Conscious Seeing

January 26 2014 ice 008

A friend invited me to an event for gardeners and artists today held at our College of William and Mary, and sponsored by the Williamsburg Garden Club.  Mr. Gordon Hayward spoke on “Fine Painting as Inspiration for Garden Design.”

You may know Mr. Hayward’s work from his many articles over the years  in Horticulture, Fine Gardening, Organic Gardening, and other publications.  The author of many books on garden design, he is well known as the designer of many lovely gardens here in the United States and in Europe.

Several friends and I had the privilege of  spending some time this afternoon hearing his thoughts on the principles of good design in the garden.

January 26 2014 ice 025

It was the perfect time for us to hear him speak, here in the depths of January. We are clearing out the last of the old in our gardens while making plans for what we will change, and what we will grow in the new year.

The suggestions offered today are quite simple and straightforward, and yet the effects of applying them make a profound difference in the appearance and “feel” of the garden.

We examined paintings by Renoir, O’Keeffe, Van Gogh, Matisse, Monet, and many other artists to see what principles can then be applied to design, plant selection, and even pruning in our gardens.  Mr. Hayward illustrated these principles with side by side slides of  paintings paired with  photos of gardens, including many he designed.

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If this interests you, I recommend that you read Mr. Hayward’s gorgeous book, dedicated to his wife, Mary; Art and the Gardener:  Fine Paintings as Inspiration for Garden Design.Art and the Gardener: Fine Painting as Inspiration for Garden Design

The starting point of today’s talk was Rene Magritte’s “The Eye,” and a conversation about “conscious seeing.”

We Americans, perennially in a hurry as we tend to be, rarely take time to simply observe, over an extended period of time.

We see superficially, but rarely allow ourselves the unstructured time to see deeply; to visually explore something in any depth.

As there is a “slow food” movement today, so there is also “slow art,” where we take significant time to view and converse with someone else about the art we’re viewing.  We may also choose to engage in “slow gardening.”

Mr. Hayward described gardening as the slowest of the performing arts.  He urged us to take our time  in appreciating the garden as a whole, as well as the individual plants in the garden; and also to allow time for a garden to evolve.

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A good garden has an aura of timelessness, and in one you may lose track of time as you become absorbed in the beauty and mood of the space.

And so I would offer you the opportunity to begin, here and now, with the photos in this post, to slow down and “see” consciously.  To spend more than a few seconds with each.

January 26 2014 ice 009

Go beyond the superficial recognition and naming of what you see, to an appreciation of its color, its form, the geometric shapes you might recognize, and awareness of both positive and negative space.  How do you feel while looking at each of the photos?

By seeing beyond the obvious, we uncover layer after layer of beauty and meaning in the world around us. 

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As we slow down, we deepen our experience.  We enrich our appreciation, and in the process, we feel a little bit better ourselves.  Our energy increases, our happiness expands, and we are filled with the peace that a lovely garden offers.

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”

Marcel Proust

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

“Never lose an opportunity of seeing anything beautiful, for beauty is God’s handwriting.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
January 26 2014 ice 076

About woodlandgnome

Lifelong teacher and gardener.

16 responses to “Conscious Seeing

  1. You have such a great blog. I love your perspectives on gardening and life in general. You tie it all up in a neat package, or maybe not so neat 🙂 and give us ways to See the world around us in new ways. Thank you for your insights and observations.

  2. See deeply to uncover layers of beauty! Love it.

  3. I want to learn more about mushroom hunting soon as they look like Chicken of the Woods from a quick view

    • They are shelf fungus- not truly mushrooms

      More info here:

      These are growing on dead wood in the ravine.

      Best wishes, WG

      • I hope to join a local group hunting wild edibles such as mushrooms, before actually eating things that might make me or anyone sick.

        • That’s why I do all of my mushroom hunting in the produce department 😉 I’ll photograph what grows in the yard, but not eat it. there is a wonderful film from Sundance about mushrooms and mushroom hunting- don’t remember the name, but I’ve caught it a time or two on cable. I’d happily watch it again because it is so interesting. Hope you’re warm tonight. Do you have snow? WG

          • No snow, just 17 degrees which is cold to this Texas one. I have the fire going and several layers of clothes on. I also have one dog in his sweater because he starts shaking when he gets this cold. I will have to look up the film from Sundance about mushrooms. Maybe even start some on a log or two this Spring. I have the 2nd floor of my lake cabin full of cold weather seedlings. I am ready for the greenhouse to be finished! Still need one end done and around the door. Happy cold day.

            • So kind to have a sweater for the dog. My dad called this afternoon to thank me again for an afghan I crocheted for him several years ago, which he’s been using all day 😉 Hope your greenhouse can be completed for you soon. How wonderful that will be 😉 No seedlings here yet, just lots of rooting cuttings. The log of mushrooms is something I’ve always wanted to do. Mother Earth News has run some good articles on it in the past. It is a lot more involved than the seed catalogs would indicate… Please stay warm 😉 WG

  4. and slowly I looked and loved the mushroom pics; what colour, what forms, the hand of God the Greatest of all Artists. It was a day well spent.

  5. Great post, we all need to slow down and enjoy life! Learn to be more humble, caring, kind and build relationships!! Great shots too, it that your home look across the lake? 🙂

    Getting cold again tonight, light snow tomorrow evening!

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