Some 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.
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.
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?
I 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.
Varying 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.
The 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.
Not 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.
It 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.
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.
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.