Tuesday Opinion: Rhythm

Someday I will  plant a giant circle of deciduous trees.  Or a square. or a rectangle, or an irregularly shaped enclosure of trees.  Most of the trunks will be too close together.  There may be one entrance, which is also an exit.  There may be an entrance and a separate exit.  There may be one entrance, and several exits. There may be one entrance on axis, and other oblique entrances. No matter the shape, the canopies of the trees will create a tent.  Inside the tent, there will be a bench, or a collection of benches.  The garden on the outside of the tree tent will be inviting and friendly.  The inside of the tree tent will be plain.  Just grass, and a place to sit.  I would visit the tree tent every day, every season, year round.  Maybe very early, before work.  Maybe late in the day, after work.  Maybe more than twice a day.   Why would I want such a garden? A daily garden?  For the sake of rhythm.

Like most gardeners, I am tuned into my garden at specific times of the year.  The first signs of spring.  The spring trees blooming.  The planting of the spring-and the summer pots.  The roses coming on.  The late summer garden.  The fall, and finally the winter.  These moments are an intense experience.  The hellebores in full bloom make me feel dizzy, my focus is that intense.  Other times, I barely notice what is in front of my eyes.  I have this issue to attend to, or that.  The delphiniums may be sending up a strong second flush that I barely acknowledge.   Up and down-that would be me in the garden.  Miss topsy-turvy.  Would that I could be more consistent and less scattered.

On and off is not my favorite place to be.  A lengthy “on period” means I can establish a rhythm.  It is not so tough to imagine this.  In simple terms, practice makes perfect.  Those times when I am focused on the garden, day to day, my garden benefits.  The 2 months I spend planting summer pots-I am quite sure the last of those pots are the best.  Once I have gotten into a rhythm, there is flow.  I stop thinking about what to do, and just do.  Stating and stopping and starting up again in the garden shows.  A design may appear disjointed, or fragmented.  Or even worse, careless.

A regular rhythm is like a pulse, like a heart that beats regularly.  Repetition sets the stage for a rhythmic expression.  The big idea here-anything you attend to, or practice every day establishes a rhythm.  Once you have a rhythm going on, a beautiful expression is not far behind.

As for my tree tent-I imagine it as a place to recapture that sense of rhythm.  A place that can store momentum.  Of course the tree tent is an idea that could exist only in my imagination.  Maybe the real solution is to figure out how to keep the door to imagination propped open.  Today I have a large Christmas tree to decorate. It is a project I have not done before. I have assembled a collection of materials-they will be looking at me.  And my crew will be looking at me. I am sure I will be trying out different arrangements, stopping and starting, until that certain state of mind that I call rhythm gets switched on.




  1. Thank you for helping me understand what I have been feeling lately. I need to find my rhythm again. Bless you!

  2. Thanks for one of the most evocative and inspiring essays I’ve read.

    Everyone needs a place to sit and think. A healing place that relaxes the body, soothes the mind and nurtures the soul.

    When I opened this post, I first thought, “Rats! No photos.”
    And then I read — and re-read — and re-read — the posting over two days.
    I can’t begin to tell you all the ideas that are now whirling around in my head of where I could create a contemplative space in my own little desert garden.
    The images you conjure with words are more than anything that could be captured through the lens of a camera. Nikon et al should be so lucky.

    Thank you, Deborah.

    • Dear Terry, sometimes that place to sit and contemplate is not a real place. On a good day, it can be a state of mind. Thanks for writing, Deborah

  3. I just love the picture you created! I’m glad I don’t have to wait to find that rythm though.

    We have huge century oaks in our yard where the ends of the branches grow down to the ground. Years ago we hung one little swing for our 6yr old on one branch. As the seasons passed it has been such a beautiful space & a wonderful place to play & hide. You really can’t see who is under the tree in the summer time.

    I have a friend who shares stories of playing under her grandmother’s huge lilac. It was so big & old the center was hollow & the plant had sprouted new buses in a circle around where the old had been leaving a great little hiding place for little people. I always give her lilacs in the spring so she remembers those special times.

    My favorite spot is at the very end point of our land on a lake. My husband made a little bench out of scrap lumber & I sit there at least once a week but almost every day through the in the cold & snow. I love the quiet stillness of it.

    Beautiful post.

    • Dear Jen, I am pleased to read your letter. Just a moment ago Milo came in from outside, with an oak leaf struck on his fur. There are no oaks in my garden-I do not even know any oak trees on my block. My take? Good stories and ideas blow around, and can end up on my doorstep. Your stories are good ones. Your oaks must be so grand. Thanks, Deborah

  4. Very well said Deborah….I really enjoy your posts….

    • Dear Shelley, I almost deleted this post before I published it. Your letter makes me glad that I didn’t. Thanks, Deborah

  5. Starr Foster says

    Your tree tent sounds peaceful and serene. Maybe sugar maples? I look forward to seeing your Christmas tree!

    • Dear Starr, sugar maples would be good. So would katsuras, or yellowwoods. So many choices! The tree was sparkly and glowing. My client’s children had lots of oohs and ahs. No pictures of this project- sometimes the experience of the work is all there is. It took 5 of us the entire day to put on lights and trim the tree. It was a good feeling-a busy day, with a sense of accomplishment. Thanks, Deborah

  6. Rhythm and repetition are two of the basic design elements I discuss in my first book, Understanding Garden Design. So important to design as you suggest, and to life and creativity. When I visited Provence some years ago, I recall the squares of plane trees planted to create shade. With gravel at their feet, seating for comfort, and an interwoven canopy, it was a respite from the hot sun overhead. And magical.

    • Dear Vanessa, as you suggest, maybe the making of a magical moment requires some interweaving, and a certain respite. Thanks for writing, Deborah

  7. Frances Hazell says

    Beautifully stated. Thank you.

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