As the Field Art and Horticulture Representative for Lifescapes International, I get excited about aspects of the job that perhaps not everyone welcomes with the same enthusiasm.
I often come home and share photos or videos of large trees I witnessed being lifted hundreds of feet in the air by a tower crane. Pretty cool!
Sure, my family and friends tolerate my fervor, and I certainly appreciate that —but they can’t always be that excited when I break out pictures on my phone and say, “Look at this 72’’ boxed Oak tree being hoisted by a crane!”
To explain, I have been a plant geek for more than 40 years. Plants and trees, in some way or another, have been at the heart of my profession, and truly are my passion. They are so ingrained in me, that whether for work or just in my day-to-day life, I always notice the landscape around me. While shopping, I stop to appreciate the textures of a mature Aloe Bainesii. Walking through a neighborhood, I enjoy the shade cast by a beautiful old Quercus. A drive down the street is made more dramatic by the sculptural rows of mature Platanus trees.
And like most everyone else in this world, I also have an appreciation for music. My interest in it grew through high school, where I played the trombone in band and orchestra. While on a recent driving adventure going from nursery to nursery in Oklahoma, I was listening to a local classical music station and began to see the parallels between the art of music and the art of landscape composition. I never realized how my two passions were so related!
It starts with the composer, which would metaphorically be one of the talented landscape designers I work with at Lifescapes. From there, musical arrangers get involved, which would be our project managers. The piece is then performed and guided, perhaps by conductor Gustavo Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, or in the case of the landscape design, me overseeing the contractors. I tag trees at nurseries, approve photos of plant material for each project, visit the site to manage and confirm tree locations, physically lay out the shrubs, and ensure the arrangement is carried out with the highest quality.
Our Vice President of Design and Horticulture, Roger Voettiner, even alludes to music often when he asks about a finished layout, “How is the composition looking?”
And, it takes a team of people to pull off the performance! The players are an integral part of the composition. . . the musical instruments in a symphony are the trees, shrubs, flowers, water, and walkways in a landscape. Each element has its place, and the performance would suffer if any one wasn’t there or wasn’t in perfect harmony.
When I think of the landscape as music, the string bass lines are the large trees, the cellos and lower brass are your medium trees or hedges, that are softening that bare white wall.
Next comes the woodwinds (the oboes and bassoons, flutes, and clarinets), the violas, perhaps the percussion, which are the foundation players or plantings, like the Boxwood hedge, or the low to mid-story Agave Desmettiana.
Then, the melody instruments come into play. The violins, perhaps the trumpets, come across as the ground cover Roses, the Abelia Kaleidoscope, or the meandering pattern of Chrysanthemums or annual color.
When the composition calls for the soloists, they deliver, with the intention of success. It must make an impact, be a showstopper. Itzhak Perlman or Yo-Yo Ma come to mind, as do a choreographed dancing waters show, or a fire plume rising out of the water. It may be a million-dollar sculpture, a garden art piece, or an exquisite sculptural tree that we had to search far and wide to find.
Similarly, improvisation may come into play, perhaps a Miles Davis or John Coltrane solo, or a large specimen Palm tree that is procured at a moment’s notice to fill an unforeseen void in the landscape.
I hope you are getting a picture in your mind, how we see a design unfold as we create it.
So the next time you’re relaxing at a destination resort, shopping at your favorite outdoor mall, or taking in the vistas on a stroll through a park, enjoy the music, as you “listen” to the symphony that is the garden.