I'm reading a book

on design for small gardens. It's called Urban Sanctuaries by Stephen Anderton, and he's got a lot of interesting things to say to all gardeners.

On magic and mystery:
Once, when I was a student, I went for a walk with my girlfriend around the city suburbs at 2 a.m. We strayed into the high-hedged gardens of a convent where it was pretty inky-dark for a town, and we managed to lose physical touch with each other after going through a narrow tunnel of hedge. I crossed the next open space in absolute darkness, arms forward like a cartoon sleepwalker, and suddenly found myself torso to torso with Mary Mother of God. She was cold, white, and just--just--visible in the dark. I was terrified.

It is that quality of experience which deserves to be created in a garden. The tall white statue at the end of a simple green space, like a secret locked in a closet, can be both a strong piece of design and a strong piece of theater. And calm into the bargain. Give the space a seat too if you like. Not a bench--a single seat. Like a confessional. Somewhere to be alone with your thoughts.

I want bits of mystery and darkness in my garden too. Mary Mother of God isn't quite my style, but I love where he's going with that idea.

Other ways to add mystery to the garden: "significant entrances, something beyond which unknown things can happen". He explains,
"There has to be that moment of dark in the theater before the show starts. So make your entrances telling, and maybe the exits too. Closing a door behind you gives a huge feeling, not necessarily of security, but of finality and commitment."

I want to connect that to his discussion of woodland design styles, which I find very appealing:
"It takes surprisingly few trees planted closely enough to make the feeling of a woodland path weaving off among the trunks... The suggestion of a path going into woodland is the promise of a journey into the dark, and makes the environs of the house itself seem safer than ever..."

I feel tempted to try a shady woodland path with Acer palmatum and Acer circinatum on the south side of the garden where it's already shady.

I have the vegetable garden on the sunny north side, and that "productive" element is very important too. Anderton says one expects to find productivity in a garden. Well, I do like a garden that meets simple expectations--especially by unexpected means. More on that later, but back to the subject of productivity, I realized recently that I want to have some cutting flowers in my garden. (That's a desire I feel even more keenly since reading Amy Stewart's recent article on flowers, and hearing her talk at her book signing last night.) Right now, the productive element in my garden is mostly limited to vegetables--a lemon tree, the artichoke, tomato, squash, beets, and the native wild grape--all chosen because I admire their ornamental qualities as well. And the only herbs I grow are the ones that make appealing flowers for pollinators, particularly dill and coriander. Everything has to pull double duty.

Finally, on borders, Anderton says something extremely important in one sentence in a photo caption:
"Yielding to the temptation to have small plants at the front of large borders does not lead to a calm garden."

Do you hear that, gardeners? Plant those big, bold foliage plants right up front!

Ah, so liberating.


nathaniel hawthorne said...

So, with my heart full of a drowsy pleasure, and cautious not to dissipate my mood by previous intercourse with any one, I hurried away, and was soon pacing a wood-path, arched overhead with boughs, and dusky brown beneath my feet.

At first, I walked very swiftly, as if the heavy floodtide of social life were roaring at my heels, and would outstrip and overwhelm me, without all the better diligence in my escape. But, threading the more distant windings of the track, I abated my pace and looked about me for some side-aisle, that should admit me into the innermost sanctuary of this green cathedral; just as, in human acquaintanceship, a casual opening sometimes lets us, all of a sudden, into the long-sought intimacy of a mysterious heart.

The County Clerk said...

I will definately get this book.

I will definately NOT have a Mary on the Half-Shell in my garden.

By the way, I've tagged you for a meme. (Sorry) http://tinyurl.com/3anp7w

Delphine said...

Ok, "big foliage right up front". I've only enormous plants in my niniature garden. I agree with the county clerk : i've replaced Mary by a balinese Buddha.(what is a "county clerk"?)

anile said...

That is such a great book. It's just the way I picture things if I had my own garden. My mother had a statue of the little girl in the Savannah cemetery on the cover of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. She's in storage right now... I have to go get her soon...

chuck b. said...

Did you say Savannah? I LOVE Savannah. I once spent an entire day and most of the night walking the downtown grid over and over again. One day I will fly across the country just to blog the garden squares of Savannah. I think I was last there ten years ago. Right before the advent of mass-produced digital cameras.

Anyhow, that sculpture is lovely and iconic, and that cemetery is quite Romantic.

Yesterday, I rendezvoused with a friend at the stone yard before going to lunch. On her way there, driving through the cemetery town of Colma, she said she began to wonder what kind of stone yard we were meeting at. And I realized a vaguely funereal obelisk of the appropriate scale and material would be the perfect mystery-generating garden sculpture for me.

anile said...

Yeah, I was born there...
I love your idea of the obelisk!

JvA said...

Hey, Chuck. Thanks for checking out my blog. I promise I'll tell you about the Ceanothus book sometime.

Since you last visited I've posted a bunch of boring stuff, but I think you might be interested in checking out a bunch of photos I took yesterday at Elandan Gardens. It's primarily a bonsai garden, but they sell some gorgeous stone obelisks.

It's the latest post here: