Right now I’m at the Northwest Flower and Garden Show. I just gave my talk on “Button-Down Plants—flora that plays well with others.” I had a tremendous response from the audience, in spite of the late hour. I told them they won the “Indefatigable Award.”
I’ve been gathering great detail ideas from the show that might help me finish certain sections of my garden for The Garden Conservancy Open Day on July 7.
“Tales of Wonder in a Persian Garden” was a fanciful and romantic display designed and built by Judith Jones and Vanca Lumsden. I have a hammock in my garden. Adding scented plants nearby would take it to a whole other level.
However my best research came from attending other people’s talks. Most helpful so far were two of Steve Aitken‘s presentations on design. He’s the Editor of Fine Gardening. As a garden writer, I’ve worked with him in the past, but I had never seen any of his talks.
In the first, he spoke about creating plant vignettes in the garden. Here he was dealing with classic design ideas—harmony vs. contrast as it applies to color and form, or color and textures, etc. Only he had a twist.
Instead of pictures of plantings, he illustrated the design concepts with a series of hilarious formal family portraits from the 50s, 60s and 70s–many of them carrying the Olan Mills stamp down in the right hand corner.
In photo after photo, earnest boys in hideous plaid suits looked dumbfounded at the camera. Or little girls smirked in frills and perfectly curled hair, their bangs cut too short. Dads displayed embarrassing sideburns. And in many pictures there was the mother who had proudly dressed them all.
We gardeners are those mothers. The people combinations we laughed at in the talk were the same kind of groupings we attempt to do with our plants. What makes some work, and others fail has to do with following certain design maxims. Steve pointed out the contrast of family members with blonde hair vs. dark hair, or who had blue eyes and/or glasses or how those psychedelic coats and sweaters—now that’s contrast–moved color around the picture. This was a delightful way to be reminded of what I know and often forget to apply in my own garden.
Steve’s other talk consisted of a series of questions gardeners need to ask themselves, such as “What is my design’s purpose?” and “Do I have enough contrast or repetition?”
I could answer yes to most of these, until we got to focal points. The purpose of focal points, Steve said, is to draw you in so you can notice subtler plantings around them. That’s a neat idea. It turned my thinking around–a process that pleases me. I’d always thought the reason for a focal point was to bring focus to it—look at me!—not to encourage you to stop and take in more.
I create focal points (sometimes) in my garden, but I hadn’t thought about what they are doing to the overall vignette. Thanks, Steve, for a great insight. I will be using it as I head toward the Open Day this summer. # # # #