Behind The Scenes

Six weeks ago, a garden editor from Better Homes and Gardens rang up-could she send a crew out to photograph my spring pots?  I grew up with this publication at home, as my Mom subscribed for many years.  She was not so interested in the home decor, cooking, or entertaining part, but she avidly followed their articles about gardening and crafts.  I was delighted that they wanted to come.  James Meredith, the US Secretary of Agriculture under Woodrow Wilson, founded Meredith Publishing, and Better Homes and Gardens in 1922-this information is courtesy of Wikipedia.  I had 6 weeks to get ready.  I planted 12 containers ornamented with with twigs, and planted with spring flowering bulbs, herbs, spring vegetables and cold tolerant annual and perennial plants.  The containers were chosen by Scott Johnson, an art director with Meredith.  I was surprised that he chose fairly contemporary containers-but today’s Better Homes is a publication with plenty of surprises.

The six weeks prior to the shoot were cold and rainy.  At one point I had all of the containers inside our greenhouse space where it was warm.  But once the plants started to stretch, I had to move them outside.  I placed them just outside my office door, and hoped for the best.  It is a southern and very protected location.   2 days of very hot weather just before they arrived helped to move my pots along.  And the tulips obliged by throwing their first few blooms.  By far and away the best part of the visit was the opportunity to watch how these 3 people put a composition together for a photograph.  Scott would choose a container, and place it.  Kitsada would take a series of photographs, the results of which could instantly be seen on a computer and screen which was wired into his digital camera. 

Don’t quote me on any of the technical issues-I was just an interested observer.  The container would be placed on a surface.  Other companionable elements would be added and subtracted  They were incredibly focused and persistent about an arrangement that would suit them.  They knew instantly what was not working, and were confident about what was.  We put anything and everything in the shop at their disposal.  One photograph took almost 2 hours to arrange, and shoot. 

A photograph is an image with 4 edges.  I was very interested to see how and where they placed objects in the physical space, given what they wanted to see in the visual space.  The pot of grape hyacinths pictured above-only 3 stems appeared in the foreground space of the photograph. 

I believe Kitsada spent more time on the ground than he did standing up. It only makes sense.  He wanted his eye at the same level as the object of his attention.  This is the same idea as placing small containers on tables in the garden, and very large containers on the ground.  This makes for a stronger view. 

It took quite some time to compose each photograph. Good composition does take a long time; a landscape takes years.  A photograph records a moment which will never to be again.  A landscape is always in motion-growing over the edges of your composition just as yuo get them set.       

They were a great group-I could hardly keep up with them.  They shot the first night until 8 pm, and were on the job the next morning at 5:30. 

Next February or March-we’ll see what came of their visit.  Scot brought me an advance issue of their June magazine.  There is a great article about a gardener who makes sense of a piece of land 50 feet wide, and 260 feet long.  Her garden is beautiful; don’t miss it.


I spent the better part of this week walking from one end of my property to the other- watching Rob and a crew haul out everything he had ordered for spring, tear the entire existing space apart, and put it all back together.  I could not even guess how many thousands of pounds of terra cotta, stone, wood, lead, were involved all told-but I would guess many.  I thought his method was smart-everything got moved into the driveway lane, leaving each side ready to be cleaned up, and re-raked.  Though our all over surface is compacted decomposed granite, it doesn’t feel like spring until it every vestige of last year gets raked out. Those of you who know of the late Allen Haskell-he took up, washed, and relaid all of the gravel in his nursery every spring.  Think of it.  Beyond relevelling the gravel, even more interesting was how he put things together. 

I would not have a word for this, but for Pam.  She designs, plants, and maintains gardens, so she has a point of view about it.  She was telling me she admired another desgner she knows for her ability to “layer” in plants.  By this she means plants are paired or grouped so while one is going quiet, another is coming on.  Daffodils with daylilies, or oriental poppies with phlox, or phlox with Japanese anemone.  Skilled perennial garden designers are adept at arranging plants to avoid what I call a gaposis. I like treating these perennial spaces with big growing annuals, but some like to handle this perennially. A large clump of oriental poppies going dormant is not such a pretty sight-something needs to be coming on strong in the spot in front of that poppy-otherwise a gaposis. 

I think this is a good description of how Rob has arranged the outdoor spaces. He packed materials in close quarter that seemed to like each other or play off each other.  In this case, the steel striped bench echo the wood stripes; its scrolls recalls the scrolling corbel detail.  Surfaces and colors are different, but friendly. Lots of materials and styles are represented here.  His arrangement is a conversation about choices.   

Contemporary garden ornament can include a wide range of objects. This early twentieth English wood trestle table is clean lined enough to be quite comfortable with some galvanized steel wire crates, and some painted French garden chairs. The round acid washed steel pots are finished with a nod to traditional forms, but have a subtly more modern shape.  

This space is densely populated.  On the table, below the table, in the air, on the ground-everywhere you look, something is going on.  I am surprised how amiable the contemporary limestone balls are to the modern lead sculptures of classical design.  I do not see any argument about to erupt.  I suppose any object for a garden implies that partnership-all of these things have a landscape to come in common.  Maybe this accounts for how they all get along. 

A pussy willow stem and a trench drain have almost nothing intrinsically in common.  What they do share is how they are arranged in a similar V-shaped fashion.  The color of the iron repeats the stems of the still dormant Boston ivy. What a different view will present itself once that wall is green. But given the early spring season, I like the bouquet shapes.

These steel tuteurs are Rob’s interpretation of some formally trimmed yews at Versailles.  I have already been scheming about what could be planted inside them, that would still reveal the outer form.  But it is the multiple forms in multiple pots that makes for such a big impact.  The blue/grey and terra cotta color scheme is repeated in the background in a very rhythmic way, alternating pots of different shape and height.  

An arrangement of geometric shapes is so pleasing to the eye; the V-shapes in differing materials compliment that.  The color is strikingly contrasting-black and white, with just a little in between.  A restricted color palette is a modern gesture; the twigs soften this.  

He has quite an eye, and an ability to layer all his own.