“The only constant in life is change” – Heraclitus (circa 500 BCE)
The nature of change is something that has been on our minds lately, and we’ve been applying an idea that is central to our design philosophy to our everyday life. The balance of things that change with things that stay the same is something we like to call “the transitional and the timeless.” In the landscape, changeable living elements bring energy to the space, while a lasting framework supports the constantly evolving garden. Without these two things in balance, the landscape cannot exist. Lately we feel that this rings true in our own lives, and we try to strike a balance between the familiar and the new on a daily basis.
These past weeks we’ve been spending more and more time in our gardens, where the transitional nature of living things makes us appreciate that beauty is possible, and sometimes even more powerful, in a constant state of change. Many gardeners develop an appreciation and patience for change over the years. We are reminded daily that there’s only so much we can control! Even the best-kept garden is in transition simply because it is alive. Plant illnesses, pest infestations, mistakes we inevitably make in caring for our plants, and their finite lifespan all require a change in our expectations if gardening is going to be a source of happiness and not stress. The dead shrub in our studio garden above was a reminder that stuff happens. But after all, we needed space to plant something new! Today, this part of our garden is thriving with an Oakleaf Hydrangea (and we’ve switched out the old-school bender-board for a clean new look! What a change for the better.)
The transitions within the landscape are a reminder that we ourselves are in a constant state of change. They are also a reminder that when something is lost, space opens up for something new. Awareness of the transitional enables us to transform our relationship with the garden and with day-to-day life, as we find beauty and inspiration in what we do not control (in the garden as in our day-to-day world.) Maybe that’s why we are obsessed with gardening. Or maybe we just like dirt.
If everything is transitional in a garden, however, something is lacking. The lasting elements of the landscape are what bring structure to a space. From a cobblestone path to a long-lived tree, to a structure that provides shelter from sun or rain, well-chosen and constructed elements bring a solid foundation that weathers all of life’s changes. We also believe in the timeless nature of design. The fact that we still turn to historical architecture in designing even contemporary spaces tells us that the power of good design can outlast empires. The Spanish Alhambra, the gardens at Versailles, the Modernist movement, etc. continue to inspire and bring structure to the design world, around which new ideas and styles can develop.
Creating something timeless today means imagining and planning for the future. This is a good reminder right now, as we all look around with uncertainty at the changes occurring worldwide and right here at home. In Landscape Design we often plan 5, 10, and 50 years ahead… That does put things in perspective! At the moment, we continue to design with the future in mind. We consider more sustainable building alternatives and new ways of creating environments for people to thrive in. We also keep in mind the lasting power of memory and connection. Calling our old friends to check in, laughing over age-old jokes, and finding new ways to help our community have become priorities. This is the kind of structure that supports us through the transitional nature of the everyday, so we can embrace the unpredictability of life alongside the timelessness of human possibility.
When John Montgomery published his original “Timeless and Transitional” article in the Alamo Today, it was with the philosophy that design for life’s changes was as important as creating beauty. J. Montgomery Designs continues to bring that philosophy to every project we design. We are still designing and taking new clients during Shelter in Place. Contact us to book a complementary remote consultation!