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Look to natural surroundings for aesthetics

Posted Tuesday, July 12, 2005 - 10:25 am

By Durant Ashmore

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It's time to consider transplanting plants, trees (11/22/05)
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From what source do we draw our sense of aesthetics? Is there some innate reason that certain landscape designs appeal to us or is this a learned behavior? (Did you know you were gong to be subjected to such a deep topic when you picked up the paper this morning?)

When I was in graduate school at the University of Georgia, I had the fortune to be a member of a very diverse group of students. There were students from the South, New England, the Midwest, China and Japan. The interchange between these cultures led to some interesting design discussions.

I was always interested in the designs the Oriental students produced. They were neat, crisp and clean. There was never any clutter. In some ways they were minimalists.

The design of a Japanese garden derives from the natural surrounding. For instance, a view of a mountain setting may provide the inspiration for the design. The design intent may be to replicate the view. This is usually done in a way that strips down the elements of the view into very basic representations. Only a few materials may be used, and these may consist of large rocks, small pebbles, sand and a few bonsai plants. The effect can be very subtle and intriguing.

The Midwestern students seemed to favor linear designs. They would design trees in rows and masses of plants in straight lines. Curvilinear design seemed to be foreign to them. The New England students were all over the page and their design philosophy does not warrant the cost of the printing ink used to describe it.

There were other design influences as well. The modern design approach was taught, as well as the post modern. The history of design from previous cultures (Italian, French, English, etc.) was emphasized heavily.

I tried them all. I hopelessly floundered through attempts at Japanese gardens. My biggest problem was that the gardens I was designing were in Northeast Georgia and had no relation at all to anything that ever occurred in Japan.

My Midwestern rectilinear designs were boring, and my post modern attempts were a mishmash that looked like they were designed by somebody from New England. Halfway through graduate school I chucked all efforts to try to emulate other styles and went back to my roots. My grades improved remarkably.

I was taught landscape design by Dent Sparkman, who is my brother-in-law. He and my sister, Ann, own Martin's Nursery. Dent and Ann are Clemson horticulture graduates, and in a 15-minute lesson Dent explained to me the basic principles of landscape design. Almost every design I have produced since then is based on that conversation.

From what source do we draw our sense of aesthetics? The Oriental philosophy draws its source from the natural surrounding. The Midwesterners used rectilinear designs. The plains are flat and linear. My Southern compatriots emphasized curved, lush plantings. All of these philosophies are derived from unique natural surroundings.

If you have doubts about this, you need to go fishing. I went fishing last Sunday and I was overwhelmed by the beauty of my surroundings.

I went fishing at a secret place in the mountains called Lake Oolenoy. It is at Table Rock State Park. It is only known by about 2,500 or so other people a year who go there. You can go there, too, but don't tell anyone. It's a secret.

Lake Oolenoy at dawn is the most pristine spot in the universe. When I was there the water was as smooth as glass. The reflection of the opposing shoreline was perfectly replicated in the water and this served to double the effect of the lush foliage of this natural setting.

Somehow I did not manage to catch a single fish. However, I did not come away disappointed. Going fishing was only my cover story for cruising around a choice spot.

The rhododendron, mountain laurel, sourwood, alder, woodland sunflowers and other natural flora invoked feelings of peace and serenity. This is beauty. This is the source of my sense of aesthetics. This is what we try to replicate in landscape design. It is a free flowing mass of lush vegetation. Lake Oolenoy is the inspiration of Piedmont landscape design.

I'll bet you have your own Lake Oolenoy. If you are from the coast, you like beach plants. If you are from Columbia, you like pine trees and centipede lawns and traditional Old South landscapes. Wherever you are from, you derive your sense of aesthetics from your natural surroundings.

Editor's note: Columnist Durant Ashmore, MLA, of Fountain Inn, is certified by the South Carolina Nursery Association. He can be reached at 243-3446 or

Wednesday, June 23  

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