Saturday, January 16, 2010

Garden Diary: Vanished

Glimpses of what I want the garden to be, of transitory phenomena, hints of mystery occur at unexpected moments.

Yesterday I spied a pheasant just outside the house. It was quietly pecking at the ground, on the first relatively warm day following a long spell of extremely cold weather. I tried to catch some images through the window, with limited success. When I went outside, the pheasant quickly ran to the stone row at the edge of the land, then vanished into the woods.

These unexpected and tentative encounters with wildlife evoke an ineffable sense of the hidden, the barely visible goings on, habits of life, things that are to me mysteries, hidden in the woods. They even recall those little known, almost lost lives and cultures that once existed in this place.

I want to capture this sense of mystery in my garden, and that's hard to do. Lack of knowledge of the past is one challenge. Another is topological. The problem is this. My house is on an elevated mound that overlooks the garden, which is flat and spread out in a way that makes it easily surveyed in a single wide view. I've added small trees and planted bulky and extremely large perennials, but the high main viewpoint and lay of the land still present a problem yet to be solved. In the summer, when I look back toward the house from down in the garden, I can capture that  feeling of  the half-seen, partially obscured - the sense of immanence I know is the nature of this place.

I may take a hint from these photos, which are not of the garden, but of the untouched woods in front of the house, where partial views, fallen trees, and the detritus of the seasons overlays the land.


  1. Lovely post, particularly that paragraph after the third image. I just spied my first northern flicker yesterday, but it turns out they're common. Not to me! In flight, its bright golden wing bottoms made me think I had a falcon in the yard. Anyway, I've been wondering about adding mounds or burms to gardens. Not mine anymore, but in future garden. Is that over the top? Having too much of a hand in nature?

  2. This certainly IS a lovely post. Good on you for getting such great shots of the pheasant. We have several who visit our feeders daily, but I swear they can hear me moving in the house towards my camera, and they take off before I can sneak up behind the curtain to get a good shot. They always come back, but after I've spooked them once, I leave them be to feed in peace when they come back.

  3. Oh the pheasant is so beautiful. I love those spectacular moments. One early morning a bobcat strolled through my backyard. I will probably never ever see that again. I did not as usual run for the camera, but savored every moment.

  4. Humans need both "prospect" (the long view) and "refuge" (the hidden place) in our surroundings. Too much of one or the other makes us unhappy somehow, as your view from the house does. You're looking for something else in this post, but I think it starts with that simple mix: prospect and refuge, open and hidden, exposed and sheltered, balanced together.

    I've been using those two principles in my landscape and it helps. You're after the mystery of place.... your beautiful pictures show a lovely balance between views and enclosures.... but something is still missing? This is what I'm learning to love about gardening / landscaping as I experiment with design, placement, forms and specific plants..... your challenges with the same are an inspiration!

  5. Benjamin,
    I guess you can tell I read The Spell of the Sensuous, but that book was more a confirmation than an introduction. You told me about it. Thanks. As to mounds and berms, I've seen some beautiful examples of landforming used in gardens. As to having too much of a hand in nature ... on the contrary, it's a tradition going back thousands of years in human culture, and we are part of nature. The only thing that stops me is cost. I've built many stone walls - local native stone, mind you - but how does a stone wall differ from a mound, how does a pond differ from a "negative" landform?

  6. jodi,
    I usually see them crossing the road, though once while I was gardening one strolled by without showing the least bit of fear. Such beautiful creatures.

  7. mothernaturesgarden,
    I suppose we're lucky to have the Clover Rod and Gun Club occupying several hundred acres across the road. It's actually a sanctuary of sorts for all kinds of wildlife. It appears to be responsibly managed and has been there since 1947.

  8. L Sostman,
    You're right. Thank you for giving it the simple prospect & refuge dichotomy. As you note, I am looking for something more, but that's the basis for it all. (I just saw a red fox out the window)!

  9. Susan,
    Thanks. I got your book, but I don't think I'll be mastering the drawing of a pheasant soon. You do make it seem simple.

  10. I just discovered your blog, and look forward to spending this rainy day catching up on what I've missed!

  11. Tim,
    Thank you for leaving this comment. It has led me to your blog. I look forward to hearing about how your trip to England develops. Of the gardens on your list, I've visited only Great Dixter and Sissinghurst, and that was long ago.



Related Posts with Thumbnails