Word from the Wild

– Posted in: Garden Photography

I see all my fellow bloggers here seem caught up in color. Hmmm, still winter in some parts of the country ? <g> Now for me, well into spring here in Northern California, at the peak of daffodil season, I need a break to see winter. Bare trees, snow, and monotones to remind me of garden bones.

merced river winter
Merced River reflection, Yosemite National Park.

Sometimes I wonder why the heck I garden. I don’t wonder philosophically, I wonder out of abject humility. What am I doing trying to create beauty in a garden ! If I want a little beauty just go out into the wild. I hope all who read this will allow diversion into the natural world. Isn’t this the Gardening Gone Wild blog ?

And to take my camera into wild areas? What am I doing trying to capture beauty in the wild ! The beauty is not simply visual it is visceral. It transcends being fixed in time by a photograph. The beauty is felt in the heart, the loins, the inner part of the human brain that allows us to appreciate that which is greater than ourselves.

In the case of something as awe inspiring as Yosemite, a camera seems nearly useless to capture what is really there. The camera lies by no intention of the photographer but because it is inadequate to the task. Sure, many a photographer has taken many a pretty picture in Yosemite, but to capture the real beauty ? You do that with your eyes, ears, nose . . . and heart.

Very few of us are fortunate to actually live in a truly wild place and many of us garden to remind us of what we long for. Seeing, truly seeing a natural landscape gives us ideas to bring home. I firmly believe we get comfort from becoming familiar with natural areas and want that feeling in our gardens.

This is an idea for another day but I think the sense of place we get from acquainting ourselves with the wild, incubates our expectations in gardens. It is the reason so many Western gardeners do not garden appropriately – they come from the East or are influenced by Eastern style gardens seen in publications. And it is why it is so very important to get children out into natural areas, so they understand, in the innate way children absorb ideas, that gardens come from nature.

So, what does the gardener learn from a trip to Yosemite ? Reminders that many of the best gardening principles come from nature. Using reflections in water is an obvious one. Balance, space, borrowed scenery, quiet tones for calm and quiet moments, all are important garden design concepts.

I particularly like trees. Noticing trees in winter is the best way to plan a garden. I look at the trees in Yosemite Valley and marvel at the dark mass of lush conifers, able to frame a view and notice in stark alders, spreading oaks and the vertical spires of pines that all these are the bones of nature’s garden.

As spring gathers momentum where you are, and before the trees come into bloom and summer glory, walk your garden and think about the bones. Look through the garden knowing it will soon be full, look past the trees and past the houses. Walk the garden and let go of what you think is there. How does your garden connect to the world ? What will you do next to bring that world back to your garden? Plan now, the rush is upon us.

Saxon Holt
Saxon Holt is the owner of PhotoBotanic.com, 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 www.photobotanic.com. https://photobotanic.com
Saxon Holt

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Lisa at Greenbow March 6, 2008, 4:26 am

OOoooo Saxon, you certainly stirred up some lovely memories. My Dearly Beloved and I were married in Yosemite in fall.

You are so right about wanting to create that ‘feeling’ of wildness in the garden. I so want to do that.

I have not to been to Yosemite in autumn and am jealous. We can never really, really get the feeling of wildness in our gardens but if we can evoke the memories we have succeeded.

Sylvia March 6, 2008, 5:21 am

I was watching a programme presented by Monty Don last night about the gardens of China and Japan. Their whole object in gardening is to represent their wild mountains. I think it is important to know what we want from our gardens.

In my small village garden, first and foremost I grow plants. I can’t make big views or remind myself of our countryside, beautiful but not wild in the sense your photos show. But I can grow a selection of plants from around the world.

I am lucky that I can see the countryside from our windows, but growing plants is my passion. I don’t think I could reduce the plants for better design – I want both!

Best wishes Sylvia (England)

Clearly you are English if you spell programme so oddly… You are absolutely right in understanding what we want from our gardens. Some only want food. And “growing plants” is what I think is at the heart of why many of us garden. The power and sense of connection that gives us with the natural world triggers many of the same emotions as being in the wild. Thanks for your comments. Saxon

Elly Phillips March 6, 2008, 7:56 am

Ah Saxon, you are pushing me to commit great gardening heresy here, a heresy I hope my fellow gardeners will find it in their hearts to forgive. Years ago, I was exploring the grounds and gardens of Sissinghurst. I was especially enjoying the barn with its many interesting and lovingly maintained nooks and crannies. I emerged from the barn and was confronted by a simply breathtaking view across the fileds in back of the property, and of course I thought: *Here* is the garden. *Here* is the great beauty of this place.

We who love plants for their own beauty, and who love to grow plants and showcase that beauty singly or in combination, would do well to remember to look up–up and out–regularly, to remind ourselves that a greater beauty surrounds us, and its care is in our hands also.

Garden heresy to say Sissinghurst prompted you to appreciate the views away from the garden ? I would say your comment does the garden justice, and you would not have even had that moment of discovery had not the garden led you to the view. Many wonderful estate gardens are set in natural areas. The best borrow, if not the actual scenery, the sense of place that makes them fit in and belong. If they do not do this, well quite simply, they are not wonderful estate gardens.


kerri March 6, 2008, 8:47 am

You make a very good point and have given me food for thought.
We’re lucky to be surrounded by beautiful countryside here, and I’ve often gazed at my gardens and wondered how to improve the overall picture.
I’m usually too busy though, concentrating on small sections!

Not everyone wants to improve the picture, but it can be wonderful to incorporate some of your native plants into your small sections and find out which ones “improve” in captivity, and which ones help give you a sense of place. Saxon

Nancy Bond March 6, 2008, 8:55 am

It is true that photographs only capture a moment, but what beautiful moments you’ve captured here. With the help of my botanist daughter, I hope to photograph as much of Nova Scotia’s floral this summer as I can possibly fit into our trips.

This is an idea for another day but I think the sense of place we get from acquainting ourselves with the wild, incubates our expectations in gardens.

You’ve hit the nail on the head with this statement. My gardening in recent years has been confined to what I can fit onto a small balcony. But the whole world — all of Nature — is my garden. I think by creating gardens on our properties, we are, indeed, coaxing a little bit of Nature into our environments.

Great post! I’ll definitely be back.

Benjamin March 6, 2008, 9:40 am

I think you’re saying that to garden wild is more right, physically and spiritually, ethically and emotionally? I’m still waking up, so I will assume that, and praise that–amen. I’ve just certified my garden as a monarch waystation hoping to educate neighbors, and even their kids, who may or may not stop by as sometimes happen when the gate is open and I’m covered in manure and sweat. I like this bones, idea, too, very much. When I put in my spread this summer the trees and even arbor, trellis, and obelisk were placed in ways to frame vies from multiple angles, and to take their cues from a mini forest on my neighbor’s acreage.

Benjamin – I do NOT want to say one type of gardening is “more right” and value anyone who truly loves to garden. There are certainly wrong ways to garden, bluegrass lawns in the desert for example, but those folks (who are duped into that) are usually not gardeners anyway, so I can be judgemental toward them. But real, wild gardening is only done on God’s terms and very few of us gardeners can content ourselves with endemic native plants, so to parse wild gardening into who is more wild makes me uncomfortable.

Here at Gardening Gone Wild, all gardening is wild.

Keep the gate open to the kids and hope they appreciate the views beyond. Saxon

Frances March 6, 2008, 10:27 am

This post is a breath of fresh air, reminding us of the inadequacies of our own gardens in attempting to attain the true beauty of nature. Our work is noble but cannot compare to even the outline of bare branches against the sky. Thanks.

Frances at Faire Garden

“Breath of fresh air” eh ? One of the reasons we can never attain that true beauty is the fresh air of the wild can not be duplicated in captive gardens. We can get close; even admiring our own garden’s bare branches can bring back the tree’s memory of whence it came . . . and where we want to be. Saxon

Bonnie Story March 6, 2008, 10:55 am

Hello, Having moved from a postage-stamp patio garden to 5 acres of rugged naturalness, our dilemma is recapturing a bit of that walled intimacy that we miss from our small patio. We are deeply inspired by the big trees and snowy Olympic mountain tops, very much so. Everything is so huge here, we love it of course, but it will be nice to have a quiet nook outdoors for close conversation without hollering. Might just use a low wall to define a conversation area and have a cozy protected feeling, between hikes! I really enjoy this blog. Great writing, thank you.

Thanks for the writing compliment. The camera can be so “dumb” sometimes.

With five acres you should most certainly find and create a wall garden. ( A hardscape or plantscape enclosure) Not just for the privacy but to glorify the surrounding. Much like Ely’s earlier comment about Sissinghurst, your own garden will provide you with a context from which you will more appreciate the wild. I have several garden rooms and each has a different theme but each has views of the other and tie in beyond. Given my 100′ Oaks there is no avoiding it ,but I appreciate the wild all the more for trying to garden around my surrounding. Saxon

Benjamin March 7, 2008, 1:02 pm

I’m going to post AGAIN, Saxon, because all of your replies to folks are intriguing. I do agree with you when you say we can’t garden wild, or, we can’t do what God did and / or set in to motion; but if we can recall the memory of our experiences in the “wild” (if it even exists anymore) than that’s a great victory and a good thing. Yet our gardens, even nature itself, are ghosts. This all reminds me of arguments set forth my McKibbon, Sanders, Snyder: what is wild? Is it wild? Is it really? All we have left are pictures and grand, romantic memories of nature influenced by puritan transcendentalism. In all my research I’ve been doing on garden design and history–and the literature of gardens–clearly, to express humanity withing nature (gardening) is tricky at best. Is it natural to interpret nature “creatively” as we do in gardens, or is it simply wrong and shows a bit of hubris? Somewhere in the middle. Are we stewards, or now have to be micro managers in a post natural world? Humans are natural, cities are natural, and both are unnatural. I’ve rambled.

Rambling is good and what sets a conversation going. This conversation would best be over a pint, but I would argue the grand transcendentalist notions of nature were conscious attempts to connect with the unknowable and must fail because, well, the unknowable is unknowable. This does not mean the attempt is wrong and I suspect every philosopher who has grappled with this knows there is no way to express the grand scheme of nature. Philosophers and photographers, poets and preachers, indeed all of us struggle to communicate the connection we feel between the wild and our human hearts.

Perhaps gardeners express it best actually. In our knowingly vain attempts (not hubris) to bring wild nature into our lives, we garden. Not expecting success (that would be hubris) or wanting to reveal “truth”, we bring microcosms of our visions into our own space, and in the best moments become the truth we know exists in the wild. If individually we can revel and sigh at our own creations we succeed where the philosopher never can. Who cares at that point if it is wild? That really is more an issue for scientists. Is this rambling enough to match your own ?

Thanks for the opportunity…

Ken from Sweden March 8, 2008, 4:55 am

I live whith wild nature just around me, deep forests whith Picea and Prinus and some open landscape for farmer to grow on.
So the garden is for me a way to take charge of the natur.
I go for long walks whith my dogs every day in the “real” nature but bouth I and my dog likes to go back to our garden and enjoy.

I think for many of those who live next to “real” nature need a garden for the mere sanctuary it provides from the wild. A way as humans to feel some degree of control. On the other hand, many who live in the more controlled environment of cities and suburbs need gardens to remind them of the wild. It is all good. Thanks for joining us from Sweden !

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