August 8, 2010

Negative Space

When I began landscaping our yard, it was so devoid of features, that all I could think of was how to fill it up.  I cut gardens, added trees, arranged plants en masse, jumbled perennials together, thinking all the time of screening, blocking, filling and grouping.

What I did not take into account was the use of negative space.  The eye needs a momentary rest as it looks over all the greenery and blooms presenting themselves to be admired.

There, beyond where the chairs are, leading into the woods, is a negative space that pulls your view from my yard and gardens and plants to an undefined space, dark and receding in the distance:
The empty area at the edge of the yard where the chairs are now would be perfect for the garden shed I lust for.  Something like this that I saw at the Berkshire Botanical Garden, don't you think?  Oh yes.
But that break in the "horizon" of my yard's perimeter is the only negative space there, even in early spring as shown below before the perimeter and foreground fills in.  With all the busy plantings around the yard, there's a sense of rest in the dark shadow of the woods.  A garden shed would fill that up.

Even in microcosm, the absence of plants is necessary.  Here I have jumbled lots of plants together, but the hint of an empty space in the little stone walk winding through the garden is necessary.

Nature creates her own negative space, as she did in the wild meadow in back of our lot:
Instead of a wall of woods, all trees and greenery, she has tilted the woodland scene so that the clump disappears to the right, into a receding negative space.

Negative space isn't always a dark shadow in deep distance.  Sometimes it's the opposite: a sunny empty spot beyond the shade.

The bluestone walk along the west side of the house bends to the right, and the view of a big maple sits there in the sunny middle distance.  I want to frame this to more explicitly lead to the negative void where the walk seems to disappear.  There is a young paperbark maple next to the blue globe spruce, and slightly beyond that I have a baby Stewartia that will become part of the vertical frame on that left side, but right now it's only 4 feet high and skinny.
It won't be an allee.  The space is too short, and I have a shrub and tree layer working along the edges.  But I do want the effect of "entering" the walk, framed by trees and shrubs, then being "enclosed" by it, and finally seeing the "end" of it as a negative spot before taking in the mass of the maple.  That maple will eventually get huge, and it gets stunningly red in Fall.  I just need the trees along the walk to grow in, arch over, shade the area, and then let the visitor wander down the lane to the empty spot of sunshine beyond, surprised by what lies ahead.

I have such plans.


  1. A lot of my garden has that enclosed feel. I like feeling wrapped up in the garden. You definitely need a shed. I know it would be cute and be functional. A great destination in the garden.

  2. Lovely. I especially admire your vision for the walk with the sunny spot and maple at its end. How stunning it will be in fall!

  3. Lisa, thanks for the encouragement on the shed... I'm still considering it.

    Meredith, thanks, I'll have to post as time goes on and the maple turns red.


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