Read about Janice Mason Steeves

In the middle of a very cold Canadian winter in early 2007, I sat in front of my wood stove and poured over the huge list of international water gardens I had downloaded from the Water Gardeners International website. I planned a ten day driving trip to the US to see as many of those water gardens as I could. I called it a “lotus pilgrimage”. 

 Lotus Pilgrimage
July 2008

Inspiration for my exhibition,
“Evening on the Lake of Dreams” 

by Janice Mason Steeves

Click images to enlarge

The dictionary describes “pilgrimage” as a “journey, especially a long one, made to some sacred place, as in an act of religious devotion: e.g. a pilgrimage to Lourdes”. What could be more sacred than seeing lotus and waterlilies blooming? And it was quite a long journey, although not on bended knee.

Besides, the Buddha is frequently pictured as sitting on a lotus flower. Legend has it that he thought people were as “lotus buds in a lake, springing from mud and striving to attain the surface in order to blossom”.

It wasn’t until July 2008 that I was actually able to make the trip. A friend and I left Toronto in the heat of mid-summer. It was a spectacular drive south into the sweltering heat of North Carolina to see Perry’s Water Gardens.

I was glad I had printed off the directions from their website before I left home because I don’t know if I would have been able to find it otherwise. The winding roads were narrow and poorly marked. But at last we arrived at the blue sign reading “Perry’s Water Gardens” and turned onto the rough dirt road.  

At the office, I spoke to a deeply tanned, bare-chested man who had matching tattoos circling his upper arms. He spoke with a southern drawl and said, “Yes ma’am, go right ahead and photograph, that’s just fine”. Another photographer had been camping at the front of the property and photographing daily for a week! So I happily mounted my camera on my tripod and photographed for the best part of two days, enjoying the acres of small ponds and hundreds of varieties of waterlilies and lotus.

I’m more of a water garden voyeur than a gardener, and seeing these waterlilies and lotus through my telephoto lens was like walking into another world. I had a difficult time deciding when enough was enough and leaving Perry’s to head off to another water garden. I could understand the photographer in the camper van staying for seven days . . . maybe next year.   

Images from Perry's Water Gardens






Although I had thought of going to see the Water Gardens at Chapel Hill, North Carolina, the Sarah Duke Gardens in Durham, and the Louis Ginter Botanical Garden in Richmond, Virginia, I had spent too long photographing at Perry’s. With other time constraints, we decided to head straight to Adamstown, Maryland, to see Lilypons Water Gardens, driving along part of the spectacular Blue Ridge Parkway.
We spent two glorious days at Lilypons and I lived behind my lens, even in the rain. It was a gentle rain though. The next morning was sunny so I shot for several hours in the early light. I can’t really describe it -- the quiet experience of walking around the acres of ponds filled with waterlilies and lotus.  


Images from Lilypons Water Gardens









Then on to the very sophisticated Longwood Gardens at Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. We arrived there in the late afternoon, when the light, low and slanting, is the best for photographing. In the Outdoor Waterlily Display within the glass Conservatory that looked like Kew Gardens, there were pools filled with over 100 types of day and night blooming water plants, from waterlilies to lotuses, and spectacular giant hybrid water platters.

The enormous Victoria ‘Longwood Hybrids’ had just come into bloom and the evening we were there, NBC came with their television camera to photograph them. We stayed on to photograph as the sun set and the night blooming water plants opened. I was simply in awe. I had never seen this before.

< Tim Jennings demonstrates pollinating a
Victoria at Longwood Gardens


Images from Longwood Gardens














When I returned home, I didn’t attempt to paint what I had seen on this pilgrimage. I just let it wash over me for several months. The creative process for me works in strange and mysterious ways and is most often inspired by a journey. After some time, I get a persistent thought or sort of vision of an image to paint. I usually follow this thought and begin to try to paint what I see in my head. The painting rarely turns out the same as the inner eye can see.

The waterlily series began in soft tones of greens and blues and creamy whites, but soon changed to tones of red and orange and hot pink -- even the lily pads. And as that happened, the title of the exhibition came to me very clearly in a flash one morning at 4:00 a.m. It was “Evening on the Lake of Dreams”. It shocked me a bit, that title, because I thought it was too much -- new-agey perhaps. But I decided to go with it. And as I made that decision, I had the clear idea to write a myth to accompany the title and the exhibition. Twenty paintings from this series are in my exhibition at Galerie D’Avignon in Montreal, on display May 2 through 23 2009. 

Gallery and myth of
"Evening on the
Lake of Dreams"

Janice Mason Steeves
travels the world in search of beauty to inspire her paintings

Introduction and Index
Lotus Series Gallery | Evening on the Lake of Dreams Gallery and Myth
Mudan Series Gallery | China and Tibet Photo Gallery and Diary

Lotus Pilgrimage Photo Galleries and Narrative
300 K - For shorter downloads
Part 1 - Perry's Water Gardens | Part 2 - Lilypons Water Gardens | Part 3 - Longwood Gardens

Jardin Majorelle Photo Gallery, Marakesh, Morocco
Profile - Janice Mason Steeves

WGI ONLINE Journal Table of Contents
Water Gardeners International
Home | Join WGI | Members' Exclusive | Gateway to Water Gardening