Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
December, 2007
Regional Report

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Temple University students let colors flow to music at Darrel Morrison's ecological landscape design workshop.

Let It Flow

In grade school an art teacher told us to draw while she played classical music. I was bewildered. It was easier to copy from the creative kids than sit wondering what I was supposed to draw.

Thanks to renowned landscape architect Darrel Morrison, I'm giving art another try -- creating a free-flowing garden design to music. A box of Nupastel color sticks and a roll of drawing paper await an afternoon of "going where the music takes me."

Early in November Morrison presented an ecological design workshop at Temple University's Department of Landscape Architecture and Horticulture (LAH). Soft-spoken, thoughtful Morrison is dean emeritus of the University of Georgia College of Environmental Design. The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is one of his projects. His raison d'etre is enriching landscape design through art form and science; his media: music, pastels, chalk, and paper.

Gardens tantalize our senses; we see, smell, touch, hear, and taste. Morrison's approach to ecological landscape design engages our senses through motion, emotions, and science. He practices "walking into" a landscape rather than just "looking."

Art in Action
At Temple's Ambler campus, we walked outside to a low-lying area adjacent to a woodland. How to redesign this landscape into an ecological, artful basin that will allow the water to slowly infiltrate surrounding soil? Stay with me; this really is fun!

In the design studio, Morrison started by placing the footprint of the space on the blackboard -- the engineering design with measurements, buildings, and topography. First the framework, then plant selection, Morrison explained. He turned on the music -- "Nessen Dorma" aria from Puccini's Turandot -- and stepped up to the blackboard. With chalk in hand, he was quickly in a groove, arms and body moving ... salmon, green, and yellow colors flowing onto paper. Green denoted sweeps of tree canopy, yellow represented sunlit open spaces of short prairie grasses, salmon evoked tall bluestem grasses.

"I like that aria because it's fluid like a river," said Morrison, eliciting space, pattern, and mass. "It got me moving in ways that I might not if I'd taken a rationale approach to this," he added.

We students took our turns at making three creations with pastel sticks on overlays to Puccini, Count Basie's "Boogie Woogie," and Smetana's "The Moldau."

"Just respond to the music, a kinesthetic response to the rhythm," said Morrison. "Pastel is a very good medium for that. It's very loose. Big wide swathes of color going down. Music is a great trigger at the concept stage. You can select your music to evoke form, to open other possibilities."

Any gardener can experience this, explained Mary Myers, LAH department chair. "Sit down on a wintry afternoon at a desk with a window overlooking your back or front yard." Spread out a brown paper bag and have chalk pastels or colored pencils handy. Turn on your favorite piece of music for about 3 to 10 minutes. "Fall into 'the zone', a reverie where hand works independently of mind. Concentrate on the music and the view. Then try another piece of music and concentrate on a specific aspect of the garden -- say, evergreen plants. The designs are timed very quickly so they will be spontaneous. Afterward you decipher which color stands for evergreen plants or a sweep of lawn."

Morrison often finds that his better designs come from overlaying two or three drawings. So relax. Try this approach and see what happens. You'll be delightfully surprised at the design ideas it inspires.

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