mountain Xpress: Can you tell us about the history of this garden?
Torno: I bought Curve Studios, the property, in 1989, so about 25 years ago. At the time, what is now the garden was a gravel parking lot. There was literally no vegetation in there at all.
When I bought the property, I was very good friends with Christopher Mello, who has a wonderful garden up in West Asheville and he served as my gardening mentor and taught me how to garden when I first came to Asheville.
It was just a natural progression. As an artist, I’m always looking at color, pattern and texture and the garden is just another way to do that. I also love fragrance, so I garden a fair amount for things that smell good as well. When you make work, it’s a fairly intensive pursuit and having a nice place to go and sit for your downtown to recharge is really important to me personally — and seems to be an asset for a lot of the creative folks that are here at Curve.
Since I live here at Curve, it started as the place I would hang out in the evening, but as Curve has gotten to be a much more public space, it has become a public garden. I get the comment often that it’s this oasis in the middle of an industrial zone.
When you’re thinking about texture and color, what are some of the plants that you’ve been drawn to to express that?
It’s very visceral. A lot of what I have in the garden is my favorite plants from when I was a child — lilacs, peonies, a lot of things that Asheville is the southernmost boundary for — so it’s kind of pushing it to have them here, but they’re just my favorite plants.
My personal protocol tends to be as many petals on a flower as I can have, as deep a color as I can have and a fragrance if possible. So peonies and lilacs, a fragrant day lily. I have had gardenias but they kicked the bucket this winter. I love my hydrangeas. I have some crab apples. There are some other edibles in the garden – lots of berries, blueberries, raspberries, service berries. So a pretty wide range.
The color and texture is something that happens. This garden has taught me to plant for structure in a way that I never did before. If you walk through the garden at Curve, there are rooms that you go through. The first of those is created by the curved fence right under the willow tree. There’s a front hedge row of Graham Blandy Boxwoods, which are very columnar in their habit and were planted far enough apart so that they were never intended as a hedge that would give a complete screen. So it gives you protection from the street noise but also allows that flow to happen so that you can see the yellow peonies that are in that garden from outside the garden.
So there are sections and structures, but I try to make it so that there is always flow.
Do other River Arts artists come to the garden to work or hang out?
Some do. Every once and a while we’ll have someone who will come and paint in the garden. We have a lot of photographers who come through the garden. A lot of commercial photographers use Curve as a location – and we do charge a fee for that. Weddings, family portraits, pregnancy pictures, some bands have used it for their promo photos. All kinds of different folks.
Can you tell us about the Twilight Party and when you guys started doing that?
The Twilight Party is a spring event we do because this garden, because of the plants I personally like, is gorgeous in the month of April. It began as a celebration of how pretty the garden was and a desire to share that with our customer base. So it was a spring open house and it really was a thank you to our community.
Do you host any other events besides the Twilight Parties?
We’re doing a benefit for Arts for Life on September 21. They’ll be doing a big oyster roast in the garden. There’s usually a couple of other things whether we put them on or other people put them on. The space works really well for events, so it would be a shame not to do them. One of my friends got married here. We’ve had two or three weddings, small weddings with around 100 people. With outside events, they have to not interfere with our everyday business here and Curve Studios is open seven days a week. So, it has to not interfere with our customer’s ability to get to the studio. Our tagline and mission is “Bringing people to art and art to life in the River Arts District.”
How often do you personally go out to garden?
Every day. Especially since the garden is not one area. It’s planters, it’s this seating area and then the big garden. But there are opportunities to sit in the shade or sit in the sun, depending on if it’s the dead of winter or the summer. There’s a garden everywhere, so to speak.
When you were constructing this (the raised beds, gates, walkways), did you use materials that were already on the site?
Some of it. The angle irons on the raised beds are what started the whole thing. In 2002, I had to do a construction project in my studio and we replaced all of the concentrate lintels that are above all my doorways and windows. It was a horrendous process. I bought these 4×6 angle irons that literally held the brick up while the lintels got removed and replaced.
So at the end of it, I had these huge angle irons that I had no use for and I thought, what can I use those for? So we cut them into three-foot sections, and myself and a previous tenant drove them into the ground. So they are all far into the ground as they are out of the ground. It was just us with a sledge hammer. Some went in easy – you can tell by how messed up the corners are how hard they were to get in.
The beds are made with local locust lumber from Bee Tree Hardwoods in Swannanoa. So it’s all local and native.
Did you begin putting in the garden as soon as you bought the space?
Oh yeah. We planted the willow tree and the two crepe myrtles in ’89. We planted some Japanese Maples as well, but they did not survive on this property. There’s been a lot of vegetation that has come and gone. As with any garden, it’s all a big experiment. This past winter we lost our Lady Banks rose. It was just too cold for it. So it’s all just a process.
The parking for our tenants is on the other side of that fence that you see there, so most of the artists come through the main garden to get to work. So there’s always people coming and going. The comment I hear a lot is there is always something new coming up in the garden, so it’s really fun to just observe what new thing there is.
For me, I eat out of the garden, so it’s also this lovely dance between me and the groundhogs. This is year, I’ve been winning, though they finally found the kale and the lettuces in the last couple of days.
Scroll through the slideshow to see more of Curve Studios’ garden. (Carrie Eidson/Mountain Xpress)