Tag Archives: water

Reflecting on Reflections

November 2nd, 2014 | 9 Comments »

Who could walk past this scene without pausing to admire the clouds reflected in the water below?

Blue sky, puffy white clouds and autumn colour are reflected in the Skating Pond at Glen Villa.
Blue sky, puffy white clouds and autumn colour are reflected in the Skating Pond at Glen Villa.


Reflections show the world around us. They can reveal aspects of a scene we might otherwise miss. They are — or can be — great additions to any garden. But using them well requires thought and planning.

Water is one of the easiest reflecting surfaces to include in a garden. But before proceeding willy-nilly, consider the effect you want to achieve. Do you want the water to reflect the sky alone, or to say something about the setting of the garden, as the tiny pool in this English garden does?

A square pool surrounded by boxwood reflects the sky above, at Gothick House, the garden of photographer Andrew Lawson.
A square pool surrounded by boxwood at Gothick House, the garden of photographer Andrew Lawson, reflects the sky and the surrounding rooftops.


You may want to avoid reflecting some views: telephone poles, power lines, garbage. Or you may choose to include them deliberately, to make a statement about your garden and its position in the world.

Garbage is reflected in the waters of the Nile River.
Garbage is reflected in the waters of the Nile in Egypt. I doubt this reflection was chosen deliberately. But it does make a statement.


What you choose to reflect is one question. What you want the reflection to accomplish is another. Do you want to show a mirror image? Depending on the angle of the view and the angle of the light, still water reflects what is around it quite accurately. Or it can.  Sometimes the reflection is clearer and more striking than the thing itself.  In the photo below, the sky appears bluer in reflection than it is in reality.

Trees by the Skating Pond are reflected in the still water.
The intensity of colour is affected by the angle of light. Here the actual sky appears washed out in comparison to its reflection. The trees also look greener in the water.


Still water can play tricks with colour; moving water can do even more.  Trees and autumn foliage become as abstracted as a painting — not in oil or acrylic but in coloured water.

An abstract watercolour
Water moved by the wind and a light current produces swirling colours:  an abstract watercolour.


Turbulent water reflects motion alone.

Water pours through the glen that gave Glen Villa its name.
Water pours through the glen that gave Glen Villa its name.


But even still water doesn’t always offer a good reflecting surface.  At certain times of the day or in certain seasons, this canal at Broughton Grange in England may mirror the sky, the trees or the plantings around it. But when I was there, it was a flat pewter surface that reflected greyness and dampened my appreciation of the garden, designed by the Chelsea Gold Medal winner, Tom Stuart-Smith.

A canal moves through dense plantings at Broughton Grange in England.
A canal moves through dense plantings on one level of the Walled Garden at Broughton Grange in England.


The clarity of the water matters — the clearer the surface, the sharper the reflection — and clarity can be a function of water temperature. I took the photo below at the end of an October day, when the water temperature in the Skating Pond at Glen Villa had dropped enough to kill off the vegetation that grows in warmer months.


Nothing is growing in this cold water. That enhances the clarity of the reflection.
Nothing is growing in this cold water, so the reflection is particularly vivid..


Muddy water or pools where the surface is mostly covered with vegetation are not good reflectors. Water that sparkles in sunlight isn’t either — unless you want to send a message about light alone. Dark water is different. When dark water is still and calm, it captures reflections superbly and can add an air of mystery to any garden tableau. From straight on, the undulating hedges at Veddw, a garden in Wales, suggest a labyrinthine path leading into the woods beyond. Reflected, they suggest a watery road to a dark and hidden world.

The reflecting pond at Veddw, Wales, a garden created by Anne Wareham and Charles Hawes.
This reflecting pond is at Veddw, Wales, a garden created by Anne Wareham and Charles Hawes.


Using water to reflect the surroundings can do more than enhance a garden and double the viewing pleasure. This Chinese-style bridge that forms a perfect circle when reflected in the water alludes to other gardens in other places, built in other times. The allusion connects the North American garden to an historic Chinese garden tradition and, in doing so, adds richness to the experience of being there.

A Chinese-style moon bridge forms a perfect circle when reflected in the water.
The moon bridge is at Les Quatre Vents, a garden in Quebec designed by the late Frank Cabot, founder of The Garden Conservancy.


Reflections in water can offer views of the world we might otherwise miss.  I took the photo below on a clear day. Was I looking up or looking down?  It’s not easy to say. That uncertainty is slightly disorienting — a good thing, in my books. Being disoriented makes us look harder, as we try to make sense of what we see.

An upside down picture helps us see the world with new eyes.
Is the blue a piece of sky or water?


Water isn’t the only reflecting surface — there are many other materials we can use — but it is one of the easiest. Next week I plan to look at other types of reflecting surfaces and consider the effects they create in a garden.

But before then, take a minute to share your thoughts. Have you included something in your garden that reflects what surrounds it? If you have, what did you want to achieve? I’d love to know.

Rills and Why I Like Them

June 26th, 2013 | 6 Comments »
Water features are an important element in many gardens. Understandably so. Water can reflect the sky, enlarging the space to infinity; it can reflect surrounding buildings or trees, adding stimulating contrasts. It is an ideal environment for certain decorative plants. It cools the air and its movement over rocks or cascades adds a refreshing note. A garden rill is an artificial channel that carries water from one place to another. Historically rills developed from the religious ideas of Persian paradise gardens. They appeared later in Europe, in Moorish gardens like


The Sound of Summer

March 13th, 2013 | 2 Comments »
It seems perverse to write about the sound of summer when winter winds still howl and more snow is forecast. But how better to keep warm than to anticipate? And to remember. For years my husband and I spent our summer vacation with our children at a cottage next door to Glen Villa.  My brother-in-law owns the cottage now, so we visit it regularly. And when we do, I hear the thing I remember best from summer nights  – the sound of the stream gurgling over rocks. The stream by


Life in the desert

February 27th, 2013 | No Comments »
This week I'd planned to post the third and final piece about In Transit / En Route, the art installation I created in the woods at Glen Villa. I will post it, but not today. Instead, I need to write about where I am today, which is California. Visiting friends in Palm Desert, I find myself overwhelmed by an unfamiliar landscape, vegetation I can't name, and questions I can't answer. Is life in the desert this? A golf community in Palm Desert: a manicured course, green greens and water everywhere Or