Since I was a young boy I worked in gardens. It was one of the few activities my father and I did together when I was very young, and even in high school, I worked one summer with our gardener putting in a sprinkler system.
In graduate school, as a part-time summer job, I worked as a gardener, and without my realizing it, I began to absorb a great deal about gardening.
I understood the mechanics of good gardening, and I must have watched fairly carefully because I learned a great deal about trees, pruning, and their characteristic shapes and vagaries.
The one thing I also remember was how unimpressed I was by most gardens. They were all perennial or annual gardens, placed for color and shape, but had no architecture or design.
Sometimes people would place gazebos or small structures for visual interest, but most American gardens on a small scale had no visual interest to me. They were simply filling space with color and adding some comfort and shade to an area. They were unmemorable.
Then with a loud bang, and a small boom, in 1986, Bennett Robinson, an art director I have described earlier, at lunch one day, said to me that my exteriors were really interiors. I was always creating outdoor rooms to place people in. With this comment my conscious photographic world changed forever. He was absolutely right. I love placing people in things, never beside them. I want them to be integrated into the landscape as if they always belonged there, or at least they felt at home.
Around this time, when money was real money and it was really green, there seemed to be plenty for all, as if it was growing on trees. Not just for the ten people at the top, but it seemed to be being spread more evenly through society. At this time I was often sent to Europe on assignment.
As I would find myself scouting locations in France, England, and Ireland in particular, I was more and more attracted to the formal gardens of Europe.
I think it is important to back up a little bit. These European gardens (The National Trust Gardens of England, and The French Royal Gardens, etc.) are on hundreds of acres and have matured over a few hundred years in a far more hospitable climate than America. But, at the same time in Belgian, Jacque Wirtz was beginning to recreate the gardens I loved, on both a very small and large scale.
So what is it that I love about these gardens? I love the repetition of shape that goes on forever, the allays of trees that have been pollarded to the form of shrubs, the rooms within rooms, the whimsical shapes of the topiaries and the grand scale of the plantings. There is also the visual sight of greens being imbued with more green, layer upon layer.
This is more than planting a few perennials in a garden. It is an elaborate landscape design, playing not on color but on shape and form, and I have always felt right at home standing there right in the midst of it all.
My pictures for the last 20 years are instilled with these spaces. These are rooms and spaces where I would hold out my hands, look upward, and yell hallelujah. Not to what God has single highhandedly produced, but rather to what man can aspire when he’s at his best.