Sunday, February 15, 2015

People in Gardens

It's cold and snowy again. Saturday morning was minus 5 degrees, and when it warmed into the teens it started snowing and has kept snowing.

Snow has such a distorting effect on everything. The whole level of the yard is raised, leaving the house as a ship partly submerged and wallowing in the seas of winter. Features that orient the landscape like shrubs and plant stands and most of a garden bench are simply gone.

I continue to garden by tending my photographs. I have so many, and I like to look at others on blogs and Pinterest and in the magazines I have stacked by my reading chair. Let it snow.

It's interesting how garden photographs never have people in them.

I read an essay recently about how we like to see gardens in photographs: perfect, just right, a utopian vision of the ideal landscape. It's all a deeply human urge to recreate the original, the Garden of Eden.

And, like the original garden that man was banished from, there are no people in garden photographs.

It's as if humans, with their waste and manure and compost rows and working tools and piles of debris that need to be picked up, don't exist. The perfect garden shot has none of that. People are banished when we set out to capture the ideal garden and put it in a magazine spread.

Almost none of my own garden photographs have people in them.

Why do we do that? Humans give scale to the picture, and that's much needed when I want to see how big a tree is or how deep a border goes. For reference alone, people add dimension to a garden.

Humans in the frame also remind us that a garden is work. It is created, not sprung naturally from the benign hand of providence. Why do we cling to the vision of "nature" as a beautiful place uninhabited by humans? Is the Garden of Eden thing really that deeply, psychologically embedded in us?

People don't have to be working in a garden -- they can be strolling and enjoying it, and how natural would that be to see? But when we visit a public garden and take shots of the beautifully designed spaces, I crop out the people, or try to get a view with no one in it to start with.

I know that people in pictures will always draw the eye -- we are genetically programmed to notice people before surroundings, and the photographer wants to feature the plants instead. So humans in a garden shot are a distraction.

It's disorienting, though, when you look at as many gorgeous garden photos as I do, to see that the highest aspiration of the perfect garden is to be a space growing untouched by gardeners, unseen by visitors, and completely devoid of humans. Eden.

We are stardust
we are golden
and we've got to get ourselves 
back to the garden

 Joni Mitchell


  1. Love that quote by Joni Mitchell! And you are so right about the garden and its lack of people featured in the shots. Kinda a cool idea to put the gardener back in the shot! You take care friend as I know you guys are getting slammed with snow! Stay warm! Nicole xo

    1. Thanks Nicole! Staying warm, but it's a challenge. Such a winter this is . . .