Wednesday, August 10, 2011

What Kind of "Inward Gardener" Are You?

In my career as a landscape designer, I read many books on horticulture and design. But none of them as profound as Julie Moir Messervy's book, "The Inward Garden."

She approaches design, as the title implies, from the inside out. She believes that our early life experiences shape an archetypal, inward garden inside each of us; one that we carry throughout our lives. Which of these describes yours?

  • The Sea. This is the sensation of being immersed, reminiscent of being in the womb. Standing inside a forest, moving through fog, getting caught in a downpour or snowstorm - all give us the sense of being snug and enclosed.
  • The Cave. This is a small, cozy, safe place. Any cave-like structure, nook or cranny might offer this sense of security. 
  • The Harbor. When a ship is in the harbor, it is anchored in a safe place, yet has a view to the open sea. In a garden, this would mean being inside the safety of an enclosed space (e.g. inside a hedge or fence) while looking out into the world. 
  • The Promontory. A promontory is the edge of a landscape form. It might be a bluff or the end of a spit of land that projects into the sea. It is at once thrilling and frightening. 
  • The Island. On an island, one feels separate, perhaps isolated, and private. An island can be represented by something as simple as a blanket spread on the lawn or as complex as an actual piece of land surrounded by water.
  • The Mountain. Similar to the island, the mountain offers privacy, only up high. It doesn't have the giddiness of being at the edge, as with the promontory. It has a sensation of solitude and peace.
  • The Sky. When you were a child, did you lay on your back and look up at the sky? Did this stir your imagination? Did you wish you could fly? Did you see secret messages in the shapes of the clouds? The sky is where we look when we daydream. 
Of course, these archetypes do not describe specific gardens. They describe feeling states evoked by certain physical attributes. What I have learned in my work with design clients is that people talk in terms of garden styles, plants and materials, but what they are really reaching for is how they want to feel when they are in a particular space. They want to feel soothed, or energized or safe. My most successful designs were ones where I was able to "catch"the feeling clients wanted to experience, and gave it to them.

After reading this book, I understood my clients much better. Instead of looking at a property and wondering why anyone would buy such a place, I would think, "Oh, this must be a promontory person."  Living as I do in Seattle, surrounded by water, mountains, and just a ferry ride away from several islands, these archetypes, and the people they attract, make sense to me. They also led me to understand why, of all the places I've lived, I never felt "at home" until I arrived here. Here is where my inward, and now outward, gardens match.

There is much more to this book than these descriptions. Messervy talks about types of gardeners. She has a lengthy and wonderful chapter on the primary elements of a garden. The photography, by Sam Abell, is spectacular. Anyone serious about landscape design would benefit from reading this book.

Most importantly, this book will change how you think of gardens, yourself and the landscape you inhabit.