When Less is the Thing

I recently visited a group of gardens in and around Boston with the Association of Professional Landscape Designers. It’s always a hyper stimulating time for me with a combination of input that merges other designers’ insights and opinions, seminars presenting both science and design, and visits to the locale’s interesting gardens and landscapes.  After several days of this past conference I found myself longing for the big idea. I found it on the last day in a garden created by two octogenarians in Rhode Island over the past 50 years.

Berta and Nate Atwater have made a landscape that is sublime in its simplicity. Boundary walls of native stone and sweeps of short mowed paths are punctuated with trained and pruned plants. The wild and the cultivated exist side by side and as complements to each other. The big idea for me was the low mowed paths.  These areas of nothing much that allow the eye and mind to rest or wander are what many gardeners would consider unused space to be filled were restful and contemplative. It takes a confidence to allow void to be the thing.  A mowed path through tall meadows and grasses is nothing new and common in large country gardens.  This was different in its short and shorter stature and allowed the views and verticals to sit equally.