The benefits of garden eye candy

Observing garden 'eye candy' teaches us about design elements that make a difference in our own landscape.

Courtesy of Donna Williamson
Mirrors extend this planting of annuals at Longwood Garden in Pennsylvania. It's an idea that the home gardener could use.
Courtesy of Donna Williamson
A great pot with water spilling out is a terrific focal point for an annual planting that can be switched out when the plants grow past their prime.

It’s hard for me to believe I am saying this, but I want to make a case for “garden eye-candy.” Those glossy, beautiful books, usually British, that show us photo after photo of gorgeous garden scenes are generally referred to as “garden porn” or “eye candy.” But for most  of us in the US -- such as the state in which I live, Virginia -- most of the plants in these books' beautiful photos don’t bloom at the same time because of different climates.

While I eagerly tell the participants in my classes that it’s fun to look at those pictures and borrow ideas, I think there is even a bigger benefit.

Learn to appreciate the best

When we go to a museum, we don’t look at mediocre Impressionist art. We look at great art. We look at the capture of exquisite light or the waves of grain in a Van Gogh or a ballerina preparing to dance, and we are enchanted. This is an artist at the top of his or her game.

Some artists appeal to me more than others. Cezanne may be your favorite, while a friend's may be Manet, and mine may be Degas. Taste and choice don’t matter as much as the education of our eyes and minds in what first-rate work looks like.

That same educated eye can be brought to the landscape.

What you learn

By reading and looking at the enormous variety of books with stunning and delicious photos, we can teach our eyes (and mind) about first-class gardens. By visiting great gardens (and the not-so-great) we can learn about how to use the dimensions of time and space with more flair.

The style may not suit you or your property, but attention to form, rhythm, mass, contrast, harmony, shape, etc., will prevail.

We have many public gardens that have received loving care and great resources. Sometimes they inspire; sometimes they fail. But having seen so many can help the observer understand and tuck away the details of success and the elements of failure to apply or avoid in their own gardens. The same is true with private gardens featured on tours.

 Even though we are unlikely to install a great ha-ha or have enough serfs to maintain elaborate topiary, we can observe and learn.

------

Donna Williamson is one of more than a dozen professional garden writers who blog regularly at Diggin' It. She's a master gardener, garden designer, and garden coach. She has taught gardening and design classes at the State Arboretum of Virginia, Oatlands in Leesburg, and Shenandoah University. She’s also the founder and editor of Grandiflora Mid-Atlantic Gardening magazine, and the author of “The Virginia Gardener’s Companion: An Insider’s Guide to Low Maintenance Gardening in Virginia.” She lives in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. To read more by Donna, click here.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.