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My favorite spot in all 63 acres of Bellingrath Gardens is the tranquil, otherworldly Asian Garden. I spent a misty morning there last fall, on a field sketching day with my “Drawing the Natural World” class. We sat along a footpath at the water’s edge, watching lazy koi slide past us beneath the surface of the lotus pond. Now I’m carving some raku wall panels inspired by those sketches. Here is the first of them, 36 inches tall, drying out so that it can go into the bisque kiln next week. I use a needle tool to sketch the rough drawing on the slab, then begin carving to create a three-dimensional effect.

If you ever find yourself passing through coastal Alabama on Interstate 10, take a detour south into Theodore and spend an afternoon exploring Bellingrath Gardens. There’s something for every horticultural taste: a conservatory stuffed with mature tropicals, a formal rose garden, a towering bamboo forest, woodland pocket gardens alive with brilliant butterflies. People flock into the area to see the annual profusion of azaleas in late spring, but I like the softer colors and textures of decades-old plantings that slowly evolve as the years pass. Time seems to slow down on the grassy bank of a lotus pond, a place made for relaxing with a sketchbook. The longer you look, in a spot like the Asian garden, the more you’ll see.