The Spheres For Thomas Hobbs

Southlands NurseryThomas Hobbs and his partner Brent Beattie own and operate a nursery in Vancouver British Columbia called Southlands.  I first became aware of their nursery via an article in Gardens Illustrated magazine years ago.  As this publication only rarely features gardening places and people outside of England, I knew this place had to be extraordinary.  It is.  Rob made a point of visiting Southlands a few years, as I was so keen to know more about their vision of beauty, their love of the garden, and their love of the gardening trade.  Thomas has written several great books.  Both “Shocking Beauty” and “The Jewel Box Garden” are well worth reading.  His chapter about “bell’occhio”,  literally translated as “beautiful eye”, was an influential read for me.  We struck up a friendship after my first blog essay about him some years ago.

June 24 2013 (5)What has Buck been up to?  Making his steel garden spheres, among a lot other things. If you are not familiar with them, they are a classic style garden lattice re-imagined and constructed in the round.  Buck knew exactly how to make them, but could not draw them.  After much discussion, I finally told him to just make one.  The CAD drawings could come later. The first strap steel sphere-not welded, but riveted together-was big, light, and gorgeous.  Never mind the drawings.  We now make them in both strap and rod steel,  for clients both local and distant.

delivery of the spheresIt was a good thing that we had some spheres on hand, as Thomas decided he wanted 6.  3 strap steel spheres.  5.5 foot in diameter, 4.5 feet in diameter, and 3 feet in diameter.  He wanted the same number and sizes in the rod steel-sent to Vancouver in time for an event.  Buck crated each sphere with the same care he exercises when he makes them.  They had a big journey ahead of them.   Exportation to Canada involves a lot of paperwork, and a customs broker.  The spheres are manufactured in the US, and are made from steel that comes from Canada.  We verified that to satisfy the requirements of our trade agreement with Canada.  The truck that picked up all six spheres was a dedicated truck, meaning no other freight on board.  From Pontiac Michigan, to  Vancouver, British Columbia took two days.

deliveryThe  spheres arrived in time for the hardy plant study group that was to visit his garden in June.  He told me he felt like the the spheres had been crated by the Louvre.  Buck did crate like the Louvre.  We wanted those sculptures to travel from our hands to his-without a hitch.  Happily,  they arrived without so much as a scratch.

uncrating the spheres
Thomas and I have never met.  We may never meet.  But we have a strong relationship over the garden.  I am thrilled that 6 of our spheres are part of his new meadow garden.

Thomas Hobbs 12He has been sending me pictures. This new garden of his is young, but he has a vision for this space that is timeless.  I can see that as this garden grows, those spheres will be a sculptural element  that will keep pace with the passing years.

Thomas Hobbs 6I imagine that he has been moving them around since the day he uncrated them.  He is testing them in this spot, or that spot.  From the pictures, I can see that he is interacting and responding to them.  Sculpture that graces a garden is much about the gardener in charge.  As a designer,  I rarely presume to suggest a sculpture for a garden.  I can never predict what a gardener, an individual, will find appealing.

Thomas Hobbs' spheresBut given the pictures I am getting every day from Thomas, I think these spheres touch and reach him in a very personal and serious way.  My advice?  Only commit to art that truly moves you.  Any sculpture you place in your garden should enchant you every time you pass by.

Thomas Hobbs 3Judging from the pictures, I would suggest that Thomas Hobbs is perfectly in touch with what enchants him.

Thomas Hobbs 4
Hobbs spheres

Thomas Hobbs 2
days end

Thomas Hobbs 5The visual news from Thomas Hobbs.


Sunday Opinion: Bel’occhio

My first exposure to Thomas Hobbs and his partner Brent Beattie was an article in the July-August 2003 issue of Gardens Illustrated.  The article featured their extraordinary nursery, Southlands, located in Vancouver.  One shockingly beautiful, full page black and white photograph of their century old English glasshouse full of tropical plants-I have never forgotten this photograph by Arthur Meehan.  I subsequently read every word of the essay, and remembered.  The 1.5 acre nursery seemed beautifully laid out, and stocked with an astonishing range of beautifully grown plants, and great looking pots and urns of every description.  I do think Gardens Illustrated is the finest garden magazine in print on the planet-I have every issue, and I reread them regularly.  Their interest in Southlands-better than well deserved.  I aspired to the Hobbs/Beattie eye for beauty many years ago; I am happy to report that Southlands is still there, thriving.

Rob usually takes a holiday in the winter; just a few weeks ago he went to British Columbia.  He made his first personal visit to Southlands. He tells me the nursery was packed with people-people who are passionate about gardens, and people who need beauty to live.  Though the Gardens Illustrated article was published 8 years ago, his photographs confirm that their committment to their place has not waned one bit.  How I envied him his visit.

Rob brought me a copy of Thomas Hobbs’ book, The Jewel Box Garden, not knowing I had bought a copy the year it came out in 2004.  My library could easily stand 2 copies of this book-it is that good.  Over the past few days, I have reread the book, given Rob’s visit.  This reading is different than the first.  The first time around, I was captivated by his use of tropical plants in pots.  Phormiums, agaves, bananas-his gestures were bold.  How he used plants made his point of view eminently clear.  Make every square inch of your garden beautiful-why not?    I admire any designer who has great confidence in their eye.  The confidence to construct a coherent world-down to the last preposition of their language.  Such is the sensibility that characterizes Thomas Hobbs.

This reading, I was struck by how well he writes.  I was also much more tuned into his writing about bel’occio. Bel’occio is an Italian word which literally translates as “beautiful eye”.  He makes no bones about the importance of an eye, a life that demands beauty.  “Not everyone recieved the bel’occio gene.  Those of us who did are the lucky ones”.  I have been thinking about this for a few days.  There are plenty of things I see in the landscape that are not beautiful.  I have no plans to create a forum to address that-I keep those thoughts to myself.  I am not a critic, I am a landscape and garden designer. 

 Sometimes I see things that in my opinion are outrageously ugly-but I try to resist putting my camera or my words to that.  Routinely I see popular ideas about the environment bandied about- without any demonstrably firm foundation in science.  Everyone is entitled to their opinion-I have no need to wade into that.  My idea for my life-create something beautiful. Talk about, illustrate, engender, participate in, felicitate, stand up for the beauty that a love of nature can endow.  My camera, my words, my design-these pursuits are fueled by my energy.  I have some rules about what I put my energy to.  I am interested in the natural beauty of nature, and in creating beautiful places, beautiful gardens, beautiful landscapes-beautiful moments.  My energy is governed by the demands of my bel’occio gene.  I think this is a good use of my life.

No one gardens because it is easy and fun.  No one plants and cares for a landscape because they have nothing else to do. No one puts their hands in the dirt without passion.  Growing plants from seed, growing vegetables to eat, planting pots or perennial gardens, designing and planting landscapes, -all of this is a natural result of the bel’occhio gene. Many thanks, Thomas Hobbs, for explaining this so eloquently.