Travelling

One of my favorite clients and dear friends took off this morning for Rome. As hard as it is for me to believe, she insisted my post on Villa D’Este inspired her to go visit her granddaughter who is on foreign study in Rome-and by the way, go see that  garden. By this time last week, she had enlisted both of her daughters-one of whom is Carol, the proud Mom of said student Grace.  Daughter Diane is an RN living in California-she flew out for the Romefest.  Four other friends signed on.  She organized an entourage- soon to land in Italy.  Tonight, I think.

She has the week ahead planned.  A guided visit to the Vatican.  Villa D’Este, of course.  A request from me for an Italian boater with an orange band.  A cooking course she thought sounded like fun.  I have no details on this, as once you use the word cooking within my earshot, I black out. Some time she has left to Grace to organize.  Her energy puts me to shame.

I am thinking about her, as she loves to travel.  She so enjoys the garden tour we do every year; she has been trying to worm out of me for weeks where this year’s tour might take her.   She drive-travels straight through to get her granddaughter back to Clemson University in September, and drive-travels again to pick her up at year’s end.  She travels in other ways less literal.  She considers ideas outside her realm-she is happy to go anywhere, and decide if she likes it.  She is a traveller. 

I am not a board a vehicle and go traveller.  I hate the packing and the time it takes to arrive at a destination.  I am not crazy about being away from home. I travel-reluctantly; the process exhausts me.  I am always happy to get where I am going-what is not to like about seeing new places.  Whomever can convince me to travel-many thanks.  When NASA figures out how to beam me up, I will be first in line.  On occasion, something or someone will beam me over to what never occurred to me-best regards, and many thanks for this. But I am always thinking about travelling when I design.

 I know travel is a key issue in design.  Once a mortgage survey is in my hands, my first move is to decide how, why and where one might travel in the landscape.  For anyone designing their own landscape, I would encourage them to build some roads in their garden. Some roads need to be two lane.  Other roads can be a skinny dirt two-track.  Some places need stop signs.  Other places need roundabouts.  A travel sceme is essential for you, your kids, dogs, and guests.  Plan your routes before you decide anything else.

How will you get from the house, to the grill, to the terrace, to the trash, to the rose garden, to the street, to the back door, to the compost pile, to the picnic table-how will you drive through, walk through, and linger in the space?  Where will your family and friends congregate?  If you were to walk your garden with a video camera running, would a story be told?   Expand off road wherever you have a mind to. 

No writer/gardener I ever read more clearly and more beautifully addresses the travel particular to the journey of a gardener than Dominique Browning; I have talked about this before.  Her discussion of the evolution of her garden has everything to do with travelling through, and lingering here or there. When she is stopped, she is stopped in her tracks. When she moves on to somewhere else, there is a big pair of lopping shears in her hand,  and /or significant emotional travel involved. 

She has a sense of humor about her basic unwillingness to budge off her comfort spot. She is entirely dispassionate about all of her passions.  I admire this in her.  Her writing encourages me to loosen up, and move around more.  How you will live, perch, lounge, work, read or take a nap are questions that need to be addressed before you make moves. 

 No matter how glued I am to my place, I put that aside, and encourage myself to take my clients somewhere. Somewhere better than they thought they could have it. Think about this, you people who have a mind to design your own gardens.  If you have a notion to hire a designer, first and foremost understand how you will travel through the landscape they have designed for you.

Jane’s travels are much more than I have detailed here.  Like all of us, she has roads to travel, like them all or not.  Getting control of  the layout of those roads may make things easier.  Some paths are 25mph quiet zones.  Others have lots of traffic. It is important to get this part right.  Some badly placed plants can easily be moved-your routes, not so easy to redo.  Whether you use a piece of paper, a garden hose, landscape paint, or stakes and strings, taking the time to plan your trip is a good idea.

Where Do You Stand?

 

perspective 004Some landscapes appear and feel spacious for no more complicated a reason than they exist on large properties.  The Chicago Botanic Garden has many beautiful long views, as it physically sits on 360 some odd acres. How I visually process space has to do with what is called perspective. If I walk in the Botanic garden, and Daffodil Island is in bloom, the daffodils appear to my eye like tiny yellow dots-and lots of them.  Daffodils physically measure up at a fairly decent size, but they appear smaller and smaller, the further away they are from my eye.  The position of the eye, relative to an object-perspective.  The most dramatic illustration of perspective?  Picture yourself 5 feet from the KLM 747 Anna Pavlova; the size is overwhelming.  A city with wings. 230 feet long, and wings 200 feet wide-my entire property would hold a quarter of this plane.    Only moments after that plane is aloft, it appears as a black speck streaking towards the horizon.  Once a black speck, I know it is miles from my eye.  These Anamese oil lamps pictured above are on the floor beneath me-I know this, as I am looking at their tops. They are also 10 feet away from my eye. 

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Then I move the globes to the surface of a table, and sit down to photograph them; they appear much larger than what they actually are.  They are close enough to take up most of my field of vision-so they appear huge. My eyes are on the same horizontal plane as the lamps-I am seeing clearly the side view.  Explaining the idea of perspective is difficult, but people instinctively understand and orient themselves to it-via the horizon line. Dense fog on a sunny day is disconcerting, as the horizon disappears.  Sometimes at twilight on Lake Superior, the sky is the same silvery blue as the water-your eye cannot pick out the horizon. Where you are standing is not clear.  

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Milo is my little wide-body, billiard table shaped corgi. He acquired these nicknames, as I am usually looking down on him.  His legs are about four inches long; his back some 13 inches off the floor. My eyes are 60 inches off the floor; I see Milo in plan view.  Unless he in on the deck, and I am in the yard-is he not a very good looking dog from the side?  Before you completely loose interest in this discussion, I will say that an awareness of how perspective works can help create views, and make the smallest urban garden appear spacious.  Those gardens smaller yet can be designed with a strong spatial sense.  If you are ever going to think about perspective in a landscape, now is the time.  Who would want to address it in May?  May is for moving a project along, yes?      

recovery 009I am in the process of putting the shop back together, as we reopen for the 2010 season next week.  The logistics of this has been a little daunting, as my on my feet time is somewhat limited yet.  Luckily my four wheeler has a seat-so I can take a break. This puts my eye at dining table height.  The table and pitchers loom large in the foreground space.  The exaggeration of the size of the foreground elements moves the background even further back.   

recovery 026Varying the heights and sizes of the foreground elements helps to give the foreground itself dimension.  The visual path your eye takes from one object to the next reveals that each object is in a different plane.  A recognition of multiple planes makes for the illusion of space.  This is after all, a flat object we call a photograph.  But visual space is represented here.

recovery 012The position and direction of the concrete table in this composition moves the eye into the deep space of the photograph. The table is so wide in the foreground, it runs off the edge of the page.  The table width appears much smaller, as the table appears to move back in space.  The large masses of  table, and lighthouse contrast with the objects on the back wall that appear so small. 

recovery 014Not every bench in a landscape needs to be placed at the end of a garden.  Placed at the beginning, with its back to your eye, the sense of space from front to back is exaggerated.  The bench back is like a fence-enclosing the space beyond.

recovery 013It is important in any composition to direct the eye of the viewer from the front to the back-and out again.  The white wood rectangle in this picture frames a view of the foreground appearance of this bench.  The frame invites the viewer to focus on what is within the frame.  The bench then appears to go back in space-quickly.  In the far background-a pair of doors suggesting another space beyond.   

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It is anything but magic to see like this.  It only requires that you look long enough to provoke some speculation about how to see spatially. If no light comes on standing in a spot in your garden, take a picture.  A picture is a flat object, with four edges-the camera will frame the view, and record your placement of plants and ornament  dispassionately.     

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I read countless gardening books when I first started gardening.  None of them gave me one clue about how to see spatially.  I could count on most of them to tell me to plant the tall plants in the back, and the short plants in the front.  Expecting plants to carry a composition is asking a lot.   There are other, maybe more interesting ways of composing. Place some big things in some small spaces.  Try some tall things in the foreground space, and some very small things way in the back. Tomato stakes are great for trying different placements. Should you look long enough, you will know where you stand.