BUILDING A VISUAL VOCABULARY

By Christine Darnell

Image of From Art to landscape

On a wintry weekend in January, a former student and I traveled to Swarthmore Arboretum in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania to hear W. Gary Smith lecture on his superb book, From Art To Landscape: Unleashing Creativity in Garden Design  (Timber Press 2010).  The premise of the book is to break down the shroud of mystery surrounding the creative process and to approach the landscape with an artist’s eye. For Smith there is inspiration and pure delight in observing patterns in nature, which he does by visual note taking.  From Art to Landscape breaks the entire universe down to nine basic patterns and explores drawing, painting, sculpture, poetry, dance, and meditation, as ways to create personal connections to the landscape, and end in garden designs that tell a story and have meaning.

Smith is best known for his work in public gardens like Enchanted Woods at Winterthur in Winterthur, Delaware, and the Santa Fe Botanical garden. (He was featured last year in a delightful article in the Times entitled Where The Wild Things Are Nowabout a residential landscape in Middlebury, Virginia, and a terrific collaboration with the owners.) While listening to him talk about making visual connections and creative conclusions, I was reminded about how important putting pen to paper is, how visual note taking and on-site sketching causes us to see and take notice of natural formations and patterns. We make visual connections we would not normally make otherwise. Putting ourselves in the landscape and using a sharpie instead of a camera forces us to focus, concentrate and really look.

Smith’s warm personality and encouraging voice come through in his book as he encourages us to build our own visual vocabulary of shapes, forms and patterns. He invites us to be free and not critical as we draw, and to use pedestrian materials not precious ones (No pencils either—erasing is censoring!) The book is full of his quick drawings and recorded observations by which he sees a place. Drawing and looking begin to happen simultaneously. The time spent making each sketch is in fact laying the foundation for the relationship he forms with a particular place.

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Smith jots down brief notes on these sketches, and they are as important as the drawings themselves. The notes help him remember the design ideas or thoughts for specific plantings that come to him as he is quickly recording. From Art to Landscape shares years of observation, experience, and reflection, as well as beautiful drawings. Smith walks us through his process of simplifying what he sees and explains how to abstract landscape elements down to their most essential form as a springboard for design.

As a creative tool he suggests superimposing any two patterns; for instance take a scattered pattern and a mosaic pattern (a pattern which can happen over a big space) to get a lush, rich tapestry of planting. I tried this in approachinga wetland design over a large space where a scattered pattern over a mosaic pattern might happen naturally, and it lent a freedom to the planting design I might not have found otherwise.

 

The Carpinus Walk by W. Gary Smith

The Carpinus Walk by W. Gary Smith

Smith’s goal is to create ‘luminous moments’ as he aspires to tell a story and create an emotional response in the viewer, much as being in the presence of art and nature do. “Every place has a narrative,” he says in the Times article. From Art to Landscape gives us a bag of tools to use to help us discover that narrative, that sense of place that makes gardens so meaningful to be in, so alive with feeling and emotion.

A Tale of Two Trade Shows

NEGMANTS

For me, winter is a time to relax, reflect on how to improve from last year, and network.  What better place to do that than at a trade show?  Two regional shows to consider are New England Grows in Boston and The Mid Atlantic Nursery Trade Show, M.A.N.T.S, in Baltimore.  For those of you who have never attended either show, here is a quick breakdown of each show.

There isn’t a better show for a combination of educational opportunities, networking and trade exhibits than New England Grows.  The show offers three days of lectures covering business management and horticultural related topics, and a large trade show.

Along with the educational sessions, each of the trade associations has networking events throughout the show.   The trade floor is a combination of equipment, tools and supplies, and nurseries.  As a designer, if you’re considering switching from hand drawing to computer aided design, there isn’t a better place to play with all the design software on the market.  With the software we use, I typically keep a list of questions that come up throughout the year and get those answered face to face at the show. This year, I actually sat at the booth of the software we use for close to an hour.  Along with learning a bunch of tips and tricks, I saw a demonstration of the next big thing in design software, 3D animation.  3D animation will allow a client to walk through the project you’ve designed for them.   The conversation also moved towards a demo of how to use dual monitors to speed up the design process.

A lot of people I talk to from CT try to do the show in one day.  To get the most out of the show though, it really takes two days.  I usually drive up the night before, get to the show first thing in the morning, stay a second night and leave after the second day.   The last couple of years, I’ve been staying outside the city where the parking is free and the hotels are a lot cheaper.  This year, I unknowingly booked a hotel on the T route so instead of driving into Boston every day and paying the $12 parking fee, I parked my car for the whole stay and paid $4 round trip for public transportation to take me into the city.   FYI, it’s always fun to stay to the end of the show.  Everything you see in the show is typically for sale and can be picked up right after the show ends.

M.A.N.T.S is another great show.  The main focus of this show is plants.  It caters to people who buy, sell and grow plants as well as all the related supplies involved in those tasks including landscape and garden items, tools, and plenty of other allied industry products.  Unlike New England Grows, there aren’t any lectures at M.A.N.T.S and there’s not a lot of equipment to view.  If you are looking for new plant suppliers, this is the show to come to, as there are nursery and plant suppliers, both large and small, from all over the country.  It’s possible to do the show in a day if you don’t stop and talk to too many people.  Baltimore is a fun city so it’s definitely worth a night in a hotel and possibly an extra day to walk the Inner Harbor.

If you’re looking for suppliers or a little inspiration, give one of the above shows a try.  I enjoy both shows so I usually alternate between the two shows every other year.

All the Best!

Rich Schipul

Lecture Review – Kim Wilkie at NYBG: Sculpting the Land

Posted by APLDCT member Lucy Van Liew.

The NYBG winter lecture series is a welcome shot in the arm in the middle of a seemingly unrelenting winter. I am always tempted by the interesting and varied speakers, often from outside the USA. The star turn last year was Tom Stuart Smith, Garden designer and winner of many Gold medals at the Chelsea Flower Show.

This year it was Kim Wilkie, who lured me to face I-95 during the rush hour. Again, he is British, but his specialty (in his own words), is working with mud. He sculpts huge landforms out of clay and chalk, and clothes them with grass. Enchantingly, these are not always closely mown, and certainly not irrigated or fertilized as the English climate is “made for growing grass”. His talk illustrated several of his best know projects such as the ‘ Orpheus landform’ , in which he matched an 18th century truncated pyramid  mound with another that was inverted and based on harmonic proportions, in an historically sensitive landscape.

Orpheus Landform

Orpheus Landform

At another stately home in England, he replaced a cramped and poorly conceived Victorian parterre garden on the south side of an elegant Georgian house, with a 150 ft reflecting pool and a series of sweeping grass terraces. Again geometry played a part, with the design being based on the Golden Section spiral.

Sweeping Grass Terraces

Sweeping Grass Terraces

His talk illustrated his profound understanding and appreciation of the history and ecology of the land on which he works. His book Led by the Land (Frances Lincoln 2012) illustrates many fascinating projects including; a project in Solovki, on the edge of the Arctic circle in Russia, and another in the Transylvania region of Romania, preserving medieval villages and their landscapes.

He also works in small urban spaces, and illustrated his concepts in miniature at his house in Richmond in South London, where ribbons of snowdrops punctuate a foot of elevation of lawn before leading to a cobalt blue crushed glass parking space.

He spoke wisely on the contrasts between the historical foundations and philosophies of managing the land in the UK and USA, and how these differences are expressed in designing gardens and landscapes. He charmed us, with an English self deprecation, when describing the anxieties associated with construction of some of his projects. Many mounds have been created of out of necessity when faced with surplus soil. Many of the houses and landscapes he has worked with have strong historical associations but his earthworks and landforms bring a contemporary feel.

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Wilkie has inspired me to be bolder with my approach to sculpting the earth and has already caused me to rethink a design for a client. I recommend his book and website

www.kimwilkie.com

Lucy Van Liew

March 2014

www.lucyvanliewgardens.com

APLDCT Outing a Rousing Success!

This past Sunday a group of APLDCT members, along with three representatives from our Gold sponsor Colorblends, visited the beautiful Connecticut village of Essex and then set sail for a sunset cruise on the Schooner Mary E.

Our cruise ship awaits!

Our cruise ship awaits!

Main Street in Essex is full of old world charm, lined with shoppes and beautiful gardens. Several of us strolled through town before the cruise to soak in the atmosphere of the shore town and get in a little garden critiquing. We then visited the Connecticut River Museum, where our cruise ship is docked. The museum does a wonder job of chronicling the history of the Connecticut River, housing many artifacts, and a wonderful mural of the river itself that travels up a three level staircase and down another. Very well done!

Once aboard the Schooner Mary E for the main event, everyone quickly settled in to a very fine evening of sightseeing, networking, and of course garden talk. Our events coordinator Lucy van Liew, provided the group with a delicious boxed dinner, then we relaxed with a glass of wine to enjoy a beautiful sunset.

A great time was had by all, and we have already begun scheming to repeat the outing next summer. So stay connected with us here at APLDCT, and hopefully we’ll see you at our next exciting outing!

We’ll be posting more photos and continuing the discussion about this event, as well as future events, over on the Facebook Page, but now, here’s a fun video of our Sunset Cruise outing. Enjoy and please share it with your friends!