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The Best of Both Worlds, part 2: Intensity and Openness

Living in France, I learned to appreciate the intense European style of claiming one's space, creating beauty in every inch. On returning, I was glad to be back where the view down our street shows an inviting expanse of yards opening one into the next: a neighborhood.

In my garden, I wanted both. But I knew it needed careful attention to how the energy moved in the total design. Or else intensity could become busy-ness, even chaos.

Too much openness, I had already. The land slopes down five feet from the front door to the street, and the house is L-shaped, with the “missing corner” facing the street. There was no town sidewalk, and no curb. Energy seemed to run right out of the house, fall down the slope, and dissipate in the street. The effect on passersby was like a sleeping spell: no one would notice anything planted in that feng shui.

Horizontal fieldstone terraces created a sense of stability, so flowerbeds could soak up the escaping energy and give pause to the eye. The first terrace, only one rock tall, separated a bare parking strip along the front from new grass. (I decided against the expense of real curbing.) I would have liked a sidewalk, but tree roots stymied me. Still I started the second terrace just past where one would be, marking the limit of the public space.

Dividing the hill into three terraces instead of one, I tried to avoid smothering the roots of the maple on the hill. But the lower rises also led the eye inward gradually, instead of creating one forbidding barrier. I wanted to divide the public from the private space — but subtly: so that I could play with the boundary, inviting people to look in, sharing beauty with them.

Similarly I broke the expanse of the terraces across the front with a wide, welcoming path to the house. For steps up the slope, I found huge slabs of old granite, matching the foundation. Flat rocks with rounded edges — originally from stream beds — gave Ward and me a puzzle we worked on for months, fitting together a path that would make simply walking up to the house, a celebration.

The foundation plantings, the hedgerow, the service path to the mailbox — everything required attention to this dance between defining the space, and inviting a healthy flow of energy. That proper circulation, in turn, would enable intensity to give delight at every turn.

© Copyright 2005 Catherine Holmes Clark

Published in the six Nashoba Publications papers on Friday, 11 February 2005

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