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Home About David Slawson Garden Gallery Design Philosophy Publications Project Gallery Evoking Natural Patterns 

"Recollecting the subtle seasonal moods of our native landscape, re-create with a quiet, graceful charm those moods that speak to you in your innermost heart."

--Illustrations for Designing Mountain, Water, and Hillside Field Landscapes, by Zoen, translated by David Slawson in Secret Teachings in the Art of Japanese Gardens



My passion is to create landscape gardens that evoke the beauty of the natural world, in ways that are responsive to the nature of the site, the client, and locally available materials. I call these three sources of information and inspiration the Accord Triangle. Like my teacher, Kinsaku Nakane, under whom I apprenticed, I like to think of what I do as creating landscape paintings in three dimensions. The choice of what sort of landscape I ďpaintĒ in any given design situation comes out of my response to these three sources:

  • human nature, including the clientís special desires for the landscape design.
  • site, including architecture and surrounding views.
  • regional scenic beauty and locally available materials such as rocks and plants.

When these three sources are drawn upon, every garden feels like a natural outgrowth of its setting and is unique without intending to be. Each garden evokes its own sense of tranquility and delight, and has a positive impact on the human spirit and body.

Any landscape that entices may serve as inspiration for the garden, so long as it accords with the site and surroundings, our human nature, and regionally available materials. I employ timeless design principles that resonate in human perception, and select and place rocks and plants to evoke the beauty of their natural habitats.



Some of the special qualities of David Slawson's gardens that set them apart:

        They seem so natural, like theyíve always been there.

        Beautifully balanced asymmetrical composition emulating natural patterns.

        Two-dimensional artist's spatial techniques used to enhance illusion of depth.

        Intrinsic composition (not ornaments or gimmicks) invites us in.

        Visual flow moves along diagonals on a zigzag journey into the garden space, not in straight "sight lines" characteristic of formal symmetrical gardens.

        Inspired by the special beauty of regional landscape.

        Design from the inside out (response to context, e.g., nature of site, client, local materials) rather than imposed.

        Use of timeless design principles (e.g., proportion, scale, 3 forces, S-curve) that give comfort and elevate mood.

        The garden is a landscape composition much like a painting, not a collection or display of rocks and plants.


David Slawson's DESIGN PROCESS

Initial Consultation & Site Visit:  My design process begins with the client consultation and site visit to ascertain the nature and scope of the project. I also visit the region's special places of scenic beauty, and seek out sources of rocks and plants. These sources provide the inspiration for my design. My initial visit, depending on the size of the project, may last 2 hours or 1-2 days, depending on the size of the project. For gardens with water features, I will work with you to select a top-rate pool engineer and contractor. I work closely with members of the team to find the most elegant solutions for all aspects of design and construction.


Your favorite landscapes:  Whether you're hiring a professional landscape artist or creating a garden yourself, the first step is to ask yourself, "What kind of garden experience do I want and how would I like to enjoy it?--by viewing from inside my house, strolling, sitting in an outdoor pavilion, or a combination of these?" To get at the first question, think back on "What kind of landscape do I respond to deep in my heart?--one where I feel totally transported, free from stress, and at one with a special world of natural beauty." Gather photo images, sketches, sound recordings if you are auditory--any landscape experiences that have triggered feelings of exhilaration and peace. These might be from family outings, nature photography magazines and books, trips to national parks, art museums, and gardens.

As your garden artist, my job is to find inspired ways to maximize the assets and transform the liabilities of your site, and to create a seamless transition between the architecture, garden, and site. We'll look at local sources of rocks and plants. Then I'll discuss with you ways of bringing your garden dream to fruition.

Drawings and On-Site Direction:  My primary creative role is serving as artistic director during the construction process. My role as landscape artist includes making drawings, the primary purpose of which is to convey my design concept. The drawings are not intended as blueprints for building the garden in the manner of architectural drawings. The only exceptions are construction drawings (say, for a viewing shelter) and the Plan View, which can be useful for rough layout and estimating amounts of materials.



Selection of Rocks:  Prior to actual construction, I return to select rocks. I usually hand pick them, but when the quantity is large I may specify the general sizes and character of the rocks I want and have the supplier bring them to the site. Upon delivery, the rocks are spread out on the ground best side up, spaced so I can see them from all sides and so they are accessible by the equipment.

Selection of Contractor:  (Guidelines will be provided)

Construction:  When construction begins, I instruct the contractor and workers how to properly strap and set the rocks. My role as artistic director continues through all phases of layout, soil shaping, rock setting, and planting. It is important for the contractor and client to understand that the creative process is active in all aspects of construction. The nature of this art is to continually be open to possibilities as they occur. I do not always know in advance how I will use a particular rock, or I may change my mind based on what I see as a better use as the design develops. The same is true for planting. Flexibility during installation enhances artistic quality and lends an element of spontaneity.



The emotional impact of a garden is highly dependent on the quality of its care. Plants are living organisms, with their particular cultural needs and sensory qualities such as size, shape, and texture. Only through the gardenerís skillful care year after year does the garden achieve its optimum form and fully evoke the desired scenic ambiance. I will work with the gardener, and teach through hands-on demonstration and doing, such key maintenance practices as pruning and cleaning during annual visits usually lasting about three days.

The key tasks are cleaning (weeding, picking up leaves and other debris, sweeping, raking), watering and fertilizing when necessary (organic practices are preferred whenever possible), and pruning (selective thinning and heading back to enhance the plantís character and maintain the desired size). It is essential that the client fully understand and commit to the gardenís long term maintenance from the start. Without this commitment, it would be futile to make the garden at all. Every public garden should have a maintenance endowment sufficient to take care of the gardenís needs in perpetuity. A garden is not a static thing. Rather, it should be thought of as a work of art in progress. The goal is to respond to changing needs as they evolve through the years, and not only maintain the garden but regard each task as an opportunity to improve it.

Gardens require buffer zones (plantings, fences, or combinations of the two) to create a graceful transition as one approaches from the surrounding areas, to screen out unwanted views, and to create a seamless link to distant views. These buffer zones also provide more flexibility to adjust to future changes in the surroundings.


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Last modified: 03/03/13