Gardens are Art

– Posted in: Garden Musings, Garden Photography

No doubt if you are reading this you know that gardening is an art. And, as is often true with art, one form inspires another.  A recent stroll in the University of California Berkeley Botanical Garden brought so much of this together.

UC Berkeley Botanical Garden

A wet January day at University of California Berkeley Botanical Garden

Art appreciation is something we do every time we visit a museum, go to a concert, read a poem, dine in a fine restaurant, are thrilled at a sporting event, listen to a well-crafted lecture, or recognize any of the beautiful things humans are capable of doing.

Walking a fine garden is art appreciation too, often alerting many of the senses, making us keenly aware that in nature beauty begins.

Art is everywhere, and for many of us in the Gardening Gone Wild community, we create art every time we plant something new, prune our trees, or pick a bouquet.

I wonder if we understand how deeply gardens affect other arts.  I doubt there is any  quantitative way to measure the influence of gardens on the human soul, but certainly they improve the human condition. Whether actively or subliminally I am sure we gardeners spread the beauty and joy we find in the garden to others.

I was at the Botanical Garden to see the Florilegium of Alcatraz exhibit.


After the lecture I strolled the garden, absorbing the wet beauty, giddy, thinking about the art all around me and how I might portray what I see.

By good fortune I ran into the poet Hazel White who is currently working on a project in the garden called The Biotic Portal at Strawberry Creek.  She and her colleague Denise Newman are surveying garden users and creating an archive of experiences.

I met her just as I was studying these Viburnum berries glistening with raindrops.

Rainrops on Viburnum foetidum v. ceanothoides - red winter berries in rain

Rainrops on Viburnum foetidum – red winter berries in rain

She asked me what I was seeing, and I had such fun thinking about it, in conversation with her about vision and what I look for in gardens.

I often see things abstractly as shapes and colors, and in the years since my vision was compromised by a detached retina, I have started to illustrate gardens a bit differently in my personal work. Having talked to Hazel about these viburnum berries, how I saw them as they had splashes of color, I decided to transform them into the art print I imagined.

Viburnum foetidum v. ceanothoides - red winter berries in rain

Viburnum foetidum v. ceanothoides – red winter berries in rain

I cropped the photo down to lines and texture and color.

Viburnum foetidum v. ceanothoides - red winter berries in rain

Then I cloned in, or added, some extra berries in the upper right and lower left.

Viburnum foetidum v. ceanothoides - red winter berries in rain

I then used a Photoshop plug-in filter called Topaz Impression and began working with the tools contained in the filter that adjust brush shape, brush size, vibrancy, edges, and a number of other options.

Viburnum foetidum v. ceanothoides - red winter berries in rain

A blur of impressions, nicely balanced by the underlying structure of the branches.

After applying the filter I decided I need to erase a few spots to reveal the original berries.

Viburnum foetidum v. ceanothoides - red winter berries in rain

Viburnum foetidum v. ceanothoides – red winter berries in rain

Let your eyes focus on those few berries and feel yourself in the garden surrounded by beauty.

And when you are next in a beautiful garden, let your eyes un-focus, and sink into the beauty. Gardens are art.

Saxon Holt
Saxon Holt is the owner of, a garden picture resource for photographs, on-line workshops, and garden photography stories. An award winning photojournalist and Fellow of The Garden Writers Association with more than 25 garden books, he lives and gardens in Northern California. PhotoBotanic - Garden Photography online at
Saxon Holt

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11 comments… add one

Leave a Comment

Linda Larson January 27, 2016, 7:59 am

Really beautiful composition. It seems right to enhance the photos taken in a garden, when you are in the space you are saturated in the beauty and the photo simply isn’t complete in that feeling. Building it up as you did recreates the moment.

Ed January 27, 2016, 8:53 am

Great work, Saxon.

Eric January 27, 2016, 9:50 am

You are an inspiration!

Saxon Holt January 27, 2016, 12:17 pm

Thanks Linda – I love how you say that sometimes the photo simply isn’t complete with the feelings. I find that photographs sometimes show too much detail, which is fine for many purposes, but sometimes a photograph should simply be about the feeling.

Saxon Holt January 27, 2016, 12:17 pm

Thanks Ed – I appreciate the comment

Saxon Holt January 27, 2016, 12:18 pm

Thanks a lot Eric – I hope it inspires you to express your own art.

Eric January 27, 2016, 12:44 pm

Yes, I take photos and post some they way they are and with others use what editing skills I have to make a painterly image. And as you probably know sometimes the camera almost makes a painterly image for you, especially facing bright light.

Saxon Holt January 27, 2016, 1:41 pm

Eric – the editing skills are both a chore and a thrill. I do love backlight and learning to accept what the light gives.

Nicki wiederstein January 28, 2016, 9:13 am

always a joy to read your blog.
Live what you did with the photograph!!!

Saxon Holt January 28, 2016, 12:23 pm

Thanks Nicki – It makes it a joy, for all of us here, to create the posts when readers respond so enthusiastically.

Steve Jones May 25, 2016, 1:22 pm

Excellent composition puts me in mind of the work of claude monet and of course you are so right gardens are natural and sometimes not so natural art.

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