Embedded and Engaged in the Landscape

“I am not going to talk about plants.  Why do we make gardens?  What makes me garden?” TomStuart-Smith
Nobody can talk about gardens, the way an English person can.  And almost nobody can talk about them in the way Tom Stuart-Smith does.    “We spend the first half of our lives, copying other people and the second half copying ourselves. Somewhere in there, we find our individual voice.
From Sissinghurst to the Villa Lante to Rousham, Smith talked about process and momentum;  emergence and denouement; intimacy and distance.  This sounds pretty heady, but it wasn’t.  If anything, it might have been the kind of thing one discusses with a therapist.
I expect self-assurance from well-known garden designers.  Perhaps only someone who is completely self-assured, can meditate about their connection to the landscape in a room filled with 400 people.  Smith sited the novel, The Garden of the Finzi-Continis by Giorgio Bassani, as an instance of the dangers of viewing the garden as a separate world, of not connecting to the outside world. Smith’s garden progress from enclosed, to semi-enclosed to wilderness.  As he said, “my gardens create intimacy and move to a space that acknowledges loss.”
One of his most interesting points:  making an empty space in the garden actually creates a space that has a sense of being occupied, of history; something has happened here.  “It tell us how this place relates to the rest of the world.”

Smith’s life-long quest to be embedded and engaged in the landscape, I am totally in sync with.   I wish all my gardens to be immersive and engaging (maybe every garden designer does).


New York Botanical Garden
January 31, 2013

The Barn Garden is Smith’s self-published a book about his own garden.  “It’s a book about coming to terms with who you are as a person”.  This last comment brought the lecture back to its beginning.  And reminded me of how I am always struggling with separation and connection, both in the garden and in life.

This a poem that Tom Stuart-Smith recited in the beginning of his talk.  I was unfamiliar with it, so I share it with you.

Robert Herrick
A Sweet disorder
A SWEET disorder in the dress
Kindles in clothes a wantonness:—
A lawn about the shoulders thrown
Into a fine distractión,—
An erring lace, which here and there
Enthrals the crimson stomacher,—
A cuff neglectful, and thereby
Ribbands to flow confusedly,—
A winning wave, deserving note,
In the tempestuous petticoat,—
A careless shoe-string, in whose tie
I see a wild civility,—
Do more bewitch me, than when art
Is too precise in every part.



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