Unique objects, such as this willow work and dog-shaped burl, can create one-of-a-kind tableaus. (ALBERT PARSONS/FOR THE SUN)
This composition is integrated right into the garden, yet is separated enough from other components to serve as a focal point along a pathway. (ALBERT PARSONS/FOR THE SUN)
A rusty implement seat contrasts with the smooth oxalis leaves while a nearby juniper’s blue-green foliage provides more contrast. (ALBERT PARSONS/FOR THE SUN)
A composition need not be complicated. A stone, a potted plant, and a decorative object combine here to create a tableau, with a tree trunk as a backdrop. Notice that one of the colours in the plaque echoes the colour of the plant’s foliage. (ALBERT PARSONS/FOR THE SUN)
I think gardeners are akin to artists. We have that urge to create something beautiful and in doing so, we are intuitively aware of line, balance, form, and all those other "artsy" terms that some of us might even deny knowing about.
Whether we are cognizant of our understanding of these design concepts or whether we are simply "artistic" by nature and instinctively know when a creation is put together correctly, I like to think of gardening as an art form.
While there are gardeners who are quite practical and say they have little time for design or to think about line and form, many gardeners create compositions in their gardens — vignettes, focal points, call them what you like. They are creative compositions that speak to the artistry of the gardener.
Although I need not advise many on how to create such vignettes or tableaus, there might be some inexperienced gardeners or people who say, "I don’t have an artistic bone in my body", who might benefit from a few comments and suggestions about how to put a composition together in the garden — call it Composition 101!
The first thing to remember is that the entire garden is a composition, albeit on a grand scale. When your landscape design was originally created, whether by design or by accident, it became a composition composed of all of the elements — both living and inorganic — of the yard.
Any smaller composition that is to be included in this overall composition must fit in terms of scale and theme. Don’t try to incorporate an ornate Grecian statue into a whimsical country-style landscape and trying to include Grandpa’s old plow into a formal, neatly manicured, modernistic urban landscape might not be such a good idea.
Creating a smaller composition for the garden — call it a tableau or a vignette or a focal point if you like — is somewhat like an artist painting a still life. It is the form and the line of the composition that are paramount; colour is of less importance.
Instead of concentrating on the colour of the flowers or foliage, more attention must be paid to the form of each plant and the texture of the foliage. Does the plant provide a vertical element? Is it round? Does it stand erect or drape?
Usually compositions include non-living items, such as containers, metal objects, rocks, driftwood, sculptures, benches or chairs, birdbaths, and so on. Select items that suit the scale and theme of the garden and be sure to select just a few items — in this process, less is definitely more.
Usually such a garden composition will have some separation from other compositions or focal points in the garden. The composition must have enough elbow room to be appreciated for its own form and line without interference from other components of the garden.
Keeping in mind the vantage point(s) from which the composition will be viewed enables you to decide on placement of the components of the design. If the composition is to be viewed only from one side, then a taller vertical plant or object can be placed at the back of the composition.
If the composition is to be viewed from all sides, however, then any taller item will have to be centred in the composition. Components that vary in height, texture, size, and shape will create a more interesting composition.
Colour can be an important part of a composition and the colours must complement one another. Sometimes the colour of one object or plant can play off (echo) the colour of another component, which creates interest and unity in the composition.
These compositions can be incorporated into the garden in a number of ways. One might be located near a pathway, another near the front entrance, while yet another might be placed in a distant corner of the garden to be appreciated from a distance.
Now that the hustle and bustle of planting season is over, perhaps you will let your artistic abilities free and explore what creative compositions you can add to your landscape.
Remember, in a garden, nothing is written in stone; if you don’t like the result, you can always burn the canvas!
Albert Parsons is a consultant for garden design and landscaping who lives in Minnedosa.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition July 5, 2012