FRAMING the garden

drtygrlMay 28, 2011

I just completed a design that reminded me of an art project at my undergraduate college. The college i went to had an amazingly beautiful campus (now I completely appreciate the landscape crew). A senior who was an art major did an installation on the lower campus for his senior project. From a distance it looked like two by fours cut into box shapes attached to one another in a geometric sculpture. It was very beautiful in a very geometric way. When you approached the sculpture you realized there was another entirely different level to it. Each of the 2x4s were really a window or a frame that framed a scene from the landscape. When you looked through the frame from one side - it framed one view - for instance a willow tree. when you looked at it from the other side it framed another view - say a pond. There were probably 10-12 frames in the sculpture that each worked both ways. It was amazingly visionary.

The design I finished was a large area (acre and a half?) of beautiful natural woodlands. How can you improve on nature? My approach was to use landscaping to focus the eye on certain naturally beautiful areas of the landscape. The approach was to "frame" different elements from different perspectives to create a garden that was as interactive as the sculpture I described.

It is also makes me think of the other thread on which we are discussing the Chelsea garden show. The Gavin garden with the sky pod is challenging this element of garden design - one's perspective. Not only did he design a garden to be appreciated from all the viewpoints when one's feet are on the ground, he designed a garden to be viewed from above. Some might view this as impractical but if you imagine a sloped site with an elevated deck - that is probably the most common perspective of the garden.

Is this a consideration in your gardens? what elements do you use to frame the views you want to appreciate? It also just occurred to me that this relates to the "zen view" pattern from the pattern language - that is all about framing small parts of a view to make it more interesting.

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"How can you improve on nature?"

Design a garden.

Not wanting to P on your parade dyrtgrl but isn't this the whole point? The notion of 'framing' is more of the same surely: directing the eye to emphasis some things and obscure others, isn't what the eye does naturally.

    Bookmark   May 28, 2011 at 5:11PM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada

Three of the main view points for the back garden here are looking down on it from the office, looking down from the living room window and looking down from the back porch. The main impetus for doing the rectangular lawn a few years ago was because the lawn didn't look right somehow when viewed from the living room window. At that point the lawn was the more usual residual shape left over after making the garden beds. It was the elevated overview that really highlighted that the shape of the lawn was wrong. Once I changed the shape, it looked miles better - both from above and on the ground. The other key elements in the 'high' view are the paths. They lead your eyes outward, leading you to look deep into the gardens and make you went to go outside to explore in more detail. One path is placed to align with the west-facing office window. From the back porch several paths draw your eyes, particularly the one heading off at an angle past the shed and the one that heads straight under the white pines. You can't see where they end so they draw you down to find out. Five years ago our garden (not as nice as it is now :-) was on the local garden tour. The backyard paths were one of the things that most visitors commented on as something they particularly enjoyed.

    Bookmark   May 28, 2011 at 5:23PM
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Woody - that is exactly what I am talking about. What most of us would consider small changes can create a more interactive garden. Its one thing to look at the garden through the frames and another to walk around and see all different perspectives.

Ink- Once again ---???? Are you saying framing the garden is such an integral part of garden design that it doesn't bear talking about? Do you claim to be such a great designer that you actually improve on nature? Could you please explain the cryptic comment further?

I really have no idea what you are talking about - but my opinion is that nature is what I am trying to emulate - not improve upon.

    Bookmark   May 28, 2011 at 7:06PM
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No, I will be an observer only as you seem to take my comments so personally.

    Bookmark   May 28, 2011 at 7:27PM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada

I agree with Ink re garden vs nature. If I let nature take over this garden, it would be a mess of ash, maple and buckthorn saplings! My woodland garden backyard takes its inspiration from nature but shapes the plantings in a controlled way to please me - and others. It's the shaping and framing and planned combinations that make it a domestic garden and not wild nature.

    Bookmark   May 28, 2011 at 7:41PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

Nature isn't always beautiful to the human eye, and be that as it may we don't often see it as it was meant to be. The last time we talked about it, it was with the too much lawn person where everything except letting it go wild was bad for the planet, and I think most of us didn't really think much of that. That's because she wasn't going to get native ecosystem, but rather a competition among mostly introduced plants, aka weeds, seeking to colonize the space. And even then, native ecosystem, or as much as will fit in 25x120 feet less a house, doesn't contain enough variety for my artificially nurtured tastes - those bad gardening books and magazines have spoiled me for cedars and sword ferns :-)

Ink, you're just so darn cryptic; I wonder if you're that much of a tease in real life. I think that, rather than the content of your comments, is what gets a rise out of people. That you have both genius and insight is evident enough when you do shed that and share, but I can see that doing that all the time would be too easy on the rest of us, and does little for you.

That said, I have a little framing story. I was out in the back alley the other day breaking my back trying to beat back some stoloniferous weed that has taken over my alley beds (so bad I've had to remove the plants and totally dig the beds over). I live in a neighbourhood where privacy fences with locked gates are the better part of valour, but as I was out there my gate was open, and a passing pedestrian glanced in as she walked by. Then she stopped and exclaimed that she had to have a closer look, it was so lovely, etc. etc. OK, that made me feel great, but the truth is, the garden is an overgrown work-in-progress still littered with the detritus of garden building and home renovation. But I had to admit that through that gateway it did look fabulous! Better than from any perspective inside it. Somehow all the junk and mess disappeared and the garden had presence. It should be noted that this is an uphill view too, as I described to the lady who is fighting bamboo in the sloped back yard.

I think a garden is all about vignettes, whether you create them or they are borrowed from the neighbour, from nature, or from the view, and framing them does have virtue.


    Bookmark   May 28, 2011 at 7:53PM
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missingtheobvious(Blue Ridge 7a)

Nature on its own is rarely "perfect." A naturalistic garden -- whether woody's backyard or one of F.L. Olmsted's grand parks -- is man's attempt to make the wilderness artistic, appealing, non-threateningly tame, and "perfect" to human eyes. That covers a lot of ground, from weeding tree seedlings, to eradicating poison ivy and thorny nuisances like multiflora roses, to providing neat paths and walkways, to removing less-attractive plants, to adding particular plants and hardscape to draw the eye or frame a view.

In checking the spelling of Olmsted's name, I learned that he did a surprising number of parks and other projects I was familiar with, but didn't know (or had forgotten) he had designed -- among them my undergrad school. Not sure how much remains of Ohlmsted -- after well over a hundred years -- of any of these parks and campuses....

    Bookmark   May 28, 2011 at 8:36PM
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missingtheobvious(Blue Ridge 7a)

There is no "h" in Olmsted.
There is no "h" in Olmsted.
There is no "h" in Olmsted.
There is no "h"

    Bookmark   May 28, 2011 at 8:38PM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

Personally I find cryptic replies exasperating, and seem to show a bit of disdain as well. Improving upon nature by creating a garden! Yes, of course, it is all so clear now...

Framing garden views is something that takes a bit of skill, and being able to fully articulate the views you want to frame, and where the best points to do so actually occur. Manipulating the garden design to create different perspectives is something that seems more obvious to me with Asian influenced garden design, or maybe I just don't relate as well to the monumental scales of such spatial design in French and Italian garden design. Specific traditions to be upheld, spirits or shengfui to be considered/counter-acted through manipulation of space and application of traditional design solutions are things that don't necessarily resonate on the same level in western design.

Specifics of such Asian design tactics would include the forced view points in fixed succession of a Japanese Tea Garden following the proscribed tenets of observing a tea ceremony and creating the proper feelings of reverence and submission. Hindhu-balinese temple gardens and even ordinary residential gardens in Bali are also very concerned with angle changes, grade changes to protect/deflect evil influences or promote better luck. Whether you believe in them or not, they make for interesting gardens that are rooted in their place and culture, and may lose all significance when transported to a western setting without the cultural framework that accompanies them.

I understood the lament on how to improve upon nature as meaning that attempts to replicate natural settings so often fall short, and will nearly always require quite a bit of intervention to keep them looking natural as installed, designed. A good enough reason to think of nature as a starting point, rather than attempt a slavish imitation which rarely achieves the sublime.

    Bookmark   May 28, 2011 at 8:53PM
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Indeed, as Missing just said, a path can be enough to "enhance" nature for human viewers. (This bog also wouldn't be walkable without the path, so the landscape is made more "usable" through adding it)

    Bookmark   May 29, 2011 at 1:39AM
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Going back to the original post, the framing worked because it exploited an opportunity. It was an existing opportunity in that case, but opportunity can be created as well. Sometimes a frame exists with nothing in it which is an opportunity to expoit the frame with a created subject.

This is a great thing to build an awareness of in order to recognize opportunities to exploit in a design. The subject of the OP is the type of thing done in school in order to focus on a particular aspect of design like a laser in order to build awareness and a deeper understanding of it (in this case - framing) to draw from in the future. The same thing is done with all kinds of other "design tools" such as repetition, perspectives, ...

My caution is to remember that one "design tool" with its volume turned up does not always drown out the sound of all the other "tools" that exist whether or not we chose to address them. It (framing) is one more thing to be aware of rather than a "must have" part of a landscape.

Some designers enjoy basing their designs on emphasis of use of one or more of theses "design tools" which can be really nice, but certainly not the only way to go. There used to be a guy (Gary Allen) on HGTV that was very focused on continuous curves and layered plantings repeating those curves - some love him, others hate him (it does not float my boat, but it keeps design simple and easier for his audience to make a successful design - a very good thing). However, if you look closely at the landscapes that he worked within on the show, you'd see that the context of those landscapes were very simple - no knock on him, it is the typical situation in his area (flat, house, road, sidewalk, and about nothing else). There is no competing "noise" so to speak.

I would not go out of my way to use framing, but would rather exploit an existing opportunity to do so when I think it will enhance the project. However, I almost always do some form of framing on the street side of a house because I like to center the gravity of the view toward the front entrance of the house. That can a nudging by adding more mass to a planting or a true framing with the use of a tree. Usually, most of the bones of the frame exists and I'm only adding a little to it to sure it up or re-center it.

I also use framing to make you look away from something such as a tool shed recently. Your brain, maybe it is a primeval preparation for fleeing predators, tends to flow like a breeze by following the path of least resistance. If you put a tree in the middle of the view it splits it. If you put two trees, it flows between them. Because of this, you can push attention toward or away from things and re-center it wherever you want (as long as you can overcome competing factors.

Just don't get too focused on the power of one "design tool". If you do, you'll fail to see what competing factors are doing to work against it. You'll see the result of the framing, but will everyone else?

Again going back to the original post. Would Joe Student walking past those doors and windows recognize the framed view or was it only after having it pointed out to them did they see "the brilliance". Landscape designers usually leave behind a work that is left for people to experience on their own without the benefit of being told what to look at. Even if they never realize the "framing" or other tools that you use, in the end you are looking to create an experience that matches their activities whether or not they directly notice what is supporting that. Success is usually subtle.

    Bookmark   May 29, 2011 at 9:04AM
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A path is the first step - sorry couldnt resist.
Accessibility is a prerequisite to interacting with the landscape whether it is a path or a pod or steps. Love that gorgeous pic timbu - the frost is a part of nature that we could never replicate. Also the way accessibility is created is the beginning of how the garden or landscape is framed-by dictating the viewers movement through it.

The spiritual elements of Asian design bring an interesting twist to the discussion of whether design is intended to improve on nature, mirror nature or frame nature. Some might say that gardens are a way to get closer to god - but the Balinese concept of using design to trick evil spirits is something I had not heard before.

By the way, Karin, 'vignette' is another one of my favorite words.

    Bookmark   May 29, 2011 at 9:18AM
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Once again, Laag, you said it perfectly. Do you differentiate between "framing" as a design element and the consideration of how one's eye travel through a landscape? Even the TV guy with the curves is talking into consideration the way the landscape is seen, and encouraging the brain to move along a curve as opposed to moving in straight lines. I am wondering if "pushing attention toward and away from things" is maybe not quite the same as framing if we take a literal meaning as justified by the original example of the frame sculpture. Two trees in a view is quite a literal view of framing; but is planting, say, variegated dogwood in the shade, to bring light to that area and draw the eye - maybe thats not exactly framing.

And to answer your question, Joe student, probably didn't notice the that the sculpture framed views. And to be completely honest, I didn't notice until it was pointed out to me. So you make a good point that good design doesn't require instructions; if you want to influence someone's experience you need to build it into the design. in a subtle way.

    Bookmark   May 29, 2011 at 12:43PM
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Just to be clear, I don't think it is wrong or takes away from the art if it requires a hint or explanation. I'm just saying that as a landscape designer you seldom get that opportunity nor do many of the context accept instruction very well.

I don't see paths as framing, but of placement. It is a different tool that pushes attention. I call it placement because I believe that the viewer's subconcious mind projects itself into a "humam space" such as a path and much more so onto a patio. It is a very strong tool, often stronger than framing. Use both if you have a lot to overcome or just want to.

    Bookmark   May 29, 2011 at 6:45PM
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When I stand on my deck I view all that I own in one sweep, tomorrow it will be the same and I like it like that. I find comfort in this sameness and I feel as though I am in control.I had a granola bar come over yesterday talking about framing and sh=t and I told her that we have windows and if her, the wife sees the garden through the kitchen window frame we are set.

    Bookmark   May 30, 2011 at 8:33PM
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catkim(San Diego 10/24)

For those who have the patience to skim through a lot of unrelated blather, this post has some useful discussion of "framing".

Here is a link that might be useful: Screens/framing

    Bookmark   May 30, 2011 at 9:45PM
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