Site and Insight. I’ve used these words many times in talking about gardens, in thinking about landscapes, in writing about both.
Recently I’ve added a third word to the list. Sight, Site and Insight. This is what art, landscape and design are based on: looking at what surrounds you, observing the lay of the land, the spirit of the place, the conditions that govern it, and then using those observations purposefully to create a space that engages the mind and the emotions.
This is what I try to do at Glen Villa. This is what I plan to do in my soon-to-be launched new website.
In October 2007, with the help of my good friend Louise, I launched my current website: Glen Villa Gardens. Louise and I worked hard on the layout and the content and were delighted with the final product. It felt good in every respect. Its title accurately reflected the content, giving a close-up view of the place I live and garden. The subtitle was equally accurate (and for it, I thank Susan, another good friend). Creating a Personal Landscape was the lens I used as I looked for ways to represent the history of the Glen Villa site and to tell stories of the people who lived there long ago and who live there now.
The website featured photos of the garden and the art that was there, art created by me and by the renowned sculptors Louise Doucet and Satoshi Saito. Almost in passing it mentioned that I gave talks about Glen Villa and about using art outdoors. ‘Almost in passing’ generated a few enquires, and talks I gave led to more. And more.
For six years and counting, the website served me well. But for the last few years it has felt out of date. It was static. What was written there rarely changed — and as anyone who refers to websites knows, that is a fatal error.
I considered other ways to share my thoughts more broadly — thoughts about gardens, about landscape in general, about how people use the land, how they see it in different seasons, how they mark it with their presence. Increasingly, I was creating sculptural installations at Glen Villa, using art to draw attention to what was present on the land, and to what was there in spirit only, ghostly remnants of the past.
|A foggy autumn view over the foundations of an old summer cottage,
onto the Big Lawn at Glen Villa and the beautiful linden tree in the distance..
In January 2013, I started writing this blog, Glen Villa: Site and Insight. The addition of the subtitle reflected my widening interests in landscape and how it is viewed. Over the past twenty months, in almost 100 blog posts, I’ve reflected on my own garden practices and on the way history has influenced gardens around the world. I’ve observed my surroundings more carefully. I’ve discovered plants I never knew and looked at different ways of using them. Art outdoors has featured prominently, and in the process of writing, I’ve reflected more deeply on what art can accomplish when it is used thoughtfully.
So add a fourth word to the mantra: Sight, Site, Insight, Write. Or should it be Sight, Site, Write, Insight? Without doubt, writing helps me to clarify my ideas. Sometimes, when I begin a blog post, I’m not sure what I want to say, or what I think about a particular topic. Does art add to a garden or distract? Do some shapes work better in a landscape than others, and if so, why? How can we become more aware of what surrounds us, and what happens when we do? The act of writing brings these ideas into focus.
|A natural composition in the forest at the Adkins Arboretum in Maryland|
As readership of the blog has grown, I’ve developed on-line connections with thoughtful gardeners around the world. Anne Wareham and the contributors to the international forum Thinkingardens have introduced new ideas and helped me to think more critically. Inspiration about the use of indigenous plants has come from William Martin in Australia and James Golden in the United States. Cindy at Enclosure: Take Refuge has introduced me to historic garden photographs and to views of her own garden in Rwanda. The popular blogger Kathy Purdy has given good and regular advice about gardening in cold climates. And more recently, I’ve established a world of friends interested in trees, through a meme created by the English blogger Lucy Corrander.
Reading the thoughts of others offers insight into different ways of thinking and different ways of seeing the landscape that surrounds me. My post a few weeks ago about the tree broken by storm winds provoked more suggestions than usual from readers, and those suggestions inspired a new art project that will use the stub of the tree that remains.
My focus is changing. I am less interested now in gardening and the complex problems of plants and their arrangement, and more interested in discovering what the land itself offers. Responding to its suggestions fills my head with ideas waiting to be made into talks to share with groups far and near, and with art, for myself and for others.
|Coup de Foudre, 2013|
Visiting gardens around the world has become more important, and leading small groups through these gardens gives me real pleasure. Preparing for these trips increases my knowledge, and experiencing them with people who think critically about what they see heightens my own observations and enjoyment.
These changes in focus and activity mean that my current on-line presence no longer fits. Starting next week, you will find me at Site and Insight: Reflecting on Art and Landscape. You’ll see a new logo, a new style and a new cohesion that bring my website, blog, art and other activities into a single location.
A reflective approach to questions about art and landscape will remain, as will my desire to engage with others. So please let me know what you think. I look forward to your responses.