Tuesday, April 21, 2015

"The Artful Garden" with W. Gary Smith - an anticipatory stroll

Chinese snowball viburnum (Viburnum macrocephalum)
in the Page-Rollins White Garden.  
By Kaitlin Henderson

Inspired by W. Gary Smith's upcoming lecture at Duke Gardens on Thursday evening, and his award-winning book, From Art to Landscape: Unleashing Creativity in Garden Design, I took a walk through Duke Gardens today with the idea of "artfulness" in mind.

To me, artfulness in the gardens means the careful but ever-present interplay between nature and human design. It wasn't something I had deliberately looked for throughout the entire gardens before, and I found myself seeing artful things with every step I took.

As I began my stroll in the Page-Rollins White Garden, I noticed the wonderful interaction of textures around the Chinese snowball viburnum (Viburnum macrocephalum) pictured above. The puffs of flowers are light and float above the leaves of the many green plants, and the different types of stone nearby add their own unique, contrasting texture.

I made my way into the Spring Woodland Garden (above) and looked at an area I've seen countless times, but with new eyes today. I love this view from the large wooden bridge down the small creek, and today I realized some of that is because of the wonderful glimpse you get of such a picturesque scene. But this photo doesn't do it justice. Actually standing in this spot, you get to experience the feeling of the light breeze and the sound of birds chirping as they flit among the trees.

As I walked into the Culberson Asiatic Arboretum, I was reminded that artfulness doesn't need to be big. It can involve just one plant, like this Japanese maple (Acer palmatum ssp. dissectum 'Ornatum'). The blanket of leaves has such exquisite draping, and there's a playful hide & seek of that external shell and the partially revealed internal branches.

Artfulness can even involve a dead piece of a plant, as I found a little farther on my walk. This cast-off branch makes a beautiful arch with the sun streaming down on it and a vine twirling up. I think it's a fantastic example of an artfulness that comes from working with the garden -- recognizing what this could contribute and deciding to leave it in the garden.

Leaving the Asiatic Arboretum, I came upon this scene of the creek running through the Hanes Lawn. It reminded me that artfulness doesn't need to be so subtle that it hides the human hand and imagination that created it. To me, this area is an incredibly successful instance of making a landscape design obvious and inviting. Other people clearly got the same message that this is an enjoyable setting, as it is a much-visited spot.

Deliberate artfulness can show itself simply in the horticultural structures, too, such as these subtle but unhidden guide wires for the new native wisteria (Wisteria frutescens) growing onto the pergola after the recent Pergola Restoration Project.

Entering the Blomquist Garden of Native Plants, I was reminded of the artfulness that can guide your experience of a garden beyond the plants growing there. I took a tour of the Blomquist with curator Stefan Bloodworth earlier this year, and one of the many things he talked about were these new wooden signs. Everything used to make them, from the different woods to the font, was carefully chosen to create a cohesive experience of the Blomquist Garden. This balancing depth of thought that artfulness brings, which considers the natural space and how people design and experience it, can apply to all aspects of a garden.

In the end, though, my favorite examples of artfulness are the quiet, contemplative spaces that showcase a harmony between people and plants. In the spot pictured above, I love the balance of the gardeners' design of a sheltered resting place, the compliance of the Possumhaw (Ilex decidua) that encloses the space, and the enjoyment of those who come upon it.

It's fun to think about gardens we visit, and our own gardens that we tend, from an artful perspective.  You don't need to be a trained artist to appreciate and conjure artful flourishes all around you. But it's a special treat to have a trained eye such as W. Gary Smith's to get the creative wheels turning even more.

Join us for "The Artful Garden," on balancing the physical realities of your garden with your artistic imagination, on Thursday, April 23, 2015. Smith will be available after the talk to sign copies of his book. For more information and to register, please call 919-668-1707.

Kaitlin Henderson studies interdisciplinary engagement in Duke's Master of Arts in Liberal Studies program.

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