Landscape and Cinema

The sound of rain on pavement, breeze lifting muslin drapes and disarranging curls of hair, birds calling in the morning sun, cicadas en masse in the heat of the day, avenues of European trees, mirages in the desert; all evocative in landscape and cinema. 20th C film director, Andrey Tarkovsky, called film a “mosaic of time”, revealing the deep connection between landscape, or in my case gardens, and film. He calls rhythm the formative element in cinema¹, the rhythm of seasons, breathing, wildlife cycles, coming and going, creating and destroying, night and day, psychological variations, learning and forgetting, living and dying; rhythm is the formative element in life.

Gardens are well placed to reveal the language of rhythm. The stories which become possible via the client’s brief through design, metaphor, imagination, and the application of art in thought may fall together to illuminate more (or perhaps less depending on its success) than was intended. Luis Bunuel understood filmmaking as a process of discovery, of revelation, it is not always as one intends²; “The story you tell isn’t the same as the story you hear.” In the development of a new language for gardens one can disengage from what has been done, and reimagine elemental threads which include psychology, fiction, metaphor, story, touch, arcadia and the wild as ennobling gifts to the user. Plants become servants of ideas creating unintentional perspectives as time folds them into the fabric of the story.

Of course the early experiences of such a garden may elicit vertigo, obfuscation or irritability. This could be a marker to its success – we love our comfort zones, and gardens have traditionally been places of comfort and rest – but as life experience tells us, the best outcomes very often take the most effort. These are gardens for explorers, thinkers, ‘wild’ people, those who don’t expect things to be “handed to them on a platter”, they require interpretation and understanding with the passage of time.

This is not about an arbitrary process or determinism. The process is best suited to, as Ingmar Bergman says, “accepting something ill-defined and leading it toward definition, preserving along the way the equivocal moments, the secret passages: for if given free reign, the distinct often tends to become too clear cut, too dry and cold and uncompromising.” Cinematographer, Chris Doyle, concurs, “finding the film rather than creating it.” We owe it to ourselves and those we serve and care about to think. Film can be toxic for sure but also it very often serves to ennoble us and nudge us in the direction our hearts are heading. Secret passages and cerebral intoxication may well be waiting for us if we give gardens more latitude for the cinematic!

As a young man I walked out of ‘Fitzcaraldo’ into a world different to the one from which I entered. It was briefly surreal. Werner Herzog had a way of turning reality into fiction and fiction into documentaries. “There are deeper strata of truth in cinema, and there is such a thing as poetic, ecstatic truth. It is mysterious and elusive, and can be reached only through fabrication, and imagination and stylization.” He found a way to tell stories “not about the real world but the world as we dream it.”³ So again, Garden Studio are in many ways attempting this, to find this world we live in as our clients might dream it!

¹Ed. Salim Kemel & Ivan Gaskell, ‘Landscape, Natural Beauty and the Arts’, CUP ²Jean-Claude Carriere, ‘The Secret Language of Film’, Pantheon Books ³







Bach, Beethoven and Composing Landscape

Only recently have I found a new Bach piece, BWV 140¹, a cantata, which renews my admiration for his inventiveness. Childlike, it begins with a divisive cantus firmus which continues through the first movement and over which is laid the altitude and vigour of violins and oboes with the whole receding into a choral reflection of the base. It is a master’s treatment of rhythm and harmony and as often happens, simple enough. Bach’s work, well known for its mathematical order, can be sifted to leave sophisticated, remnant design opportunities for gardens.

Many years ago I listened to an ABC RN programme, ‘Into the Music’, in which Australian conductor and music educator, Richard Gill, dissected the first movement of Beethoven’s 1st Symphony and Piano Concerto No.3. It was fascinating to get a behind-the-scenes look at the compositional techniques Beethoven used to construct the works and it occurred to me that these techniques could be similarly applied to landscape or in my case garden design.

While being aware that, more than likely, life has more reading to it than you might want to invest in this article I will try to be brief. Gill extrapolated the following from the 1st Symphony with my apologies to him for accuracy – I give it to you in notation:

  • Changes in the scale and repeated notes to their harmonizing into octaves giving the tune real direction.
  • Beethoven took an ordinary tune with but 2 elements and changed the key to create momentum in the whole movement – the tempo affecting the key
  • A cadence would signal the end of a section
  • Brief references to the baroque in the minuet
  • Shifts in key, and transitions become opportunities for the spectacular
  • He used big slabs of repeated sound and revisits the beginning of the minuet
  • The music goes back to the original key and unfolds in a related and sequential order
  • The arpeggio in the strings creates the coda in place of the scale, and new characters and ideas at the end of the story wind up with the brass taking over from the strings
  • He draws a hidden tune from out of the blue
  • There becomes an evident understanding of proportion
  • Through repetition the ear is given an opportunity to understand the journey

Cryptic perhaps. Nevertheless, if we hold onto the pragmatic needs and desires of our client who presents the design brief it is relatively easy to translate many of these compositional elements into a garden. Would you, dear reader, having grasped this opportunity which music composition presents to garden design, consider that a garden framed with these techniques might be most able to give the client an emotional harbour of reflection, intellectual nurturing, feeling? Garden Studio, a garden design practice, can institute interested clients with a garden which moves from, but includes, a pragmatic response to need and place to one yielding cerebral depth and imagination.

¹ John Eliot Gardiner’s version with the English Baroque Soloists and Monteverdi Choir

Life is Messy!

I was recently given a shaving kit¹; badger bristle shaving brush, classic butterfly wing double sided razor and beautifully fragrant, soft, shaving soap. I enjoy shaving with this classic, refined and somewhat luxurious gear because it furnishes my morning with a touch of aesthetic order in the form of ceremony and elegance.

Being Messianic, I am familiar with ceremony and order – my own Messianic community will sing hymns and spiritual songs, pray together, read from the Bible, listen to a preached message and share in the remembrance of Yeshua in the form of bread and wine. In fact, if yielded, knowing Yeshua brings one into the order of freedom, love and peace. Often also, I’ll play the sacred works of Bach, Palestrina, de Lassus, Byrd, Tallis, Schutz and Monteverdi. Works by these composers connect me with something greater than my quotidian experience, they provide me with a sense of order, of dignity and opportunity for flights of the imagination and, like books on theology, they minister to my spiritual, emotional, intellectual and aesthetic need.

I wonder if you also value order in your life and what steps you take to achieve it? Life is messy and we can be occupied much of the time trying to reduce its impact on our wellbeing. Command and yield are the tropes of the military in ascertaining order. In the plant and animal kingdoms, ‘Class’ is one of the higher ranks of order separating plants and animals with similar attributes from others. There is a ‘Class’ garden for example on the northern perimeter of the Adelaide Botanic Gardens. Order, when you look for it, is everywhere; packing up toys, studying, washing dishes, driving a car, displaying rock collections, renovating a house – you can drill down into order with a decisive obsession. Order is, in the end, satisfying. Well, mostly!

So what has order to do with my front and rear gardens? My view is that designed order in formal gardens for instance is less about one’s ability to control nature and more about certainty, elegance, balance, scale, proportion and having everything in its place (including the birds) as respite from the vagaries, disorder and machinations of work life, relationships, stress and prolonged, trying circumstances. A luxury car can fulfil a similar purpose.

You may have heard Glenn Murcutt interviewed on ABC TV recently bemoaning the shunting of gardens on small blocks to the fence line to make way for the massive house. This is not order, this is anarchy. We have denied ourselves the blessing and privilege of interaction with nature, of creating a rapport with it, a sensitivity to it. We are part of our environment but a significant group of us ignore its voice largely, we haven’t been educated to respond to its love, its order. These types of homes call for a garden of something rather outrageous, operatic, not traditional or token gestures, as a means of redemption.

We at Garden Studio create order in gardens through various means. In our initial interview with you, our clients, we attempt to discover who you are and how you got to where you are. Also, we want to know what you want and need. Knowing you as much as is possible keeps us within a relevant orbit if design ideas embody a questionable pertinence. Also, we are always guided by our reading, research of the hour and the bank of previous enquiry. Very often reading takes on its own trajectory and it is surprising how often it can enhance the design imagination for current projects. Visiting galleries and craft studios also provide substance for thinking through problems in new ways and can help establish an aesthetic motif. Then we analyse, survey and interpret your property and location in relation to relevant information including, bird and creature habitat, sustainability, architecture, soil type, proposed uses and needs, noise abatement and so on. This is the intelligence gathering and processing phase. Slow food, ‘slow professor’², slow design – we want things done quickly, we expect it, we get impatient in fact with waiting for virtually anything. At Garden Studio our best ideas need time to germinate, time spent in nature, in the gallery, in conversation, in a book, just thinking. You, our clients, are best served if we follow this procedure, this order.

Sometimes our thinking, our personal logic, calls us to a different paradigm from the one which may prevail in the media, legislation or amongst friends, family and peers. Thinking for oneself, an attribute worth guarding, is not an easy pursuit and one in which disagreements in conversation may arise but discovering one’s personal identity and integrity, one’s order, is surely worth the travail. This is where the cool summer breezes are to be found, where trees give shade, shelter and definition to the mental landscape, where the plasma of the evening is felt most acutely. Order can be deep, elegant and pure!

Life is messy! If you are considering engaging a landscape/garden designer to help you make sense of your life, to help you in your desire for order, Garden Studio will listen to you, discern your needs and respond with imaginative, elegant and sensitive garden ideas. Let us introduce you to order in your garden, complexity and order!


²’The Slow Professor’, Maggie Berg & Barbara K. Seeber, University of Toronto Press 2016

An Australian Garden?

Art from the Warlayirti community of Balgo Hills WA was until recently hung in the corridor between the main body of the Art Gallery of South Australia and its restaurant/café. As we know, much of indigenous art tells a story. Further within the Gallery and adjacent to the Pissarro enclave is a work, on board, by Englishman Victor Pasmore – an esoteric mapping of landscape and music. I believe art works such as these, including the landscapes of Fred Williams, contribute significant insight into the ongoing evolution of an Australian character garden. Are we still curious about what might constitute an Australian garden? We may now, unlike 20 years ago, not consider the quest about how we see ourselves of much importance. Does the Australian landscape affect how you understand yourself? You may reflect as Tim Winton does in a recent memoir, ‘Island Home’ on what we, especially our children, have lost. Certainly, we can play around with ideas and through exploration propose concepts which may satisfy a conversation with foreigners or each other about identity, landscape and gardens.

In a residential sense, as in the bigger picture of landscape architecture, there are many factors which influence garden design: the physical; topography, soil, climate, view, waterways, biodiversity, sustainability, access, ergonomics and so on: the cultural; history, fashion, ancestry, civilization, arts, suffering, aspiration and: the ethereal; imagination, metaphor, storytelling as a start. Are you still with me? It is possible to make a garden which satisfies intellectually and emotionally but how much of what we do as designers just exposes our predilection for style?

I don’t know whether they still follow the ‘form follows function’ mantra in university design courses but one doesn’t have to ignore function to look beyond the literal translation of need – abstracting form as one example. And, isn’t it to do with the designer’s skill to interpret true need, ascertaining meaning in a client’s life not acquiescing to a predetermined model or arbitrary imagination? Would it not be possible where, prior to visiting the intended site for plotting and analysis, we might get to know our client away from their intensity of need? To spend time with them; conversations of enquiry, humour, empathy, vision and meaning and from which the designer might derive and create a piece of art, a map, a story reflecting something of the style of indigenous art – a framework – and onto which the more objective information can be superimposed and manipulated? Having a different language or medium such as art to express and discover ideas and concealed knowledge – a platform for intuition – may awaken the latent mysteries that reside within us all and which may be useful for penetrating the emotion of wonder – remember that? Most adventurous clients in conversation will provide stories, and the intensity of need will recede as the affection for the ‘stress of the contemporary’ gives way to self-discovery, revelation, love and adventure.

We might think of our isolation, iconic landforms, indigenous plants, biodiversity, heat, time/space realization, water scarcity or abundance and even the notion of ‘walkabout’ as essential components of an Australian garden. What I’m suggesting here is that we allow the ebb and flow of a meaningful, revelatory conversation with the client to determine how need is expressed, documented and satisfied. The history of civilization places us in a bigger arena than what our landscape can provide in any case wouldn’t you say? In other words, and it is my view, literal and abstract intentions as symbolic references to our landscape for creating an Australian character are not sufficient to communicate a full and edifying 21st century experience of residential garden. What do you think?

August 22nd, 2015

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