One of my favorite books is Seeing Gardens by Sam Abell, a wonderful National Geographic photographer. He has an extraordinary eye for detail. In this book, he observes that “Some of the gardens that mean the most are impromptu arrangements.” One of my favorite images in the book is a still life of pears on a windowsill, a gauzy curtain lifting in the breeze, with the Kremlin and St. Basil’s cupola visible in the background. In another, a Moscow woman’s colorful scarf of vibrant flowers illuminates her drab surroundings on a city bus, becoming the “garden” for the viewer’s eye.
Abell’s genius is shared by other artists. Last April I walked the streets in Charleston’s Battery Park neighborhood as part of a photography workshop. As I did, I saw more than one example of a landscape designer’s skill in creating beauty on a minimalistic scale. The gardens in this part of Charleston are tiny jewels, and I was in town on a photography workshop that had just missed the Festival of Houses and Gardens tours offered each spring. But wonderful views of the gardens’ entry “faces” were there if you looked closely. In the photo at left, early wisteria blooms spill over a whitewashed stucco wall topped with wrought iron on a garden on Meeting Street.
Further along the same street, I encountered a breathtaking juxtaposition of delicate flowering dogwood branches just beginning to leaf out against a background of beige stone walls. This image won raves from the instructor in a critique session the next day; but his eyes glazed over as I explained that I had been taken not only by the minimalist visual beauty of the image (thanks, Mr. Abell) but also the designer’s inspired choice of tree for the shady spot. Sometimes there are unexpected bonuses for a garden designer behind the lens.