Garden Photo of the Day

The Light Garden

Jay Sifford is onto something amazing – creating a "Light Garden" in his Charlotte, North Carolina garden.

"I’ve recently been working on a new section of my garden that I call my “Light Garden”. Through the creation of this garden I want to make people aware of how wonderful and changing light intensity and patterns are, so that they don’t take light for granted. Very few people other than artists and gardeners really notice the beautiful changes in light throughout the year. It’s most beautiful in autumn, I think.
The sun rises and hits the life-size steel ballerina sculpture, then moves through the southern sky, finally backlighting the sculpture in late afternoon through a forest of very vertical trees. I have planted lines of Everillo carex that simulate shafts of sunlight breaking through the trees, and also dark green to black foliage, such as ‘Black Scallop’ ajuga, for contrast and to highlight the contrast of sun and shade. 

I’ve also installed some stone spheres mixed in with ball-clipped boxwoods to simulate spheres rolling down the hill, intersecting the free form mulched path. I recently finished an 80 foot long stacked stone wall that is very serpentine. At its end it wraps around the feet of the sculpture after it leads the eye to that place. The wall acts as a margin on the left side of the path. The right side incorporates negative space and drifts of plants.

This garden is not so much meant to walk through as to be seen from the windows overlooking the forest. This area is full of light, shade, juxtaposition, dissonance, resolution and art…. all of my favorite things!"

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  1. jmcleanmarsh 11/06/2015

    Oh, wow! I've enjoyed these daily photos for some time, but this is my first time commenting. Your light garden is gorgeous and movingly artistic. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Jay_Sifford 11/06/2015

      Good morning. Thanks for letting me be your first with regards to commenting. I feel honored.

  2. wGardens 11/06/2015

    Oh my, Jay, this is absolutely wonderful. I love what you have done... it is truly captivating. You have accomplished so much in a short time. Wish I could hire you! Great sculpture, also!

  3. User avater
    meander_michaele 11/06/2015

    Just-simply-mesmerizing, Jay. You put so much intellectual thought into your gardening and create vignettes that speak to the mind as well as the senses. The sixth picture down is particularly captivating...your ballerina is positively aglow and communicates a luminosity of spirit that is practically alive. If I recall correctly, you are a huge fan of letting nature take its course with allowing metal to rust but will you keep her more polished so she maintains her reflective quality?

    1. Jay_Sifford 11/06/2015

      Hi meander. You're right about my affinity for rust, but in this case, I'm going to try to keep her shiny. I've talked to the artist, Ben Parrish, about how to do that.
      And to your other comment about putting so much thought into my gardens, I had this thought: my gardens lie in origin somewhere between my mind and my spirit. For me, that's a good place to start.
      Happy Friday! I'm off to get a colonoscopy (fun times!).

  4. diane_lasauce 11/06/2015

    Jay, your gardens invite quiet strolls. The rock walls are lovely. Kudos.

  5. NCYarden 11/06/2015

    Awesome dynamics at play here. And excellent comment on shifting light, especially this time of year. Amazing how trees break it up and the understory catches the highlights. Looks great, Jay.

  6. User avater
    Tim_Zone_Denial_Vojt 11/06/2015

    Why am I not surprised that this is yet another amazing creation from Sifford's mind and hands? Of course I am wild about the dry-stacked stone walls and love love love the stone spheres. Why is it that I only have one stone sphere in my garden?.....I really respect that your garden ventures seem to match their sites. What's the plant in the penultimate photo? I started to think hydrangea, but maybe no?

    1. Jay_Sifford 11/06/2015

      Hi Tim. Thanks so much. And only you can answer the question of why there's only one sphere in your garden. Go big or go home is my advice! ha.
      You're looking at a Davidii viburnum. It's a sweet plant, seems to love light shade to partial sun, and is underused in my area. Cheers.

  7. Chris_N 11/06/2015

    Wonderful area. More lessons in design to think about. The "spheres rolling downhill" gives a real sense of motion. I feel like I'd have to hurry past that point lest I be bowled over by one.

  8. User avater
    HelloFromMD 11/06/2015

    Hi Jay, I feel very playful viewing the garden. The figure looks to be having fun balancing a walk up the wall. the spheres remind me of children rolling balls downhill. And the path calls to me for an adventure in the woods. What is it about spheres that is so powerful? Does this all go back to the Wizard of Oz with Glenda arriving in an enormous bubble? I became obsessed with finding a granite sphere to add to the garden. Like Tim I only have one. If I find another, it will come home with me. The serpentine shape is also a powerful motif. Snakes intertwine about columns and staffs. You have made a mark upon nature, but instead of a jarring or ugly one that man so often makes, it fits and answers back.

    1. Jay_Sifford 11/06/2015

      Hi HellofromMD. Thanks for your comments in which you brought up some interesting points, things I've studied and are dear to my heart. Regarding the spheres, I use spheres in almost all of my gardens where they are appropriate. I've studied shapes and actually wrote an article on spheres a couple of years ago over at Houzz. I find that spheres are the most comforting of shapes. I think this is a primal and universal feeling and most likely originates with the womb. This is why, I think, that shape is so comforting. You mention Glenda in the Wizard of Oz. Her entrance is quite a powerful thing, with strong religious symbolism: a savior figure that represents good and salvation being born (entering) into a world to fight evil.
      But, in the case of my garden, I"ve interspersed them with boxwoods which will be more formally clipped into balls next year when they've acclimated and grown just a bit. At the entrance to this space I have a tall granite post that is actually a parking lot stop that I set on end. The contrasting shapes make for interesting juxtaposition and relationship in the garden. The stone wall, you are right, is extra serpentine by design and wraps around the feet of the sculpture like a snake before entering into the hillside. Further down the hill towards the fern garden I have huge sweet gums and beeches with exposed roots that snake across the hill like giant anacondas. They basically run parallel with the wall. Coincidentally, down there I also have a trio of large trees whose trunks look just like elephant legs and feet. For me, all of the symbolism inspires the imagination and rekindles that playful childlikeness that we have buried and sorely miss as adult members of society. IF I ever write my book, I'll deal with all of this in more detail.
      Because of all the parallel lines, I felt like I needed an element to be perpendicular to all of this to bring everything into perspective, hence the installation of spheres and boxwood where they are.
      Wow, I almost wrote a book right here.... thanks for tolerating my ramblings. I think I'm an author at heart!

  9. hontell 11/06/2015

    wow, Jay, just beautiful. I use glazed ceramic spheres, need to try the stones.

  10. greengenes 11/06/2015

    You've been working hard, Jay! I so love the way the rock wall moves and brings you to the metal art! And the "ballerina" blends so well with the natural trees and sticks! Very nice! Great choices on the plants and those cement spheres are the bomb! love it all, Jay! Thanks so much for sharing with us!

  11. schatzi 11/06/2015

    Absolutely amazing, Jay! Very creative and very beautiful. The feeling of motion created by the stone balls, grasses and shrubs is mind-blowing. And the rock wall is just plain gorgeous. Great job. Thanks for sharing.

  12. GrannyMay 11/06/2015

    Oh, what a wonderful idea for that forested slope! Just the right touches of stone, as balls and walls, and light and dark grasses and shrubs, to emphasize the movement of light as it weaves and dances across the hillside and to capture your eyes to draw them to the one human element, that fantastic dancer. Your description of how the light makes its way through the trees and illuminates the beautiful ballerina both morning and evening fires up my imagination! It would be amazing to see this in person, as on the brightest, sunniest days, when it is fulfilling your expectations, it would be the most difficult to portray in photos.

    1. Jay_Sifford 11/06/2015

      Hi GrannyMay. You are right; this garden is very difficult to photograph because of the strong light and shadows. Perhaps a professional photographer could do better. If you're ever in the area, please stop by.

  13. Cenepk10 11/06/2015

    Fantastic !!!!!!!!

  14. User avater
    LindaonWhidbey 11/06/2015

    Oh Jay, I love the playfulness of your garden and the way all of the plantings catch the light. We are about to start a stacked stone wall around an island bed and hadn't thought of a serpentine effect. . Love that. Is the sculpture from a local artist? You definitely have a great way if putting a garden together.

    1. Jay_Sifford 11/06/2015

      Hi Linda. Serpentine stacked stone walls are so cool. If you get a chance, Google Andy Goldsworthy and his stacked stone wall installation at Storm King in New York. It's taller than mine, and even more serpentine. The coolest thing about it is that is joins a lake, goes underneath the water and surfaces again on the other side.

      1. User avater
        LindaonWhidbey 11/07/2015

        Thanks. Isn't he an incredible artist?!

  15. Meelianthus 11/06/2015

    What wonderful areas you have created and I loved your garden "rambling" as it helped create a picture in my mind of all that you are doing. A tremendous and rewarding project. The serpentine wall is an artistic mind melt, so lovely. Is this a project just recently finished? You are so right about LIGHT, it is definitely something to behold. Thanks Jay for sharing all of your amazing creativity.

    1. Jay_Sifford 11/06/2015

      Hi Meelianthus. Thanks. Actually, the perimeters of this garden are not yet complete. Most of it was done within the last three months. I want to leave the south side (behind the sculpture) fairly open because I love the dimension and layers of verticality that the forest offers, especially when it's back-lit in late afternoon. But the south side abuts some sheds that I'd like to screen. Always something to do, eh?

      1. Meelianthus 11/07/2015

        A true garden is never really finished - and isn't that the way we like it, have fun.

  16. user-4691082 11/06/2015

    Wow Jay, you are both an artist and a gardener. I assume you made the ballerina. In my wildest dreams I could make something like that! You are correct, we do love to observe the changing light of the seasons and I do agree that autumn is the best! That is, when it's sunny! Please do share often, you are an inspiration.

    1. Jay_Sifford 11/06/2015

      Thanks Rhonda. No, the sculpture is by a great local metal artist named Ben Parrish. I have two of his life-size pieces in my gardens. He's awesome.

  17. perenniallycrazy 11/07/2015

    Fabulous Jay! You are a true visionary when it comes to design.

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