Monday, January 15, 2024

Looking closer, with David Culp

After my September visit to David Culp's garden (during the Garden Fling in the Philadelphia area), I watched his webinar "Holidays in (& out) of the Garden—with David Culp" from Garden Design and then decided to check out his book, a year at Brandywine Cottage

There were a few things that stood out to me, both from the talk and in the book, today I want to write about two of them. The first is a philosophy: "One directive that I repeat often throughout this book is Look closer! God is in the detail, according to the old saying, and the same may be said of our gardens: full enjoyment comes from looking at everything more closely, from seeking out the details that enrich the big picture." writes David in the book.

There is something about another person telling you to do something—even if it’s something you already do—that makes it more permissible. I’m not wasting time I’m looking closer! I do this, as often as I can. It makes my heart swell with happiness. Here's a sampling of "looking closer" from just one afternoon last month (that's an important point, last month, when our weather was mild—we're currently in the midst of a deep damaging freeze and the garden does not look like this!)...
Mahonia x media 'Marvel' foliage caught in a bloom spike  

Lobaria pulmonaria (a large epiphytic lichen) on a fallen branch I hauled home

Saxifraga × urbium ‘Aureopunctata’ with invading back mondo grass 

Pyrrosia mounted on a pizza screen hanging on my fence

Black fruit of Disporum longistylum ’Night Heron'

Red petioles of Daphniphyllum macropodum

Mahonia fortunei foliage

Mahonia fortunei fruit

Shelf fungus that appeared on a stump we hauled home from the beach. I am thrilled!

Pyrrosia lingua and Epimedium x rubrum with fallen Stachyurus salicifolius leaves

Curled, dried foliage of Aesculus hippocastanum 'Laciniata'

Variegated aspidistra (cast iron plant)

I also found inspiration in the fact David doesn't let a little thing like winter get in the way of enjoying his garden: "The changing of the seasons gives us so many more reasons to enjoy the garden. If the seasons were all the same, we would have nothing to look forward to, and perhaps no sense of urgency to enjoy them as much." (of course the winter that's currently taken over my garden does get in the way of enjoying. There will be no joy until we're above freezing again)

The second thing I learned in my deep-dive into David's way of seeing and being in the garden; taborets! What is a taboret you ask? Well in the purest sense of the word it's a low stool or small table, but David expands on that. From the book: "Still-life arrangements of fruit, flowers, vegetables, and other inanimate objects have figured in Western art for hundreds of years. Like most people, I thought of them as conceits for paintings, or for arrangements indoors. But then I thought, why not use them outdoors? I became convinced still-lifes could play an important role in the garden..." David goes on to explain the design of his taborets (tables) was influenced by images of miniature Shinto alters. They're built of natural stone with no mortar, the stones are balanced. Now this photo I snapped in David's garden makes perfect sense! When I came across it while working on my original blog post (on his garden) I was confused...

Here's another of David's taborets, in screen-shot from the Garden Design webinar...

The way David uses the word taboret brought to mind another word, tableau. Tableau (noun): a striking or artistic grouping; an arrangement, a scene. 

I've been writing and giving talks about garden vignettes, and now I can add taboret and tableau to the mix—as a they are really another type of vignette. 

As is often the case, this new way of thinking had my mind working overtime. I suddenly needed a small table in the garden, something that could stay outdoors all year round, because if David can create year-round taborets in Zone 7, then I can certainly do the same here in my garden. As luck would have it I had something in mind. I'd seen this hunk of cement at a salvage shop, and somehow managed to leave it behind. Thankfully when I went back it was still there! Here it is loaded into the back of my car...

And now it's in my garden. This was my first taboret display, back at the end of November: Citrus trifoliata fruit from my shrub, combined with a few extra-small leaves from the Magnolia macrophylla, brass nozzle fittings I'd dug up in the garden over the years, and an odd trowel I brought home from my dad's garden shed.

The squirrels ate on the oranges (David expects critters to enjoy his taboret ingredients), the leaves eventually blew away, and the trowel fell over—so a modified version retained only the nozzles but with the addition of three leucospermum stems I laid here, rather than toss in the yard waste bin (and yes, these same stems ended up coming back into the house and were included in the wreath I shared photos of last week).

Another version in late December included a hand-cast stone vase from Claire at apotspot.

The vase is a good place to tuck in leaves and things moving around the garden. The green leaves are bits of an epimedium that the wind broke off, in front is a Quercus dentata 'Pinnatifida' leaf.

There is also a loquat leaf, and the dried fertile fronds from Blechnum spicant/Struthiopteris spicant, aka deer fern.

In front of the table is a chipped cement-fiber flower I picked up for a dollar at another salvage shop—moss hides the chip. 

Because when I'm in, I'm in deep, I also have a basket taboret going by the back door.

This cool wire laundry basket was a gift from Patricia and I'm thrilled to finally be using it! It's been a sort of catch-all for things I pick up when I'm out on a walk, eucalyptus stems that were too pretty to toss even though they're crispy dry, and a metal pinecone. 

I do love an excuse to put together more still-life displays, thank you David for sharing your creative ways! Also, I whole-heartedly recommend reading a year at Brandywine Cottage.

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  1. I really love this post. I think my heart rate lowered just reading "look closer". At first when you were explaing the taborets, my initial reaction was "not for me". But I quickly changed tune, it feels like a lovely offering without knowing the story of the collection. I am on the lookout for my own taboret! How fun, and I hope that the freeze breaks soon. *That Mahonia 'marvel' is pure sunshine.

    1. Pure sunshine is a great descriptor! Yesterday we had a clear sky and the sunshine (while cold) was lovely. I hope you do find your own taboret and write about it!

  2. I've always considered you a master of details with many of your designs, Loree. Your own garden invites people to slow down and examine the intricacies of its construction. The same is true of your wonderful mantelscapes. I like the idea of taborets/tableaus too.

  3. This is a good and reaffirming post.
    I wonder if one can have 'taborets' without the actual taborets. I've been collecting nature's debris and re-staging it for sometimes now. Lichen covered branches, cones, mossy bits, rocks and pebbles... anything that catches my eye (and I can't toss into the compost bin), may extend its life as part of a small composition elsewhere in the garden, till mother nature takes it back.
    That "hunk of cement" is an awesome find! I love it and how you use it.

    1. Oh yes, I believe that one can! You probably noticed, but a benefit of that hunk of cement is that with it being hollow I can use it in other ways too...

  4. David's comments about slowing down and observing in the garden are especially good in the winter months. You see things that normally you would overlook such as the moss and lichens on your branches. I noticed the delicate seed heads of Coreopsis tripteris on the way to the compost pile the other day. Tiny and delicate. Lifted my spirits on a very cold day. With your creative bent I can see all sorts of interesting taborets popping up throughout your garden.

    1. I'm hoping I can embrace small details and continue to have the garden lift my spirits over the coming weeks. I am going to have to remember to look closely and not get overwhelmed by plant death.

  5. I think I want to go shopping with you! You find the most wonderful things.

    1. And sometimes leave them behind! I'm so glad I got a second chance.

  6. Nice to get validation for our personal impulses --- and a new word! And I don't see why taborets can't be a little taller too, slightly morphing into plinths maybe? And that laundry basket is gold!

  7. You find the coolest things, my favorite being that square cement piece. The Laciniata horsechestnut made a lovely picture.


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