Gardens Have Meanings and Memories
“Show me your garden and I will tell you who you are”
A few years ago I had the pleasure of traveling to Saxton’s River, Vermont to attend a week long seminar given by Julie Moir Meservey. For those of you who are familiar with her work you can imagine my delight in being able to spend an entire week listening to her present her unique interpretation of how various spaces resonate with us and how, as designers, we translate these preference in designing gardens. Her book, The Inward Garden, is a must read for all who are interested in discovering the “garden within” and its expression in the places we love to live, visit and the gardens we create. The Inward Garden gives the reader a process for designing a dream garden. Based on garden archetypes the sea, the cave, the harbor, the promontory, the island, the mountain, and the sky.
I have long been fascinated by the meaning of gardens and the emotional responses they evoke. Both natural and man-made landscapes resonate with us on an sensory level that perhaps is founded upon the archetypes that Ms. Meservey discusses or is imbedded in our ancestral and childhood memories. I suggest you spend some time thinking about the kinds of landscapes that illicit pleasant emotional responses and investigate why that is the case. Are you a mountain or seaside person? Do you feel more comfortable in spaces of refuge or prospect over open space? Is the idea of living on an island too threatening? Practically speaking we may not be able to actually live in the places we visit or dream of but we can create gardens right at home that echo our individual preferences. A cozy, quiet “secret” garden perhaps or an old-fashion rope swing suspended from a wonderful oak tree. Maybe we can think beyond the boundaries of our own property and “borrow a view” of expanse across a pleasing view to the neighbor’s yard. Certainly water can play a prominent role and if we happen to have a water view we are indeed fortunate. But, certainly, we can install a water garden or a fountain.
Recently, Jan Johnsen, a talented landscape designer. published her first book which deals with a similar topic. Heaven is a Garden is a treasure and should be added to all gardener’s bookshelves. With beautiful pictures of Jan’s work and well-crafted prose we are informed on the subtleties of ancient principles apparent in sound design. Through archetypical examples and practical examples Jan informs and motivates us to use these time worn principles in crafting our outdoor spaces.
Our personal gardens should reflect our uniqueness and not be a contrived “cookie cutter” design copied from a book and forced into complicity on our own property. Get to know the so-called “genius of place” and with affection and forethought carve out an interpretation of your own making. You may need help in implementing your ideas but you are the driving force in its making. I design many gardens and have my own preferences but I do not live and garden on my client’s properties. I try to listen to their needs and goals, interpret those and encourage intimate involvement in the entire process.
This year has been a journey of discovery for me and the insights that have been revealed are a direct result of the loving care my parents invested in their gardens. I am sometimes awed by the sequence of events that have led me to now be the steward of this legacy. Memories surround me everywhere I walk and as the seasons unfold I am delighted by surprises here that my Mother had planted. Commemorative trees and shrubs greet me as reminders of significant milestones of shared experiences; the memorial Cornus kousa planted for my puppy, the Stewartia pseudocamelia given to my Dad upon my Mother’s death, the newly added Weeping Purple Beech for my Father’s passing this year and the list goes on and on of gifts given and plants shared through the years. I have revised quite a lot and added my own favorites to give this landscape my personal signature knowing full well that Bob and Grace are smiling down on me.
The photos included below are views of some of the areas of my personal landscape that evoke memories and have special meaning. What are the special areas in your personal gardens that tell the story of who you are?
_Gilbert K. Chesterton