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.