Still water moves.

(This article is inspired by a talk given at the Philosophy of Improvisation: Aesthetics of Imperfection Workshops)

Gardens are forever maturing.

I have watched my grandmother plant seeds, water them, watch and worship them. Perhaps after a certain point, your garden becomes independent and self-sufficient. You lose an element of the control you once had.

Phil Robinson’s  talk was more like a long poem asking this: does improvisation have a place in the garden? Could improvisation in gardening challenge our assumptions around perfection?

Many think about repeating patterns of form and colour when they think of a garden. We, as the gardener, can make the choice to use yellow against blue – opposites on the colour wheel.

Perfection is, by definition, a singular and static idea. But consider water. It brings patterns to life.

What colour is water? When it reflects, it leaves some of itself behind. Water is also a home. Birds come to water, for example, and we enjoy their presence and their movement in the garden.


When I see rowers on the river Wear here at Durham University, it is like they are rowing on clouds.

Water moves, nature moves, we move and Cézanne can bring a painting of teacup to life. Perhaps this says something about how we should view process, improvisation and unfinishedness.

We come across certain constraints in life, improvisation and gardens. A constraint in the garden could be a hedge. Personally, I see a hedge as an “affordance”; it effects and controls your movement like a wall in a house that is designed to separate and articulate.

Perhaps, instead of allowing our eyes to be hegemonic, we should yield to the ease of movement that a garden encourages. A garden wants wellbeing for all its inhabitants.

The architect Pallasmaa said something that sticks with me. When he visits a city, he uses his whole body to confront it – “I experience myself in the city and the city exists through my embodied experience”.

In applying this philosophy to gardening and music, I believe the idea is to feel yourself in the process of improvisation. Become one with it, in some way, however cruel the crossing of two paths may be. At some point you will have to choose left or right, and the time of choice will come when it comes.

“It is difficult to walk through an orchard and not hit a tree” concludes Phil. And, therefore, a gardener has to improvise. To realise both that a garden is never finished, and that it has a mind of its own. It is a dynamic thing; a movement thing.


Illustration links :

(Klimt) Water serpents, Unterach on Attersee, Apple tree


1 thought on “Still water moves.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s