Years ago, I stood in the Japanese strolling garden at Butchart Gardens in Victoria, British Columbia, and realized that I wanted to pursue horticulture.
My background had been in the visual arts so perhaps it was not so surprising that I would shift to another form of visual expression. But garden design is so much more than that because it is a living and shifting art. Plus it is linked to the natural world in a mysterious way.
Since it was so long ago I have no images to share with you but the effect was immediate. Unlike the rest of Butchart Garden, where colour and manicured shape is celebrated, the Japanese garden appeared entirely natural. Of course I know now it was not; the expansive moss carpet, the impeccably pruned trees, the carefully placed stepping stones and the views — all of these were unquestionably contrived yet still seemed effortless.
As a result, the visitor becomes instantly relaxed. In those early days, I wasn’t aware of the vision, planning, hard work and regular maintenance this garden required. But, of course, that’s surely the point. I was smitten.
This picture is perhaps the best approximation of my experience then. It was taken some years later at the UBC Botanic Garden in Vancouver, but shows the dichotomy between nature and design. How far does one overlap the other? And what ends up being serendipity?
From then on, I knew I wanted to be around environments like these and the plants that belonged in them. I wanted to make gardens, especially if they could end up looking like this one!