At Close Range

I have talked every which way, and in every language I am familiar with about composition and space; can you tell it is a topic close to my heart?  My space has been very limited the past six weeks-so I am more than familiar with what goes on at close range.  I can describe in every detail what I see out the one window at home where I spent the lion’s share of my time the past 6 weeks.  The rhodies right outside that window were a green version of a thermometer. If I had my way, what would be up close to my view, every day?

What is up close and important for Buck is his kitchen-and everything else that goes on at the dinner table.  People sitting down, relating over a meal-this may be his idea of life’s most important moments.  Everything gets discussed and decided-at close range.  In his work life, his eyes are focused, via a magnifier in his welding helmet, on laying down via his mig welder, a perfect and smooth bead of E-70s silicon bronze wire-that perfectly laid bead welds one piece of metal to another.  He is twelve inches from that work. The Englishman Phillip Thomason, arguably the most influential garden pot maker of the twentieth century, could not have been far from his work, when he carved this green man and affixed it to the wall of one of his garden boxes. Were it mine, I would want to be able to be at close range-a view like this is a good one.�
This photograph says a lot about near and far.  The front edge of this shell basin is in sharp focus. That front edge is parallel to the lens of the camera. Any object or plant, or combination thereof, which presents at close range, and at eye level, gets to be really important. That importance has nothing to do with the object or plant-it has to do with placement.  The background-how will you handle it?

Some pots can weigh in visually just fine, placed on the ground.  Others need a socle, or a gentle lift up, or a pedestal.  A pot at eye level is the visual equivalent of a finial. I define a finial as any beautiful finish to a pedestal, a garden, a space, or an entrance.   Plant that pot set at finial eye level or not, its beauty is at close range.  What you see, near and far, is all about good garden composition. Almost anything I see up close, I marvel at.  Should you want my attention far away, make that happen.    

These small terra cotta pots, waterproofed with masonry waterproofing paint and painted white, with their associated paint soaked bows, would not get a passing glance-but for their placement at eye level on a shelf.  Given a good chance to look at them, your idea about them being insignificant may take a back seat to what you see.

Contemporary garden ornament is much about shape and surface. Shape and surface up close has a much different feeling than shape and surface at a distance.  That placement within a space orients a viewer-no revelation here.  But placement is at your discretion- move things around.  Go far, get closer-move up to close range; see what you like best.  

Some plants, some garden objects, some gardens and landscapes, are best viewed from above eye level.  You can sort that out-just look, and see what view makes your heart pound the most.  If the light doesn’t go on, don’t worry.  I have been looking up and down, down and out, at a distance and up close, at my little property for 15 years-I do not have it sorted out.  I like this about gardening-Every year I bring something new to my approach.   

My garden tolerates me-amicably.  Should I bring something new home, chances are good that somewhere the landscape will invite the newcomer to dinner, and eventually ask them to stay on.  Where, how, and under what circumstances-this is your job.  Is this not a good job? 

Anything you cannot live without, and think to add to your garden-it may be more useful to ditch the idea of where, and think about its placement-relative to your eye, in the composition in question.  I know lots of gardeners that create based on instinct, and not idea. Those that create based on a genuine love and caring do just fine. There is really no need to give words to, or explicate the creative process. I only write about design in hopes of explaining my process. I greatly admire lots of gardeners that do things differently than I would-why wouldn’t I?     

Up close, every gardener gets engaged-yes?


  1. I enjoy reading your blog. You have given me something to think about and to really look at my garden. Thanks for the informative post.

  2. Beautiful photos, love the close ups. It is if I know these pieces up close and personal, (that’s right, I do)! I can almost hear the fountains as I view this blog, a sound I will surely miss. . . .

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