Ramblings of a "New American" Gardener

A review of Dreamscapes: Inspiration and beauty in gardens near and far, by Claire Takacs

July 31, 2018

 

All images © Claire Takacs/Hardie Grant

 

Claire Takacs’ Dreamscapes: Inspiration and Beauty in Gardens Near and Far is a welcome addition to the canon of photographic garden books. This book of notable gardens, some very well known, some less so, is far more than another pretty coffee table book. Takacs (pronounced “Ta-kahsh” with a long “a” and accent on the second syllable) values light above all else, and she shoots her images in the light of early morning and at the end of day, in fog and mist, or in other singular lighting conditions. Her techniques create images that are gripping and compelling. (Her work is frequently seen in the best garden magazines.) As this new book shows, Takacs gives us a new way of seeing gardens.

The long reflecting pool at Stonefields, Paul Bangay’s stellar home garden in Victoria, Australia. Using the first rays of morning light, Takacs captures the linearity of the pool, leading the eye straight out into the distant landscape, in an image very typical of her work. The dark sides of the topiary and shadowed area at the near end of the pool create a mysterious, almost transcendental quietude.

Takacs’ unique perspective makes looking through her book a tireless adventure, even after multiple viewings, and its generosity of spirit gives you plenty to see and think on. You’ll always find something you missed. The book is a valuable resource for designers, garden aficionados, or simply anyone with an interest in gardens. I’ve read reviews that see a message in the book about naturalistic gardens, but I’m hard put to decipher one myself–other than delight in exploration of design, plants, lighting, moods, space, in fact any of the innumerable elements that can go into the making of a garden.

The Supertrees in Singapore’s Garden by the Sea seem designed for the purpose of making striking photographs, but Takacs takes an atypical approach, shooting the immense towers from down low, capturing low side-lighting with dark shadows and using this unusual perspective to create an otherworldly effect that suggests a primeval nature contrasting with the modernity of the soaring skywalk.

Takacs presents gardens in a new light. Her photographs of two extremely famous gardens–for example, Piet Oudolf’s Hummelo in The Netherlands and Le Jardin Plume in Normandy–show her unique approach. Takacs concentrates on the play of early morning and late-day light in the gardens she photographs. And this technique often brings out an entirely new feeling, so that gardens we are used to seeing endlessly photographed almost look like different gardens. Take this photograph of Piet Oudolf’s Hummelo, for example.

This image of Piet Oudolf’s home garden Hummelo, by hiding the details of the plantings in shadow and emphasizing the agricultural landscape in which it resides, suggests a hidden, magical world by, strangely, preventing us from seeing detail. It’s a stunning image and one completely unlike any other I’ve seen of this garden.

Takacs aims for a feeling, and a new understanding, of an extraordinarily well known garden. Whereas most photographs of an Oudolf garden give close attention to the structures, textures, and colors of individual perennials and perennial masses, Takacs presents an overall mood, indeed a moodiness, that shows the garden in an entirely new way. Most importantly, she presents the garden as a part of a larger landscape.

This photograph is unlike any other I’ve seen of this extraordinarily well known garden–in fact, a garden that has become a virtual “requirement” for anyone with an interest in Oudolf and the New Perennial style. Takacs, by catching the surrounding agricultural fields in the morning light and throwing the garden proper into shade, behind a great camel-backed hedge, makes context the most important element in the image. I find this photograph extremely provocative, and it makes me think of Oudolf’s work in new ways.

Similarly, her photographs of Patrick and Sylvie Quibel’s Le Jardin Plume in Normandy glorify the light of the sun …

Capturing Le Jardin Plume in this moody way imparts a sense of mystery and melancholy, even abandonment, that is extraordinarily different from the images one usually sees of this garden. She shows the reader of her book how to see beyond mere prettiness.

… while thrusting the viewer’s eye down to the hard, brick paving and out toward the landscape, deemphasizing planting detail, a detail that is by far the most well known and recognized aspect of this garden. Landscape, atmospheric effects, mood are Takacs’ hallmarks, and she gives us a new way of seeing gardens we’ve become familiar with—or think we have.

Or take this garden by Fernando Martos in Spain. She beautifully captures mood in the sidelighting of the trees, the spots of light and dark in the meadowish planting, contrasting it with the dark plain of the background trees.

Dividing my time between my garden in far western New Jersey and city life in Brooklyn, it’s hard to know what individual garden makers are up to around the world. Sure, I read the garden magazines, socialize in an Internet way via Facebook and Instagram, attend conferences, follow blogs. I know the trends—the loose, herbaceous perennial nebulae and galaxies of gardens in the meadowish style, along with the tremendous influence of Piet Oudolf both on design and plant selection across much of the world, the more traditional Anglophile traditions of Rousham and Sissinghurst and Great Dixter and other icons of gardening, the rigid symmetries of Versailles and the Italian Renaissance gardens, the Char Bag gardens of India and paradise gardens of Iran, and the gardens of Asia, particularly Japan.

Bryan’s Ground, the work of David Wheeler and Simon Dorrell, well known among the garden cognoscenti, is worthy of much wider recognition outside the UK and Anglocentric gardening worlds.

But beyond all this are innumerable lesser known and unknown gardens—at least to the general public. Many gardens that I, for example, have failed to find, even when traveling with an eye to seeing gardens.

Cambo Estate, the work of head gardener Elliot Forsyth, is a Scottish garden well known to dedicated members of the gardening world, but unfortunately quite unknown to the general public. By featuring it in her book, Takacs may bring more widespread recognition to one of the outstanding gardens in the UK.

So much depends on chance contacts, a bit read here or there, the word of a person one trusts, access to local knowledge. So Claire Takacs’ new book is a welcome addition, providing a useful resource for those seeking new gardens to visit.

Hermannshof in Germany, an important garden in the history of the naturalistic garden of the 2oth and 21st centuries, is here shown in a highly creative “re-visioning” of the formal, annual border, reworked and “exploded” into a vision of almost kitsch, tongue-in-cheek glory. Famous within the community of garden designers for the innovative work of director Cassian Schmidt, Hermannshof is virtually unknown among the general public outside Germany.

Though based in Australia, Takacs travels the world every year seeking out the best subjects for her photography.

Wave Hill, owned by the City of New York, is a garden gem, one known by a small group of gardening cognoscenti, but mostly by locals. This garden was originally the work of Marco Polo Stufano, who retired in 2001, and is now being carried forward by Louis Bauer, the current director of horticulture.

She asks about gardens, seeks them out, and uses her highly personal techniques to make extraordinary photographs. Wave Hill (above) is one such garden I suggested she add to her list when she was on a photography trip to the Northeast US several years ago. She has many sources and is constantly planning visits to photograph gardens throughout the world from her home base in Melbourne, Australia.

Takacs’ new book is a valuable guide to those seeking gardens to visit, and a stunning book of photographic documentation worth a thorough study. I recommend it to you.

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In the interest of being totally candid, my garden is in this book (and is certainly one of the lesser known gardens in it).

 

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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Pam/Digging July 31, 2018 at 12:05 pm

What an enticing and thoughtful review. I’ve had Claire’s book sitting in my to-read/review pile for a few months, and I’ve just moved it to the top. She has a remarkable talent for seeing gardens in a new way.

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James Golden July 31, 2018 at 7:49 pm

Thank you, Pam. Yes, Claire Takacs has a remarkable talent, as you say.

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Lynda HARRIS July 31, 2018 at 3:31 pm

Hi James,
What wonderful photographs, thanks for bringing this book to my attention.
Best wishes,
Lynda

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James Golden July 31, 2018 at 7:51 pm

Thanks, Lynda. Great to hear from you. Perhaps I’ll get to Paris and we’ll meet in person some day!

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Lynn July 31, 2018 at 6:43 pm

Beautiful work, a garden photographer who truly captures the light above all else. Thank you for sharing her work.

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James Golden July 31, 2018 at 7:53 pm

Thank you, Lynn.

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Chris Farnam July 31, 2018 at 9:49 pm

Hello James;
I’ve been fascinated by your blog since discovering it via the nytimes. Just a few hours before this post, I had developed an interest in this book from the short review in the latest issue of The American Gardener. Thanks for giving me a more complete picture. I look forward to buying it.

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James Golden August 1, 2018 at 8:37 am

Thanks, Chris. I haven’t seen the review in The American Gardener. Now I’ll look for it.

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Peggy Lutz August 1, 2018 at 9:02 am

Dearest James, I’ll return to this review again and again and search out the book. What an illuminating pleasure, xoxo Peg

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James Golden August 1, 2018 at 11:31 am

Thanks, Peggy. I hope you’re out of the way of the fires in California.

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Diana Studer August 9, 2018 at 7:07 am

Not garden related, but I have been fascinated by the way an artist captures light.
Daily posts on Google Plus by digital artist Pascal Campion.

As someone commented – plane trees, my Provence!
https://plus.google.com/u/1/100586853964716109844/posts/35LnKWd7ZJY

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James Golden August 9, 2018 at 8:14 pm

I posted a similar image on Instagram today. A shot out into the garden at noon on a bright day, taken from the shade of large Plane trees.

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Catharine Howard August 9, 2018 at 8:41 pm

Dear Federal Twist – it could almost be that I could let Takacs do the travelling for me as the images you have shown us are pure art. I really take your point about the Hummelo garden. On visiting a year or two back, Anja was insistent that we should slow down, drink in the spirit of the place. Part of the charm is the way the garden is embedded in a remorselessly small scale agricultural hinterland. Takacs shot encompasses that. Bring on the lesser known gardens too. I definitely aspire to own a copy of this wonderful collection of photographs. Thank you for your post.

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