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Garden Design

Art and the garden

Mary Gray

Mary Gray

August 15, 2012

Take a look at the pair of images below. What would you say they have in common? Now, I’m pretty sure the garden vignette on the right was not modelled directly after Thomas Cole’s painting (on the left), but the two certainly do seem to share some genetic material, don’t they?  The arches, the vines, the muted colors, the effort to capture antiquity — all are present in both painting and garden.

Romantic painting by Thomas Cole and romantic garden

This pair of pictures comes from a fascinating book called Art and the Gardener, by Gordon Hayward.  My favorite part of the book is a section in which Hayward presents many pairs of images – a painting and a photo of a garden — that share the same aesthetic.  Clearly, Thomas Cole’s painting and the unidentified garden above capture a spirit of Romanticsm in both mood and detail.

I love this next pair:

Painting George Braques, garden design James Rose

Hayward’s description of this Georges Braque’s Cubist painting (left) defines James Rose’s garden design (right) as well:

“Plates of color organized by forceful diagonals on the ground contrast with the freer forms of tree foliage.”

Plates of color?  Check.  Forceful diagonals?  Check.  Freer forms of foliage?  Bingo!!!

Now check these out:

Painting by Roger Sandes, garden design by Tom Stuart-Smith

The painting on the left that looks kind of like a rug is by artist Roger Sandes, who is affiliated with a movement of American art known as Pattern and Decoration.  This movement was a reaction against the cool abstract style that held sway during the mid-20th century.  Here is Hayward describing the artists and devotees of Pattern and Decoration:

“Their works were fresh, new, simply beautiful, and often formed on a grid that gave their work an underlying elegant structure and a one-dimensional appearance.  Their art was…hedonistic, opulent, sensuous, and accessible compared to the cerebral minimalist art of the day.”

Now if that description doesn’t also perfectly capture the gardens designed by Tom Stuart-Smith, like the one shown above on the right, then I must be blind.

Romping back and forth this way between the worlds of art and garden design is a heady experience.  I almost start hyperventilating when I think about the possibilities.

Wouldn’t it be awesome if you had a client who just handed you a painting and said, “Design me something that feels like this.  Just remember that I only have a budget of fifty million dollars for this project.”

How would you design a garden inspired by this:

“Colorful, Partial Eclipses” Artist Unknown

or this?

“The Dream” by Henri Rousseau

Or this?

“The Wheatfield” by Raoul Dufy

Or this?

“Cafe Terrace at Night” by Vincent van Gogh

Okay, class, get to work on that. 

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Catherine Stewart
11 years ago

A garden like a Rousseau painting….oh, bring it ON. That would be a dream commission! (Though perhaps with a few less big cats)
I have often described garden designing as 4-dimensional sculpture but I’ve never really thought about using a painting as inspiration for a design. An excellent suggestion for a landscape design class excercise, I think.

11 years ago

This is a really interesting post Mary. As an artist, albeit an abstract artist and designer I get many comments about the fact that people can see garden design in my paintings. The balance, structure, co-ordination of style – these are as important in a painting as in a garden. I thoroughly enjoyed this post for the visual feast alone.
Alison A

Evan Gaulke
11 years ago

Fabulous article. I was recently commissioned to design a garden in Melbourne, the brief – ‘Pop Art’ Inspired. Bold Colour and contemporary popular culture themes.The garden is half constructed and is already a riot of strong colours. An artist has been commissioned to add pop art style photographs gently illuminated behind glass, there will be bright red tile patches on the ground plane reflected by the tops of Photinia glabra ‘Rubens’ visible above a green foreground planting along with other plant / hardscape combinations. It’s very exciting!
Gardening is art, and influences infiltrate across all mediums. The challenge of ‘garden art’ is the successful combining of place, structure and plantings and the on going maintenance and development of the plant material.

Catherine Stewart
11 years ago
Reply to  Evan Gaulke

Evan, that’s a dream commission. I’d love you to share some photos on GardenDrum when it’s constructed. I can really picture that red and green singing together. Hey, funny how that metaphor just popped out – maybe gardening is music too?

Evan Gaulke
11 years ago

I’m happy to share some photos in a few months time.