Sticks, Stones & Magical Forest Mystery

December 28th, 2011 § 4

Sticks and Stones: A Forest of Mystery 

Winter has arrived —swirling snowflakes and glazed pools all around— and yet the earth remains open in much of New England. Patches of snow dot my Vermont hillside, but elsewhere —in fields and forested areas nearby— the ground has yet to freeze and there’s nary a trace of white stuff. Woodland walks through leaf-stewn paths reveal glowing green moss and shining, emerald-colored Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides).

With long shadows stretching out in winter light, this week of mild weather has provided a perfect opportunity to explore the quiet of nature. And what delights have I found? Along the woodland pathways of someone else’s forest, I discovered tiny surprises crafted from sticks, stones and seed pods. Inspired by the magic of this mystery forest, I found myself falling in love all over again with the simple, artistic power of sticks and stones …

More artistic inspiration —and beautiful, master works in stick and stone— may be found in these long-time, favorite books …

Andy Goldsworthy: A Collaboration with Nature

Dan Snow: Listening to Stone

Stone by Design: The Artistry of Lew French

Early Winter Reflections

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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Sparkling Texture & Dramatic Structure: Creating A Beautiful Winter Garden …

December 18th, 2011 § 2

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!

Do you enjoy The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through affiliate links. A small percentage of each sale will be paid to this site, helping to cover web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you so much for your support!

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Art Inspired by Nature: The Work of Vermont Artist Dan Snow…

January 3rd, 2011 § 3

Archer’s Pavilion

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

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

Fire Sculpture

Arched Footbridge

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…

Walking Wall

Walking Wall

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

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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.

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