December 18th, 2011 §
The Entry Garden at First Light in Early December, After a Dusting of Snow
I often wonder why I bother to mourn the end of autumn when there’s so much magic and beauty to be found in the garden during this quiet time of the year. As we near the winter solstice, I find myself every bit as enchanted by the garden as I am during the spring and summer months. My morning walks are cold —no doubt— and my finger tips burn a bit as I run them over the frosty stone walls. But the rich, visual rewards of those nippy strolls at first light make every shiver worthwhile.
Frosted Viburnum setigerum (Tea Viburnum) Fruits
Some gardeners prefer to cut back the perennials in their beds and borders in late autumn and early winter. And there is an argument to made for this approach. Certainly, there are places within the garden where I fuss over tender plants; protecting them from cold with mounds of compost or blankets of evergreen boughs. But by and large, I prefer to leave perennials standing throughout winter; that I might enjoy both the bold and delicate textures and how they sparkle with snow and ice after storms. Vertical lines, relief and pattern, both in the garden’s hardscape as well as in the more ephemeral plantings, are key to creating structure and beauty in a winter garden.
Seed Pods Provide Food for Birds and Beauty for Human Eyes: Rudbeckia hirta and Solidago with Sparkling Frost and Snow
Textural Grass Catches Light, Snow and Ice in the Quiet Season. Switch Grass (Panicum virginicum ‘Heavy Metal’) with A Light Morning Glaze…
Climbing Hydrangea (H. petiolaris) Adds Texture and Color to A Grouping of Boulders, and Provides Nooks and Crannies for a Dusting of Fresh Snow…
I often talk about the “bones” of a garden when I discuss design with my clients. This framework, or skeleton, is what gives the landscape shape throughout the year. Walls, fences and arbors, trellises and obelisks, benches and chairs, sculpture and boulders are all examples of objects that add to a garden’s hardscape and structure. Living plants, particularly dramatically shaped trees and shrubs are also helpful in creating a season-spanning garden design. In terms of defining outdoor space, hedges —both formal and informal— alles, espalier fences, and other features are useful in building permanent trans-seasonal walls.
Sculpture and Lichen-Covered Stone Catch Snow: Here, the Guardian Stands Sentry at the Edge of the Forest
The Rusty Color and Grid-Patterned Seat Make this Bench a Valuable Winter-Garden Object
Perennials May Fade at Autumn’s End, but Dan Snow’s Stone Seat and Evergreen Conifers Remain (Young hemlock: Tsuga canadensis)
Here in New England, field stone has long been a popular material for dividing garden spaces, and it will always be my personal favorite. From retaining walls and steps, to formal and free-form sculpture, I am most fond of this natural and versatile material. Throughout the seasons —but especially during the quiet season of winter— Dan Snow’s stonework is the central architectural feature and design element in my garden. Because Dan’s walls are comprised of subtly colored and textured rock —often softened by blueish lichen and emerald moss— they seem quite alive, even though they are technically inorganic. Whats more, the arrangement of the stonework itself —whether stacked horizontally, vertically, or arranged in dramatic and shifting pattern— adds artistry to the garden’s bare architecture in winter.
Steps and stairs —though they can be constructed from a wide variety of materials— must safely function and enhance a garden throughout the seasons. What we call “hallways” in our homes are the “pathways” in our gardens. These frequently-traveled spaces are as important outdoors as they are inside the house. Stepping stones, pea stones and gravel all add texture to the garden throughout the year. And in winter, walls, pathways, steps and other architectural features become highly exposed design elements. As crazy as I am about plants (and we all know that’s pretty crazy) my primary focus when designing a garden is always on the underlying structure. Build your garden before you decorate it with plants –and build it well, for it will hold, protect and exhibit your botanical treasures as your house contains, shelters and displays all of your worldly possessions! In winter, outdoor rooms are as stark as an empty house. And usually, the more attractive the garden’s architecture, the more beautiful the winter garden…
Stone Wall and Juniper Line the Winter Garden Walkway. Dan Snow Added both Candle Niches and Seats within the Wall, Creating Opportunities for Rest and Display Throughout the Seasons…
Stone Steps by Dan Snow Look Beautiful with a Dusting of Snow, and the Varied Height of the Sloped Setting Makes a Lovely Display for Frost-Proof Pots and Evergreen Plants…
Winter is a Fine Time to Enjoy Works of Art —Both Large and Small— in the Garden. Dan Snow’s Fire Sculpture Looks Particularly Beautiful in the Snow…
Structural elements and textural interest provide nature with a three-dimensional canvas for wintery works of art. And although it’s possible to spend a fortune on architectural details and plants, keep in mind that even the humblest cast-aways —flea market benches, unwanted boulders, simple fences and wire cables, twig teepees and homemade works of art— are just as effective when it comes to creating spaces and adding tactile elements in the garden. The rusty surfaces and cracked edges of second hand and found objects often enhance a snowy landscape. Set things out in the garden and move them around until you find a spot that feels right. Begin by using what you have on hand and playfully experiment with the beauty of the winter garden…
The honey-colored remnants of Golden Hops Vine (Humulus lupulus ‘Aureus’) add beautiful texture to a simple cable rail along a deck in winter. Be on the look-out for perennials and vines with persistent papery, dried flowers and seed heads -these textural elements are key to winter garden detail…
A Mass Planting of Flame Grass (Miscanthus sinensis ‘purpurascens’ ) Forms a Season-Spanning ‘Screen'; Adding Texture and Color to the Garden Throughout the Seasons, in Addition to Providing Enclosure and Natural Transition to the Meadow and Mountain Tops Beyond
Old wire chairs, even if they are no longer functional, provide endless interest in the garden throughout the seasons. In winter, this ivy-patterend chair casts a gorgeous shadow in the snow…
At the Garden Entryway, the Texture of Juniperus horizontalis and the Natural Stone Ledge Both Stand Out with a Dusting of Snow and Create a Backdrop for Other Plantings Throughout the Seasons…
Boulders —Remnants from Site Excavation— Make a Pretty Vine-Covered Grouping at Garden’s Edge (Hydrangea petiolaris)
Dan Snow’s Stone Steps Dusted in Snow
This design article was adapted from a previously published post which appeared on The Gardener’s Eden 12/2010
All Stonework Featured Here is by Vermont Artist Dan Snow
Garden Design by Michaela Medina
Photographs and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All photos, articles and content on this site (with noted exceptions) are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Thank you!
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January 3rd, 2011 §
As an enthusiastic fan of stone sculpture, environmental art and three-dimensional landscape features, I have been long planning an article about Vermont artist Dan Snow and his work. But finding the time to actually visit and photograph the artist’s creations, and coordinate two seasonal workers during the busy summer months, seemed all but impossible. Dan Snow keeps a busy schedule. In addition to creating master works of art for both private clients and public collections, Dan has authored two of his own books —In the Company of Stone and Listening to Stone with photographs by Peter Mauss— and has contributed to several others. He also regularly writes beautiful essays for his blog, In the Company of Stone. In addition to these artistic pursuits, as a DSWA*of Great Britain- certified Mastercraftsman and DSWA*-certified instructor, Dan Snow leads workshops, talks and presentations —both here in North America and abroad— passing along his drystone walling and artistic knowledge to eager students the world over.
Fortunately, Dan is as generous with his time and talents as he is a gifted and sought-after artist and teacher. I caught up with the artist recently —on a blisteringly-cold December afternoon a couple of weeks back— and asked about visiting a few of his works for a blog-feature. Much to my surprise, Dan offered me the very enviable opportunity to take a local, personally guided tour of his work. Visiting these amazing works of art —and having the opportunity to skip, hop, crawl, walk in, on and around them with their creator— was more fun than I can possibly describe. In addition to his many talents, Dan Snow is also just-plain-good company, and his playful, unassuming nature —so evident in all of his work— made the afternoon both a delightful and educational experience.
The Beautifully Framed View from Within ‘Archer’s Pavilion’
My tour began and ended with stone work created by Dan Snow over a twenty-five-year time span, for three different collectors. Although Dan has built numerous freestanding stone walls, retaining walls, and other practical landscape features (many documented here on this blog) our tour focused on his stone sculpture and land art. Many of the artist’s stone constructions invite physical participation, and ‘Archer’s Pavilion’ (pictured at the top of the page and just above) is a perfect example of this. Although located on private property, this piece sits near the edge of the road, and is well-known and much-loved by locals; particularly children. In his book Listening to Stone, Dan notes that some of his young fans refer to this sculpture as “The Tooth Fairy’s House” when they pass it on their way to and from school. I’m certain that these daily views of ‘Archer’s Pavilion’ inspire a great deal of day dreaming throughout the school day. This fantastical creation is one of my favorites as well. While seated inside the tiny stone tent, reflecting upon the beautifully framed landscape beyond, it occurred to me how —much like other master works of art— the piece seems both impossibly complex and maddeningly effortless. Despite the weight of the stone and the hours of intense physical labor involved in their construction, Dan’s creations always appear as if magically dreamed into existence. It’s a wonderful, and completely mind-boggling paradox.
Stone Sphere. A hollow-centered orb sitting at the far edge of a wind-swept field.
Star Shrine. Inspired by Japanese ‘Hoshi Jinja’, created to house and worship fallen meteors, this is also one of my favorite pieces.
Pyramid. The bright red-orange color of bittersweet berries adds a bit of natural poetry to this study in contrasts. Here, Dan has used round field stone to create a remarkable work of geometry; all straight planes and angles.
Because he works in stone, and his pieces are anchored to the land, the connection to nature is inseparable from Dan Snow’s work. But many other elements and influences are also at play, as evidenced by the diverse works pictured here. Stories about the inspiration and creation of the individual pieces, collected in Dan’s books, are as fascinating as the stonework itself. “Star Shrine” (above) and “The Keep” (below) were both created in response to works of land art in other cultures. As Dan and I walked to the far end of a stark and barren field —the perfect gallery for his work— a large grouping of boulders called out. I remembered hearing about this piece long ago, and I had the vague recollection that there was some connection to historic tombs.
As it turns out, Dan’s collectors had been traveling in Ireland when they encountered what he describes as a ‘megalithic tomb’. Upon their return, they asked Dan if he would construct a similar structure for them on their property. Portal tombs, or stone burial chambers, exist throughout the world and are known by a variety of common names; including dolmens, stazzone, hunebed, cromlech, dysse and others. These structures share some common characteristics, such as upright stone ‘orthostats’ and large, cap-stone roofs. There are no human remains located in ‘The Keep’, though it is a fantastic and haunting work of art, as well as a fabulous playground for the living.
Entrance – The Keep
Inside ‘The Keep’, Looking Out at Woodland’s Edge
Although Dan is often commissioned to create functional objects —benches, fire pits and bridges among them— the utilitarian purpose of these projects is merely a launch point for this artist’s imaginative interpretation of the structure. A bench is simply a place to sit, but a work of art designed for seating is an entirely different thing. The gravity-defying beauty of Dan’s arched, stone foot-bridge, and the fascinating, flame-mimicking points of his fire sculpture, make it clear that in the hands of a master, art need never play second fiddle to craft.
Stone Seating Area
Not only do Dan’s stone creations blur the culturally designated line between art and craft, but many of his environmental art pieces also challenge conventional, Western ideas about what it means to have a garden. Located on the same Brookside property as the ‘Arched Footbridge’ and ‘Star Shrine’, a beautiful and meticulously maintained dry garden sits at woodland’s edge. Most European and American gardeners and landscape designers have fixed ideas about what defines a garden. For many such traditionalists, horticulture must be the primary focus in an outdoor space in order to meet the definition of ‘garden’. And although xeriscaping and rock gardens have become more commonplace over the past twenty years —mostly in response to ecological factors like water conservation and the rise of minimalist aesthetics— dry gardens are still relatively scarce in North America.
Of course in the larger world, ideas about gardening are as varied as the cultures in which this activity takes place. Japanese gardeners mastered the art the dry garden long ago, and in the traditional Zen garden —where the stone itself becomes a distilled, symbolic landscape— these three-dimensional, highly disciplined works of art become the focus, not the backdrop, of the garden. In Listening to Stone, Dan describes how he came to accept a commission for an Asian-inspired dry garden in Vermont, and an inspirational encounter with his Japanese friend and former student, Taheshi Hammana. This is one of my favorite essays in the collection; perfectly describing the yin-yang relationship between student and teacher, and how in the best of circumstances, the learning flows both ways. Like many of Snow’s stories, this one reveals an essential part of the multilayered process art making, and how individual experiences develop and shape that process, and the artist himself.
Dry Garden Detail – In a traditional Zen garden, each object within the composition represents a corresponding object in nature.
Dan Snow’s Modern American Dry Garden, Inspired by Japanese Tradition
Dry Garden Detail. Vertically set stones represent the edge of the raked stone ‘water’.
As daylight began to fade, Dan and I made our way to the last stop on our short tour. Located on this private property are two large, physically engaging works. Dan’s ‘Walking Wall’, which spans the length of the field and is comprised of both restoration and new stone work, and ‘Rock Shelter’ were created to draw the landowner out for a stroll. The story of how these two related pieces came to be, and their connection to the history of the place, adds to the poetic beauty of both works. Does the collector stroll upon the ‘Walking Wall’, and pause for a rest beneath the roof of ‘Rock Shelter’? Based upon my experience there, scrambling atop the stone lean-to roof with Dan and skipping along the trio of bridges at the start of the long wall, I imagine the owner must regularly visit and delight in his private playground…
Rock Shelter at Twilight
Rock Shelter – Front Side View
Rock Shelter – Backside View
Dan Snow atop his ‘Rock Shelter’ piece in Vermont – December, 2010
This amazing collection of stone work offers only the tiniest of peeks into the world and work of Dan Snow. But if this short, virtual tour has sparked your interest and imagination, you may be interested in viewing ‘Stone Rising’, a beautifully filmed documentary of Dan’s work and process, available for purchase through Fuzzy Slippers Productions (online here). Dan’s schedule of workshops and lectures can be found on his blog (here), and his books, “In the Company of Stone” and “Listening to Stone” are both available online from Amazon.com as well as at Barnes & Noble, Borders and most independent book stores.
Although much of Dan’s work is held in private collections —with some properties occasionally opened for tours of the artist’s work— several pieces exist in public locations; including collaborative works at Kansas State University, and the English Harbor Arts Centre, Newfoundland, Canada. Recently, Dan created a stone seating sculpture, “Rock Rest” (pictured below) for the new Brattleboro Museum and Art Center Sculpture Garden. This new public garden —which I designed as part of a volunteer project honoring Linda Rubinstein and Dan Freed for their life-long contributions to the arts in this community— will break ground in spring of this year. Dan is currently seeking a sponsor for this work of art, in hopes that it will be installed for the enjoyment of the public (the Brattleboro Museum is located at the far, southeast corner of the state; where the Vermont line meets the southwestern tip of New Hampshire and the northwest boundary of Massachusetts). If you are interested in sponsoring this work of art (pictured below) —or know of a potential sponsor— please contact Dan Snow via his website, In the Company of Stone.
Rock Rest – Photograph ⓒ Dan Snow
Notes and Links of Interest:
* DSWA is an acronym for the Dry Stone Walling Association of Great Britain, linked here.
The Drystone Conservancy – Lexington, Kentucky
The Drystone Guild of Canada
“Stone Rising” Clip on YouTube
Dan Snow’s Blog – In the Company of Stone
A Very Special, Heart-Felt Thank You to Dan Snow and Elin Waagen, for Your Time, Generosity and Friendship.
Article and Photographs (exception noted) are copyright 2010, Michaela Medina at The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used for any purpose without my consent.
All content on this site, with noted exceptions, is the property of The Gardener’s Eden Online Journal, and my not be used or reproduced without express written permission.
September 9th, 2010 §
Dan Snow Fire Sculpture – Peter Mauss photo courtesy Dan Snow
Though September’s noontime hours may still be warm and humid, the clear, cool nights of late summer hint at things yet to come; glowing embers, wool blankets, and velvet skies filled with stars. On chilly evenings, my garden comes alive with pops, cracks and sparkles from Dan Snow’s beautiful fire sculpture, pictured below. Radiant heat from flame-shaped backrests makes this dramatic garden-feature the perfect spot to snuggle up with a glass of hot mulled wine (or cider) and a good storyteller…
Dan Snow’s Lit Fire Sculpture at Ferncliff – Photo ⓒ Michaela at TGE
A handmade fire-feature, such as a stone sculpture or bowl, is of course the ultimate way to experience the art of fire in a garden setting. Vermont artist Dan Snow has created many spectacular dry-laid stone installations —including remarkable fire features— for his clients over the years. This word-renowned master craftsman and author also offers popular workshops —throughout the US and occasionally abroad— for those interested in learning age-old, dry-laid stone techniques. Building a fire pit of your own would be a wonderful early-autumn project; a work of art to be enjoyed throughout the year. Earthy and natural, stone is the perfect material for creating safe, beautiful fire features in the landscape. Adding sculptural drama to my garden by day, Dan’s fire feature becomes a warm and luminous gathering place by night…
Dan Snow’s Dramatic Fire Sculpture Still Manages to Conjure Flames, Even in the Daylight Hours at Ferncliff – Photo ⓒ Michaela at TGE
For situations where inset features are impractical, carved stone fire-bowls and vessels, such as the ones featured here by Stone Forest, are a great alternative to permanently-installed fire pits. Stone Forest —based in Santa Fe, New Mexico— offers a wide variety of movable fire features in carved stone and steel/stone combinations. Lovely surrounded by gravel, and spectacular when combined with water, these hand made pieces make a stunning focal point – night or day…
Helios Fire Vessel – Available at Stone Forest
Saturn Fire Bowl available at Stone Forest
Suspended Fire Vessel available at Stone Forest
Taking the idea of portable fire one step further, is the chiminea. The Blue Rooster company manufactures dozens of chiminea models. The three shown directly below (priced from under $200- just under $400) would add a touch of the medieval, or perhaps even a bit of Tim Burton-inspired fantasy to the garden…
Blue Rooster Charcoal Gatsby Cast Aluminum Chiminea
Blue Rooster Prairie Cast Aluminum Chiminea in Charcoal Black
Blue Rooster Etruscan Cast Aluminum Chiminea
Movable fire pits and bowls are available in a wide range of prices and styles. Options linked below start just below $80 (some of the linked online retailers offer free shipping) and vary on upward with prices usually based upon material type and fabrication. For a modern style garden or patio, I would choose a minimalist fire-feature design, such as one of the three pictured below. The revolver fire pit (second and third photos below) transforms from garden cocktail/side table to fire feature in a flash. Then, once the ash has been emptied —just like Superman— it goes back to its mild-mannered day-job. I love multi-purpose pieces like this one – particularly on steel balconies and small terraces…
Terra Outdoor Fire Basket
Solid Base Revolver Fire Pit w/ Wooden Table-Top
Solid Base Revolver Fire Pit w/ Wooden Table-Top
Blomus Outdoor Fire Pit (free shipping)
For a rustic garden setting or country atmosphere, I might choose one of the more industrial/farm-style fire bowls. Screens and grills offer protections from sparks, but all fire features should be surrounded by a wide buffer-zone of inflammable material, such as stone, brick, steel, concrete or gravel. When considering a fire-feature for a garden design, always check on local zoning and codes in your city or town before proceeding with your plans. Some areas may prohibit fire features entirely, and others will require permits, both for installation and for burning…
Savannah Black Firepit
A New Day Large Fire Dome Set
For a classic, elegant garden design or stone terrace, I might choose a copper fire bowl with iron accents, such as this one…
Copper Fire Pit and Screen Set – 40″
Portable Outdoor Fire Bowl (24″ diameter) from Exterior Accents – See Link Below
See more affordable freestanding fire pits, sale-priced between $79.95 (model above) and $399.95 (plus free shipping) at Exterior-Accents.com…
Special: Click here to get 10% OFF
Article and photos (exceptions as noted and linked) are ⓒ Michaela at TGE
The Gardener’s Eden is not an affiliate of Dan Snow or Stone Forest. Product image links to these sites are provided for reference and reader convenience only.
All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…
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