A Year in My Arts & Crafts Garden
The photographic series A Year in My Arts & Crafts Garden began seventeen years ago with the rescue of an unwanted, century-old Toronto house in dire need of restoration from development demolition. The celebrated architect was Eden Smith (1859-1949), a British follower of William Morris (1834 –1896), international leader of the Arts and Crafts movement. I quickly learned that the principles of the Arts and Crafts movement required a unity of design for house and garden. Further research showed that Eden Smith had designed the house with unity in mind. That settled it. I decided to become the garden designer for this 3-acre lot and to work within the limits of Arts and Crafts principles. It was an artistic challenge equivalent to what a poet faces while writing a sonnet. I had to keep within the rules while creating an original work of art.
As I worked I grew completely enchanted with the spirit of the Arts and Crafts movement and I fully embraced those rules as laid out by William Morris and landscape architects William Robinson, Gertrude Jekyll and art critic John Ruskin.
To document my progress I took photographs. Over time I upgraded the quality of my camera, lenses and printer until I was producing prints that were works of art on archival paper with archival inks.
William Robinson wrote in his prescriptive and detailed book The Wild Garden, that a garden should be wild at the perimeter and formal at the house. Inside the perimeter the space should be divided into garden rooms (including a kitchen garden to feed the household and a perennial garden to fill flower vases ). William Morris published books through Kelmscott Press which promoted the defining concern of the Arts and Crafts movement: the mutable moment arising from the desire of beauty quickened by the sense of death. Morris joined Ruskin in saying that the greatest creator of beauty is nature and a central characteristic of the Arts and Crafts movement is a quest for natural beauty.
Their quest for beauty became my own in both the garden design and photographs. Noticing the beauty of the rhythm of the year’s cycle became the dominant theme of my work. Within the garden’s design I sought to create memorable garden events that would show up each year. Each March, for example, there would be the glorious sight of 10,000 daffodils naturalized in the lawn. Each April magnolia trees would blossom along the length of my driveway. May would bring lilacs. June would feature hundreds of peonies. Every year the kitchen garden would feed the household from the first spear of asparagus in April to the last sprig of parsley in January.
I take photographs at all times of the year to capture this passage of time. Throughout spring and summer I gather flowers, place them in vases and bring them into the house to create still life images. I don’t arrange the flowers much. I just cut the stems to one length and let the flowers fall where they want to be.
My photographs are painterly and before I shoot I have in mind the light and colors I want. I set the vase on a window sill or on a table near a window. The window is my main source of light. I also make use of whatever ambient light is provided by the room’s chandeliers or table lights. If the sun goes behind a cloud and if there isn’t enough light to capture an image I will add a light.
A most compelling reason for creating these photographs is winter. When the garden is covered by snow and I’m longing to see flowers again I bring out the photographs and start checking the seed catalogues to plan what to plant next.