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Artists Pay Tribute to Margaret’s Garden

ArtSpace exhibit features inspiration from local gardener.

A selection of plates created by artist Marianne Cordyack to pay tribute to the irises at the garden of Margaret Thomas.

A selection of plates created by artist Marianne Cordyack to pay tribute to the irises at the garden of Margaret Thomas. Photo by Alex McVeigh.

— Almost 50 years ago, Margaret Thomas moved to Herndon, and after the death of her husband in 1974, she began using her five-acre farm to grow irises, selling them by the bunch for 75 cents each. Since then, the gardens surrounding her house became a haven for local artists and floral enthusiasts alike, open until sundown to anyone that wanted to take a look.

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"Mrs. Thomas Among Her Flowers," on display at Herndon ArtSpace as part of an exhibit paying tribute to Thomas, who had a local garden where she welcomed artists.

Thomas, who passed away May 25, 2011, is still fondly remembered by local artists, many of whom spent the last month displaying their garden-inspired work at Herndon ArtSpace.

Forty artists working in a variety of media submitted their work, each focusing on their lasting memories of a place that was special to them.

"When I first discovered Margaret’s garden many springs ago, I was taken with the amazing colors and varieties of the flowers, especially the irises. My mother loved irises and they grew in our yard in Arlington when I was growing up," said Marianne Cordyack, who made several ceramic plates for the exhibit. "I was also taken with Margaret Thomas, who was so kind and interesting and knew everything about each variety of her flowers. I ordered some beautiful white irises that spring, picked them up ready to plant in the fall. They are still growing and blooming in my yard in Reston, having been divided many times."

The works featured a wide variety of viewpoints on the garden. Many featured brightly-colored irises, poppies and foxgloves. Several pieces also included partial or complete views of the Thomas house and a few even featured Thomas herself, surrounded by the flowers she loved. More than the flowers, the artists recalled how welcoming and accommodating Thomas was to her visitors.

"For us her garden was a yearly event. In the early spring we got in touch and together we went to paint in plein air the beautiful flowers," said Laura Chirillo. "Margaret was always most gracious and hospitable and I must say sometimes tolerant of all of us stepping throughout her garden."

Photographer Sandy Gherardi remembers a garden that "offered the repose in the midst of life’s turmoil."

Another photographer, Lori McLaughlin, took her photos in September, many of pink and purple asters on the north side of the garden.

"I love the way the haziness of the summer combines with the purple flowers to create an almost psychedelic reality," she said.

For some artists, the garden reminded them of one of the most famous gardens in all of art history, Claude Monet’s Giverny gardens in northern France. Diana Eichler, a painter from Reston, recalled one day as a student in the mid-nineties when she brought her equipment to the garden and got to work.

"Margaret’s garden was stunning that day, and we were all a part of it," she said. "When I finally visited Monet’s garden at Giverny some years later, I was struck by the similarities. Margaret’s garden was her palette, just as Giverny was Monet’s."