Art In Landscape

By Mary & Hugh Williamson


The Miami Blue Butterfly, native to coastal areas of southern Florida, became critically endangered after Hurricane Andrew ravaged the region. It may be the rarest insect in the United States. Its numbers have recently been increased by a captive breeding program at the Florida Museum of Natural History.

Other important design concepts such as contrast, change in scale, surprise, drama, delight, texture and illusion are often skipped, but have always been interwoven in superior landscape designs found in English Manor Houses, French Chateaux and Italian Villas. These concepts are also found in important gardens and squares in the United States, such as the grounds of Vizcaya in Miami, and the beautiful squares of Savannah.  Unique gardens contain art.  Truly unique gardens contain art well.  Art found in successful landscapes can be sculpture, fountains and land art, such as mazes, topiaries and hedges, or even the “living art” of butterflies.

Incorporating Living Art
Butterflies are a dramatic opportunity for art and surprise in the landscape. The butterfly garden can be thoughtfully and aesthetically incorporated into a landscape, adds movement and color, and always generates wonder and delight for the owner and guests alike.  Butterflies are simply part of nature’s art.  They have no role in the pollination process and exist only to “be.“  Hurricanes and mosquito spraying have taken their toll on Florida butterflies, along with development that often eliminates their habitat.  Butterfly gardeners can help to ensure that these beautiful creatures continue to be enjoyed by providing a welcoming habitat.

Butterflies are found in every state, but the varieties that can be attracted vary region to region.  It is easy to educate yourself through wonderful resources that are available.  One of the best is an online website, Gardens With Wings.

In this site, you are invited to enter your zip code, and a full list and images of butterflies specific to your area is presented.  This list includes pictures of each possible butterfly visitor, and the plants you’ll need in your garden to lure them.  True butterfly gardens include both “host plants” and “food (nectar) plants.”  Host plants are those on which butterflies lay their eggs, where tiny caterpillars then emerge, and where those caterpillars start to munch.  And munch and munch.  Often they will eat the plant down to almost nothing.  For the diehard enthusiast, this is a sign of success.  But to many, it is preferable to have those host plants screened from view.  Also, many “hosts” are not the most attractive of plants.  A good example is the host plant for the much-loved Monarch, which will only lay its eggs on milkweed family plants, such as butterfly weed.  Butterfly weed gets leggy, and it is weedy looking.

When the caterpillars get fat, they lose their voracious appetite and wander off, often to a different plant or surface to “pupate”… forming a camouflaged chrysalis.It is within this chrysalis that the caterpillar reinvents itself. It turns to liquid, and then reforms as a winged miracle.The butterfly is pivotal to the study of DNA, as the caterpillar genes are turned off, and the butterfly genes take over.

When the adult butterfly eventually emerges from the chrysalis as a full-grown adult, it sets about finding a mate, and the process starts again.  The adult is sustained by nectar plants.  They are not too fussy about these, but do prefer brightly colored flowers.  Here the massing and combinations of your flowering “nectar” plants will come alive with beautiful jewels of the sky.  A well-established butterfly habitat can draw hundreds of these beautiful examples of kinetic art, and scores of varieties.  Enjoying your morning coffee amidst large numbers of differing species is a pure delight and a wonderful start to any day.

Butterflies not for you?
Creatively utilizing design concepts and tools are required to make any landscape distinctive and interesting, whether it includes a butterfly garden or perhaps a maze or sculpture garden.  First, there must always be a theme or core concept.  Too often garden sculpture looks like it fell off the back of a truck, without thought, or attention to scale, theme or composition.

Most American landscape design utilizes clarity as the core concept. It is often simple and boring. This can be seen by contrasting the results with the more traditional old-world designs such as found at Vizcaya. There you’ll find an ebb and flow to the size and shape of the spaces. Textures and materials are mixed and matched to create contrast and interest.  Hardscape such as cut stone is heavily used both vertically and horizontally, and both these materials and cultivated plants are used as objects-of-art throughout the property.  Most importantly, a series of experiences are created as the overriding theme of the design. Interestingly, the same ideas can be found in the Biltmore Gardens although the scale and materials are quite different.  The concepts are the drivers in both designs, not the materials. If you have visited Vizcaya and made a mental checklist of the creative ideas, how would you score your own landscape?


Garden at Vizcaya, Miami, Florida

All art requires changes in the landscape to maximize the impact.  You’ll need to employ the expanded range of design tools and concepts found in historic landscape design to enhance your property.  All truly well-conceived spaces, either interior or exterior, are designed from the desired experience backward through the size, shape and materials that make up the space.  Shallow design believes the reverse is true because it is easier to acquire objects than ideas.

Does your landscape provide all the distinctive experiences you desire?

Art In Landscape