It’s a woodland story—you know that right away—but the rest is a mystery. Do you hear water? Music? Mozart perhaps? Some laughing far away? You are beginning chapter one of the story of a garden, on a lake, in Alabama. I consider my garden just that—a story—as opposed to gardens that are paintings. The painting garden is a single set piece; you see it all at once. It may be examined for its design elements and composition, but it there is no page two. By contrast, the first moments in a story garden should immediately cause the visitor to begin wondering what happens next, or, in garden terms, What’s down this path? The garden then, like any good story, draws the visitor through to its final resolution.
Whether a garden should be a painting or a story depends on the garden’s purpose. Most front yards, designed to be seen from the street, are, by their nature, pictures. Many backyards, built to be seen from inside the house or to complement a patio, are to be looked at as well, not explored. If a garden goes beyond this and beckons you to actively explore its secrets, it’s a story. Whether the story is an anecdote or a novel, the gardener, like the author, must use certain devices to ensure interest and excitement as the garden story unfolds.