The Tale of Two Garden Photos

Clients often present me, as their  landscape designer, with carefully collected files of garden photographs culled from magazines and books that they want to share as inspiration for the design of their gardens.  I welcome their ideas since I believe in client+designer collaboration.  The problems begin when clients expect their gardens to ALWAYS look like the photographs they’ve collected.  There is a disconnect between these primped, coiffed and dressed glamazons and real gardens.

A garden photograph in a portfolio, book or magazine is often carefully staged, framed and cropped to depict a moment in time when that garden is at its magical best.   Time is fluid and so are gardens.  I have witnessed many a bloom added or deleted via PhotoShop to aid in creating an image of the perfect border in full and glorious bloom.  Anyone who has lived with a garden–even if they are not gardeners–knows that gardens have as many moments of perfection as they do ‘bad hair’ days.

Unless there’s a single distant or a  360 degree view to be captured, garden photographs also ignore everything that surrounds the perfect garden–it exists in a  bubble.  An extreme example of this would be the hundreds of pictures I have seen of urban gardens where the surrounding buildings are never included in the image. The shot of a rooftop terrace might show a glorious glimpse of skyline that can only be seen from high up on the ladder the photographer was standing on.  It’s as if that garden exists in some kind of bucolic time warp.   Here’s a simplified example of how a photograph can skew perception.

An exhuberant cottage garden
An exuberant cottage garden

Highly personal, this garden stops traffic.  It’s way over the top, totally appropriate to the house and a statement about the owner’s commitment to his/her garden. It exists in its own time and place.

Carefully controlled annual planting
Manicured and controlled annual planting

This garden is also a personal statement.  Red begonias and geraniums in pots make a bold summer statement that hints at the owner’s desire for order and simplicity in his/her garden.  Order reigns in this carefully controlled environment.

The full view not seen in the photos above
The full view not seen in the photos above

These two disparate gardens actually exist side by side.  I wonder if they’re good neighbors.

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9 thoughts on “The Tale of Two Garden Photos

  1. Love the contrasting gardens. And like you wonder how they exist as neighbors. I am the garden on the right, my old neighbors the one on the left. I used to smile at how they would trim/manicure their side of the border between the two yards – even though the edge was well within my property line. Heaven forbid a miscanthus plume leaned over the line!

  2. Thanks for reading Kim! I saw the two driving to a project and had always admired the cottage garden and stopped to take a photo…that’s when I saw the contrast. I hope they’re great neighbors.

  3. Great comment on the owners personalities. Goes to show there is a garden for everyone. For all we know, the cottage garden belongs to a very straight laced individual that gets their wild side out in their gardening. As always Susan, you make us think.

  4. Thanks Kathy. Boy that’s true–gardens often don’t really reflect their owner’s outward images. Mine does, it’s a mess.

  5. Although I adore garden magazines and the images therein there is always a piece of me that finds it all a bit “too perfect”.

    It is a shame that media images are going along the way of other celebrity inspired “lengthen my legs” shots. However, they do add to that aspirational feel.

    I always try to assume what garden owners are like from looking at their garden’s. With regards to the above images I would love to have a neighbour who was my polar opposite in regards to garden style, etc. I love and welcome diversity and you can’t beat a good debate/argument, especially if it’s garden related!

    Great post!


  6. Too true! Photos are distorting! And idealized! And magazines crop out EVERYTHING ( the phone lines in garden image #2 would have been photoshopped out – phone lines don’t exist in garden mags, just like light cords don’t exist in home design mags!)
    Even my photos of my own garden don’t tell the whole story. The camera collapses space, and because of that gardens always seem fuller than they really are. I can take a pic, it will look amazing, I take 2 steps to the left, snap away, and the resulting pic will show gaps and imperfections. Funny – we all have to be aware of the power of an image!
    Thanks for the great post, Susan!

  7. Thanks for the comment! So true about the overhead wires–I hadn’t thought of that–maybe I would have Photoshopped them out! I did crop the road out of both images!

  8. My garden “.. exists in its own time and place,” and is filled with ever expanding perennials – in the cottage garden vein! My next door neighbor’s roadside, sparsely planted pansies are being over run by my very excitable sweet peas. In contrast, my father loved his geraniums and begonias, and every year filled his garden with annuals….

  9. There is room for every style of garden for sure! I thought it was interesting to explore the photo idea using these two images since there was such an extreme contrast.

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