The gardener's eye

The Gardener's Eye

Saturday, March 13, 2010

On Drawing Gardens

North Hill, Readsboro, VT
I made this drawing on September 22, 2004 while visiting North Hill, the garden of Joe Eck and Wayne Winterrowd. When I look at it, I am immediately brought back to that day. I remember the light, the temperature and the experience of being in the garden.
I believe that visiting well-made gardens is the best way to become a better gardener. Early in my gardening life, I began to keep a gardening journal. I now have five large books full of plant lists, observations, recommendations and, most importantly, drawings. Whenever I visit a garden, I try to take a moment to make a drawing. In this drawing, I wanted to remind myself of the effectiveness of hedges in creating garden rooms. I was struck by the horizontal line of the yew hedges and the opposing vertical lines of the clipped evergreens in the foreground and the natural arborvitae hedge forming another wall in the next garden room. I also wanted to make note of the negative space that is so effectively marked by the shrub and perennial silhouettes in front of the yew hedge.
The her book The Making of a Garden, Rosemary Verey talks about the importance of drawing gardens. She instructs any student interested in a career in garden design to "draw-even roughly-the shapes of trees and shrubs." It is very easy, when visiting a garden, to move too quickly without taking the garden in. Drawing forces us to to sit, observe and take in every aspect of the garden. Drawing a perennial or tree that is new to us is the perfect introduction to that plant. Usually it is my drawing, not my description of a plant, that enables me to identify a plant in a garden I have just visited.
The next time you visit a garden take a seat on a garden bench and give yourself ten minutes to make a drawing of the garden. You can focus on a plant, garden ornament our an interesting view of the garden. Don't be afraid if you don't believe you have any skill at drawing. Take that moment to be in that garden and truly experience it.


  1. Dear Michael, I do feel that there is a great deal of sense in what you say here. I am sure that interacting with a garden through a drawing of one's own gives much more a feeling of the sense of a place, and how the separate elements combine to make a whole, than a series of photographs.

    I visited Rosemary Verey's garden many times and have a large collection of her books. She was indeed a practical gardener and designer although for me the design of the garden of Barnsley House, excluding the potager, was always somewhat flawed. I wonder if you knew it?

  2. Edith,
    Thanks, as always, for your comments. I had the opprtunity to hear Rosemary Verey speak at the Glebe House(a Gertrude Jekyll designed garden)in CT in 1999. She was an inspirational speaker. Unfortunately, I never visited Barnsley House. I am curious to know what you found flawed with her design.

  3. Dear Michael, Thank you for your reply. For me the main problem of the design of Barnsley House garden was its lack of cohesion. The sum of the parts, undeniably very attractive individually, did not make for a satisfying whole. Furthermore, the Classical Temple did not quite align on the Laburnam Walk which, in iself, was at a very odd angle to the boundary wall. The knot garden, beautifully designed and planted, lacked an anchor so it appeared to be about to drift off onto the main lawn. Her perennial borders were totally dreamy and gave a quintessentially 'English' look but were punctuated with at times very odd topiary specimens.

  4. Edith,
    Thanks for your interesting observations. I noticed, in maps drawn of Barnsley House, that parts of the garden weren't aligned. Sissinghurst also has many of odd angles to it. However, for me, it did have a feeling of cohesion. I wonder how they managed to make that happen at Sissinghurst and why you didn't feel it at Barnsley House. I find what makes a garden successful an endlessly facinating topic. Thanks very much.

  5. Dear Michael
    I think that Sissinghurst is a garden that can cope the rooms and in a scale that fits the area. In Rose mary vereys garden the rooms are too small and one miss the pauses. In my opinion she´s not a colour-person in gardens all thoug she was a colourfull person.
    It´s a joy to read your thaughts.

    Kindly regards Kjeld

  6. Kjeld,
    Thanks for your comment. I may be going to England in May this year and visiting Barnsley House and Sissinghurst. It will be fun to view them with a critical eye for myself.



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