The Trees in the Forest

January 29 2014 sunset 014

Those of us who garden in forests fall in love with our trees.

Our shaded, sheltered gardens grow beneath the protective canopy of their branches, and among the strong and sculptural uprights of their trunks. Ferns and mosses, Hellebores, Heucheras and Hostas thrive in cool shade under their leaf covered branches.

October 13 rain 006

Trees are full of life.  Beyond their own twigs, leaves, and flowers; they feed and shelter small birds, squirrels, chipmunks, thousands of insects, and an occasional raccoon.

April 27 yard and silver 002

Our gardens are animated by the swish of wings as birds move from branch to branch, by the call of one hidden bird to another, and the quick swoop of bird or squirrel to the ground in search of food. The whole garden vibrates with living energy among the trees.

July 21 tree photos 032

Some trees we own because we own the plot of land from which they grow.  Some were already growing when we came to our garden, others we’ve purchased and planted.   We invest in trees to populate our gardens the way others might buy sculptures; selecting for size and form, color, flower, nut, and fruit.

July 21 tree photos 010

Some of our trees we own by sight only.  They grow in another’s yard, and yet they still form the fabric of our landscape.

They filter the air we breathe and frame our view of the sky.  They shade our street, their leaves blow to our yard in early winter, and they are inextricably woven into our lives by their presence and proximity.

January 29 2014 sunset 005

Trees are the guardians of the garden.  Their canopies offer protection from the summer sun.  Air beneath their branches remains moist and cool on the hottest days.

June 12 garden at dusk 004

Trees offer privacy to those who live behind them, muffling sound and screening views.

They catch the pounding rain of thunderstorms on summer leaves, channeling it more gently towards the ground; and they renew the soil around their roots with a fresh cover of decaying leaves each winter.

November 1 fall color 033

The wind passing through their branches is the melody against which the birds call and sing.  It alerts us to coming storms, and soothes us as we relax in the evenings.

January 29 snow 001

As they conceal and enclose when covered in leaves all summer, so our trees reveal and open up the landscape in winter; welcoming the winter sun to melt the snow and coax daffodils from the cold mud of our frost cloaked garden.

They frame our views, and structure our enclosures.

December 26 2013 Christmas 064

Their twiggy branches trace patterns on the ever changing winter sky, etching elaborate, animated sketches against snow cloud and sunset; clear blue skies and fog.  They change hour to hour, and day to day as twigs finally redden, buds swell, and one warm day burst into soft flowers and tiny leaves.

December 20 sunrise 016

We watch the progress of the seasons by looking up into our trees. From bud break to leaf fall, each season waxes and wanes in their branches.

March 25-28 006

We watch the progress of each day as the sun’s light, and the moon’s light, traces its path through the tree tops.

January 29 snow 013

We watch the dappled sunlight move, hour to hour, across the forest floor and through our windows, as light passes through the branches that surround our garden; a living sundial.

Trees may also mark the passage of our lives.  We plant trees to mark births and marriages.

August 21, 2013 close up garden 016

We watch time pass as our trees grow and mature, transforming sunny meadow to shaded sanctuary. Like a child, the sapling we plant this year will, in its time, bear sweet fruit.

January 29 2014 snow 005

And as our own lives are pruned along the way, so our trees must allow for pruning, also.  Whether we limb up to reveal an elegant trunk on a maturing shrub, or whether we thin a canopy so our tree will stand against the wind; we hope our pruning enhances the overall life of the tree.

January 29 snow 030

We prune and shape our fruit bearing trees to make them more fruitful.  We prune old wood so a tree renews itself with new.  We cut away wood which is broken, or infected with disease.

January 29 2014 sunset 007

Our trees, like Tolkien’s Ents, remain the heart and soul of our forest gardens.  Not only the biotechnology which keeps our garden, and us, alive; they are our companions, and our benefactors.

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2013-2014

Art and the Gardener: Fine Painting as Inspiration for Garden Design

“In the intimate and humanized landscape, trees become the greatest single element linking us visually and emotionally with our surroundings.  We can allow a tree to become a part of us.  It’s no wonder that when we first think of a garden we think of a tree.”

Thomas Church, landscape architect

For information on garden design with trees, please treat yourself to Gordon Hayward’s  Art and the Gardener:  Fine Painting as Inspiration for Garden Design.   Church quotation taken from the book.

The Gift of a Snowy Day

January 29 snow 013

A good snowy day is a tremendous gift to a gardener.  Rather than get caught up in “doing,” we have an extended opportunity for “seeing.” 

Returning to the idea that “gardening is the slowest of the performing arts,” and the concept of gardener as artist; a snow covered garden in many ways is like a fresh piece of paper, or a new canvas with only the gesso in place.

January 29 2014 snow 015

Yes, our trees, shrubs, pergolas, walls and paths are all there, but there are fewer distractions to our perception of our gardening space.  The permanent vertical elements are reduced to framework, and we can see them differently in relation to our available spaces.

I find that a camera sees in a way I do not.  As Anais Nin observed, “What we are familiar with we cease to see.” 

The fascination of a fresh snowfall, for me, is that it makes the landscape unfamiliar.  Most of the color to which we are habituated is simply erased.  We are left with shades of brown, grey, and winter green.  Photos taken after a snow document the “blank canvass” landscape for us so we can return to it as we prepare for the season ahead.

January 29 2014 snow 018

January 29 2014 sunset 004

Crepe Myrtle at sunset. A photo like this helps me think ahead about winter pruning before approaching the shrub with pruners.

Some garden planners begin with a sheet of graph paper, and draw the permanent features of their garden to scale.  While this is helpful, I have trouble translating this into the reality outside in the yard.  A photo is much better for me, and is helpful as I try to visualize what I would like to see in the empty, snow covered space in three or four month’s time.

A ground covered in white shines between the skeletons of individual trees and shrubs.  We see their relation to one another more clearly.

Snow resting on the limbs of trees highlights their beautiful structure.  We see what the eye normally passes over.  We see individual bits of branch and trunk highlighted against the mass.

I love this gift of seeing past the boundaries normally opaque with leaves, vines, and the mass of low growing plants; which only comes wrapped in a snowy day in the heart of winter.

January 29 2014 snow 022

Remains of a Lantana at left, and the skeleton of a rose and vine at right.

The same is true of perennials.  The remains of summer’s flowers still standing, show me the mass of the mature plant, but with a unique transparency of design.  Do I like this design?  Do I want to give over this much space?  Is there something I want to move, or change, or add?

Patterns of light and shadow show plainly on the white snow.  We can watch how the light moves across our landscape as the day unfolds.  The first areas to melt show us where the sun reaches, and those areas left in snow longest show us where shade is the deepest.  This information is crucial in citing our plants.

January 29 2014 snow 011

Hydrangea macrophylla, the last of their autumn flowers catching the snow, and a Rose of Sharon.

So whether your garden is new or mature, and whether you are a novice or a master gardener; I hope you are taking your own camera outside to photograph your garden under cover of snow.

January 29 2014 snow 041

Lavender, “Otto Quast” growing in front of a rose, and the remains of the ginger lilies.

Before even dressing for the day, I threw on a coat and hat to head out with the camera while coffee brewed.  It had only stopped snowing an hour earlier, and I wanted to capture the fresh, undisturbed snow under the first light of morning.

Documenting the snow covered garden with a series of photos is a good beginning point to analyze the structure of our current gardens, and a useful way to begin thinking about changes we wish to make.

In every garden there are certain “non-negotiables” we must work with, as well as areas currently categorized as “problems,” which actually hold the possibility for growth and transformation of our landscape.

Beautiful flowering trees and shrubs were planted over 30 years ago by the original owner of this garden.

Beautiful flowering trees and shrubs were planted over 30 years ago by the original owner of this garden.

And then there are the gifts; those beautiful parts of the garden we already love.  There are the mature flowering shrubs inherited from a previous owner, a beautifully laid patio, a view over the water, a flat lawn.

Gordon Hayward, the designer who made a presentation for us here in Williamsburg earlier this week, told us that in his process of design, he begins with the winter garden:  the bones of the design.

January 29 2014 snow 026He first determines the pathways for moving through the garden, and the destinations those paths will lead towards; and then he designs what can be seen in the garden under cover of snow.

Pathways take us into the garden, and lead us to the vignettes of plants and views we’ve  crafted so carefully.

Paths lead us from garden’s perimeter inwards to the heart of our space, and allow us to structure our beds and borders in a coherent fashion.

They show us  the way in and out of our home and garden, and they help us define the boundaries of one garden room from the next.  They form the skeletal system of our garden.

As we wander the snow covered garden with our camera, we get a sense of where those pathways should lie, if they are not there already.  Our familiar paths are laid out in footprints, and we can visualize where additional pathways and even structures, might logically be constructed.

January 29 snow 018

And so a snowy day becomes a useful gift for the thoughtful gardener.  If our garden is pleasing and beautiful on a day like today, then the framework is there for all that will follow after the snow melts, the garden thaws, and spring unfurls itself towards summer once again.

January 29 2014 sunset 009

Tonight’s sunset over the snow

“Once you really commence to see things, then you really commence to feel things.”  Edward Steichen

All Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

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.

January 26 2014 ice 006

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.

January 26 2014 ice 024

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. 

January 26 2014 ice 012

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

Our Forest Garden- The Journey Continues

Please visit and follow Our Forest Garden- The Journey Continues to see all new posts since January 8, 2021.

A new site allows me to continue posting new content since after more than 1700 posts there is no more room on this site.  -WG

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 780 other subscribers
Follow Forest Garden on

Topics of Interest