In his talk at Plant-o-Rama, an annual event held at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden on January 29 of this year, Darrel Morrison credited environmental psychologists Stephen and Rachel Kaplan with defining the four attributes that make a preferred landscape: mystery, complexity, coherence, and legibility.
Morrison was saying nothing new in using these terms, but in the context of his talk, “Designing for Place: Merging Art and Ecology in Regional Landscapes,” these four qualities seemed to strike home as a useful mantra for anyone making a garden.
Mystery - what lies just around that corner, is there more to see, what is it, does the garden have an atmosphere of mystery, something hidden (lurking) beneath the surface?
Complexity - is there enough happening in the garden to keep my interest, is there more to be seen if I go back?
Coherence - are structure and form easily visible in the garden, do plantings echo and contrast with each other, does it all “hang together”?
Legibility - is it easy to find your way around the garden, are the plant groups as well as individual plants, easily seen in meaningful relationships or aesthetically meaningful shapes and distributions, are their forms and structures clearly discernable?
In my garden, complexity and legibility are in precarious balance. My challenge is to keep them that way.
Coherence? Yes. Repetition of shapes, narrative paths, garden unified by a distinctive site–a clearing in the woods–and by a design aligned with natural drainage patterns.