The gardener's eye

The Gardener's Eye

Friday, June 6, 2014

Vademecum: Go With Me


When I was visiting New York City earlier this year, I noticed a small book at the MOMA Bookstore called Go With Me: 50 Steps to Landscape Thinking. This book, written by a landscape architect named Thomas Oles, was "designed as a tool for students of landscape architecture and planning, and all those who share their curiosity about landscape." The title, go with me, is the literal translation of vademecum, which is latin for a handbook that is designed to be carried with someone as a reference; in this case, as a  reference for landscapes.

Oles created 50 entries divided into five categories: sensing, reasoning, showing, changing and testing. Each entry was invitation to explore the landscape. During my recent trip to England, I asked the participants to do an exercise each day we visited a garden. At Stourhead, we followed the instruction to "look up" i.e. " to lift your eyes above the horizon. Look into the branches above, then to the sky beyond. Crane your neck, hold it there until you swoon. Plunge upward, add this to your knowing of the place." At Hidcote, an almost maze-like garden, I asked to group to "unpack the map."  to wonder and explore the garden without trying to figure out exactly where they were. In another garden, we were asked to "draw; to leave time for drawing. Wrest it from other tasks if you must. Forget rules and conventions; draw incessantly, furiously, painstakingly. Choose an implement and make it your fifth limb. Let your arm and hand lead your mind." Another day we were asked "to transgress" but my favorite exercise was one we also did at Stourhead, was "breath deep" to "stop, close your eyes and mouth and inhale. Draw in the landscape, pass it over your olfactory receptors. Turn it over there. Exhale, take five steps forward, and do the same thing. Repeat endlessly. Learn once more to think with your nose."

I plan to bring this little book with me when I am visiting gardens, when I am hiking in the White Mountains and when I am doing eye mission work in Haiti. It will encourage me, as it did while I was in England, to take time, to be present, to observe and to explore the landscapes that I have opportunity to visit.

12 comments:

  1. Sounds like a book to add to my growing collection on mindfulness and meditation.

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    1. It would fit in your library perfectly, James. When I am garden visiting at the pace we were in England, it is very difficult to stop and be present. I found the book helpful. There was a small group of us that walked around the lake at Stourhead together "looking up" and "breathing deeply" together. It was very meditative. The "looking up" reminded me of the Gilles Clement lecture you posted about. That was the reason I chose that exercise at Stourhead where there are all those magnificent trees to look up into.

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  2. Love this, especially the first and last exercises. This is a book I want to get. What a wonderful gift to give others too. Not just the book, but the exercises.

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  3. You would really like this book, Maude. Maybe we should do it with the volunteers some Wednesday.

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  4. A garden visiting excercise I like is to take in a scene then decide what would best be removed. Or blown up, if its that bad!

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    1. I try to refrain from bringing explosives to gardens but I know what you mean. I attempt to pick apart parts that I like and dislike while visiting gardens to determine what it is about the garden that works or doesn't work for me. If you interested in looking at gardens and landscapes with a critical eye, as I know you are, you might take a look at this book.. Anne, you might be interested in Kjeld's critique of Barnsley Hose a few posts ago. Thanks for commenting.

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  5. I'm getting that book and am off to read that post.. Thank you, Michael, for drawing my attention to both. Xx

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    1. Anne,
      I think you would like this book very much. It sets up some interesting ways to look at gardens and landscapes.

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  6. Sometimes I ask myself why I read garden blogs. This post answers my question. I am ordering the book today. Learning how to look takes time and effort.

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    1. Pat, I can't think of a higher compliment. Thanks. Let me know what you think of Go With Me when you get it.

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