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The Artist as Landscape Designer and Vice Versa; a book review for

From Art to Landscape, Unleashing Creativity in Garden Design, W. Gary Smith, Timber Press

Examine the front cover of this book. Notice how it is divided into 5 distinct color bands, each one deliberately positioned to play against the band adjacent. Notice too, how beautiful is the pastel sketch of a forest in band three and how it relates to and echoes the photograph in band four. This cover illustration, a work of art in its own right, heralds the beautiful visual experiences the reader will find inside this publication. Day after day, I would find myself returning to it, simply to enjoy the pictures. Often, I would forget that I was supposed to purposefully read it in order to write a review.

Mr. Smith is an award winning landscape designer specializing in botanical gardens. He is also a talented artist. His book takes the topic of garden design to a new level by raising the bar on the discussion about the role of art in landscaping. His work is neither a manual, nor a guide, nor a text book. It is an ode to the beauty and creativity we insert into nature when planning great estate gardens. Readers should not dismiss this book if the phrase great estate gardens does not apply to them. These settings illustrate universal elements of creativity in landscaping. Lessons learned here, and there are many, can be applied to gardens of any size..

The book is divided into two sections. In the first, the author introduces himself with a sensitive autobiography that narrates his development as an artist. Then he proceeds to build our visual vocabulary with elements of design that empower a garden designer. This section, pivotal to the overarching theme of the book, includes concepts such as shapes, forms, and patterns. These are categorized into scattered, mosaic, naturalistic drifts, serpentine, spiral, circles, dendric, and fractured. For each, there is a brilliant visual demonstration how such a concept impacts design.

According to the author, the next step is to encourage landscape designers to get in touch with their own creativity, and to sensitize their eyes to beauty. In that respect, the following chapter is a natural extension of a theme developed by Fran Sorin, in her publication, Digging Deep.  Mr. Smith’ recommends that we develop an aptitude for sketching, painting and drawing. These skills, he believes, liberate us from constraint and encourage creativity.

Furthermore, the author suggests, garden designers may be inspired by artists from other disciplines such as painters, sculptors, photographers and the performing arts, as all have a role to play in artistic nurturing. For example, in an examination of the Cascade Gardens at Longwood, the author demonstrates how cubism and abstract expressionism influenced the overall design of that garden and, in the next chapter, discusses how the Garden at Winterthur is, in its totality, an expression of fine art.

Part two of Mr. Smith’s book is a journey through the author’s professional accomplishments, with an emphasis on the artistic elements that shaped each of his works. These include The Pierce’s Woods at Longwood Gardens, The Tropical Mosaic Garden at the Naples Botanical Gardens in Naples, Florida, The New England Wild Flower Society’s Garden in the Woods at Framingham, Massachusetts and The Enchanted Woods at Winterthur. The final chapter discusses the essential role that garden designers can play in the conservation and establishment of ecosystems and the philosophical relationship between art and gardening.

Prepare to be overwhelmed by the stunning images that the author has complied for our education. Some readers may find it necessary to put down the book after each chapter, to savor the moment. But don’t read it for that alone. Read it also to appreciate the author’s richly colored images of proposed and executed garden designs. I would welcome the opportunity to hang all of Mr. Smith’s artwork on my walls; He is that good.


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Reader Comments (6)

I do agree with this concept of using art in the garden. It is much like Gordon Hayward's ideas of using the artist's view to create wonderful vistas in the landscape.


January 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEileen

Gary Smith is a local landscape designer, and I have seen his work at Longwood and Winterthur as well as Garden-in-the-Woods. The landscapes in person are as gorgeous as the pictures. He is truly talented. I look forward to reading his book after your excellent review.

This book looks interesting. I come at garden design with a very technical/science background and very little artistic skills. I think this book could help me look at things a little differently.

January 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLiz

I would love to have an opportunity to look through this book. I think that gardening appeals to many artists. The principals that guide the mixing of colors, the arrangement of shape, form and texture are the same basic tenants that inform both a beautiful garden and a great work of art.

January 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer

Using art to influence garden design is a wonderful way to infuse the two art forms into one.

It allows everyone to enjoy the vision on a larger scale than just a painting.

Thank you for sharing!

January 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNature Fine Art by Ezzat

Wow! I can tell just from your review that this is a garden book that goes above and beyond its competition. I'll definitely have to look for a copy.

I also wanted to say that your calirhoe post would be fantastic in this month's issue of How to Find Great Plants if you have a moment to submit it. Here's the link:

The deadline for entries is tomorrow (1/28/2011) at midnight eastern time.

January 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEliza @ Appalachian Feet

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